With just four rounds of the 2016 Formula One season remaining, we have a real title battle on our hands in the Driver’s World Championship, and one that currently sits firmly in favour of a driver many may see as the underdog.
Can 2016 be Rosberg’s year?
Nico Rosberg now has a thirty-three point lead on Mercedes AMG PETRONAS team-mate and rival for that elusive crown, Lewis Hamilton. It is his biggest lead yet at this stage of the season, over a man he has been trying to get the better of for at least the last three years, if not longer, and is now the closest he has ever been to taking that crown.
Many have questioned whether he would be a deserving champion due to the amount of race destroying technical failures Hamilton has had in comparison to Rosberg, but if we actually look at the data, although the Brit has indeed been plagued by more catastrophic issues during in 2016, across the board it is the German that has experienced more mechanical glitches during their time as team-mates at Mercedes. So is that trend just starting to even itself out?
Mechanical issues that resulted in a no score
[table id=1584 /]
*Note: the above table includes retirements for mechanical failures only, and not those where the problem could not be categorised, such as a car fire for example
This year there appears to be a cool air of calmness about the German, who seems well equipped to handle the pressure of a fight to the wire for championship glory, and is taking whatever comes his way in his stride. He has been stronger mentally this year and much tougher in his racing on track, something that in the past had perhaps let him down, with the demeanour of a man who is not about to let another championship slip through his fingers. He has most definitely learned from his mistakes in the previous two years as team-mate to Hamilton, and has come back with his strongest challenge yet, and has been more than a match for his fellow racers.
Only Michael Schumacher, Sebastian Vettel and team-mate Hamilton have won more races in a single F1 season than Rosberg has achieved this year, fantastic company to be in, across a season that has really seen the German up his game. Rosberg has explained that he has adopted a new outlook in 2016, which is to only concentrate on each of the races at a time, never looking forward to what a result could mean for the championship, just living in the here and now, and that philosophy appears to be working for the 31-year-old.
Having last won a championship back in 2005, when competing in the very first GP2 Series, if he does succeed in taking the plaudits at the end of the season, it will have been a long time coming for the German. On that day sixteen years ago, there was only three points between Rosberg and second placed contender Heikki Kovalainen going into the final round, but the German did not let the pressure get the better of him even at that young and inexperienced age, taking pole position and wining both races in the end to secure the title.
Now in 2016 he has a much more significant lead over his rival than he is perhaps used to, and need only finish second at each of the remaining rounds to be crowned champion. Sounds easy, right? But we all know that is never the case when it comes down to it!
As dominant as Mercedes have been this year, they have only managed to secure a one-two finish at four races in 2016, well down on what they managed in previous seasons, and reliability problems has always been a source of frustration for the German team. Add that to the tricky clutch system the drivers now have to use, which is causing both drivers to experience some of their worst starts for a long time, losing them valuable places off the line, all signs indicate the championship is definitely not just going to fall into Rosberg’s lap.
But having lost out two seasons in a row to the unrelenting Brit, there is no way the German is about to give up his lead that easily when he is oh so close to crossing the line. Rosberg will no doubt fight tooth and nail to make sure he comes out ahead of his team-mate at every opportunity, and with the confidence he must now have from winning nine races this year, there is every chance he will keep Hamilton at bay.
However, when there is so much at stake it is only natural for errors to start creeping in, that will test the resolve of even the strongest of candidates, and that will hopefully see us privy to an exciting and dramatic battle.
On current form Rosberg looks every bit the man to beat, the flaws of recent seasons appear to have gone, and pure determination and grit have taken their place. Being so close to glory can sometimes make you do strange things, but I for one believe Rosberg would thoroughly deserve a first championship title, especially if he makes it through the next four rounds, and still emerges in first place. The next few races will be a real test of his abilities, in every sense of the word, and we will soon see if the son of former F1 world champion Keke Rosberg, is up to that challenge!
Can Hamilton hang on in there?
That is not to say that Hamilton does not have every bit as much of a chance as his team-mate to take the title in 2016. As the Brit has proven time and time again, he is extremely hard to beat and you would rule him out of this title race at your peril. With a fourth world championship up for grabs there is no way the Brit would not believe that it is all still to play for, especially as there are enough points still up for grabs to make his dream fourth title a reality, and will push his team-mate to the limits right up until the very end. And after all, as we already know, one race retirement for Rosberg in which there is a win for Hamilton, would put the current world champion right back in the game.
Earlier this season Hamilton had a forty-three point deficit to Rosberg, after the German had brilliantly won the first four rounds of the year in confident style. A double DNF for the pair in Spain sparked some controversy, but from that point forward the Brit reeled Rosberg back in, and five races later he was just one point behind the 31-year-old. Two further victories for Hamilton saw him take over the lead of the championship, and edge clear of his team-mate by nineteen points.
It was a miraculous turnaround, after the Brit had at one point looked down and out, following a series of technical setbacks through no real fault of his own. It just goes to show that you are never out of it until that very final moment, and if you stay strong to the end you will achieve your goal.
Many feel that Hamilton has been distracted this season by his celebrity lifestyle, but the team and in particular his team-mate have rubbished these claims, stating he is working harder than ever before to give himself every chance of getting his hands on that championship trophy. Living the life of a superstar has never been a problem for the Brit in the past, and I do not really see why it would have any real effect now. One thing that does seem to be a factor in Hamilton losing his concentration however, is the fact that it is only he that is experiencing the big technical breakdowns this season, and if he is to have any chance of fighting for that title he will need to shake off any conspiracy theories that may be tunnelling through his brain. A clear mind is crucial for a F1 driver to remain focused, and the Brit is likely to need his full mental capacity at his disposal to break through the German’s stoic resolve this time around.
When Hamilton won the championship back in 2008, it was one of the most dramatic victories in F1 history. With a seven point lead over closest rival Felipe Massa, going into the Scuderia Ferrari drivers’ home race and final round of the season in Brazil, if Massa were to win then the Brit would have to finish fifth or higher to take the spoils.
It looked all but over for Hamilton when the Brazilian crossed the line, doing what Massa must have believed was enough to seal the title, with the Brit down in sixth place having just been passed by Vettel, and heavy rain firmly setting in. The pair battled away for that crucial position with Hamilton unable to get by. But on the final corner of the final lap the Brit miraculously caught and passed Timo Glock, who had been losing shed loads of time thanks to not pitting for a set of wet tyres at the appropriate moment. Hamilton now had that all important fifth position, which is where he was when he crossed the line to take the championship by just one point from a dejected Massa, making him the youngest ever Formula One world champion at that point in time.
It was a remarkable achievement, and one that Hamilton will surely call upon when he looks for inspiration and the drive to believe that nothing is impossible.
Although Hamilton has it all to do from here on in and the championship is really his to lose with Rosberg very much in the driving seat, if I were to put my money on anyone turning things around from here and clinching victory from the jaws of defeat, it would be Lewis!
Can Hamilton stay true to the mantra that he proudly displays on his helmet “Still I rise” and re-take the momentum in this championship?
Who is your money on to take the plaudits come November 27? Comment below.