Nico Rosberg, Mercedes, Monte-Carlo, 2016

Rosberg showing the strain as Hamilton closes in

2016 F1 season

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Lewis Hamilton recently said his chances of winning a fourth world championship this year “seemed impossible” after the Spanish Grand Prix.

Nico Rosberg, Mercedes, Circuit de Catalunya, 2016
Rosberg’s advantage peaked after Spain clash
“It’s crazy to think that the 43-point deficit I had at the time, which seemed impossible – I’m only human so those days I feel like it seemed impossible – you’ve just got to keep going, as painful as it can be, as hard as it can be,” he said.

Of course a 43-point lead is far from insurmountable when there are 400 points available to be won. Hamilton of all people should appreciate this, having lost a 17-point championship lead with 20 available over the final two races of 2007.

While it’s easy to appreciate Hamilton’s disillusionment at failing to win a race up to that point, he might have taken some comfort from his points-scoring rate compared to team mate Nico Rosberg over the past two seasons. As noted here at the time, it gave every reason to believe Hamilton could catch up, lending real intrigue to a championship contest which was very one-sided last year.

Sure enough five races later Hamilton is now just one point behind his team mate:

As the graph shows, Hamilton has taken points off Rosberg at a slightly quicker rate than usual. After Spain Rosberg might have hoped he could cling to his points lead until the end of the season with a clutch of second places and his team mate’s inevitable upcoming engine penalties.

Nico Rosberg, Mercedes, Silverstone, 2016
Verstappen humbled Rosberg at Silverstone
But Hamilton’s swift demolition of Rosberg’s margin has brutally exposed his team mate’s shortcomings, and left him looking desperate at times.

Spain was a no-score draw for the pair after Rosberg, slowing due to an error with his engine settings on the first lap, fought his team mate off with uncompromising resolve. It was a legal move, but a tough one to make against a team mate, and it contributed to both cars failing to score.

In Austria Rosberg overstepped the mark, provoking contact between the two cars again as Hamilton attempted to pass him on the final lap. This was more grist to the mill for those who believed he deliberately parked at Mirabeau in Monaco two years ago, and was aiming for Hamilton’s left-rear tyre at Spa later that same year.

It’s easy to overplay these occasional signs of desperation in Rosberg’s driving. What has been more revealing about the past few races is the number of times he has been found wanting on the track – particularly in the most challenging conditions.

On a wet track in Monaco Rosberg’s pace was so poor Mercedes invoked team orders to keep him from wrecking Hamilton’s race along with his own. In similar circumstances at Silverstone he slipped back from Hamilton and was humiliated by Max Verstappen who overtook him around the outside of Becketts – the most unlikely passing place on the entire circuit.

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It was qualifying in Austria which best illustrated Rosberg’s tentativeness in the wet and his dependence on his team. While Nico Hulkenberg pounced on the opportunity to attack a damp track on slick tyres Rosberg could not have been more emphatic when asked if he wanted the same: “Negative, negative, negative” he replied. He was overruled, and while he ultimately lapped half a second off Hamilton’s pace his instinct to play it safe was revealing.

Nico Rosberg, Mercedes, Red Bull Ring, 2016
Rosberg didn’t fancy slicks in Austria
Rosberg’s latest setback came at Silverstone when his team, pressed by its driver for more information on how to handle a gearbox fault, broke the new-for-2016 regulations limiting the type of assistance drivers can receive on the radio. It came as little surprise to see Rosberg become the first to fall foul of the restrictions: what we heard of the teams’ radio messages before this year gave a strong impression Rosberg relied on them more than most.

It’s always been these telling inadequacies, rather than the few headline-grabbing controversies, which have made it hard to envisage Nico Rosberg as a world champion. The graph above makes it clear which driver accumulates points more rapidly over time as the effect of occasional technical problems is diluted.

Whenever Hamilton suffers such a misfortune the conspiracy theorists immediately proffer outlandish explanations for how Mercedes are favouring Rosberg. They should instead reflect that the best thing Mercedes could do to assure Hamilton’s continued success is re-sign the driver he has beaten on each of the five occasions they’ve shared a team for a season.

The run-up to Rosberg’s home race in Hockenheim next week would seem the perfect time to do just that.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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109 comments on “Rosberg showing the strain as Hamilton closes in”

  1. Nico Bottleberg….

    ….I’m joking.
    In all seriousness, how can someone lose a 43-point lead so quickly? I really want Rosberg to challenge Hamilton for the championship all the way to the last race. How can I be so sure of that if he’s doing this?

    1. @ultimateuzair You can’t. Arguably, he’s having the harder time of the two in terms of technical problems recently – no post-British GP drama without his severe gearbox problem and he may have lost the Austrian GP with a clumsy move on the last lap but it was sheer chaos that propelled him into the lead in the first place as his Saturday suspension failure and gearbox penalty looked to have mired him back anyway – but even if those things are beginning to equal out at Mercedes, he’s just plain slower especially when things don’t go normal.

      Still, I think his recent technical misfortune and Hamilton’s significant upturn in fortune (see Ricciardo’s Monaco gaffe and Vettel’s Montreal gaffe, he’s even had his share of engine troubles when he was unlikely to pass Perez in Baku anyway) contributed as much as Rosberg’s huge driver inadequacies (even by his own standards).

      I’d say it was 1/3 Rosberg being plain slower, 1/3 the heavy swing in fortune and 1/3 Rosberg being especially awful in Monaco, Spielberg and Silverstone. (Not to mention his Montreal spin when he finally muscled past Verstappen only to spin out due to what looked like a missed brake bias re-adjust after the hairpin.)

      1. So none of it is down to Hamilton ? It’s all down to Nico ?

        1. Effectively, yes. The only things Hamilton messed up this year so far are the starts in Melbourne and Montreal. He was very lucky a few times post-Spain – e. g. in Montreal, among others – but he himself has also driven superbly well.

        2. So it’s Nico plus reliability and luck. But not Lewis.

    2. Tony Mansell
      19th July 2016, 14:40

      Nico Rowboat?… goes backwards when its wet

    3. @ultimateuzair, that 43 point lead would be the equivalent of one 1st place and one 2nd place finish, and I can recall even more highly respected drivers managing to lose just as large, if not larger, points leads in less time than Rosberg has.

      For a historical example at how quickly a lead can vanish, just look at Schumacher back in the year 2000. After the Canadian GP that year, Schumacher had a 22 point lead in the WDC – that would be roughly equivalent to a lead of 60 points (two wins and a 5th place) under the current points system.

      Thanks to reliability issues and start line shunts, in just four races that lead of 22 points turned into a 2 point deficit – a short run of misfortune can see a points lead evaporate very quickly.

      1. The point is, it’s Rosberg’s bad and sometimes desperate driving more than anything which has costed him his points lead.

        1. And of course, you could never accuse Hamilton of desperate manoeuvres during racing…

          1. what desperate manoevures this season?also whenever lewis is the aggressive one,normally both drivers can continue to race.but when its nico,one or both drivers normally end up with a dnf because of race ending silverstone it could have easily been another double dnf.

          2. I have in the past. Hungary 2015, Baku 2016, all of 2011 just to name a few.

          3. @matt

            “also whenever lewis is the aggressive one,normally both drivers can continue to race.but when its nico,one or both drivers normally end up with a dnf because of race ending contact”

            Well that would be because when Hamilton is aggressive and shoves Rosberg, Nico has enough common sense about him to get out of the way – see the 2015 US GP as an example. Plenty of run off and Nico used it, as opposed to just turning in on Lewis.

            There have been plenty of times in the past where contact between these two has been avoided PURELY because Rosberg took avoiding action!

  2. pastaman (@)
    19th July 2016, 12:35

    Looks good for HAM now, but future grid penalties for power unit allotment are going to make things a lot more difficult than in 2014/15

    1. he will take 1 hit (double engine change) and start from the back of a wet spa .. with safety cars. That means he would be left with 3 engines in his pool. Even with that I can see him finishing on the podium.

    2. Probably not. There are rumors on Twitter that Hamilton will take his 6th and 7th engine at Spa and start from the back of the grid. Leaving his allocation in good shape for the remainder of the season.

      1. He’s doing OK on ICE’s, but he’s short on turbos and MGU-H’s the last I saw.

        #44 Lewis Hamilton: ICE – 3 | TC – 5 | MGU-H – 5 | MGU-K – 3 | ES – 3 | CE – 3
        #6 Nico Rosberg: ICE – 3 | TC – 3 | MGU-H – 3 | MGU-K – 2 | ES – 2 | CE – 2

  3. Ouch.

    1. Indeed, so this was just to remind us all that Rosberg isn’t championship material :(
      Whether that is the case or not it still doesn’t mean he can’t give us a good show from time to time.
      I just hope Hamilton keeps his current form and Rosberg back to how he was at the end of last year, throw in a Red Bull here or there and we have some good races coming.

  4. It’s been a long known fact, though often unaccepted or outright denied, that the only way Rosberg can get the better of Hamilton is if he receives team help (legally or otherwise), or if Hamilton experiences technical or mechanical problems.

    Other than that, they are in a totally different class.

    1. @stubbornswiss That’s hardly true, Rosberg has been the better of Hamilton on numerous occasions in the past three years. That does not mean Hamilton is the better driver on their respective best days but those don’t always happen.

      1. petebaldwin (@)
        19th July 2016, 14:00

        @xtwl – Hamilton seems to have the times in his career when he struggles to perform. I don’t know why it happens but he gets stuck in a rut where he struggles. All it takes is one decent performance and he’s suddenly flying again. I would be amazed if he doesn’t pull well clear now by the end of the season despite any grid penalties he has to take.

        1. Hamilton had a huge weakness in his early career of being ruled by his emotions. Not that he seems to have complete control and happiness over his personal life, he seems near-unbeatable. And this is from someone thinks Hamilton is undeserving of the incredible levels of praise he receives. Right now, along with Vettel, there is no better driver in the world. I would, however, like to see him in a non – dominant car now puerly to contrast his approach with his attitude from his earlier years, when he was unstable, in unfancied McLaren’s

          1. …in unfancied McLaren’s

            I can’t think of any his McLaren years where the car was un-fancied.

            Even in 2009, the car was one of the fastest by the end of the year (with Hamilton taking several wins) and in 2011, Button proved categorically it was Hamilton (and his feud with Massa), not the car. The 2012 car was easily the fastest at the end of the season, but for its reliability slump.

      2. @PorscheF1 Rosberg had his days… some can argue to better luck… he is a dirty racer who doesnt know where to draw (crazy) lines/limits… He constantly trash talk, and almost never admits mistakes! He is not a terrible racer, certainly pushing Ham to limits, but he is not off the same caliber of a true champ… He certainly has a chance at the champs, but i ve strong feelings he will crash ham out if it goes down to wire and he has shown numerous times he will do it mindlessly…

        1. @mysticus Pointless comment filled with untruth. Thank you. Please be objective.

          1. Pointless? Statistics has a point… Thank you, I am objective. Just because Rosberg got lucky for a few races doesnt make it a great racer! Which parts i said is not objective?

            He has crashed people on purpose to make a point with his own words… Not talking about out of exit on racing line accidents…
            He stupidly and recklessly pushed people off track.
            He constantly trash talks and as i said, never admits the slightest mistakes when he is involved with crashes.
            Tell me which season Rosberg was superior to Ham when he had a non problematic car! As i said before, statistic on long run is as objective as it can get!

      3. Something went wrong with my last line, should’ve read;

        That does not mean Hamilton is the better driver on their respective best days but those don’t always happen.
        That does not mean I don’t think Hamilton is the better driver on their respective best days, but those don’t always happen.

    2. ColdFly F1 (@)
      19th July 2016, 15:21

      It’s been a long known fact, though often unaccepted or outright denied,…

      The only revealing part of your username @StubbornSwiss is the geographical reference.

      1. Whereas there is absolutely nothing revealing with YOUR name, @coldfly.

        1. @coldfly @stubbornswiss Nice banter, guys – thoughtful swipe, witty response.

          1. ColdFly F1 (@)
            19th July 2016, 22:35

            Who needs a Caption Competition to have some fun ;-)
            @stubbornswiss, @atticus-2

    3. @stubbornswiss ” that the only way Rosberg can get the better of Hamilton is if he receives team help (legally or otherwise), or if Hamilton experiences technical or mechanical problems.”

      If I post examples of Nico being faster will you admit you were wrong?

      1. Please do mate? But i think you know damn well that statistics in the long run will fail your short term examples…

        1. @mysticus
          Are you seriously going to defend the claim that Rosberg can only beat Hamilton if Lewis experience technical problems or has been sabotaged by the team?

          1. @kingshark No, he isn’t. He added cheating to it too,… *sigh*

          2. I m not defending anyone, just pointing that statistics have a better value than personal opinion. I am still waiting for the “If I post examples of Nico being faster will you admit you were wrong?” to see what those examples are. Faster is a very relative term… faster as in a single lap? So far Ham turned out to be faster into Championship finish… Which matters the most…

            PorscheF1: Be objective was your words. After a few races through the season, many declared Ros to be champ, but mid season now and both are almost equal which rather happened quite fast. Is it Ham’s turn in the luck department?

    4. @stubbornswiss
      I’d love to understand the mental gymnastics to justify the claim that Rosberg apparently needed help to beat Hamilton in Australia and Baku. Go ahead, make my day.

      1. Well you could say Rosberg got “help” by Lewis not getting a good start, (which could be seen as a technical issue) in Australia, and getting qualifying help and engine mode issues in Baku. so he’s not completely wrong.

        1. Hamilton getting a bad start is not a technical issue, it is a driver issue.

          1. @Neiana Not to be drawn into an argument, as I respect others opinions, but as much as is being said about Hamiltons series of bad starts, it appears that people are forgetting that MB actually acknowledged that he suffered from clutch problems in the first few races.

            So yes, a bad start CAN be a technical issue.

          2. @stubbornswiss
            Rosberg basically never gets the privilege of this excuse when he got beat off the line (Japan and USA last year). People were mocking Rosberg for his poor racecraft. The double standards are appalling. Also, Hamilton did not have clutch issues in the first few races. He’s just been poor at starts.

            Qualifying in Baku was Hamilton’s own fault and Rosberg was miles ahead of him in the race before his engine mode problems occurred.

          3. @kingshark

            “Also, Hamilton did not have clutch issues in the first few races. He’s just been poor at starts.”

            Except that Mercedes actually said that there was a hardware issue with the clutch. But yeah ignore the facts and paint your own picture :)

            “Qualifying in Baku was Hamilton’s own fault and Rosberg was miles ahead of him in the race before his engine mode problems occurred.”

            Mercedes enforced a setup change between practice and qualifying that ruined the rhythm Hamilton had built up round the lap. Yes putting it in the wall was his own doing but his qualifying had already been hampered by the team.

            His engine mode problems occurred from the start of the race so are you really declaring “miles ahead” to be the difference between their grid slots? Seems like @stubbornswiss is not the only one doing mental gymnastics ;)

      2. Let’s see… In Australia, Hamilton fastest in FP1, FP2, and FP3….

        Then Hamilton faster in Q1 (1.5 seconds), Q2 (0.2 seconds), and Q3 (0.3 seconds).

        In Baku, Hamilton again fastest in FP1, FP2, and FP3… but yeah, Hamilton’s qualifying in Baku sucked. :)

        Possibly because the team misprogrammed his car, but that’s an unknown to anyone outside Mercedes.

    5. Agree 100 %

    6. Not a totally different class– Rosberg is still a very, very good driver, and he’s very fast, especially over one lap.

      He’s a bit weak in the wet (specifically in the W07, for some reason), although he’s always been slightly more cautious than Hamilton in the wet. He doesn’t react well to unexpected problems during the race, and handles pressure from the rear poorly– then again, that could be describing Vettel (except the wet weather part).

      I’d say he’s in the top 5 for current F1 drivers, and with anyone but Hamilton in the other Silver Arrow, would probably have at least one WDC to his name.

      Hamilton is easily in the top 3 right now, but the W07 is a good enough car that it’s difficult to tell how close to “the best” he is at the moment– but considering he was able to change his driving style to suit Austria and then win it, his skill should not be underestimated.

      1. The Skeptic
        20th July 2016, 23:03

        +1. Nice summary, without bias. IMNSHO:

        Vettel, Alonso, Hamilton are the top tier drivers. All round, attacking, yet balanced drivers in all conditions. All have off days occasionally, but these men are inspiring most of the time.

        Verstappen, and Ricciardo are very, very close.

        Rosberg, Button, Perez, Raikkonnen are next. Great in some conditions, good in most, but with one significant weakness (e.g wet for Rosberg, qualy for Jensen).

        Massa, Bottas, Hulkenberg etc are next.

  5. Excellent, informative graph, by the way.

    Are such graphs / data available on the website?

  6. Rosberg would probably be better of mentally and the results could improve, if he accepted the fact of the above graph and reverted from getting desparate, but just concentrated on maximizing his tally, give a good show, i.e. give Hamilton fair and hard competition and then hope for the miracle: Hamilton’s season ending unusually bad, giving Rosberg the title on the merit of the Merc winning the Constructors title.

  7. I do rate Rosberg at a technical level, he’s very quick. I used to find him likeable too. It’s just that it doesn’t work being desperate to win when you can’t win. And then I suppose being an only child in Monaco and all he rest of it, he’s spoiled.

    Mercedes really need a different personality in that car. If he’ll pull Barca and then Austria while he’s waiting for a contract, and deny any fault, how can they trust him if they give him a fresh deal?

    1. Sure would be fun to see Vettel in the seat… It’ll never happen because Vettel loves being at Ferrari, and I’m not convinced either Vettel or Hamilton would like to be teammates, but they are each other’s closest rivals and it would be fantastic to see them in the same machinery.

    2. I think the word ‘desperate’ is just rhetoric being used to describe how Nico appears. Within the much more level-headed and professional team they would not be considering Nico as desperate. They are intimate with the situation and the history. They know they have an intense rivalry going on which is difficult to manage especially given the history going back to their youth, but would rather have it as it has been than to give team orders.

      Going back to the word desperate, prior to the incident in Austria, with Nico looking to win having come from sixth, and LH questioning how Nico got ahead and with softer tires, LH also trailing in the standings by a healthy margin at the time, the word desperate could just as easily be used on LH. Can you imagine the rhetoric coming from him and from posters had Nico won from 6th over LH the pole sitter? The conspiracy theorists would still be burning up their keyboards in outrage, no doubt assisted with a little whinge from LH like ‘the team switched crews on me for no apparent reason’.

      I try to weed through the rhetoric just as Mercedes must, which is why they can trust Nico in re-signing him. They’re not thinking from a journalist’s nor an armchair fans standpoint. They’re living the reality as we speak. They know there would have probably been even more drama if LH had lost in Austria, so have been happy to move on, and likely don’t lay everything on Nico’s shoulders and completely exonerate LH in reality.

      1. You sound like you made your mind up all by yourself after having had a couple of beers with Toto and Lauda themselves. I think the word desperate is a good adjective not for Nico, but for the countless of detractors that somehow manage to find fault in everything Hamilton does. To say that questioning how Nico got from 6th to first in a race is to be blind to the fact that Mercedes aided Nico at the expense of Hamilton on at least two separate occasions that race. Mercedes looks for 1-2 finishes, they don’t care which driver is in which position. That’s led them to craft race strategy to help Nico despite Lewis showing time and again that he can get stuff done that the other guy can’t. What’s needed at Mercedes is separate strategists and not one guy looking for the 1-2. I mean, that’s if competition between drivers is genuinely what they they want.

      2. “I think the word ‘desperate’ is just rhetoric being used to describe how Nico appears.”

        I would say the word describes, not Nico himself, but some of the moves he has made in trying to defend. The recent “squaring the corner” move in Austria was desperate, for example: He drove straight on, turning so late that he would barely stay on track himself, hoping that Hamilton would see him and go straight on, leaving the track completely. There was very little chance of this, as he was out completely of Hamilton’s line of sight, so much so that Hamilton gave him the maximum possible space to try to avoid contact on the exit of the corner. It looked like an almost panicked move. Either that, or it was very deviously and dangerously calculated (i.e. “We’ll probably crash, but we’ll probably both DNF, which is better for me than him finishing ahead”) which is much worse, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.

    3. @lockup I don’t know the truth of it, but I believe the delay on the contract cards is because they’ve entered another round of negotiation as Mercedes only offered a 1-year (more likely year-by-year) extension. Whether this is true (and if it is, what the decision behind making such a short offer) is unknown.

      1. I think they’ll match the duration of LH’s contract, and I think there is no ‘delay.’ There is simply no rush.

      2. The thing is @optimaximal @robbie yes we know, or think we know, they want different lengths of contract. But is it really a negotiation, when Merc hold all the cards? No other team is looking at Rosberg. Merc can just say “N years Nico, take it or leave it.” Nico has to take it. Why haven’t they said that already and taken the pressure off?

        What is going to change between now and the end of the year? The current trend is Rosberg looks more of a liability as time goes by – No2 in performance but would rather take the other car out than get passed.

        1. @lockup I’m of the opinion that he’s being offered a 1 year as a kick along to make sure he doubles-down on this championship. “Win this one and we’ll talk next year” etc.

          1. Hmm I dunno @optimaximal. If he needs a kick along what does than mean, in terms of character?

            And if anything I’d say he gets over-aroused, with too much ‘at any cost’ about it. Lewis was on a roll before Monaco, on another roll before Spa, then this year each time he’d made a mistake and was too desperate not to pay the price. He has a mismatch between talent and ambition, it seems to me, that he tries too hard to make up for. He needs a less talented teammate, really.

        2. Robbie (@robbie)