In Singapore, Nico Rosberg shows he has the stuff of a Formula One champion

Graham Caygill writes that with his impressive drive to hold off Daniel Ricciardo in particular, Nico Rosberg finally evidenced a distinct mettle in the F1 championship race.
Nico Rosberg now leads Lewis Hamilton by eight points in the Formula One drivers' championship race. Mark Thompson / Getty Images / September 18, 2016
Nico Rosberg now leads Lewis Hamilton by eight points in the Formula One drivers' championship race. Mark Thompson / Getty Images / September 18, 2016

Damon Hill knows a thing or two about challenging for Formula One drivers’ titles.

He was in contention for the 1994 and 1995 championships before falling short, but he did come out on top in 1996 to become a world champion.

The Briton, now a pundit on English television, was a keen observer in Singapore yesterday as Nico Rosberg held off Daniel Ricciardo’s late challenge to win at the Singapore Grand Prix.

Hill liked what he saw of Rosberg’s 22nd career victory, which coincidentally matched his own number of wins during his time in the sport between 1992-1999.

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• In pictures: Nico Rosberg wins Singapore Grand Prix, overtakes Lewis Hamilton as F1 leader

He wrote on Twitter after the race: “Nico is racking up impressive results. Looking like a champion.”

This was Rosberg’s eighth win of the season and it was comfortably the best of the lot.

The Mercedes-GP, for once, did not have a sizeable performance advantage, and he was put under real pressure from Ricciardo throughout the 61-lap race.

In the closing laps the heat was really on Rosberg. He had stayed on track at the orders of his Mercedes team while Ricciardo made a third pit stop, giving him fresh grip and pace for the final 12 laps of the race.

Rosberg had been 29 seconds ahead after Ricciardo pitted, but the Red Bull Racing man began taking big chunks out of his advantage, usually between two-three seconds a lap as the gap came down quickly.

Rosberg, who was also nursing his brakes, balanced his pace beautifully though, doing just enough to look after his car, while keeping his pace high enough to ensure he stayed ahead of his charging rival.

By the finish the gap was 0.4 seconds, and if Ricciardo had been given another lap, he would have had a strong chance of overtaking the German.

But he did not. The race was 61 laps, not 62, and Rosberg fully deserved to stand on the top step of the podium.

A lot of Rosberg’s successes have been straightforward this season, the German usually capitalising on a problem hitting teammate Lewis Hamilton, which is not his fault as you can only beat what is in front of you.

But this was different. Rosberg was stronger than a strangely out of sorts Hamilton all weekend.

There was no bad luck or poor start for the Briton to blame this time, simply Rosberg was quicker and more consistent.

But he also had a resurgent Ricciardo and Red Bull, capitalising on a track where engine power is not essential and having a good aerodynamic package, which their chassis has in abundance, to deal with too.

Rosberg did not put a wheel wrong and showed he can handle himself in pressure situation, which is an attribute every world champion in the making needs.

A proud Rosberg said in his podium interview: “It’s been an awesome weekend in Singapore for me. Of course Daniel tried to pull one on me at the end but we managed to hold him off – I’m really, really happy.

“The whole car was on the edge, it always is in Singapore. It’s all the more satisfying with a race like that.”

The German now retakes the championship lead for the first time since July, moving eight points clear of triple world champion Hamilton.

Rosberg has the momentum, but he needs to maintain this form if he is to leave Yas Marina Circuit on November 27 after the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix as champion.

No driver has won eight races in a season and not gone on to be champion, but given Hamilton has comfortably been quicker than him for the past two seasons in Malaysia, the scene of the next round on October 2, he cannot afford to take anything for granted.

He will need more days like Singapore, proving he can handle the pressure, to come out on top.

gcaygill@thenational.ae

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Published: September 18, 2016 04:00 AM

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