Italy win great, but Nico Rosberg needs to beat Lewis Hamilton straight up at some point

Graham Caygill writes that for Nico Rosberg to be world champion, 'He cannot rely on more engine penalties and slow getaways from Lewis Hamilton to get the job done.'
Nico Rosberg celebrates on the podium in front of Lewis Hamilton on Sunday after winning the Italian Grand Prix. Daniel Dal Zennaro / EPA / September 4, 2016
Nico Rosberg celebrates on the podium in front of Lewis Hamilton on Sunday after winning the Italian Grand Prix. Daniel Dal Zennaro / EPA / September 4, 2016

The Italian Grand Prix on Sunday will not go down as one of the more memorable races of 2016 when it comes to looking back at the year’s events.

A fairly processional affair, which saw Nico Rosberg cut the gap to Lewis Hamilton, his Mercedes-GP teammate, down to two points as he triumphed at Monza.

Rosberg was not a popular victor as he was booed by the home crowd on the podium, but while he did win them over with some singing, he would not have cared too much in reality.

The important thing was the win and the 25 points, and it puts him right back in the championship fight with seven races to go.

But the Monza triumph, while a fine achievement, did nothing to dispel the view that the only way he will leave the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on November 27 as world champion will be if more mistakes and problems hit Hamilton.

More Formula One

• Italian GP results: Nico Rosberg cuts Lewis Hamilton’s lead to two points

• In pictures: Nico Rosberg shaves Lewis Hamilton’s F1 championship lead in Italy

Hamilton had dominated Rosberg in qualifying on Saturday, the 0.4 seconds margin between the pair a huge gap, by Formula One timings, in terms of them both having the same machinery and being on the quickest lap of the season, with it taking only 81 seconds to get around the three-kilometre track at the Autodromo Nazionale Monza track.

It was an absolute beasting and more of the same was expected in the race.

But, instead Hamilton got a terrible start, Rosberg took the lead, and by the time the triple world champion got himself up to second, the German was long gone with a lead of 15 seconds.

Now the standing start is part of F1, an essential part, and Hamilton, whether it was his fault or the car’s, did a poorer job of getting away than his teammate, and it defined the race and the order of the finish.

But, it is hard to believe that Rosberg would have prevailed had it not been for Hamilton’s problems off the line.

Hamilton had been quicker throughout the weekend, and did make in-roads into Rosberg’s lead in the second half of the race, before backing off as he realised his faster pace would still not be enough to catch his title rival.

Rosberg took full advantage and paced himself well to the 21st win of his career, but it did nothing to answer the view that he only prevails when his teammate hits trouble.

Rosberg has won seven times this year, his best haul of victories in a year yet, and you have to go back to 2006 and Michael Schumacher for the last time a driver won that many races in a year and was still not the champion.

But in Australia, Bahrain and Italy, he was aided by Hamilton losing ground badly at the start, which left him too much to do.

In China, Russia and Belgium grid penalties for engine problems left the Briton too much to do in making up the ground, while his qualifying crash in Azerbaijan left him 10th quickest and out of contention for the win there.

This is not to down Rosberg’s efforts. He has beaten what is in front of him on those seven occasions, and it is not his fault Hamilton has had the problems he has had.

But when Hamilton has had a clean weekend he has been the quicker man and won the race ahead of Rosberg.

You have to go back to June 2015 in Austria for the last time that Rosberg beat Hamilton in a race, where the championship was still alive, and it was a clean tussle between the pair and neither of them had any dramas.

That is of course not including the three races at the end of 2015 in Mexico, Brazil and Abu Dhabi that Rosberg won against Hamilton, but the title was already in the Briton’s grasp by then and doubts were raised at the time by just how motivated he had been to win the races.

There are seven races left of the season, beginning with the Singapore Grand Prix on September 18, and given the Mercedes car continues to have a raw pace edge on the rest of the field, the fight for victory in each race should remain between them at each track.

Realistically, and this is ruling out reliability problems hitting either car, Rosberg will most likely have to win a minimum of four more races if he is to win his first world title.

He cannot rely on more engine penalties and slow getaways from Hamilton to get the job done.

Italy was great but was essentially a bonus offered up by Hamilton, and the German is going to have to drive better than he has ever done before, starting with the Marina Bay Circuit in Singapore.

gcaygill@thenational.ae

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Published: September 5, 2016 04:00 AM

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