Now or never for Nico Rosberg to make his push for F1 title
Sunday’s Hungarian Grand Prix is a big race for Nico Rosberg’s hopes of becoming world champion in 2015.
After a slow start to the season he has raised his game considerably, and three wins in the past five races have alleviated fears of a completely one-sided drivers’ title fight.
He still trails Mercedes-GP teammate Lewis Hamilton by 17 points, but given that the gap was as large as 27 after the Bahrain Grand Prix in April, that is encouraging.
Having dominated Hamilton in Austria, though, he missed out on the chance to close the gap further at the British Grand Prix three weeks ago as he was beaten by the Briton.
Much has been made of Hamilton’s triumph on home soil, but Rosberg’s performance should not be forgotten.
He had been in fourth spot for most of the afternoon, but as light rain began to fall he proved to be the fastest man in the damp conditions and moved past both Williams cars of Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa. He then began closing on Hamilton at a rate of more than a second per lap.
Hamilton had no response to the German’s speed. Struggling with tyre temperatures, his lead, which had been more than 10 seconds, shrank to less than two, and he chose to pit to put on intermediates, with Rosberg staying out.
It was an inspired call by the world champion.
The rain became heavier as he pitted and the extra lap on the circuit wrecked Rosberg’s hopes of beating him.
Rosberg had driven superbly to close in on his teammate, and if he had made the call to pit first he would have won.
He did not and the chance to keep the pressure on the world champion was lost, but the important thing is to bounce back immediately this weekend.
There is a four-week pause after tomorrow’s 70-lap race until they go to Belgium on August 23, so whoever stands on the top of the podium will carry the momentum into the summer break.
Rosberg has been a match for Hamilton on raw speed since Bahrain, at least in terms of race pace, but it has been another story in qualifying.
Hamilton has started on pole eight times to Rosberg’s once in the nine races this season, and if there is an Achilles heel to the German this season, his performances on a Saturday afternoon have been it.
Only in Barcelona has Rosberg started at the front. In a season where track position is so vital given the difficultly to overtake with the aerodynamic set-ups of the car, the German continually starting behind his teammate is hurting him.
The irony is that qualifying was Rosberg’s strongest asset in 2014 as he beat Hamilton 12-7, taking 11 poles in the process.
Yet he still did not get the job done in taking the title as Hamilton came out on top. Now the roles have been reversed, with Hamilton shining on Saturdays while Rosberg has improved his race pace.
Rosberg did get around the problem in Austria by making an excellent start to pass the Briton into the first corner, and with an open track ahead of him he drove off into the distance.
The start is crucial at Budapest as the tight confines of the Hungaroring make overtaking, even with the Drag Reduction System (DRS), almost impossible in dry conditions unless the driver in front makes a mistake.
Rosberg can make his life easier by taking pole today and then controlling the race from the front.
A victory tomorrow is vital in so many ways. Winning is great full stop, but putting one over on Hamilton at one of his most successful tracks – four of his 38 race wins have come there – would be a tremendous boost ahead of four weeks off, especially if he could leave his teammate with lingering doubts.
But to do that he has to achieve it first on the track. Whether he can is the most fascinating narrative of this weekend.
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Published: July 24, 2015 04:00 AM