Onus on Rosberg to keep title fight alive until Abu Dhabi

German driver under pressure eliminate recent mistakes and keep teammate Lewis Hamilton in sight, writes Graham Caygill

Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg of Germany watches the race from the pit after retiring from the race due to car problems during the Singapore Grand Prix on the Marina Bay City Circuit in Singapore on September 21, 2014. Tim Chong / AP Photo
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The Formula One fraternity will be relieved to get to the job at hand today when practice begins for Sunday’s US Grand Prix in Austin, Texas.

It has been a tough month for the sport.

Jules Bianchi continues to fight for his life in a Japanese hospital. The Frenchman suffered severe head injuries after crashing into a recovery vehicle during the Japanese Grand Prix on October 5.

His Marussia team will not be on the grid in Austin, having gone into administration last week as lack of funds has caught up with the back-of-the-grid team.

Caterham also will be missing because of financial woes, meaning for the first time since May 2005 only 18 cars will be entered for a grand prix weekend.

Both teams are out of the Brazil race next weekend, too, but Bernie Ecclestone, F1’s chief executive, has not ruled out the duo competing at the final round of the season, the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, on Sunday, November 23.

After a difficult four weeks, the sport would love to produce an entertaining race at Circuit of the Americas to return attention to the track.

No driver competing this weekend needs a strong race more than does Nico Rosberg.

The Mercedes-GP driver goes into the weekend trailing teammate Lewis Hamilton by 17 points in what is a two-man race for the drivers' championship. Red Bull Racing's Daniel Ricciardo needs the unlikely scenario of winning all three remaining races, while requiring championship leader Hamilton to score no more than seven points, to have a chance of success.

Hamilton v Rosberg was the scenario most likely from the moment it became apparent, in the opening races of the season, that the Mercedes was the dominant machine on the grid.

Rosberg is on the defensive coming to Austin, having seen Hamilton, the 2008 world champion, turn a 29-point deficit into a 17-point lead by winning the past four races.

Twenty-five of that 46-point swing came in Singapore, when an electronic failure in Rosberg's steering wheel forced only his second retirement of the season.

But in the other three races, Italy, Japan and Russia, Rosberg has been beaten by Hamilton, finishing second to the Briton each time.

Italy and Russia were particularly galling as it was Rosberg errors that handed victory to his rival.

At Monza in September, while leading, he out-braked himself at Turn 1 to run down the escape road and allow Hamilton to pass him.

In Sochi three weeks ago, he had done the hard part of trying to take the lead at Turn 1 by getting alongside Hamilton.

He acknowledged horribly misjudging his braking point and flat-spotted his tyres. He was fortunate the Pirelli compounds in Russia were so durable that he could get away with only one pit-stop to allow him to fight back to second. His deficit could easily be more than 17 points.

All the momentum is with Hamilton. Not since the German Grand Prix in July, six races ago, has Rosberg stood on the top step of the podium.

Rosberg, the son of the 1982 world champion Keke Rosberg, has faced this situation already this season, after Hamilton reeled off wins in Malaysia, Bahrain, China and Spain.

To his credit, Rosberg rallied with a controversial win in Monaco, with Hamilton upset as he alleged his teammate had deliberately gone off in qualifying to bring out caution flags and deny him a last chance at claiming pole position.

But that does not give Rosberg sufficient credit. He drove superbly in the race, under considerable pressure from Hamilton, while worrying about fuel-consumption issues, and did not make a mistake on a track where the slightest error can end a race.

That started a run where Rosberg took pole at six of seven races.

He cannot win or lose the world championship this weekend, but if he is to leave Yas Marina Circuit on the evening of November 23 as world champion, he needs to put the skids on Hamilton’s charge.

A Mercedes one-two on Sunday, with either driver winning, which would be their 10th of the season, would guarantee that the title fight will be decided in Abu Dhabi.

If Hamilton wins again and Rosberg is second, the gap will be 24 points, meaning it cannot go above 49 points after Brazil, with 50 points available in the UAE thanks to the first use of the double-points scoring system.

That initiative is likely to keep Rosberg in the title fight to Abu Dhabi, barring mechanical unreliability.

Hamilton could win in Austin and then Brazil, and if Rosberg is second both times he will be 31 points adrift with 50 available in Abu Dhabi.

Rosberg, though, does not want that scenario as that will require bad luck to hit Hamilton – but, given the numerous mechanical problems that have afflicted the Briton, a retirement would not be a shock.

Rosberg can control his destiny with victory in Austin. The long straights and fast curves of the 5.5-kilometre track should suit the Mercedes, as every track this season has, so it comes down to whether Rosberg can channel the spirit of Monaco and turn the momentum in his direction in this year’s season of fluctuating fortunes.

gcaygill@thenational.ae

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