Is psychological strength the key to success in modern Formula 1?

Hamilton Rosberg Monza podium

Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg's 2014 world title battle is being fought as hard off the track as it is on it.

There is no doubt that Formula 1 is an incredibly tough sport that provides an unbelievable physical challenge for its drivers. With cars able to travel at speeds of over 200mph, the g-forces inflicted upon them can be immense and even the smallest of collisions can cause any number of injuries. They must be physically fit to withstand all that could possibly happen to them on the track, but it isn’t just the physical aspects of the sport that affect a Formula 1 driver in 2014.

No matter the amount of muscle or brawn a driver has, psychological pressures are a significant factor affecting the sport's stars today. Mentally it is incredibly taxing and drivers face an abundance of pressure from their team, rivals, the press and even themselves.

Take the current situation at Mercedes. The team are very strong this season, and so are its drivers. But the intense rivalry between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg must be taking its toll mentally on both them and their team.

At Monza last weekend Hamilton had the edge over Rosberg, starting from pole position. Despite Rosberg being ahead in the championship standings the repercussions from the previous race at Spa had left the German out in the cold as the team chose to reprimand him for his behaviour, clearly stating their view on the situation; in their eyes it was Nico’s fault and he had to be punished. For either of the pair to succeed at Monza they needed to be in a clear state of mind.

Hamilton’s poor start resulted in Rosberg taking the race lead and regaining the psychological edge, but Hamilton knew that he had to keep on Rosberg’s back in order to stand any chance of securing the win. After all, Formula 1 has become a sport of mind games.

Hamilton stuck with Rosberg and continued to pressure him until his team-mate could no longer stand the heat. This led to Nico’s costly mistake. As he locked up, and attempted to not flat spot his tyres, he missed the chicane and ended up weaving through the run-off area. As he rejoined the track Hamilton had already capitalised on the error, now leading the race and subsequently taking the much needed win.

But the mind games didn't stop there though. As the live television coverage at Monza continued the audience were privy to the immediate race aftermath as the top three waited to collect their trophies on the podium. Rosberg had lost the mental battle on track and he needed to regain something in order to knock Hamilton down.

The German engaged in conversation with a member of the Mercedes team and Felipe Massa, who joined the pair on the podium, but in Italian. It was surely no coincidence that Rosberg chose to speak in this language, one he knew full well that Hamilton would not understand, an act that would exclude his team-mate.

Unfortunately for Rosberg this didn’t work when he spoke Italian on the podium: he was met with boos from the fans while Hamilton raised his trophy to numerous cheers. And the roar emitted from the crowd when Hamilton spoke just two Italian words only served as a further blow to Nico. Rivalry between the team-mates has been taken one step further now and battling on track just isn’t enough. Having the psychological edge is everything.

There is no doubt that the season will end with one of the Mercedes drivers as the 2014 champion and psychological strength will be key to their success. No matter the action and squabbling on track a clear mind is crucial to performance and the drivers cannot crumble if they want to hold that trophy come November.

For now Hamilton has the advantage with the Monza win under his belt, but Rosberg still leads the standings. And with the German finishing higher in the points at Singapore last year, there will be yet another psychological battle at the Marina Bay Street Circuit in two weeks' time.