Mercedes undoubtedly has the best car on-track, but will mechanical problems decide which of their drivers wins the title?
Hamilton has suffered most with reliability. But when the pair have been evenly matched against one another, it has more often been Hamilton who has the edge over his team-mate.
Technical faults have been a nightmare for the team and marred many of their races. Right from the season opener in Australia reliability has been a huge issue. Hamilton began on pole but retired after only four laps due to engine failure; Rosberg went on to win the race, but it is highly debatable as to whether Hamilton would have taken the win had his car not failed him.
Hamilton then took four wins in a row - Malaysia, Bahrain, China and Spain - while Rosberg held onto a strong second, surely proving who is the better driver of the pair. The team-mates’ on-track tussling in Bahrain left Rosberg unable to prove his worth as he clearly struggled to keep up with Hamilton.
By round six in Monaco, Rosberg had to seriously up his game if he was to repeat his 2013 win. He did just that, taking victory with Hamilton in second.
But this was not without its controversy as in qualifying Rosberg shot down the run-off area when he locked up through one of the track’s tight corners, meaning the final session had to be cut short with no one able to improve on the German’s time. And with Rosberg starting on pole and little opportunity for overtaking at the circuit, his win was inevitable.
In Canada Hamilton’s car was once again plagued with issues, but this time it was brake failure that left him facing retirement. Rosberg was able to capitalise on this by finishing in second, despite nursing his own problems. Next up in Austria Hamilton and his car survived the race, claiming second to Rosberg’s win.
Silverstone was a must win for Hamilton. In front of his home crowd he wanted to prove he had what it takes to win the championship, and the Brit was welcomed with cheers of delight as he crossed the line first. This was the first race in which Rosberg encountered serious car issues and Hamilton did not, with the former forced to retire after a gearbox failure.
At the following German Grand Prix Robserg had home advantage and took the win from pole position. Hamilton suffered disastrous brake issues in qualifying and ended up in the barriers after an almighty 130 mph crash. He qualified 20th, receiving a five-place penalty following a gearbox change. That was a huge blow, but he drove fantastically throughout the race to finish on the podium. It wasn’t quite enough to outshine his team-mate, however.
For the second race weekend in a row Hamilton suffered with a disastrous qualifying as his car burst into flames in Hungary. With no time set he was forced to start from the pit lane. He battled his way to a third place finish, ahead of Rosberg, who claimed fourth despite starting on pole.
The Belgium debacle was Hamilton’s first retirement of the season not caused by reliability issues. The skirmish between himself and Rosberg left the Brit with a puncture that he had to nurse back to the pits. He re-emerged at the back and could not regain places, eventually retiring in order to save the engine. However he got his revenge by pressuring Rosberg into a mistake and taking victory in Italy.
Most recently, in Singapore, it was Rosberg’s turn to endure reliability issues, this time in the form of electrical failure. Despite the best efforts of the team to restart the car, Robserg knew that his race was over. Needless to say Hamilton won and now leads the championship, a devastating blow for Rosberg.
The German has retired only twice this season compared to Hamilton’s three, but the Brit has taken seven wins to the Nico's four. Those statistics suggest that Hamilton is the better driver but has suffered with worse reliability, particularly as two of his qualifying sessions have been hampered while, on the surface at least, none of Rosberg’s have.
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has stated that reliability must not decide the title, but of course it will. If anything goes wrong with either driver's car, while the other runs clean, then their championship dreams will be dashed instantly. And with the team now pushing hard to ensure reliability they could end up making more mistakes than improvements and the likes of Red Bull, who have nothing to lose but everything to gain, could push harder to grab more wins - or perhaps even the title.
There is no doubt that the 2014 Mercedes is a fantastic car - if it makes it to the end of the race. And that is the issue that will plague the mechanics and the team until they can ensure that both last the duration of a race weekend. If Mercedes can ensure complete reliability then it looks like Hamilton will be receiving his second world title; if not it could go either way.
Will reliability really be the decider for this year's championship title? The answer is quite simply yes.