The season is still young – this is only round seven of 19 – but with the title fight now finely balanced and both drivers looking for an edge, the magnificent Circuit Gilles Villeneuve may yet mark a tipping point.
Undoubtedly Hamilton had the measure of his team-mate in the opening races, taking four poles and three wins, but Rosberg came back in Spain with a victory from the front of the grid. Then there was Monaco. Mercedes’ error in sending Hamilton to the pits under the safety car cost him the win that he had thoroughly deserved after a dominant performance, and handed Rosberg victory.
Hamilton was resolutely uninterested in discussing the mistake again in Canada but the win that fell into Rosberg’s lap has put him just 10 points behind his team-mate, making Sunday’s race a challenge for control of the title fight. Hamilton is looking to put Monaco behind him as quickly as possible with another win, and Rosberg needs to prove that he can repeat his form from Spain and mount a credible bid for the championship.
Realistically the fight is between the pair of them, with Mercedes still enjoying a significant advantage over the rest of the field. But it is one made all the more interesting by their starkly contrasting characters. Recently Bernie Ecclestone emphasised this when in conversation with Rosberg.
“When it comes to F1 I am a huge Lewis fan because he is a super promoter of the sport. From a pure business aspect – sorry, Nico, if I have to say this – you are not so good for my business,” he said. “I still believe that Lewis is the best champion that we have had in a long, long time. He manages to get to all different walks of life: red carpet, fashion, business, and music – you name it. That is not your [Nico’s] fault or his. You two are just very different characters.”
As the sport’s promoter, it is hardly surprising Ecclestone is in favour of the attention Hamilton’s lifestyle brings to Formula One. But he also has a point, amply demonstrated by Rosberg’s level-headed response. “He wants some movement out there, and Lewis does a lot of that in his own way,” he said. “I’m a bit more reserved in that sense, so it is not something that surprised me.”
Reserved indeed, but he is also articulate, considered and quick, with a driving style to match. At this race last year both Mercedes suffered failures to their MGU-K energy recovery systems. Without it acting to slow the car there was a huge load on the rear brakes. The pair continued to battle but it was Hamilton, who likes to aggressively carry speed into the corners, who lost his brakes and had to retire. Had the pair kept fighting doubtless Rosberg’s would have gone too, but he managed to bring his car home in second – a result he considers one of his best.
His response to the win in Monaco was equally measured. It was, he said, “one of the luckiest. It wasn’t as emotional as the previous years, part of me really felt for the other side of the garage, who deserved it and it just went wrong. So that took some of the joy away.”
Which is all eminently reasonable but also in its way indicative of what many see as the lack of excitement and character present in modern drivers. Hamilton, however, as Ecclestone has recognised, is happy fully to embrace everything that goes with what is surely one of the best jobs in the world.
His lifestyle – hanging out with the Kardashians, making music in LA – has attracted criticism, to which in Canada he was giving short shrift. “I don’t want to live to any ideal,” he said. “I’m being a grown-up and I am a world champion. I don’t want to live as a world champion as everyone expects a world champion to be – I want to live how I perceive a world champion should be and behave.”
He admits to having matured over the past few years, and it can be seen in the way he deals with setbacks such as that at Monaco, but with the caveat that to have expected him not to have grown would be foolish.
“Over the years I try to do what I want to do and everyone has an opinion about what I do and I think, ‘Just focus on your own life’. Don’t watch me, I’m doing what I like to do and I’m sorry if it doesn’t make you happy,” he said. “It’s strange because people say a Formula 1 driver has to fit into this square box. Jim Clark, Gilles Villeneuve, all these drivers fit square in that box. Just because I don’t doesn’t mean it’s not good for the sport.” Nor does it have any impact on the day job, which is as important as ever. “Absolutely,” he replied when asked whether he believed winning meant as much to him as it did to Clark.
There is no doubt Rosberg feels the same but both drivers, different as they may be in their roles in the circus, will feel the need to impose their own personal perspective with a win in Canada.
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