Nico Rosberg grinds out first F1 driver’s title to put Lewis Hamilton in shade

Formula One - F1 - Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

Nico Rosberg’s first Formula One championship was a classic victory for the diligent, dogged competitor over a more gifted opponent. It was the triumph of the retriever over the greyhound, the tortoise over the hare.

Hamilton was complicit, in part, in his own downfall. He made five poor starts and there were other occasions when he was not quite “on it.” Rosberg also had more good fortune when it came to reliability.

But Rosberg proved good and consistent enough to take advantage when Hamilton could not quite manage his A game. Up to and including the Brazilian Grand Prix he had 23 wins, 56 podiums and 30 poles; no other driver has those figures without a title to his name.

Rosberg knows better than anyone else that Hamilton’s is the much superior talent. He also knew that Hamilton had achieved his life’s ambition in the US Grand Prix last year, when he won his third world title to equal the record of his idol, Ayrton Senna.

It might also be argued it was that race that toughened up Rosberg, who felt his team-mate had driven too aggressively. The German was never a pushover but it was after that that he started to get his elbows out.

There is also an all-round excellence to Rosberg’s game that is unusual. He has no important weakness, even if there is nothing very special either. And if ever anyone doubts his credentials he can point to the Singapore Grand Prix in September. It was his perfect weekend, and the weekend of a champion racing driver.

It all started last year. Rosberg won the last three races of 2015 and entered the current season with new levels of self-belief.

When he won the first four races this year there was a growing sense in the Hamilton camp that the world champion had forgotten how to win a car race and that he needed to plunder his memory banks as a matter or urgency.

Rosberg won the opener in Australia and then in Bahrain and there was a steely determination about Hamilton going into the third round in China. But there, Rosberg received the first of a number of lucky breaks. Hamilton was handed a five-place penalty following a gearbox change, and then an engine failure shunted him to he back of the grid. Rosberg won again.

When he won the fourth race in Russia he had opened up a 43-point lead in the title race and was contemplating becoming only the second driver in the modern era to win eight straight races following his surge at the end of the previous year. Hamilton had not won a race for more than six months.

Then, in Barcelona, as the circus came to Europe, we had an all too rare coming together of the two Mercedes cars, and it ended badly for both of them.

Rosberg went past pole-sitter Hamilton at the start but then, coming out of the third corner and with the wrong engine setting, he slowed dramatically and Hamilton saw an opportunity to retake him. But when Rosberg blocked his path Hamilton went on to the grass, spun and collided with the German, to the consternation of the Mercedes pitwall. But the double DNF (did not finish) suited Rosberg much better.

He had, however, lost some of his momentum. In the next race, a wet one in Monaco, he seemed very subdued and was even instructed to move over to let the quicker Hamilton through. He finished a tame seventh while Hamilton took the chequered flag to begin a summer spree of six wins in seven races.

Hamilton won again in Canada and although Rosberg was victorious in Baku he could not stop a revitalised world champion storming to wins in Austria, Silverstone, Hungary and Germany.

In Austria the two again collided but Hamilton’s car was not badly damaged, while Rosberg was hit with a 10-second penalty and could manage only fourth; his lead was down to just one point. When Hamilton won the next three he led the title race by 19.

The summer break gave Rosberg the chance to take stock. He did not answer his mobile phone for two weeks. He revised his sleeping pattern. He refocused. Hamilton, on the other hand, appeared to lose his edge.

The Englishman was unlucky to start at the back of the grid in Belgium, the penalty for an engine change, but yet another poor start in Monza gifted another victory to Rosberg, who went back in front in the points table.

In the next race, in Singapore, Rosberg provided his most complete performance of the season, with a perfect qualifying lap followed by a carefully measured and well judged victory under pressure. If Hamilton did not realise he had a serious battle on his hands before this race, he knew now.

Hamilton responded as champions do, with a dominant display in Malaysia. He should have rounded it off with a win but his engine blew up with just 15 laps remaining.

After that, Hamilton appeared to lose some focus. In Japan he appeared distracted on and off the track. His behaviour in two pre-race press conferences was bizarre and after yet another poor start he finished third while Rosberg led from start to finish to open up a strong lead of 33 points.

But Rosberg could only look on as Hamilton regrouped once more to win in Austin, Mexico and Brazil. Rosberg’s lead had been whittled down to 12 but, knowing a podium finish was enough in Abu Dhabi, whatever Hamilton did, the German cruised to his first championship.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Paul Weaver, for The Guardian on Sunday 27th November 2016 21.47 Europe/London

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