Breaking his 2015 victory duck was critical for Nico Rosberg. Taking the chequered flag ahead of his teammate Lewis Hamilton yesterday has reduced his arrears to 20 points and now means that the Briton can be caught and usurped from the championship lead in one weekend. After a succession of four straight pole positions and 93 points from a possible 100 in the opening innings of 2015, Hamilton seemed unstoppable until Nico finally achieved the perfect weekend – and not before time. Now, the German seems ready to take the fight to his chief rival.
Certainly, this is the opinion of Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff; “We’ve seen it last year. We have spent time talking: ‘Is that now Nico on the run, has the balance swung more towards him, or is it now Lewis?'” he said, speaking to Sky Sports F1.
“I think you are probably going to see the same thing again this season, two drivers who are matching each other, trying to outperform each other. For us as a team it’s really a good situation, because it lifts the performance of the whole team, and it’s the best case.”
Rosberg leading Hamilton home yesterday, in that order, was a great result for Mercedes. The team can only benefit from having two drivers, both in top form. Heading into Monaco, Hamilton faces extra incentive to succeed, as he looks to halt his teammate’s momentum, while Rosberg will be filled with confidence on the back of a renewed belief in his ability and heading to a circuit in which he has dominated proceedings in the past two seasons.
Of course, the pair will never lack motivation to succeed – that is a trait in-built into every professional sportsperson. However, I can only imagine that when an intense inter-team rivalry emerges, the determination to beat the opposite number draws a fraction more performance out a driver. For Hamilton, a win must be even more satisfying when he acknowledges that he needed to beat an in-form Nico Rosberg in order to take home the trophy, and vice-versa.
I doubt that, following his triumph this weekend, Rosberg will disappear from Hamilton’s radar again this season, just as Toto Wolff has predicted. Aside from in Malaysia and qualifying in Bahrain, Rosberg has never lost sight of his teammate, instead beaten by fractions. In Australia and China, it could be argued that had Nico edged out Lewis on Saturday afternoon, the win would have been at his mercy and Lewis would have faced the criticisms following the race.
Ultimately, this is a hypothetical situation and as Murray Walker famously said, F1 is IF spelled backwards.
“They are mentally very strong, both of them,” Wolff continued. “And I think as much as we would like to find a dynamic that is pro or against a driver, they come out very strong even after a bad weekend or a defeat. After the debrief is over, they concentrate on the next one.”
This mental strength, hardened after a year of intense rivalry in 2014, is what makes the Hamilton and Rosberg battle so fascinating. Now that Rosberg has a foothold in the title fight, I doubt he is about to relinquish it.
Image Credit: "Barcelona Test 3 Day 2" By Rachel Clarke via Flickr [CC-BY-2.0]