Rosberg Returns To The Winner’s Enclosure
A lot has changed since the Austrian Grand Prix. Red Bull and Renault have filed their divorce papers, Sebastian Vettel has notched victories number two and three for the Scuderia and crucially, Lewis Hamilton has sealed his third World Drivers Championship title. Meanwhile, Nico Rosberg had failed to record his fourth race win of what has been a difficiult campaign. The breakthrough for the German came in Mexico City, as the re-profiled Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez played host to its first Grand Prix since 1992, with Rosberg claiming the spoils ahead of teammate Hamilton.
Their dice usually dominates the headlines, particularly after such a tense duel, yet Sunday was deservedly dominated by the Mexican fans who collectively staked their claim to the accolade of crowd of the season.
“A Gust of Wind”
I must warn you, dear reader, that a rather controversial statement is inbound – I am glad that the Peraltada has been replaced, and not just on safety grounds. Cars completing the slow-speed slalom through the stadium section was visually stunning and with 40,000 passionate Mexicans overlooking the action, the atmosphere seemed sensational. On the warm-up lap alone, it was goose-bump inducing.
And that is simply from watching it from the comfort of my sofa, a mere 5,389 miles away.
The battle for top honours between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg added an entirely different kind of excitement to the occasion. Ultimately, it was a dice which promised a thrilling wheel-to-wheel scrap and in that regard, it never quite delivered. However, the tension, particularly following the late Safety Car, somewhat compensated for the void. Both drivers were clearly pushing the envelope of grip in the closing stages, with both making minor mistakes. Hamilton consistently found himself just tenths outside of the DRS window and as such, was unable to mount an attack. In truth, Rosberg had his position covered for the duration.
The only time in which his pre-eminence wavered was shortly after the restart when he took to the run-off area at Turn 8 – a small error which Hamilton reminded his teammate of in the post-race press conference, with a stealthy reference to “a gust of wind,” having potentially triggered the excursion. It was the type of muttered comment which required me to rewind the broadcast, having missed at the first time of asking.
Hence, the fascinating dynamic between Mercedes’ driver pairing continues. The team continue to employ the same rules on the duel as previous, with Sunday’s Plan B strategy depicting this continuity. Despite Hamilton questioning the decision, he was forced to make a second stop in order to ensure that he carried out the same strategy as his teammate. Clearly, the Hamilton and Rosberg duel which is becoming the defining narrative of this era looks set to continue into 2016 – a campaign which, for all intensive purposes, has already begun in the context of the pair’s personal battle.
Double Trouble For Ferrari
Its rare to see a red car parked on a service road around the circuit, but on Sunday, the super rare occurrence of seeing both Ferrari’s out of the running pervaded. The culmination of a disastrous day for Sebastian Vettel, saw his race end in the barriers at Turn 8 while yet another clash with Valtteri Bottas saw Kimi Raikkonen’s day end even prior to that of his teammate’s.
“During the course of this season, we touched the sky. Today, we touched the bottom,” said a typically philosophical Maurizio Arrivabene after the race. “This is a good lesson for all of us, preparing ourselves and the character of the team for next year.”
In reality, it is now all about next year for the Maranello based squad. Sunday’s result may have been their first double retirement since the 2006 Australian Grand Prix, but it is certainly a better streak to break this side of the new year.
A Lovely Race Tyre
In a detour from usual proceedings, it was in fact the prime compound tyre which yielded the best performance on Sunday. The medium compound suffered limited degradation, as exemplified by Sergio Perez, who managed to keep his rivals on fresh rubber behind him following the restart. Not only that, but it also delivered the better pace, with conditions seemingly outside of the optimum window for the soft tyre to operate effectively.
This was poignantly demonstrated by Red Bull, who switched to the theoretically faster option tyre at the final pit-stop, while Valtteri Bottas opted for the primes. Despite having better pace in the opening exchanges, both Daniil Kvyat and Daniel Ricciardo were unable to match the Williams’ speed in the closing stages. After holding the final podium step for the majority of the race, an excellent strategy call meant that the Grove squad pinched the final trophy of the day for Milton Keynes.
Driver of the Day
To have coped with the enormity of having an entire nation watching your every move for an entire weekend, to come away with points was a good return for Perez, who managed to salvage his day despite being seemingly compromised strategically by the late Safety Car.
Overtake of the Day
RICCIARDO vs Massa
With DRS proving to be relatively ineffective at altitude, Daniel Ricciardo was required to call upon his late-braking trait which made him the pass-master in 2014. A bold move down the inside of Felipe Massa proved pivotal in the battle for fifth.
Team of the Weekend
At a venue where the benefits of the Mercedes powerunit were supposed to be dulled by the altitude, the newly re-crowned champions crushed the opposition throughout the weekend. It was as dominant as we have seen them since way back in March, when the paddock reconvened after the winter break in Melbourne.