For Nico Rosberg, Well Begun is Not Half Done
Nico Rosberg is revelling in the strongest start to a season he has ever had but refusing to get carried away by thoughts of a maiden F1 title, despite romping unchallenged to victory in Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix, his second win of the season in as many races. He had won the Australian GP - the first race of the 2016.
Unlike last year when it was too late by the time Rosberg found his feet with team-mate Lewis Hamilton already having wrapped up the title, his wins in 2016, place him firmly in control of the championship. His cushion over team-mate and rival Hamilton, is now 17 points. With the German in the form of his life, reporters playfully tried to get Rosberg to concede that his thoughts must surely now dwell on winning the championship. But he was having none of it.
“I am just enjoying it at the moment,” Rosberg told reporters, following the race in Bahrain. "I am going step by step, race by race and wanting to make the most of it and win more races.”
Rosberg’s wariness of getting carried away probably stems from knowing how fast even the most sizeable advantage can unravel, especially with 19 races still to run in the longest-ever F1 season. The 30-year-old led the cham- pionship standings for most of the 2014 season, his cushion over Hamilton at one stage, helped by a run of bad luck for the Briton, stretching to as much as 29 points. Yet, Hamilton overhauled that advantage with a run of six wins from the final seven races and snatched the title from Nico’s grasp.
Hamilton last stood on the top step of the podium at the US GP in October last year, the race at which he clinched his third title. But that triumph seems to have given the Briton, whose form in the past has been prone to f luctuating under pressure, the ability to deal with the situation in an assured manner and swing with the punches only to deliver a knockout blow at the very end, much like one of his idols. “Not that this is the same, but Muhammad Ali with that Rumble in the Jungle, he got the dude to believe that he was winning and he didn’t. So anything can happen,” the Briton said. “This is a psychological game for sure. But I guess with age and experience I’m in the most solid place that I’ve ever been. There’s very little if not anything that can penetrate that.”
Looking at the headlines the narrative may appear to be unchanged from the past two seasons after much optimism that Ferrari could end Mercedes’ dominance. After all, the third practice for the Bahrain GP was the first time this year that a driver other than from Mercedes had topped a session, with Sebastian Vettel heading the timesheets for Ferrari. Mercedes also started Sunday’s race from their eighthstraight front-row lockout while, similarly, Rosberg’s win marked the Silver Arrows’ eighth successive triumph.
But while Mercedes do have the edge in terms of raw pace, Ferrari may be more of a threat than they have seemed so far this season. Vettel was on course for victory in Australian GP but a bungled tyre gamble dropped him out of contention. He didn’t even start the race in Bahrain as his Ferrari ground to a halt, plumes of thick white smoke billowing from its engine, on the formation lap itself. Kimi Raikkonen has traditionally been strong in Bahrain and scored his best finish of the season with second at the track last year. But the Finn made a tardy start and was stuck behind the slower Williams cars of Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas and Daniel Ricciardo’s Red Bull in the early stages, without which he might have challenged for the win. Sunday’s race in Bahrain may not have been as hard-fought at the front as the season- opener in Australia. However, it certainly wasn’t short on drama, some major upsets and plenty of wheel-to-wheel racing lower down the field.