Ros­berg still needs to up his level to be among F1 greats

Malta Independent - - SPORT -

Af­ter fi­nally get­ting the bet­ter of long­time ri­val Lewis Hamil­ton to be­come For­mula One cham­pion, the weight is off Nico Ros­berg’s shoul­ders and he has the chance to re­ally show what he can do.

But at 31, the Ger­man driver is al­ready into his peak years and only has a lim­ited time left at the top.

Ros­berg showed im­pres­sive men­tal re­silience to get the bet­ter of Hamil­ton over a topsy-turvy sea­son, and the ti­tle vic­tory was even sweeter con­sid­er­ing that they have been com­pet­ing against each other since their kart­ing days as teens.

“It feels like I have been rac­ing him for­ever and al­ways he has just man­aged to edge me out,” Ros­berg said af­ter clinch­ing the ti­tle at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Sun­day. “He is just an amaz­ing driver and one of the best in his­tory. That makes it so much more sat­is­fy­ing that I took the world cham­pi­onship away from him.”

For Ros­berg to be spo­ken of along­side other F1 greats, he needs to do more than beat­ing Hamil­ton over 21 races in es­sen­tially the same Mercedes car. He was thor­oughly con­sis­tent, but Ros­berg’s ti­tle win lacked the “wow” fac­tor in terms of pure driv­ing.

He needs to dom­i­nate a cam­paign the way Hamil­ton and four-time cham­pion Se­bas­tian Vet­tel - and oth­ers be­fore them - have done.

Ros­berg’s tally of 23 ca­reer race wins is com­mend­able but un­re­mark­able con­sid­er­ing Hamil­ton who is the same age - has a whop­ping 53 wins. Vet­tel, who is two years younger, al­ready has 42.

Two-time F1 cham­pion Fer­nando Alonso, who is for some ob­servers still the most skilled driver in F1, has 32 wins. That to­tal would be far higher had Alonso been given a lead­ing car. The Spa­niard has not won a race since tak­ing the check­ered flag for Fer­rari in May 2013. He has spent this sea­son and last get­ting the best out of a strug­gling McLaren adapt­ing to its switch back to a Honda en­gine.

Clearly, Ros­berg needs to im­prove his speed if he is to be con­sid­ered among the best.

This year, Hamil­ton se­cured 10 wins to Ros­berg’s nine and - as Hamil­ton has con­sis­tently re­peated - would prob­a­bly have had a cou­ple more wins with­out en­gine prob­lems that cropped up sev­eral times. He con­sid­ers him­self to have been the best driver.

“Ob­vi­ously we had a lot of prob­lems this year, and that’s in­evitably why I’m in this po­si­tion,” Hamil­ton said as Ros­berg sat next to him in Sun­day’s post-race news con­fer­ence.

Al­though Hamil­ton’s com­ments smacked of poor sports­man­ship, he does have an ar­gu­ment.

In qual­i­fy­ing, Hamil­ton took 12 pole po­si­tions com­pared to eight for Ros­berg, even though Hamil­ton was un­able to com­pete in three ses­sions be­cause of en­gine woes.

Ros­berg, how­ever, could also have got more poles un­der dif­fer­ent cir­cum­stances.

He was not push­ing Hamil­ton in qual­i­fy­ing over the last four races be­cause he was more con­cerned with pro­tect­ing his con­sid­er­able lead and play­ing it safe on race day, where tak­ing sec­ond place be­hind Hamil­ton was enough.

Still, aside from Sin­ga­pore, where Ros­berg crushed Hamil­ton in qual­i­fy­ing with a quite stun­ning lap, he has not been as quick.

Af­ter miss­ing out on a third straight F1 ti­tle and fourth over­all, Hamil­ton will be hugely mo­ti­vated next year.

Oth­ers will be push­ing Ros­berg, too, not least Red Bull driver Max Ver­stap­pen.

The 19-year-old Dutch­man has taken F1 by storm this year - be­com­ing the youngest to both win a race and qual­ify on the front row.

With rule changes - no­tably wider tires - ex­pected to make the 2017 cars sev­eral sec­onds quicker, Mercedes might be more strongly chal­lenged.

Ver­stap­pen will have more ex­pe­ri­ence and Red Bull will be con­fi­dent that he can chal­lenge for wins, con­sid­er­ing it was the only team other than Mercedes to win a race this sea­son. Vet­tel has also ex­pressed op­ti­mism that Fer­rari can close the gap.

Ros­berg’s fa­ther - 1982 For­mula One cham­pion Keke Ros­berg - said his son will need to be ready.

“The level is al­ways high in For­mula One. Look at Max, he is the team­mate of (Daniel) Ric­cia­rdo. Or Vet­tel, he is the team­mate of (Kimi) Raikko­nen,” Keke Ros­berg said. “When you take the top three teams, all of them have been world cham­pi­ons, or at Red Bull they’re all young tal­ents. That’s the level we have.”

Mercedes driver Nico Ros­berg of Ger­many cel­e­brates with his team­mates in the team garage Photo: AP

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