Ros­berg takes five


Ros­berg’s win­ning streak con­tin­ues as he over­pow­ers his team-mate for a fifth con­sec­u­tive vic­tory

When a driver ad­mits that he and his team have cho­sen “the safest strat­egy” for a grand prix, you know they haven’t ex­actly had their tough­estever day at the of­fice.

So it was for Nico Ros­berg, com­fort­able, com­posed win­ner of the 2016 Bahrain GP, now a back-to-back vic­tor this year and au­thor of a fiver­ace win­ning streak stretch­ing back to Mex­ico last Novem­ber. Can this be the foun­da­tion for his first ti­tle? Cer­tainly he couldn’t have hoped for more from the first two grands prix of the sea­son.

But ques­tions still re­main as to the fun­da­ments of Ros­berg’s vic­to­ries. At the end of last year, as he rat­tled in a Mex­i­coBrazil-abu Dhabi hat-trick, we won­dered if his achieve­ments had been the re­sult of su­pe­rior per­for­mance or whether they were more the con­se­quence of a post-ti­tle lift­ing off the gas by the hith­erto dom­i­nant Lewis Hamil­ton. This year it must be noted that both of Ros­berg’s wins, im­mac­u­late though they have been, have fol­lowed start-line prob­lems for Hamil­ton.

The char­i­ta­ble will say that the in­nately an­a­lyt­i­cal Ros­berg will have un­der­stood the po­ten­tial for mishap in­tro­duced by the new­for-2016 sin­gle-clutch start pro­ce­dure, and pre­pared him­self to be best prac­tised for the change. Those who be­lieve Hamil­ton more gifted will sim­ply think: “Wait till Lewis nails it.”

These two re­main ter­rif­i­cally closely matched, with the slight­est ad­van­tage in any area of per­for­mance, be it me­chan­i­cal, psy­cho­log­i­cal, emo­tional, enough to tip the bal­ance in either man’s favour. For the past two sea­sons that edge has favoured Hamil­ton, par­tic­u­larly so in 2015.

This year… well, let’s just say that when the 21 races are done, maybe we’ll look back and re­alise that the tiny start-pro­ce­dure ad­van­tage Ros­berg found over the 2015-16 off-sea­son had been suf­fi­cient to see him to a world ti­tle. Maybe. Any ad­van­tage either finds will be telling, but al­most cer­tainly tran­si­tory.

In Bahrain qual­i­fy­ing they were sep­a­rated by just 0.077s, to share the front row (Lewis on pole, his 51st). That gap equated to just one car-length around the BIC’S 3.36 miles and both Nico’s and Lewis’s best times were good enough to beat the qual­i­fy­ing record set by here by Fer­nando Alonso in 2005. So with an en­gine barely half the size of Alonso’s 3.0-litre Mercedes V10, and us­ing only half as much fuel, a sig­nif­i­cant mark had been passed. That’s progress.

Mercedes re­tain the edge over their clos­est ri­vals, Fer­rari, and it was best dis­played by a sec­ond con­sec­u­tive re­cov­ery drive from Hamil­ton. Into T1 af­ter the start, he was skew­ered by a rocket-launch­ing Valt­teri Bot­tas, whose Wil­liams nerfed the right side­pod of Hamil­ton’s Mercedes and pitched it into a half­spin. Bot­tas lost his left front-wing end­plate

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