In My Opinion: The Forgotten Man

Forgotten man: 2015 Bahrain Grand Prix, Sunday – Steve Etherington

Merely a month ago, Lewis Hamilton’s third world title seemed to be a mere formality. The British driver was dominating the sport in a true Schumacher/Vettel fashion. He was racking up pole positions and race wins almost effortlessly. Now, a slight breeze of change can be felt.

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Yes, Sebastian Vettel won the Malaysian Grand Prix, but the reaction to that win was the best testament of Hamilton’s perceived dominance. The most successful active driver won for the most successful team in the sport, yet the win was deemed a massive upset, against the logic of the championship. In the meantime, the driver that had led the World Drivers’ Championship for lengthy periods last season was forgotten.

Nico Rosberg’s pole and win at the Spanish Grand Prix, however, got the pundits once again talking about the German as a force to be reckoned with. Overnight, online betting sites slashed the odds on the German winning the Drivers’ Championship outright from 10/1 to 5/1. But can Nico emulate what Rosberg senior did and actually win the title?

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All fans would be excited to see another championship go down to the wire, so a challenge by the sport’s Forgotten Man will be more than welcome.

All fans would be excited to see another championship go down to the wire, so a challenge by the sport’s Forgotten Man will be more than welcome. However, how realistic these expectations are, just on the back of Rosberg’s sole win in Spain? The Spaniard is certainly a Top 5 driver but he has shown weaknesses this year, too many of them to give him a real shot against a Lewis Hamilton that does not have recurring mechanical issues.

Indeed the 2015 Formula 1 season begins to look very much like its somewhat lacklustre predecessor (in terms of single team dominance). Hamilton would win most of the races in which his car does not fail him, while Rosberg would steal the odd win by showing impressive form on a few tracks. In this scenario, Vettel is probably putting on Daniel Ricciardo’s mantle from 2014 – i.e. “the constant presence on the podium that has no real shot at the title.” The quadruple world champion would be ready to pounce at a chance for a win but will be out of contention for another championship in early October.

Indeed, the primary reason behind Rosberg’s title odds drop is probably not the driver’s own resurgence. It is a testament to Mercedes’s dominance at the 2015 Spanish Grand Prix. In the lead up to the race, much had been said about Ferrari’s aero upgrades. However, once the cards were shown in Barcelona, the upgraded Ferrari was still no match for the dominant Mercedes. The outcome will probably be the same in Montreal, where Ferrari is expected to introduce updates to its power unit. The Scuderia makes a step forwards, but so do the Silver Arrows and both championships are still most likely going to their 2014 winners.

Nico Rosberg is a championship contender by virtue of having the same machinery as Lewis Hamilton at his disposal, but for how long can he stay in the title fight? The form the double world champion showed at the start of the season suggests the title fight will be over before it has really started. Indeed, last year’s title fight probably would not have gone down to the last race had Hamilton not received the lion’s share of bad luck in the car failure department. And the British driver seems to be stronger this year. Unless Rosberg manages to secure another win in the next two races, his success at Spain would be attributed more to a brief lapse in form by Hamilton than to an appearance of Nico 2.0.

The Monaco Grand Prix is probably the best chance for the German to put himself in contention. Rosberg has won the previous two races at the Principality and has the chance to emulate Graham Hill and Alain Prost by winning three consecutive times at Monaco (a certain legendary Brazilian is way ahead with five successive wins between 1989 and 1993). Rosberg also has an emotional connection to the small nation, having lived in Monte Carlo since childhood. Hamilton, on the other hand, has only won once Formula 1’s most prestigious race. Some say that at home even the walls help but will the home support be enough for Rosberg to launch another title challenge?

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