“Straightforward”, he said to his engineer before heading out to the podium. And it looked that way. But we shouldn’t be fooled. What Nico Rosberg is doing right now is rather extraordinary.
Despite most expectations, and the feeling that lingers in dark corners that he is some kind of imposter, he’s not going anywhere. On the contrary he continues to cement his drivers’ world championship chances. Triumph follows triumph. And in an equation that usually adds up to the title, when he’s not on top things go for him; when he is on top he’s untouchable. His driving for the most part has been hard to fault; this was his ninth race win of the season. No one’s even won eight before without claiming the year’s ultimate honour.
Those lingering detractors may point out as usual that – in they say Nico’s sole trick – he keeps winning from the front. True, but as Martin Brundle pointed out a few rounds ago he keeps getting to the front.
Rosberg routs the rest
He spent virtually the entire Japanese Grand Prix weekend at the front too, topping every practice session and every part of qualifying. He topped the bit of the weekend that mattered as well.
The two matters that mattered in the bit that mattered both felt familiar. Nico surmounted the main hurdle between him and race victory by leading from the off, while his title foe Lewis Hamilton for far from the first time this year fluffed his start and ended up eighth. The day, again for far from the first time this year, already was framed. Lewis contrary to his image among some instinctively looks inward for opprobrium, and didn’t shirk responsibility, though his boss Toto Wolff spoke later of a clutch problem.
Lewis also drove well to recover to third, and he nearly maintained the Merc one-two but was repelled by Max Verstappen’s personal brand of defence on the penultimate tour. The Mercedes has a particular advantage on the hard compound tyre, used for the most part in this race, the team’s strategy at both stops was superb and Lewis himself was spirited and aggressive throughout.
Lewis doesn’t give up
Despite this though it didn’t stop the habitual knee-jerk armchair psychology about the Englishman in response. In reality the explanations are likely more mundane, and were foreseeable. Advance claims that this track suits Lewis were bogus, in fact he often has struggled for set-up here and Nico meanwhile likes the place and claimed pole in the previous two visits. This is almost precisely what we got this time. And Lewis has been struggling with his starts all season. Even Nico confirmed afterwards that from his place behind the scenes Lewis is working as hard as ever, and is not one to give up.
We’ve been waiting for a while for something to come along to deny Nico the drivers’ title – him tying up with the pressure on, or similar. But instead as the pressure increases he strides ever closer. More and more it looks like this could be his season in the sun. And now only the unusual can deny him. Now Nico Rosberg stands on the brink.
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