Try this one for starters. Had the infamous ‘gust of wind’ not struck leader Nico Rosberg late on in the last round in Austin and he’d won there ahead of his team mate Lewis Hamilton, and in the round before that in Sochi had his throttle not broken while leading and he’d won there too, then Lewis’s championship lead would be a mere 27 points (just over a race win) with two rounds left. You can add that Nico lost another 15 with a late engine failure in Monza. These not especially outlandish scenarios would still leave this year’s title as Lewis’s to lose, but it’d all feel very different from what we actually got of him wrapping it up well ahead of time.
Those are the margins I guess. Or else it provides an indication of just what an enigma Nico Rosberg is. No contemporary pilot is as hard to place where exactly he fits in the pecking order. Just a week ago he seemed humiliated – perhaps buried – by his newly re-crowned champion team mate. Yet in the Mexican Grand Prix he won in the style of an imperious champion at the top of his confidence. Somehow too – that enigma thing again – it was his first win in upwards of four months.
Nico makes his advantage count
He’d taken pole, his fourth in a row indeed, but plenty pointed out that his pole-to-win conversion rate is poor (fewer than one in three), and he hadn’t converted any of the previous three. But this time Nico made his advantage count. The expected fireworks at turn one didn’t happen (not for the Mercedes anyway) as Nico firmly rebuffed Lewis to keep his lead, and from there Nico exploited every incumbent benefit – managing the gap to Lewis; getting strategy preference as the leader; letting Lewis be impeded by his aerodynamic wake.
They finished how they started but there was no drop in intensity throughout as the pair traded fastest laps in another private Merc affair for victory. Lewis even was riled by both silver cars getting a precautionary second tyre stop, a call that he appeared genuinely minded to defy to his own advantage. This was no stage-managed cruise. Nico’s win was a genuine one and this, plus the rapturous reception he received from the numerous and passionate Mexican crowd, cannot have provided a better tonic after last week.
Breaking the enigma code
And for all of the enigma talk a simple matter to comprehend is that Nico has been in very good form lately. In Austin he was superb until the elements’ late intervention and Sochi we’ve mentioned. But, his critics argue, is it coincidence that this good form came when the title was as good as gone; the pressure off? They think back to last year too when his challenge faltered as the precise moment that things really came to a head. We spoke of ifs and buts and they say Nico’s career has more ifs and buts than most.
With this and wider recent events, Lewis appeared minded to crush Nico and what remained of his confidence yet further this time. Perhaps it will still happen. But not if Nico keeps driving like this.
Then again, we’ve thought that before. That enigma thing again.