It’s hard to think of any F1 driver ever that has defied allocation quite like Nico Rosberg. We have arguments about drivers of course, but the broad sense of where they fit usually is well established. Largely only with those who never got their break – the familiar ‘what would such-and-such have done in a good car?’ debate – do we get more of a range of views. See Nico Hulkenberg, among others.
But this absolutely cannot be applied to Rosberg, being in a machine of crushing dominance for the last three seasons. And yet. Frenzy around how good he actually is still rages at the merest mention of his name. Many are unflinching that he’s not all that.
Even now. That even as he stands tantalisingly close to an F1 world championship there remain committed detractors. Usually they attribute his success to a mix of fortune and having the best car.
But as Nico’s numbers pile up, is this really credible? He’s won no fewer than 23 Grands Prix, and 22 of them have been as Lewis Hamilton’s team mate. It all suggests he’s doing something right. This year alone he’s won nine – and only Michael Schumacher, Sebastian Vettel and Hamilton have ever won more in a campaign. The rarity should tell us something. Also no one’s even won eight in a season before without ultimately walking off with the title.
And whatever else we can say about Lewis, as Jenson Button has reminisced from his own time as his team mate Hamilton’s pace when all is right with him will take your breath away. But almost never has Rosberg been humiliated by Lewis on the stopwatch. Even when he has trailed it has tended to have been not by much. You wonder what he’s got to do to convince the doubters.
They say too that he only wins from the front, but as Martin Brundle noted a couple of rounds back, he keeps getting to the front. Plus I’m not aware of too many criticising the likes of Alberto Ascari, Jim Clark and Ayrton Senna for prevailing mainly in the same way.
But with Nico it’s nothing new. Somehow throughout his time in F1, and even before, there’s always been a determination among some onlookers to suggest his achievements weren’t all they appeared, related perhaps to a privileged and ‘pretty boy’ image, encapsulated in his former ‘Britney’ moniker.
It’s nothing new for Nico
At Williams he trounced a succession of team mates – Mark Webber aside in his debut year. But it was said his team mates weren’t top drawer. At Mercedes he wiped the floor with the returning Michael Schumacher. But it was said that the returning Schumi wasn’t nearly what he once was.
“I’ve never particularly been convinced by Nico Rosberg”, said journalist Simon Arron before the start of the 2013 season, when Nico and Lewis first were paired up. “He went well in Formula BMW, fine, but [in] fragmented junior categories it’s very hard to draw conclusions. In Formula 3 he didn’t do that well – he was an occasional race winner, front-runner, but he wasn’t anything special. GP2 – ART had a very clear performance advantage. In F1, he was four tenths slower than Mark Webber in 2006, and the Mercedes guys say that from mid-2011 onwards Schumacher was their best race bet.”
But history never is left in the past – subsequent events and views can shift interpretations. You wonder if all this time we’ve missed the most obvious explanation, that Nico is all that. You wonder if it’s time to reconsider Rosberg.