The dust of Abu Dhabi has barely settled and the broken pieces of Nico Rosberg’s car have not been fully analysed. Testing proper for 2015 is still weeks away but there is every reason to believe next season could be Nico Rosberg’s year.
His 2014 challenge ended in disappointing fashion. Whilst his team-mate was romping home, the combination of a poor start and technical problems left him fading badly. It was not the grandstand finish anyone had hoped for and the intervention of mechanical failure – the one significant blight on Mercedes’ textbook 2014 form – likely made it a harder outcome to accept. Conversely Lewis Hamilton is riding the crest of a wave and justifiably many are predicting a golden era for the new two-time World Champion.
What, if anything, would give cause for optimism for 2015?
One of the hallmarks of Rosberg’s season was his humility; accepting responsibility for mistakes that cost him and his team valuable points. ‘Sorry guys’ was heard too frequently on Rosberg’s radio this year and admirable though it was, those mistakes proved costly. With one eye on 2015, they now serve as opportunities.
Many commentators were surprised that Rosberg was able to go toe-to-toe with Hamilton – the driver widely regarded as the most naturally gifted of his generation – on speed. Yet Rosberg matched and beat him in qualifying, only to make crucial mistakes on race day.
From the double lock-up in to the first corner in Sochi, to the error in Monza and that Spa incident, they were critical and costly. Stepping back Rosberg should take heart from establishing that he is just as fast as Hamilton and, most importantly, still has room to improve. Had Nico been entirely error free in 2014 but simply unable to match Lewis’ sheer pace and race craft, his prospects for 2015 would look a lot bleaker.
I’ve got you, under my skin
Whilst the Hamilton v Rosberg rivalry never reached the intensity of Prost v Senna, it had every opportunity to. At times this year Nico had evidently got under the skin of his team-mate.
Hamilton’s mono-syllabic answers and sour tone in several post-qualifying and post-race interviews told the story. His late season mental toughness, I suspect, owed much to the rather heavy-handed criticism of Rosberg by Mercedes post-Spa. Nico, at worst, now knows how to rattle his team-mate. In 2015’s title battle – which seems likely to be another Mercedes showdown – when there is so little between the drivers, it will be crucial.]
Toto & Paddy
Toto Wolff is a man who lives to be involved in racing and Paddy Lowe has an F1 cv to envy. Neither of these things however could substitute for their collective lack of experience in managing an intra-team battle. Combined with the weight of expectation given their dominant car/power combination, the result was some fairly inconsistent responses and reactions. Spa is the standout but issues around the failure to control the use of enhanced power settings, unenforced team orders and the like were symptoms of management entering uncharted territory.
With a World Championship double under their belts and the lessons of 2014 hopefully learned, a more relaxed management team should emerge. For Rosberg, who arguably suffered most with those reactions, a clearer and more consistent playing field is desirable. One of his most significant challenges for 2015 will be getting on the right side of Toto and Paddy’s decisions.
There is of course every possibility that Hamilton could step up to another level. As Vettel did against Webber, and Hakkinen against Coulthard the two-time champion is not likely to stand still in his own development. Halfway to matching Vettel’s four titles and level with his occasional nemesis Alonso, the driver who thrives on confidence could usher in his own era of dominance. Rosberg however has every opportunity to stop that and to claim his first world title.
One thing is definite: 2014 was definitely not ‘it’ for Nico Rosberg.