|Beat team mate in qualifying||7/19|
|Beat team mate in race||6/17|
|Laps spent ahead of team mate||431/1071|
|Nico Rosberg 2015 form guide|
Nico Rosberg is one of the hardest drivers to place in this year’s list. He spent most of the season looking as if he had no answers for his team mate’s pace, yet in the final races those roles were dramatically reversed.
To take the harshest possible view, Rosberg had a championship-winning car at his disposal for the second year in a row, but of his half-dozen wins three came once his title hopes were dead and a fourth, in Monaco, fell into his lap following a bizarre mix-up by the other side of the Mercedes garage.
None of this can be disputed, but how seriously should we entertain the idea that Lewis Hamilton was phoning it in for the last three races? The fact Rosberg ended the season on a streak of six consecutive pole positions points to the fact that he had found an underlying pace advantage.
In retrospect it’s telling that Hamilton was so forceful in his attempts to wrest the lead from Rosberg at the start in Japan and America, because he understood that if his team mate got away there would be little he could do to stop him. So it proved in Mexico, Brazil and Abu Dhabi.
Rosberg was understandably cagey about exactly how his transformation in pace came about, but it’s probably significant that it roughly coincided with the tightening of restrictions on tyre pressures and followed Mercedes’ unusually weak performance in Singapore.
Unfortunately for Rosberg it was also around this time of year that Mercedes’ reliability took a turn for the worse. He couldn’t use his new specification engine at Monza and the old one died while he was holding third place. In Russia his throttle failed moments after he’d successfully rebuffed an early attack from Hamilton. This further weakened his position relative to Hamilton in the championship, whose only retirement had come when he was running unusually far down the field to begin with.
The run-in to the championship could have been very different. But when it came to the crunch Rosberg was found wanting. A slip-up while leading at Austin – which be attributed to a gust of wind – handed the victory and title to Hamilton.
Earlier in the year Rosberg had seemed almost too preoccupied at times with shadowing his team mate, notably while running in front of the other car in Hungary. Monaco aside, he only won twice more before the summer break, both on occasions where he managed to hold Hamilton back at the start. These races were the exceptions to the usual rule: Ultimately, it was his inability to recapture the excellent qualifying form he demonstrated in 2014 which fatally compromised his title chances.
As last year, Mercedes were so far ahead that ranking their drivers alongside the rest is almost as difficult as it is for Manor, as they were often in different races. Rosberg got his elbows out when he needed to in Bahrain and Britain, working his way back to where the car belonged. However his racecraft let him down in Hungary, where he threw points away by blundering into Daniel Ricciardo.
If Rosberg can carry his late-2015 form into next year, it should make for a much closer championship fight. But aside from those last half-dozen races in 2015 as a whole he had slipped further behind Hamilton compared to last year – so it could go either way.
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View race-by-race notes on Nico Rosberg
Australia – Having led the way on Friday Rosberg seemed to be put off his stride by a gearbox problem in final practice, then suffered a few hiccups in qualifying and ended up well off Hamilton’s time. It wasn’t representative of the gap between them, but if the Mercedes wasn’t so much faster than anything else it would have been more of a problem. The gap between them in the race was never that large, but whenever Rosberg tested Hamilton a response came immediately, confining him to second.
Malaysia – Was bumped back to third on the grid by Vettel despite having the advantage of being the last Mercedes driver to run on a drying track. Mercedes tend to carefully manage which driver has that benefit, so it was a surprise to see Rosberg dropping back behind Hamilton after they had taken to the track. He finished where he started after using a similar strategy to Hamilton, and gained on his team mate during the second half of the race.
China – Only just missed out on beating Hamilton to pole by four hundreths of a second on Saturday. Kept pace with Hamilton during the race but once again was never close enough to mount a serious challenge for the lead. Was very open after the race about his views that Hamilton’s tyre saving pace had left him unnecessarily at risk from Vettel, but Rosberg was never required to defend his position.
Bahrain – Bumped back to third on the grid by Vettel and said after qualifying he’d tried too hard to preserve his race tyres in Q2. Having lost a place to Raikkonen at the start he took both the Ferraris in the first stint to take up second behind his team mate. When Vettel jumped back in front of him by pitting early Rosberg was always able to take the place back on the track, but he fell victim to a late attack from Raikkonen when he suffered the same braking fault as Hamilton, albeit slightly earlier.
Spain – Collected a reprimand early in the weekend for entering the pit lane on the wrong side of the marker bollard, but other than that rarely put a wheel wrong. He beat Hamilton to pole position for the first time this year with a tidy qualifying effort and made a clean start to hold his advantage at the start. From then on, with Hamilton stuck behind Vettel, he was in cruise mode.
Monaco – Touched the wall at Tabac during first practice, which seemed to put him off his stride a bit. Said he “went a bit over the limit” in pursuit of a third straight Monaco pole – and the result was second behind Hamilton. He slipped back during the race and was surprised to see the lead fall into his lap at the end. Managed the restart well, and took the victory.
Canada – Pole position was within his grasp but he had the misfortune to be allocated a duff set of tyres for one of his runs in Q3. Although eager not to appear to be making “excuses”, Rosberg said the inferior set left him short of grip, and he lined up second. He pressed Hamilton hard in the second half of the race, despite his brakes reaching a “critical” state at one stage, but had to settle for the runner-up spot.
Austria – Before he spun at the last corner of his final flying lap in Q3 Rosberg had found the missing time to his team mate and had a good chance of taking pole position. However he made an excellent start, took the lead from Hamilton and had got a hold on first place when the Safety Car came out. Thereafter his run to victory looked reasonably straightforward, though a graining tyre gave cause for concern in the closing stages.
Britain – Gearbox problems impaired his practice running on Friday and Saturday but he was clearly very quick. However having been a tenth of a second off Hamilton on his first run in Q3 Rosberg couldn’t improve on his final run, blaming a loss of grip on one of his front tyres. Having been passed by the two Williams drivers at the start he spent the first stint stuck behind Hamilton, and the pit stops failed to get him in front of either of the Williams drivers, though he came very close. Despite a brief off at Woodcote when the rain fell he quickly picked off Bottas and Massa, then slashed Hamilton’s lead. But he stayed out a lap longer than his team mate on slick tyres, which ended his bid for victory.
Hungary – The team apologised to Rosberg after his “difficult day” which they said was down to an error in setting his car up which went unnoticed. He bounced back in final practice to end up within a tenth of Hamilton, but in qualifying he was puzzled by persistent understeer and ended up over half a second off his team mate. After Hamilton took himself out of contention Rosberg was unable to close on the Ferraris – he was 22 seconds behind before the Safety Car period. Seemingly preoccupied with staying ahead of Hamilton, a conservative call for medium compound tyres under the Safety Car blunted his challenge late in the race. A lack of circumspection in his battle with Ricciardo was heavily penalised – the puncture dropped him to eighth, and spoiled what could have been a profitable day.
Belgium – Rosberg didn’t get the rub of the green on Friday: a power unit problem hampered his run in the first session and then, much more seriously, a tyre blow-out pitched him into a 300kph spin in the second. Nonetheless he was quicker than Hamilton in both sessions. But the positions were reversed on Saturday, and in the race he lost three places at the start which left him on the back foot. Despite passing Bottas and jumping ahead of Ricciardo and Perez, he had to settle for second again.
Italy – Just didn’t get the rub of the green at Monza. First he had to switch back to an old engine specification, then he lost places at the start as he had to dodge around Raikkonen. Having passed Perez and then jumped both Williams drivers at a single pit stop, he was beginning to apply pressure to Vettel for second when his engine let go.
Singapore – When his engine died shortly before the start of the race Rosberg must have feared he was in for a repeat of last year. He was able to start the race but had to use a different procedure, despite which he maintained his place at the start. The Safety Cars falling as they did, he was never going to be able to get a jump on his team mate, but when Hamilton dropped out he inherited fourth place and regained some of the ground he lost at Monza.
Japan – Rosberg’s momentary loss of power at the start – possibly caused by how he managed the Mercedes on the formation lap – cost him dearly. “It was close,” he explained, “I had to avoid a collision” – the pair tangled in similar circumstances at Spa last year. After that Rosberg drove well to reclaim second place: he came from a long way back to pass Bottas at the chicane and erased a two-second deficit to Rosberg with a scorching out-lap from his second pit stop. But the win was long gone.
Russia – Was hard done by to drop out of the race with a broken throttle having beaten Hamilton to pole position and held the lead at the start – something he has struggled to do for most of the year. Qualifying had been his best effort of the year so far, beating Hamilton by over three-tenths of a second.
United States – Has he regained his qualifying form of last year? This was his third pole position in a row, but he lost the initiative quickly to another robust move from his team mate. Got back past the Red Bulls into second, then fell behind Ricciardo, but regained the lead when the track dried. Was on course for a badly-needed win when the car cot away from his with eight laps to go.
Mexico – Despite missing time in first practice when his brakes caught fire Rosberg took control of proceedings from then on, heading the two remaining practice sessions and claiming his fifth pole position of the year. The small but important margin he built over Hamilton was wiped out by the Safety Car, but despite his team mate’s best efforts Rosberg always had an answer.
Brazil – Having been behind Hamilton in Q1 and Q2 it seemed his run of poles might come to an end. But a fractionally more committed pair of laps in Q3 saw him come out ahead in a super-close fight between the pair. Just like last year Hamilton appeared to have the edge on speed in the race, but Rosberg clung on to his track position advantage early in the race and pulled out a lead in the final laps.
Abu Dhabi – Made it three wins out of three and six pole positions out of six at the end of the season with a commanding performance. Despite running an older engine than his team mate, Rosberg took the win comfortably.
Over to you
Like Sainz, he came up against one of the best of the year and showed relentless willpower to claw back his deficit and pounce whenever Lewis Hamilton made the slightest of mistakes or became off-balance – including his late season rally. Beaten on raw pace and in wheel-to-wheel combat more often than not though.
What’s your verdict on Nico Rosberg’s 2015 season? Which drivers do you feel he performed better or worse than? Have your say in the comments.
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