2015 F1 driver rankings #4: Nico Rosberg

2015 F1 season review

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Nico Rosberg

Beat team mate in qualifying7/19
Beat team mate in race6/17
Races finished18/19
Laps spent ahead of team mate431/1071
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.

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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Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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27 comments on “2015 F1 driver rankings #4: Nico Rosberg”

  1. Another year spent in the Shadow of Lewis Hamilton.
    He has to come out of Hamilton’s shadow next season or else his time at Mercedes might be Finished?

    Wonder how genuine his late season form is?
    I really do hope he can carry this form into next season! Cause it is High Time that he steps up his game to Hamilton’s Level of Driving.

    Rosberg’s Quick and Smooth but just is not Aggressive enough. Which is where he clearly looses out to Lewis.
    Opinions anyone?

  2. Putting Rosberg at #4 is right if Hamilton is going to ranked at #2 since Hamilton does not show dominance at later part of 2015. But as a Rosberg supporter I really can’t find justification that can claim Rosberg are better than last year when he was #5. Maybe both Mercedes driver doesn’t deserved high driver rank and they just lucky to have great engine.

    1. @ruliemaulana, this would be the engine that Ferrari claim to have matched in terms of power output presumably (at least according to Arrivabene)? Why does this myth persist that it is just about the engine, when figures such as Green and Allison have both pointed out that Mercedes’s chassis is also a key component of their success and you can’t just point to any one single point for their success?

      1. Ok. You’re right. I’m gonna change my last sentence to:
        “Maybe both Mercedes driver doesn’t deserved high driver rank and they just lucky to have great engine & chassis.”

    2. @ruliemaulana, its a ‘ranking’ not a ‘rating’.
      Thus how many positions between two drivers does not reflect the absolute performance difference, and you cannot compare one year’s position with next!

    3. It’s tough to rank the Mercedes drivers given that they were effectively competing in an entirely separate class of racing to everyone else. (The FW06 deserves its own separate write-up for breaking many records which have stood for decades)

    4. @ruliemaulana
      In 2014, 2 of his 5 wins were achieved on merit (Austria, Brazil). The rest were either dodgy (Monaco) or gifted (Germany, Australia).

      In 2015, 5 of his 6 wins have been achieved on merit. Only Monaco was a gift.

      Do not let the WDC standings fool you. He was better than last year, that much is obvious.

      1. @kingshark I hope it’s true but even if Rosberg happen to won 2016 WDC I can’t help but think that it will be down to Lewis who looks ready to start different career…

  3. Wow… Perez would be #3?? Incredible. I don’t think any one would have predicted this at the start of the season.

    1. Well, I hope next season to read driver rankings instead of car rankings.

    2. Can’t you just wait and see whom #3 etc is?
      ‘Oh oh I guessed it early!!!!!!’
      What do you want, a medal? Oh dear! :-)

  4. I don’t now if i agree that he lost out (by his one error) in wheel to wheel… There are only a few cases all year. I don’t think people seriously look at it for themselves. I’ll outline: Austria, Rosberg overtakes Hamilton at T1, pinches him at the corner, defends well in to T2 and again in T3! Good robust elbows out driving. But Ros was on the inside. It is an advantage. If he gets alongside even slightly, he’s won. Japan, Ham gets the jump at T1 and just sticks the car down the inside. Ros couldn’t do anything about it, seeing as he started on the left… US, again, Ros on the outside, Hamilton just pushes him away… Literally nothing Nico can do. US again: Nico overtakes Ham in the first genuine overtake between them on track all year! His first on-track overtake of Ham in since Bahrain ’14 and successful since ’13. Hamilton now hasn’t overtaken Nico in race conditions in over a year. Maybe he should learn from Nico?

    1. Well said Owen. I very much agree, although the two cases where he was on the outside, he should have let go – he knew the outcome, or should have known.
      In my eyes, Rosberg as a driver he doesn’t get the credit he deserves. He is incredible disciplined, focused and serious. So serious, that he comes across as defensive and even charisma lacking. I think he is his own worst enemy, and he needs to turn to his mindset. Even when he wins he isn’t truly happy – or at least it comes across to me like that. Everything is good in the right amounts, but perfectionism.

      Thanks for a good article @keithcollantine and some interesting angles to the whole HAM/ROS battle.

  5. Vettel, Hami and Perez for the top 3??

    Well, i think it’s undoubtedly who’s gonna be 1st-since Nico’s 4th, keith has obviously taken into account Hami’s drop of form, so Lewis loses P1. Kudos to Seb, aside a very, very dismal Mexico GP, he’s (almost ?) flawless, all year long.

    And… well, I think Checo’s a clear P3. Can’t see him challenging for any of the top 2 spots. Well deserved, though, i agree with the rankings.

  6. I still don’t think that the collision in Hungary was Rosberg’s fault, it was RIC who dived in carelessly, taking a great risk (and enforcing a heavy risk on the driver clearly ahead of him). It’s a bit unfair to list this accident as a blunder from Rosberg.

    1. While I also did get the impression that Ricciardo was getting a bit carried away with where he was running during the Hungary race, that incident was caused by Rosberg, not by Daniel.

  7. Soo very hard to judge this one.. I say place him one spot behind v Hamilton… As is norm last two seasons.

    He was better than hamilton many times. His racecraft this year improved. But mentaly he got crushed by Hamilton early in the season. To be honest he should be #3 just behind LH, since he did win several races… Including three in a row for the first time and was all the time just behind Lewis.

    1. He almost lost second place to a dude with a way slower car and he was thoroughly beaten by his only competitor. Winning three showraces in a row when Hamilton was out taking selfies with celebrities doesnt weigh that up the slightest.

      1. If Nico had not engine problems in Japan and Russia then Rosberg and Hamilton would likely have finished the season with eight wins each. So I think the gap between them was not nearly as great as some are making it out to be. I’ve seen some arguing that Rosberg belongs as low as tenth.

        1. What engine problems did ROS have in Japan? Please remind us

  8. I think he did well with the run at the end of the year and after the last few years it would be harsh to mark him down for getting beat by Hamilton as Hamilton is one of the best drivers there has been. I would not expect him to beat Hamilton over a year but the run at the end of the year shows he is a very capable driver. The only way he could have done better was to beat Hamilton but Alonso could not do that in their season together.

  9. Not particularly a Rosberg fan, but 4th? I’d put him 3rd. He was much closer to Hamilton than folks give him credit for. Also, his two DNFs cost him at least 40 points, while Lewis’s one DNF was from 6th. Nico even came off worse in Hungary, where Lewis was having a horrible day and still finished ahead of Nico was solid except for one small touch with Ricciardo. Even in Bahrain, Nico’s brake issue cost him a P2 while Lewis’s issue came when he had time in hand to keep P1.

    Of the races Nico finished P2 to Hamilton’s P1, they were often very close together.

    But coming a close second to someone like Lewis who was on form is still an achievement, more so than Perez, imho.

    Going out on a limb, I’d say #2 driver of the year goes to Ham, and #1 goes to Vet – he kept Mercedes honest with a car that had a 7 tenths disadvantage. Brazil was a perfect example, where he caused Mercedes to change their strategy to cover him. He also handled team mistakes with tremendous graciousness (Canada, Austria-which cost him a podium, and Abu Dhabi-causing him to go out in Q1).

  10. That final lap in Abu Dhabi will stick into my memory for many years to come. He was a few hundreds up on Hamilton through S1 and S2. I thought “this is going to be mighty close”. My jaw dropped to the floor when I saw the final margin of 0.377 s. He put 3 tenths between himself and Hamilton around a sector where Hamilton has a reputation of being excellent around.

    The fastest driver of my generation to never win a WDC, and faster than several WDC winning drivers. Faster than Hill, Villeneuve, Raikkonen and Button? You bet he is.

    1. Yep, agree totally. Also, I admire his fighting spirit. Put it this way, you don’t hear Rosberg asking to retire the car constantly when he isn’t doing well.

  11. petebaldwin (@)
    18th December 2015, 14:16

    I wouldnt have put either Mercedes drivers in the top 5! How can an vastly experienced Rosberg coming 2nd in a car miles faster than the rest be judged as a better performance than Verstappen in his 1st season in a lower mid-field car!?

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