By Stephen Williams
Written in association with Missed Apex Podcast. Listen in the player below the article.
Rosberg's Race Craft Under Question
It has been common knowledge for a while, that Nico Rosberg does not have the same natural ability and instincts, when it comes to race craft, compared to his teammate, Lewis Hamilton. There was evidence of Rosberg's poor decision making in wheel to wheel battle again in the German Grand Prix, when he was penalised for forcing Max Verstappen off the track. In the pre-race show on Sky Sports F1, Martin Brundle told Nico Rosberg directly in a pre-recorded interview, that he was weaker in wheel to wheel combat than Lewis Hamilton.
There have been many races where Hamilton's superior race craft has allowed him to get the better of his teammate. Bahrain in 2014 was the best example of Hamilton's incredible driving, both offensively and defensively. As hard as Rosberg tried, even with a tyre advantage and drs, he just could not get ahead. Lewis was firm on a number of occasions, cutting across his teammate on the exit of turn one to enhance his advantage, a move Rosberg described as: "not on". He also ran Rosberg out of road on the exit of turn four so the German could not find a way past on the outside.
The collision in Spa 2014 when Rosberg punctured Hamilton's rear tyre was deemed as a racing incident. This was despite Hamilton being on the racing line, and Rosberg misjudging the distance between his nose and the rear of Hamilton's car. The collision cost both Mercedes the win and a distraught team boss Toto Wolff called the race: "unbelievable". Rosberg admitted after the race that he was still angry that Hamilton had not obeyed team orders at the previous race in Hungary, and that he was unable to pass Hamilton on track towards the closing stages of the race.
In 2015, the drivers rarely came close to each other in the races until the end of the season. In Suzuka, Hamilton took the inside line at turn one and ran Rosberg out of road on the exit of turn two. Likewise, at turn one in Austin, with the championship on the line, Hamilton ran Rosberg wide at turn one. The stewards may have been more lenient because the track was wet, and Hamilton appeared to understeer on cold tyres. There's no doubt that Hamilton could have turned more into the corner, but he may have risked spinning or locking up due to the lack of grip. Rather than risk contact and being pushed wide by his teammate, Rosberg could have backed out of the move on the outside, and tried undercutting Hamilton, by turning in later in order to get on the power earlier. Almost identically to Suzuka, in Canada 2016, Hamilton pushed Rosberg wide on the exit of turn one. Rosberg ran wide on to the grass and it massively compromised his race. In all of these incidents, Hamilton was not investigated by the stewards, suggesting they did not see Hamilton's aggressive driving to be outside of the rules.
The two Mercedes took each other out of the race on the opening lap in Spain 2016. Rosberg had performed a stunning move around the outside of Hamilton at turn one, but a wrong engine setting allowed Hamilton to close the gap on the approach to turn four. Hamilton looked to the inside, and Rosberg covered the move but squeezed Hamilton on to the grass. Hamilton lost control and collected Rosberg as their races ended in the gravel trap. In this case, as Hamilton was closing on Rosberg and got part of his front wing alongside him, Rosberg was obliged to leave a car’s width. As the collision happened so quickly, and with no driver wholly responsible, the stewards called it a racing incident.
The collision in Austria on the final lap of the Grand Prix between the two Mercedes, was deemed to be Rosberg's fault. He had not allowed his rival racing room, so when Hamilton had to turn into the corner, Rosberg on the inside line was still heading straight and the two collided. By contrast to the moves on the opening lap where Hamilton had pushed Rosberg wide on the exit of the turns, in this case Rosberg had failed to attempt to make the corner until Hamilton was out of room, for this he received the penalty.
And finally to Rosberg's latest controversy in Germany. After a poor start for the second week running, Rosberg knew he had to use his new tyres to get ahead of Verstappen to have any chance of recovering the ground to Hamilton in the lead. He made a late lunge down the inside of the Red Bull, and as Verstappen saw the move, he moved over slightly. Rosberg ran deep into the corner, which compromised Verstappen's line through the corner. As Rosberg applied full lock to make the hairpin, he had already not left any room on the outside of the track, and Verstappen was forced onto the run off. Like in Austria, the onboard footage shows that Rosberg made no attempt to turn into the corner, until the driver on the outside was out of room. It was perceived as a deliberate attempt to run the driver on the outside off the track. Despite this, many ex-drivers felt the penalty for Rosberg had been harsh and that it was just racing. They also pointed out again, that Max Verstappen was not under investigation for moving in the braking zone.
It can be argued that as Rosberg was ahead and in the process of overtaking Verstappen, that he had the right to dictate both his and Verstappen's line through the corner, like Hamilton has done to Rosberg repeatedly. Through this article I have used the phrase "on the exit of the turn", and this is because, when Rosberg has been penalised in the races this season, it has been because he has not allowed the driver on the outside racing room going into the corner. Of course, the driver on the outside could have backed out and tucked in behind Rosberg. But that would not be racing.
How does Rosberg compare?
Rosberg on his day is a very good driver, and has showed that he can have the pace to beat Lewis Hamilton. He is not a racer though, nor is he a world class driver. Rosberg has not won a race by fighting through the field or beating Hamilton in a head to head duel. In fact, Robserg has yet to win a race in Forumula One when he has started outside the top five. It seems that Rosberg has to think about each move he does on track as it happens, and is therefore not able to position his car quick enough before he runs into trouble. This is different for Hamilton and Verstappen, as they rely much more on their instinctive reactions when battling on track. This is evident when Max defends overtakes late into corners, he sees the move from the driver behind and instinctively changes the position of his car, particularly when there has been a late lunge. Some would say this is against the rules, as moving a car in the braking zone can be incredibly dangerous despite Charlie Whiting clarifying that it's not banned in the rules.
Most of Rosberg's wins have come when he has been on the front row, got the jump on his teammate or when Hamilton has experienced mechanical problems in qualifying or the race, and that was how he managed to pull out a forty-three point lead in the championship after the first four races. Now that Hamilton has had some more luck with his reliability, and been able to fight Rosberg on track, he has turned the deficit to nineteen point lead in his favour.
It was interesting how in the press conference, young Max Verstappen, only in his second year of Formula One, had the confidence to point the blame at the more experienced German. Max, is perceived as a great racer already, both his overtakes and defending on track this season have been firm and rewarded him points, podiums and wins. In reference to the German's controversial driving this season, Verstappen stated: "Lewis knows", to which Hamilton smirked, which in my opinion, says it all about how true racers view Rosberg's driving.