Lewis Hamilton’s championship success in Austin last month was hardly surprising. For some time now, it has been a case of ‘when’, not ‘if’ the Briton would clinch his third Formula 1 world title, but by wrapping it up with three races to spare, he entered unchartered territory.
Both of Hamilton’s previous titles were only won at the final race, meaning he had never enjoyed this honeymoon period of racing without a championship being at stake. However, the subsequent revival of Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg has led many to question whether or not Hamilton has let things slip.
Rosberg has been toothless in this year’s championship race, making it fitting that Hamilton was able to secure the title at the United States Grand Prix thanks to a mistake from his teammate. Ever since, Rosberg has been fired up, fuelled by anger following an aggressive move by Hamilton at the first corner in Austin, leading him to some of the most outstanding performances of his grand prix career.
First, we had Mexico. Returning to the country after a 23-year absence, the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez offered one of the finest atmospheres known to grand prix racing, immediately finding a place in the hearts of the paddock faithful. For the first time since the Austrian Grand Prix in June, it was Rosberg who emerged the victor thanks to a peerless display that saw him keep Hamilton at an arm’s length throughout the race.
The same happened in Brazil two weeks later. Rosberg started from pole and led all but three laps en route to his fifth win of the season, enjoying a comfortable victory margin of eight seconds come the end of the race. Hamilton had been left frustrated, asking Mercedes to let him try an alternative strategy to get ahead. The team refused, believing that doing so would most probably cost him second place, causing him to overwork his tyres in a vain bid to catch Rosberg and cause him to drop back from the leader late on.
Both of Rosberg’s victories should offer F1 great hope for 2016. This year has been largely forgettable, but this is symptomatic of a one-horse race. Hamilton led from the word go in Australia and never looked back. However, with Rosberg now finding his feet and a late wind that has left Hamilton looking decidedly average, he will be keen to gain momentum ahead of a renewed title charge next year.
Rosberg will now be keen to complete a hat-trick to end the season on in Abu Dhabi at the end of the month. Should Hamilton dig deep and take an 11th win of the year, it may stunt much of the progress that Rosberg has made. The old doubts that haunted his title hopes earlier in the year would return. However, if Rosberg wins again and does it in the convincing fashion that he did in Mexico and Brazil, it would surely raise questions about Hamilton’s billing as title favourite for 2016.
Relations at Mercedes may have cooled earlier in the year, but the fire has been stoked once again. Under the lights in Abu Dhabi, we’re poised for a thrilling season finale.
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