The title fight ends, and so the title fight begins.
Just days after Nico Rosberg was left to wonder where it all went wrong in the 2015 Formula One season as his Mercedes team-mate, Lewis Hamilton, claimed his second consecutive world championship, he was focusing solely on how he would get it right in 2016.
The countless question marks hanging over him and his title-winning credentials over recent months had activated the search for answers, while the regrets of the past had, almost overnight, been replaced by excitement for the future.
That is the image Rosberg, following his post-race tantrum at the Circuit of the Americas on October 25, has tried to project ahead of this weekend’s Mexican Grand Prix.
Lars Baron/Getty Images
Rather than continuing to shrivel in self-pity—ruing his second successive title defeat to a driver in identical machinery—the German has been eager to portray himself as the ultimate forward thinker, committed to self-improvement and learning from his mistakes.
And as you would expect, someone who will never, ever give up.
During the first free-practice session at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, Rosberg, in a prerecorded interview, explained his reluctance to admit defeat. And F1’s resident brain box has stuffed a range of tricks up his sleeve in his efforts to beat Hamilton in the not-too-distant future, telling Sky Sports’ television coverage:
I will keep fighting, you know, and [make a] big push, for sure, all the way. And I am every single day even between the last race and this race, trying to find that extra bit, learning more, pushing more in all sorts of directions. It’s an ongoing process.
I have some new ideas that I’m just about to apply already—preparing for next year, for example—some really cool ones, which I’m excited about, but of course I’m not going to tell you because that will help him too much again.
But there’s always things. You need to inventive—proactive and inventive—come up with new things and keep pushing.
While Rosberg‘s apparent defiance and out-of-the-box approach is to be admired, his comments almost seemed to be a self-directed motivational speech and, indeed, could have been copied and pasted from the aftermath of his last championship defeat to Hamilton.
After losing the 2014 title, Rosberg told Sky Sports’ Pete Gill and James Galloway how there were plenty of “strong points” he could “build on” for the following year, insisting he would “find” the “little bit” required to topple his team-mate.
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Rosberg made some bold promises at the end of 2014, but failed to deliver this season. Why should we expect any different ahead of 2016?
Yet when he returned to action at the beginning of 2015, Nico was a weaker, more error-prone driver. His improvements were limited to a change of his in-car breathing habits, as reported by ESPN F1, and an alternative seating position, which, per Crash.net, only served to leave Rosberg—not Lewis—with a pain in the neck.
His failure to make major advancements over last winter, then, makes it all the more unclear what a driver who appears to have reached his peak can expect to gain this time. But the underwhelming nature of his 2015 campaign, as strange as it may seem, may prove to be beneficial in the long term.
Having lost the championship in a final-race, double-points decider in 2014, Rosberg would doubtlessly have spent his offseason haunted by the moments—his retirement from the lead at Silverstone, for instance, or the debilitating technical issue in Singapore—that ultimately resulted in defeat.
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But Hamilton’s dominance this year has been such that the destiny of the title had been obvious as long ago as the midseason stage. That will presumably make it easier for Rosberg to recover, especially since—with three rounds of the 2015 season still remaining—he can quickly rid himself of any lingering disappointment.
Although the hectic streak of three grands prix in a five-week period might, as noted ahead of the Mexican GP, present Hamilton with an opportunity to coast his way to the end of the season, it offers Rosberg a chance to rediscover his confidence and form, while planting a seed in his team-mate’s mind ahead of next year.
With both the drivers’ and constructors’ championships heading to Mercedes, Rosberg—so often confused for a car salesman in 2015, such is his responsibility and loyalty to the Silver Arrows’ cause—can afford to drive a little more selfishly and adventurously in the closing stages of the season.
#NR6: “Tomorrow is the day and it will be a great battle for the win between the top five” #F1 #MexicoGP #Quali pic.twitter.com/RF64YtYVQc
— MERCEDES AMG F1 (@MercedesAMGF1) October 31, 2015
#LH44: “I’m looking forward to a good battle as it was very close today” #F1 #MexicoGP #Quali pic.twitter.com/MKqK8SkkXT
— MERCEDES AMG F1 (@MercedesAMGF1) October 31, 2015
Where he would once be the victim of a marginal overtaking manoeuvre, he can now be the initiator. Where he is normally pushed off the track, he can now be the one doing the pushing.
And where he would previously err on the side of caution, he can now be aggressive in the knowledge that if all goes wrong, much of the damage will be done to his pride and not to his employers’ title aspirations.
That, perhaps, is why Toto Wolff, the Mercedes boss, recently told Motorsport.com’s Jonathan Noble of his desire to diffuse any tension between his drivers before it can “escalate in to something bigger.” It suggests an incident akin to Hamilton and Rosberg‘s collision at the 2014 Belgian GP could soon be on the horizon.
Nico’s reaction/comments underline the harsh reality of his no.2 status as evidenced by T1. Never recovered from Spa ’14 reprimand IMHO #F1
— Mark Gallagher (@_markgallagher) October 25, 2015
MARK RALSTON/Getty Images
It was Wolff, after all, who advised Rosberg to “switch on to 2016 mode and try to bounce back next year” in the aftermath of the German’s retirement from the Russian GP, per Autosport‘s Ian Parkes, praising his “strong” character and personality.
Such strength has been absent in recent races, as Rosberg, despite claiming pole position in each of the last three events, has failed to claim his first win since June, often surrendering first place in spineless fashion.
Over that period, pole position has not resembled a springboard to victory or offered Rosberg the opportunity to control a race to his liking. But it’s merely a reminder of what he used to be.
With his fourth consecutive pole in Mexico, however, and now with nothing to lose, Rosberg has the licence to explore the limits in an F1 car for the first time since Spa ’14.
And to prove to Hamilton, Mercedes and himself that he will not go down without one, last fight in 2016.