The qualifying session at Monte Carlo is generally considered to be the most important session of the season, especially because by the time this race appears in the calendar, rivals are clearly drawn out and the dogfight is well and truly on.
In 2014, it has been the year of the Mercedes.
Two young drivers and childhood friends, Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton, have not only set the early pace with wins, but run away with the season with more than half of it to go. It is a matter of when, not if, for this team—and now, it is a matter of if, not when, for the two drivers. If they ever remain friends again, 2014 will be a reminder of how their sport pushed their relationship to the absolute limit and then some more.
The two entered the South of France almost head-to-head in the standings, with Brit Hamilton winning the last 4 races, after Rosberg took the season opener. The frustration for the German showed, especially when he pulled a controversial Schumacher move, blocking his partner’s final qualifying lap after committing a timely ‘error’. The stewards cleared him, but Hamilton knew that the race was gone—because there is virtually no chance to overtake on the narrow streets of Monte Carlo, and a pole-to-flag victory is a surety provided there are no mechanical failures. The leader often decides the pace of the race, and a bunched up set of cars itching to overtake one another is a common sight here. But Rosberg set his own pace from the first lap, and won at Monaco for the second year in a row—it is technically his home race, and he is making sure it stays that way. The rich heir lives in Monte Carlo, and is now leading the Championship Standings by 4 points again, after Hamilton drove a helpless race to come in second behind his teammate. This is the first time the Brit finished a race this season without winning it.
What’s more, his statement “We are not friends” after the race ensures the gloves are truly off, and as diplomatic as Rosberg is, Hamilton isn’t known to mince his words. The Brit driver has never been the most ideal of teammates, especially when there is no clear distinction of a no. 1 and no. 2 driver (as Alonso would testify), but neither was Schumacher or Senna or Lauda. Greatness comes at a cost, and as controversial as Hamilton is, he entertains off the track as much as he does on it. Many may dislike him for his sourpuss attitude, but his hunger is apparent, and he wants that second world title badly—more so because Red Bull and Vettel are out of the picture for once. This could be his best chance, but that is not to say that Rosberg isn’t the better driver. The German has long driven in the shadow of greatness—the Rohit Sharma of F1 in a way—and is finally waking up to his own talent in a car that is head and shoulders above anyone else in the field.
That Lauda has created the monster of competition in this fierce battle is no surprise. Winning comes at a cost, and two young drivers, not unlike James Hunt and Lauda back in the day, will soon discover how much they will have to pay for it.
So far though, it is a two-horse race. And nobody knows who the no. 1 is. Mercedes, I suspect, like it just that way. After all, 6 wins (with 5 one-twos) in 6 races is a pretty good record to have.