At the start of the Mexican Grand Prix in 2015, Nico Rosberg – the young German who was tipped to take over from Michael Schumacher before Sebastian Vettel became a legend – was a slighted man. He wasn’t happy, but he dare not show it, lest he loses any of the engineers’ support in his own team. For his adversary and ex-childhood friend Lewis Hamilton was the cause of all woes. They had never really enjoyed a fabulous relationship in the garage, but the worst had happened for Rosberg – again – he had lost his second consecutive World Championship to the Brit on the track. Clearly, he wasn’t even the best driver in his own team. And yet, that was enough to convince many that he was the second best driver in contemporary F1. Perhaps this was because the world likes to pit second-best against a breakaway champion.
With three races to go in the 2015 season, Rosberg was feeling a lot like Rubens Barrichello, David Coulthard, Felipe Massa and Eddie Irvine. He felt out-raced, out-performed and out-skilled over a long season. For the second time in a row, he would have to watch from a lower podium, the sheer ecstasy of being Lewis Hamilton. He would have to watch as his British teammate lifts his third World Championship. And Rosberg, as of now, had none.
With all these thoughts racing through his mind, Rosberg became a dangerous man. With nothing to lose, and with Hamilton already treating his last three races as extended celebratory laps, Rosberg drove to “consolation” victories in Mexico, Brazil and Abu Dhabi. This was, according to many in Hamilton’s camp, the best way to keep peace in the team. Let Rosberg win the few battles, because Hamilton had won the war. The World Champion didn’t even try, and that passion and desperation was clearly missing, perhaps because he thought he had earned this time. What he didn’t know was that he had created a monster. His lack of competitiveness, his casualness in the final few races of the 2015 calendar meant that Rosberg finished with three in a row, on a high, slighted but proud, slighted but very confident ahead of 2016.
And, as many had suspected, Rosberg began 2016 like he had never ended 2015. Pre-season and off-season testing meant nothing, as the slighted German man bullied his way to the perfect beginning by winning in Australia, Bahrain and, last weekend, the Shanghai Grand Prix. In doing so, he became only the fourth F1 driver in history to win six consecutive races. The cherry on the cake: He leads Hamilton by 37 points – with the British Champion finally facing conflict and bad luck. He started from the back in China, and battled his way to 7th despite stopping for five pit stops during the race. In an action-packed Grand Prix, Rosberg drove away into the sunset as if nothing were happening behind him. Drivers were scrapping and fighting till the final flag, but Rosberg crossed it 37 seconds before anyone else. He is in his own zone, in his own world, determined to believe that those last three races of 2015 – Hamilton’s “gift” to him – are, in fact, the turning point of his frustrating career.
Finally, at long last, F1 could have a new World Champion. It’s only three races in, but nobody who has won the first three races has ever lost the Championship. It’s Rosberg’s to lose, and this time, he may not be gifting anybody his rightful place.