Nico Rosberg is four races away from some long-overdue immortality. The bridesmaid is finally stepping down the aisle, alone, this time. 33 points – the gap, now, between himself and teammate Lewis Hamilton, with four races to go, after his dominant performance at Suzuka. Even if he finishes second in all the remaining races, and Hamilton wins them all, he will still win his first title. He has already won 9 races this season, which, on its own, merits a trophy. Moreover, his defeats have been consistent – he has finished more on the podium than Hamilton has, which is why he is on top right now. God knows this should have happened a few years ago.
The triple World Champion Brit, meanwhile, made another mistake that effectively cost him a place, as he finished third after falling down the field at the opening turn. Clutch problems, his team admits, but problems have plagued the two Mercedes drivers all year – not as much Rosberg as Hamilton, who hasn’t been as error-free as Rosberg. As a result, Mercedes, which won its third Constructor’s championship in a row in Japan last weekend, are not as ruthless as they were over the last two seasons.
Proof: Only four one-two finishes this year, as compared to 13 in 2015. However, they’re still way better than their closest competitors Red Bull – who won three in a row before the Mercedes juggernaut – and Ferrari, who last won in 2006. Ferrari, forever a fan favorite, is now in danger of becoming a team viewed through the prism of nostalgia. Oh, once upon a time. But you can’t blame Fernando Alonso for his efforts when he was with the team for so long; he came within a race of winning the championship twice after winning it twice for Renault a decade ago. Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen simply haven’t been as good as him in the car, though they could just get closer next year, what with Mercedes’ meltdowns and reliability issues.
But it’s been Max Verstappen, the teenager, this year, who has set pulses and imaginations racing with his storming performances on the track. He is only fifth in the championship, behind teammate Daniel Ricciardo (who has been the best non-Mercedes driver), but things bode well for the next season. Winning a Grand Prix (Spain) at 18 is stunning, and more stunning has been his ability to race against, and prevent, the best of them from overtaking him. The way he kept out Lewis Hamilton in Japan will go down in his showreel twenty years from now – as the moment the boy schooled the (somewhat) man with a masterclass in defensive driving. I can’t wait to see “Mad Max” step up next year and hopefully become the youngest-ever champion in racing – a real possibility, given how he has evolved over this season. Red Bull perhaps have two of the youngest and most promising drivers – who could have easily won the title if they were equipped with faster cars. It won’t be long before it becomes a two-team tussle, and oh boy, we can’t wait. There’s no fun with it being an “in-house” championship anymore.