The USGP was a race that very nearly didn’t happen. American Formula 1 fans must have thought “Never again” when they attempted to watch Formula 1 this weekend. Those that were “lucky” enough to gain access to the circuit were left with little or no running as torrential rain ground everything to a halt. Eventually organisers made the call to run qualifying on the Sunday before the race, and even then it was called off after Q2 due to worsening weather conditions. Then, at lunch, the weather broke and the sun emerged. They may have been put through hell but when they did get to see some action the fans were treated to the best Formula 1 race we’ve seen in a long time.
Red Bull and McLaren were faced with the dilemma of taking grid penalties to install updated power units or take advantage of the weather conditions and let the wet track bring Mercedes to them. With the exception of Alonso, who took a grid penalty in Russia to test the new power unit for Austin, the teams shunned the thought of potential extra power in a weekend that would reward handling and feel over power.
It seemed the gamble would pay off early on for Red Bull. As the Mercedes pair tangled in turn one Ricciardo and Kyvat took advantage, passing Rosberg as he was forced wide. Both drivers harassed Hamilton for the lead before Ricciardo shot to the front on lap 15. It wasn’t to last though. A drying track let Hamilton and Rosberg press home their power advantage, and then both Red Bulls would suffer late on, with Kyvat crashing out and Ricciardo dropping down the field with damage.
A gambling Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel forced Mercedes into a split strategy late in the race. A tactic that should have handed the victory to Nico Rosberg. The Red Bull’s may have impressed early on but it was Max Verstappen in the Toro Rosso that almost joined the Mercedes pair on the podium before he lost out to Vettel. This race had it all including multiple safety cars brought out by Hulkenberg and Kvyat separately.
Nico: Time to Get Aggressive.
Nico Rosberg is fast. Very fast. Even in changeable conditions, which Lewis Hamilton is fabled for, Nico at times has had his teammate’s measure. Chasing him down in Silverstone, before Lewis’ early stop changed everything. Leading in Austin before a moment Nico said he couldn’t explain cost him the win. This in a race that Nico started from pole having beaten his teammate in treacherous conditions during what would be a decisive Q2.
You get the feeling Nico knew he had thrown this one away. Questioned on what happened and what cost him victory he deflected attention to the first corner clash between himself and Lewis, but it wasn’t the clash that decided the outcome of this race. In the end it was a mistake or problem while leading the race that cost Nico the race win in Austin.
Lewis Hamilton took the win and with it wrote himself into the history books.
3 Times World Champion.
2 Titles in 2 years with Mercedes.
The first British driver to win back to back titles.
43 Wins now puts him ahead of Vettel on 42, though the German has 4 titles to Lewis’ 3.
While Lewis took the spoils of victory Nico was left pondering what could have been. Yet when Nico spoke of how he felt Lewis had been too aggressive it cast my mind back to conversations we had at motorsport.ie about how he sometimes seems too nice, not aggressive enough. To begin with, no racing driver worth a damn is going to want to let another driver around the outside of them. Especially not at a hairpin, and certainly not on a weekend where a win could secure you the title. Nico took a risk when he went to the outside of Lewis. No doubt a calculated one, but cars going to the outside and getting shunted wide is par for the course in motorsport.
Cast our minds back to last season and after the Belgium GP the results stood as such:
Nico Rosberg: 4 Wins. 7 Pole Positions. 6 Fastest Laps.
Lewis Hamilton: 4 Wins. 4 Pole Positions. 3 Fastest Laps.
That was the race that Lewis cried “Nico hit me”
They both clashed. Lewis would retire. Nico finished 2nd, but critically he got booed in both Belgium and Italian podium ceremonies. In the latter Lewis took the cheers as he took Pole, Fastest Lap & Victory. Nico seemed unsettled by his unwanted role as Pantomime Villain. If he had been calculated in how he locked up at Monaco in qualifying, a manoeuvre that would rob Lewis of a shot at pole, he has since become more subdued.
The rest of the season reads quite differently:
Nico Rosberg: 1 Win. 4 Pole Positions. 0 Fastest Laps.
Lewis Hamilton: 6 Wins. 3 Pole Positions. 4 Fastest Laps.
The reading is worse this season:
Nico Rosberg: 3 Wins, 4 Pole Positions, 4 Fastest Laps.
Lewis Hamilton: 10 Wins, 11 Pole Positions, 6 Fastest Laps.
The only outburst of note this season has been his rather petulant reaction to Lewis throwing the 2nd place hat at him after Nico’s mistake cost himself the win. A win that would have kept his slim hope of title glory alive for at least one last weekend. That reaction is largely out of character for Nico who then went out and celebrated the driver and manufacturer titles with his team. He seems like a nice guy, but he doesn’t seem to be able to compartmentalise in the same way as the truly great drivers do. It’s not that other drivers are too aggressive. It sometimes seems that Nico just isn’t aggressive enough.
Prost in 89 when he shut the door on the Senna in Suzuka and then protested the Brazilian to take victory away from his arch rival and secure the title for himself.
Senna in 90 when he blew the door open in the first corner, again at Suzuka, to secure his 2nd title, at Prost’s expense.
Schumacher in 94 when he chopped across Damon Hill in Adelaide, securing his 1st World Drivers Championship.
Schumacher (Again) in 97 when he tried, and failed, to perform a similar move on Jacques Villeneuve to prevent the Williams driver from taking the title. A move that would see him disqualified from the Championship.
Am I condoning these actions? No, not really, but there is a ruthless streak in the greats that sometimes sees them cross the line when they are faced with a win at all cost option. For Nico the time to display that was Belgium last season, or at least to adopt the role of Pantomime Villain in a manner in which Jorge Lorenzo does in Moto GP. Jorge though is probably the greatest there is when it comes to compartmentalisation.
If Nico Rosberg is going to have any chance of beating Lewis Hamilton then this is where he needs to improve and he needs to start doing so this season. The pace is undoubtedly there. Can he find the ruthlessness to switch on the aggression when he needs it and block out the consequences of going toe to toe with Formula 1’s poster boy? If he can then he can give us Formula 1 fans the title battle we all crave. If not Nico will find himself continuing to drift towards Number 2 status as Mercedes battle against the ever growing threat of Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari. As much as I want Nico to find that extra element that pushes him to the front next season this has the feel of the Hamilton V Vettel era. Both now in the upper echelons of Champions. Both now seemingly settling into roles as number 1 drivers in their respective teams. If Ferrari find the same amount of time this winter as they did the last we could be in for an epic title battle. Nico has much to do to make sure he is in that mix.
Update Coming From Formula 1 after the USGP:
2 Tiered Formula 1:
Since it became glaring obviously that the new Hybrid regulations were something only the most well financed factory teams could afford Bernie Ecclestone has been selling the idea of V8-Kers or Twin Turbo V6-Kers units to supply a more cost efficient alternative to the Independent teams on the grid. An engine supply that would cost a fraction of what they currently spend on Hybrid drivetrains from Mercedes, Ferrari or Renault. (Honda don’t supply a customer team.) The estimated £20 – £30 Million that it costs to secure a customer supply at present is consuming over half the prize money that the likes of Lotus, Sauber & Manor receive.
Now the FIA look set to push ahead with alternative “Cheaper” engine supply for Independent teams after it was revealed this weekend that Ferrari had exercised a veto on cost capping current Hybrid units.
“The FIA, in agreement with FOM, suggested the principle of setting a maximum price for engine and gear box for client teams at the last Strategy Group meeting,”
“These measures were put to the vote and adopted with a large majority.”
“However, Ferrari SpA decided to go against this and exercise the right of veto long recognised under agreements governing F1.”
“In the interest of the Championship, the FIA has decided not to legally challenge Ferrari SpA’s use of its right of veto.”
It now looks likely that a tender process will get underway for a customer unit which Independent teams could avail of. Thought to be a 2.2L Twin Turbo with Basic KERS system.
“The FIA will initiate a consultation with all stakeholders regarding the possible introduction of a client engine, which will be available as of 2017. Following this consultation a call for tenders for this client engine, the cost of which would be much lower than the current power unit, could be undertaken.
“Supported by FOM, the FIA will continue in its efforts to ensure the sustained long-term development of the Championship and look for solutions enabling it to achieve this.
“It asks all of the teams to make a positive contribution to the success of this approach through proposals and initiatives in the interest of the Championship and its continuation over the long term.”
Until the next time