F1: Can Rosberg ace the test?

Though Lewis Hamilton won the last two races (the United States Grand Prix and the Mexican Grand Prix), history favours Rosberg in Brazil, as he had won at Interlagos the last two years. And more importantly, it is a venue where Hamilton has never won.

Nico Rosberg has paid attention to every single detail including getting his starts right, an area where Mercedes has struggled this year. Compared with his team-mate, Lewis Hamilton, the German has got the start right more number of times.   -  Reuters

The clash between the two Mercedes drivers in Spain once again raised doubts over Rosberg’s ability in wheel-to-wheel combat. After the two collided and went out of the race in Catalunya, Lewis Hamilton (in pic) won six of the next seven races, as Rosberg went back to his old habits of being clumsy.   -  Reuters

After 19 races of what is now the longest Formula One season in history, 19 points are what separates the two contenders for the Drivers’ Championship. When the F1 circus assembles for Stop No. 20 on the 2016 calendar, the Brazilian Grand Prix in Sao Paulo, the championship leader, Nico Rosberg, will have his first proper shot at the World title.

The math is very simple for the German driver. If he wins the Brazilian Grand Prix, Rosberg will clinch his first World Championship irrespective of where his team-mate Lewis Hamilton finishes. In that case, he and his father, Keke Rosberg, would enter the record books as the only second father-son duo to win a Formula One drivers’ title. The Interlagos circuit, incidentally, has decided six World titles in the last 11 years.

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The 2016 season has seen the emergence of a new Rosberg, who has shown that he has the ability to come back from tough times while also eliminating the mistakes that cost him the title in 2014.

It has been a rollercoaster ride for the two Mercedes drivers so far, with Rosberg taking a 43-point lead and then Hamilton fighting back to edge ahead by 19 points before the summer break. However, after the break, Rosberg dug deep to turn things around.

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Rosberg will not want to drag this fight up to the last race in Abu Dhabi. He of all knows how quickly things can change, having suffered the heartbreak of running into technical trouble in the 2014 title-deciding race in the UAE. Rosberg has not had any reliability issues so far, but he wouldn’t want to push his luck to the final race of the season.

Last year, after being blitzed by Hamilton, Rosberg won the last three races to end the season on a positive note.

This season, helped to some extent by a combination of poor starts and engine gremlins for Hamilton, Rosberg won the first four races. However, the clash between the two in Spain once again raised doubts over Rosberg’s ability in wheel-to-wheel combat. After the two drivers collided and went out of the race in Catalunya, Hamilton won six of the next seven races, as Rosberg went back to his old habits of being clumsy. He struggled in the damp conditions in Monaco and Silverstone. Monaco 2016 will go down as one of Rosberg’s worst races, as he struggled for pace and finished fifth, while Hamilton emerged victor.

However, after the summer break, Rosberg looked a lot more assured. His effort in out-qualifying Hamilton, one of the fastest drivers over a single lap, by seven-tenths of a second on a circuit like the Marina Bay (Singapore Grand Prix) where the Briton generally does well, showed Rosberg had raised his game this year.

Rosberg has paid attention to every single detail including getting his starts right, an area where Mercedes has struggled this year. Compared with his team-mate, the German has got the start right more number of times.

The former Mercedes principal, Ross Brawn, in an interview to the BBC, said, “Lewis is naturally talented, a better driver; he is slightly quicker than Nico. But Nico is so tenacious and has such good application that he is compensating for it.”

In Malaysia, Rosberg showed that he was more than willing to fight back, as he outmanoeuvred Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen into Turn Two with a brilliant move for which he was penalised, quite unfortunately though.

Though Hamilton won the last two races (the United States Grand Prix and the Mexican Grand Prix), history favours Rosberg in Brazil, as he had won at Interlagos the last two years. And more importantly, it is a venue where Hamilton has never won. The Yas Marina Circuit, the venue of the last race (Abu Dhabi Grand Prix), has suited Hamilton more — the reigning champion has won here twice and finished on the podium twice, while Rosberg has one win and a podium finish.

The biggest worry for Rosberg at Interlagos will be the damp conditions, while Hamilton is probably one of the best in the wet weather. The run to Turn One on this circuit always sees a lot of incidents, with the drivers trying different lines that can sometimes end in despair. In 2012, Sebastian Vettel almost lost the World title after being hit by Bruno Senna into the turn. He, however, miraculously got the car going to finish sixth and win the title by taking the three points he desperately needed.

While in the last two races, Rosberg appeared to take a cautious approach, especially at the start, in Brazil he might want to forget about his lead and treat the race as if it were a winner take all.