Rosberg's triumph: a colossal feat

Nico Rosberg’s maiden Formula One Championship is a tribute to his determination and never-say-die attitude.

Nico Rosberg embraces his car after finishing second and securing the World Drivers Championship at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi.   -  Getty Images

In 2008, Lewis Hamilton (McLaren) went into the final race at Interlagos (Brazil) with a seven-point lead over Felipe Massa (Ferrari) and the World title within sight. He only needed to finish fifth, if Massa were to win the Brazilian Grand Prix, to claim what would be his maiden Drivers’ Championship. Massa won the race and for a moment seemed to have secured his first World Championship, before Hamilton rained on his parade with a decisive manoeuvre on the penultimate corner to pass Timo Glock, labouring on dry tyres on a wet track, to finish fifth and claim the crown.

Eight seasons later, it was a reversal of circumstances for Hamilton as his team-mate Nico Rosberg went into the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix with a 12-point advantage. This meant that Hamilton’s best chance of winning his third successive title — and fourth overall — was in finishing first and Rosberg placing lower than third. The Briton, true to form, took the chequered flag at the Yas Marina Circuit, but before that he defied instructions from the pitwall to speed up (Hamilton’s pace in the final lap was nearly nine seconds off his fastest qualification time) and tried to back Rosberg into his pursuers, Sebastian Vettel and Max Verstappen. Rosberg, however, valiantly held on to finish second and win his maiden Drivers’ Championship in 206 starts.

Now that drive, albeit defensive, speaks quite audibly for Rosberg’s strong character and resolve. For long regarded as a conventional pilot who would refuse to take risks, one who would rather wait for an opening than bound in to create one, the cerebral side of the German has been completely overlooked in a mindless frenzy of driver-classification. He is the kind of driver who would do exactly what is required of him to gain a favourable position or win a race, and he seldom punishes his engine or tyres beyond a point he thinks is hazardous.

And then comes his enviable work ethic that most people on the circuit never tire talking about. In that respect, Rosberg is much like Michael Schumacher, the winner of a record seven World titles. During the race weekends, Rosberg stays back in his garage well into the night each day, poring over the complex data pertaining to the performance of his car.

 

Rosberg’s eye for detail is legendary. He could be punctilious about how and where his helmet is placed on his side of the Mercedes pit; he could go on endlessly about his braking pattern while entering a bend, or even how best to overcome the problem of humidity during a race.

For instance, to prevent sweat streaming down into his eyes while racing in the hot and humid climes, Rosberg would wear a women’s sanitary towel under his helmet. He would speak of techniques of breathing and how practising them helps him perform better. “I learned some things in the winter. For example, my breathing in the car was something I could work on, because when we go through fast corners we hold our breath, because we have so much G-force. I have stepped up my training regime to be that little bit more fit at the end of races, a little bit more on it. That 1-2% makes the difference in the end,” BBC quoted the German as saying.

For some reason, experts, including a few former Formula One champions, have been reluctant to put Rosberg in the same class as Hamilton, especially when it comes to wheel-to-wheel combat. Which is partially true, considering Rosberg’s proclivity for defensive driving in such circumstances. But the 31-year-old champion can be very aggressive, as he showed during his first grand prix victory in China in 2012 when he announced to the world his twinkling talent. Or more recently, when he dominated Hamilton in the last three races of 2015 and the first four grands prix this year.

He seemed to have the measure of Hamilton in 2014, at least until the Belgian Grand Prix where Rosberg ran into his team-mate at Les Combes, breaking his front wing and puncturing Hamilton’s rear wheel. Team principal Toto Wolff and the non-executive chairman, Niki Lauda, censured Rosberg for the incident. This, perhaps, scarred Rosberg psychologically and forced him to adopt a more sober attitude to driving.

Quite surprisingly, the most uncharitable remark against Rosberg came from Bernie Ecclestone, the chief executive of the Formula One Group that manages the sport. He was so blunt as to suggest that Rosberg was bad for his business and that he needed someone as vibrant as Hamilton to promote Formula One. But given the German’s unwavering fortitude, he returned fire: “I am here to win races and not to please everybody that’s out there. There’s always going to be people who have opinions that will be going against me in some way or other. That is the nature of the business.” In sport, they say, it isn’t enough if one is a champion; he should also be seen to be one. And not many seem to acknowledge Rosberg as a true champion. Yet, winning the World Championship after an 11-year wait is a colossal feat, for, any ordinary driver in his place would have long jettisoned plans of chasing Formula One’s greatest prize, especially after an inordinately barren period.

Rosberg’s maiden Formula One Championship is a tribute to his determination and never-say-die attitude.

Thirty-four years ago, Nico’s father Keke Rosberg had won the World title. The Rosbergs are the second father-son World champions after Graham Hill and Damon Hill.