Rosberg more than prepared for the title battle

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Credit: 163.com

Nico Rosberg could not have made a better start in his quest to emulate his father Keke and win the Formula One world championship.

So often in the shadow of Lewis Hamilton over the last couple of years, Rosberg is in the form of his life. Having won the final three races of last season, he has stormed clear of the opposition to take the first three chequered flags of this to give himself a commanding lead at the head of the championship.

Some question marks remain over whether Rosberg can last the distance in a 21-race title battle. His run of wins at the end of 2015 came in the aftermath of Hamilton’s third world championship, while the Englishman has yet to enjoy a clean race weekend so far this season as he has seen his teammate surge into the distance.

But to use Hamilton’s misfortune as a tool to explain Rosberg’s current form would be doing a great disservice to the German, whose accomplished performances in 2016 have been such that it would have been easy to see him achieve his 100 per cent start even had the other Mercedes not hit trouble.

It also goes without saying that Hamilton’s woes this season have, in part, been avoidable. First lap calamities in Australia and Bahrain were brought about by poor starts, while a decision to start from the pit lane in China instead of from the grid would have kept him safe from collision in the first corner, sparing the damage that surely prevented him from finishing higher than seventh.

A fightback from Hamilton as we head into the European season has to be seen as a given, but Rosberg has all of the cards in his favour as he seeks that elusive first crown.

He arrives in Sochi next week looking for a seventh straight win, a position only three others have found themselves in before, on top of his game, and driving a Mercedes that remains the car to beat this year, even if Ferrari and Red Bull have closed up somewhat.

Rosberg has been in a similar position before. In 2014, he led Hamilton for much of the campaign as the Englishman was hamstrung by unreliability, and by as much as 29 points following their now infamous collision at Spa. But back then, there was always the sense that Hamilton would reel him in.

Rosberg is a more mature figure than two years ago. The moment where he hurled his cap towards Hamilton in the podium room in Austin last October was mocked by some, brushed off as sour grapes by others, but appears to have been a turning point in the monentum between the Mercedes teammates. Since then, he has not been beaten to the line.

Before Rosberg and Hamilton were paired at the Silver Arrows in 2013, the only time the German had been beaten by a teammate over the course of a season was by Mark Webber in his rookie year of 2006, during which the then 20-year-old Williams driver had shown glimpses of his potential by setting fastest lap on his debut in Bahrain and then qualifying an astounding third in Malaysia in his second race.

He then brushed aside the experienced Alex Wurz in 2007 and then crushed Kazuki Nakajima in the following two seasons. It was during this time that Rosberg repeatedly took a Williams car that should have been mired in the midfield and mixed it with the frontrunners.

That his move to Mercedes in 2010 saw him beat Michael Schumacher – no mean feat, even if the legendary seven-time champion was past his prime – three times cemented his status as one of the sport’s top drivers, and one that, at some point during his career, deserved a tilt at the title.

He may not be able to match Hamilton at his peak, but he has proved that it only takes a slight blip in form or fortune from his adversary for him to emerge on top.

If, come the chequered flag in Abu Dhabi, Rosberg is crowned Formula One’s 33rd world champion, he will be more than worthy of the accolade.

Stephen D’Albiac

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