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Has Rosberg turned the corner with his early dominance? - The Mercedes title battle leans towards Nico early on

Published by Ewomazino Orowor

Rosberg now holds a massive 36-point advantage over his closest realistic challenger,
Credit: Mercedes AMG Petronas

The 2016 Formula One season is three races old, and Mercedes are still the team to beat - as has been the case since 2014. Ferrari have improved and may offer a bit of competition, but Mercedes have nudged the bar higher too and still have superior raw pace in their Silver Arrows compared with the Prancing Horses - along with the rest of the cars from other teams too.

As a result, the Mercedes duo of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg are favourites to win the World Drivers' Championship while their aggregate performance should help Mercedes retain the Constructors' title. This year, however, in blazing the Mercedes trail, it has not been business as usual for three-time champion, Hamilton. Rather, it is his team-mate, Rosberg who has started on the front foot.

The German's form, which contrasts Hamilton’s largely unfortunate struggles, suggests he may have found the winning formula. With his latest victory at the Chinese Grand Prix, Rosberg became the first driver since Michael Schumacher, twelve years ago, to win the opening three races in a season.

Also, having won the last three races of the 2015 season, Rosberg now boasts six consecutive race victories - only Sebastian Vettel (9), Michael Schumacher and Alberto Ascari (7 each) have recorded more consecutive race victories in Formula One's history.

More importantly, in a championship context, Rosberg now holds a massive 36-point advantage over his closest realistic challenger, Hamilton, who is placed second in the drivers’ standings. It appears that at last, Rosberg has found a way out of the shadows of Hamilton and is now in control. The stats are in his favour too: every driver who has won the first three races of a Formula One season has gone on to win the drivers’ championship title.

So, is this Rosberg's season? Has he turned the corner?

Too early to call

Rosberg's performance so far is sensational and, of course, pivotal to the flourish of his confidence. Also, it could possibly herald the springboard that would set him on course for his first drivers' title.

However, this is Formula One's longest season ever and it is only three races old at the moment. There are eighteen races left in the campaign - that's one less of the total number of races in 2014 and 2015 respectively. So, there is a long way (almost the length of a season in previous years) to go, which gives room for an awful lot of twists to occur.

In 2014, for instance, Rosberg had a 29-point advantage over Hamilton atop the drivers' standings with seven races left in the season. However, the German lost out on the title to Lewis, finishing 67 points behind the Briton (but for the double points in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix that year, the gap would have been 42 points - huge nonetheless).

So, with eighteen races left this season, a 36-point advantage over his closest challenger (Hamilton) is certainly not a safe haven for Rosberg. The German knows this and has not failed in being vocal about it.

Rosberg's performance so far is sensational
Credit: Mercedes AMG Petronas

Another salient point the German has alluded to is the tenacious spirit possessed by his team-mate: Hamilton is a fighter and is capable of bouncing back. However, it appears the Briton has a more pressing battle to fight, the unpalatable trend of ill luck that has bedeviled him so far. Hamilton came into the race weekend in China on a five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change but things would get worse for the three-time champion.

He failed to post a qualifying time due to a technical issue with his car and, consequently, started at the back of the grid while Rosberg qualified on pole. He fought back in the race and finished in seventh place amid aerodynamic problems caused by a collision on the first lap that left his front wing stuck underneath the car, damaging the floor.

Although he pitted for a new front wing, the impact of the collision was felt throughout the race by Hamilton who claimed his car drove like a 'four-poster bed' afterwards. Hamilton's ordeal in China summarized his ill-luck-laden season so far, after poor getaways and a collision affected his performance in the first two races. Thus, the sooner Hamilton wins his battle with being down on luck, the better for his season. Else, Rosberg may just build an even bigger gap.

Hamilton has already said he has no more jokers left, indicating he is - as expected - keen on returning to his competitive mode. But how soon his resurgence will come, we do not know.

It is probable that the validity of Rosberg's current pace-setting form hinges on his abitlity to withstand the expected resurgence of Hamilton

If the beleaguering hands of ill luck lose hold on Hamilton soon enough, he could make a big battle-ready statement at the next race in Russia where he holds a formidable record. Should the above instance turn out that way, the question of Rosberg having the ability to handle the pressure of Hamilton breathing down his neck may slowly begin to come to the surface as the season progresses. It is probable that the validity of Rosberg's current pace-setting form hinges on his abitlity to withstand the expected resurgence of Hamilton.

So, Rosberg faces the imminent pressure of maintaining the status quo while Hamilton, in turn, faces an uphill task to claw back the current deficit. The good news for both drivers is that they have eighteen races to bring their championship-winning hopes to fruition.

To win the championship, a driver needs a healthy blend of skill, quality of car and (of course) luck! At present, Rosberg seems to have that healthy blend but the fact is that the season's length and the anticipation of Hamilton's resurgence suggest that Rosberg may not have turned the corner.

Only time will tell!