- Mar 22, 2014
After spending the past six months watching teammate Lewis Hamilton make an almost perfect run of wins and pole positions, the 2015 Spanish Grand Prix provided Nico Rosberg with a reminder of what it’s like to be on top.
Coming into the weekend already a win’s-worth of points behind Hamilton, the German was under immense pressure to finally ignite his title hopes, which he did resoundingly, topping the leader board in Saturday qualifying, then delivering a faultless Sunday drive to finish 17 seconds ahead of his teammate. Considering he hadn’t done either since Brazil last November, it was almost getting to the point that you thought he’d forgot what having ‘P1’ on his dash looked like.
So, what to make of Rosberg’s first 2015 victory? Let’s have a look at that, and a few of the other talking points from the Spanish Grand Prix.
First pole, first win – Rosberg breaks his six month drought
For the first time in a long time, it all came together for Nico Rosberg.
Delivering the sort of assured performance that had him at the top of the driver’s championship for large chunks of 2014, Rosberg was finally a winner once more at the Circuit de Catalunya. Even though 180 days isn’t a particularly long time between victories in the grand scheme of a driver’s career, it must feel like an eon when your teammate is winning everything in sight.
After all, Rosberg had seen not just Hamilton, but also Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel claim victories in the preceding four rounds, as such it would have been hard for Rosberg not to feel some serious pressure, which makes the way he won this race all the more impressive.
Whereas the post-race focus seems to be on the misfortune endured by his aforementioned rivals, the truth is this race was won not on Sunday, but in the two days prior. A track where it has historically been hard to pass, pole was always going to be crucial to Rosberg’s chances, and the German wasted little time getting up to speed, setting the fastest time of either Friday session in FP1. The fact that Hamilton couldn’t match it in FP2, even though Rosberg struggled with gearbox issues only served to highlight he had the measure of the Brit, which he proceeded to back up with his 0.267s advantage in qualifying. Compounded by his superior composure off the start, his pace meant he could manage the race while Hamilton was forced to keep one eye on the Ferraris – basically a role reversal, the race was effectively over by half distance.
And while Hamilton and Vettel both had issues with pitstops and strategy that stopped either from really vying for the win, Rosberg clearly kept pace in hand during the race, such that it’s hard to see any other result. Regardless, what’s important is that for the first time this season, we saw a Rosberg who was able to really nail his setup, and in doing so, make Hamilton sweat.
Will it herald the start of a serious challenge to Hamilton’s title defence? Probably not, although another win at his old stomping ground at Monaco (where he has won twice before) looks promising. Really, it’s not a question of kicking off a title fight – Hamilton is still the raging favourite until further notice – but a question of making every race interesting. Comparing this Spanish GP with its 2014 counterpart shows the value of having two drivers who are simply able to put their best foot forward, and it’s those inter-team duels races where the Ferrari presence isn’t as strong that we need to keep the sport engaging.
Valtteri Bottas – like all Finns – is a man of few words. So perhaps it was no surprise the 25-year-old remained mum over the weekend on the possibility of replacing Kimi Raikkonen at Ferrari for the 2016 season. And yet, if actions speak louder than words, his on-track performance demanded, “I'll have what he’s having”.
For as good as they were last year, Williams’ relegation to third in the constructor’s pecking-order has seen Bottas slip somewhat under the radar in 2015. If his weekend in Barcelona is any indication, he could see a lot more attention in the coming months.
Pressed by journalists on Thursday over his next move with his Williams contract expiring at the end of this season, Bottas remained typically nonchalant regarding any rumours of a pre-contract to take Raikkonen’s spot next season, and then proceeded to show exactly why the Scuderia would be lusting after him in the first place.
For the second race in a row, Bottas valiantly held off a Ferrari to finish fourth. In Bahrain it was Vettel on the receiving end, in Spain it was Raikkonen’s turn. Thanks to some superb tyre management that saw him shifted from Williams’ original plan of a three-stopper to a two, the younger Finn found himself sandwiched between the two Ferraris in the latter stages of the race, first running Vettel uncomfortably close before walling off Raikkonen over the final ten laps.
Over the back injury that hampered the opening rounds of his season, Bottas has once more shown that he is capable of mixing it up with the best. If Raikkonen is to be replaced after this season, his countryman has to be close to the top of the list of potential replacements.
Five rounds into their journey through the Formula 1 wilderness, the McLaren-Honda partnership is struggling as much as ever – at least as far as Jenson Button is concerned.
Besting only the Manors in finishing 16th on Sunday, the 2009 world champion expressed doubts the team can achieve any points this year, after driving what he described as “the scariest 30 laps of my life”.
Referring to driveability issues that had Button fearing an accident every time he applied the throttle, his statements only compounded what was another Sunday to forget for the team after Fernando Alonso was forced to retire with a brake failure that led to a scary sequence with the front jack-man in his pit box.
For all the promise Honda’s return has heralded, the only noteworthy moments from McLaren this year have been along the same lines as Alonso’s incident on Sunday, with his crash in testing and Button’s ERS failure prior to the race start in Bahrain. Given the talk of Alonso having regrets about his move away from Ferrari, perhaps Sunday’s comments showed us it is Button who is feeling the strain the most.
Given that McLaren has already achieved two 11th places this season, and has begun to improve its qualifying pace, it would seem like points are well within the Woking outfit’s grasp, yet you can understand the Brit’s pessimism in view of the circumstances of his 2015 drive – almost dropped to make way for Alonso, Button has been forced to face the reality that he'll be lucky to ever get a crack at the Driver’s Championship again, due both to the team’s elongated development schedule and the reality that as reserve driver Stoffel Vandoorne continues to make noise in GP2, McLaren now has two young guns waiting in the wings.
More so than Alonso, merely competing for points is not what Jenson Button is after at this stage in his career. And while he might have exercised a bit of hyperbole in his post-race comments, he sounds very much like a 15-year veteran who knows he’s got more rough weekends in his future.
Is Rosberg’s win a one-off or a sign of things to come? Is Bottas the man for Ferrari in 2016? Can we expect a McLaren in the points anytime soon? Sound off below.