Few sports can claim to have ownership of as many memorable rivalries as Formula One.
In the past the sport has given us the tragedy and speed of Aryton Senna v. Alain Prost, the tension of Mark Webber v. Sebastian Vettel, the controversy of Michael Schumacher v. Damon Hill, and the film-worthy war between Niki Lauda and James Hunt. Even with this abundance of entertainment, the 2014 season has so far decided to produce yet another battle that is proving to be one of the most intriguing and psychologically demanding rivalries in the history of F1.
The intra-team battle between Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton has been at the forefront of the sport since the beginning of the year. With Mercedes completely dominating qualifying and the podium, there has been little scope for anything but a bitter battle between teammates, with the racing and controversy rekindling memories of historic races such as the infamous 1989 Japanese Grand Prix where a collision between Prost and Senna prompted both cars to either retire or be disqualified, ruining any chance for Senna to win the championship.
This year has been no different, the recent Belgian Grand Prix threw up a major controversy when Rosberg attempted to overtake Hamilton on the first lap, clipping Hamilton’s rear tire and causing a puncture and later a retirement, only for Rosberg to finish second. Twin this with widely differing driving styles, and fans are sure to continue to be entertained. Italy was another show of the tension between the two drivers, with Hamilton forcing Rosberg into a mistake to take the victory away from his teammate.
Hamilton’s Senna and Hunt-esque driving style, with pure speed and aggression, contrasting with Rosberg’s Prost and Lauda-esque methodical nature and consistency, has promoted some fantastic racing, not least of which occurred in Bahrain earlier in the year where the two engaged in lap after lap of wheel-to-wheel racing.
With six races to go at the time of writing and double points at the final race in Abu Dhabi, the question has to be asked, who really holds the advantage?
If the answer was solely down to pure, unabridged speed, then the answer would be simple. Hamilton has been consistently 0.1 seconds faster than Rosberg throughout the year, and one of the main reasons behind his points deficit is a lack of reliability, having had much of the bad luck of the Mercedes garage all year. However, while speed and style will win you many friends as Senna and Hunt proved, they are unlikely to consistently win you championships unless you can marry it with a favourite of the Germans – reliability.
Doing no favours to German stereotyping, Rosberg’s consistency is what has provided his lead of 22 points. The 2014 season has stats that rival the best years of Schumacher and Prost with 4 wins, 7 poles, 5 fastest laps, 10 podium finishes, only one retirement and one finish outside the top 2, Rosberg has taken the Alain Prost strategy of consistently under his wing, and has well and truly blown the competition away.
Rosberg is not the only consistent driver though, when Hamilton has actually finished a race this year, he has not once failed to finish outside the podium steps, an incredible feat in any season, a quality he proved to devastating effect at Monza. The simple fact of the matter is that while Hamilton has the natural speed, passion and style, Rosberg’s less emotional and calculating nature gives him the upper hand in the situations where Hamilton is off screaming and shouting over a controversial overtaking manoeuvre, Rosberg keeps driving and adapts accordingly.
What shouldn’t be forgotten either is that these are two drivers on one team, which leaves the managers and engineers of Mercedes in a progressively more difficult situation. Who will be the number one driver come Abu Dhabi? Assuming one of the two wins the championship this year will they become the head of the team? Will team orders come in to play? Do you reduce support to one driver in order to guarantee a driver’s and a constructer’s championship? These questions won’t only be going through the head of Toto Wolff, the team director of Mercedes, but will be playing on the minds of both Hamilton and Rosberg.
For sure one driver is likely to win more fans than the other, but as many drivers will say, success and winning is everything in the world of Formula One and the season is likely to come down to who can handle the pressure better. Hamilton is already a world champion and has the experience, but is often blinded by emotion. Rosberg on the other hand may simply want it more, and with better luck and consistency so far, and seemingly a stronger mentality than Hamilton, he is currently the favourite to pull it off come November.
It has to be noted though that making a pure racer angry will almost always come back to bite you as Senna proved in 1990. Factor in 50 points at the last race of the season and Hamilton is far from out of this engrossing Formula One championship just yet.