Midseason Report: Grading Nico Rosberg's Performance for Mercedes

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Midseason Report: Grading Nico Rosberg's Performance for Mercedes
Clive Mason/Getty Images
Winning Monaco was a big highlight for the Monte Carlo resident

The team battle I'd been most looking forward to in 2013 was Nico Rosberg versus Lewis Hamilton.

The two good friends had come up through the junior formulae ranks together and were even karting teammates back in 2000 in the Formula A championship. For the record, Hamilton pipped Rosberg to the title.

Of course, Rosberg was already well established in the Mercedes team with three seasons under his belt partnering, and soundly beating, some fella called Schumacher. Hamilton would have to find his feet quickly in a brand new environment, but most students of the sport predicted an extremely tight battle. And that's exactly what we got.

Hamilton started the stronger, outqualifying Rosberg in Australia as the German's race ended in retirement with an electrical problem. Malaysia again saw Hamilton on the second row but with Rosberg two places behind him.

A titanic scrap for third ensued between the pair in the closing laps, just the kind of action I'd been looking forward to. Rosberg twice passed Hamilton, only for Hamilton to retake the position. But then, with Hamilton running low on fuel, Rosberg was ordered to hold station behind Hamilton despite clearly having the faster car.

Rosberg was understandably frustrated but, unlike Sebastian Vettel ahead of him, obeyed team orders. That's a gold star in his half-term report for being a good boy. Good guys, however, don't always win.

China again saw Rosberg outqualified by Hamilton, who stormed to pole. Still, fourth on the grid was no disaster until a broken rear anti-roll bar ended his race after his second pit stop. Another podium finish for Hamilton, and it looked like the Englishman was quickly establishing himself as the team's No. 1 driver. Certainly there would have been pressure on Rosberg to arrest the situation, and he answered his critics emphatically by taking his first pole of the season in Bahrain, a replacement gearbox meaning Hamilton started ninth.

But as Hamilton made ground on the harder compound as the temperatures receded to finish fifth, Rosberg backpedalled as Mercedes' rear tyre problems surfaced, his W04 munching the rear tyres as a four stop strategy relegated him to ninth by the finish.

Again Rosberg put his Mercedes on pole in Spain and this time it was alongside Hamilton as the team achieved its first front row since the 1955 Italian Grand Prix. But again the celebrations would not last until Sunday afternoon as those pesky rear-tyre problems surfaced again as Rosberg faded from pole to sixth and Hamilton from second to 12th. But their luck was about to change.

 

Like father, like son 

Monaco offered Mercedes no small amount of hope. Clearly the aero package was good judging by their stellar qualifying performances. And if they could get on the front row, Monaco's low speeds and lack of overtaking gave them a great chance of victory.

And so it transpired, Rosberg again heading the Mercedes front row lock out before taking a sublime victory 30 years after father Keke had triumphed at the same circuit as Hamilton lost out to the Red Bulls when forced to stay out longer than his teammate. For Rosberg, who lives and grew up in Monaco, it was a very special day, as he told BBC Sport:

It's amazing. This is my home, I've grown up here all my life and it's really special. The whole weekend went perfectly. I had a terrible start and I was close with Sebastian and Lewis but after that I controlled the pace. The car was really good, the tyres held on OK and that was really the key, so a massive thanks to the team. I'm ecstatic.

Hamilton fought back in Canada to take third from second on the grid as Rosberg finished fifth from his starting slot of fourth, but Silverstone was to be another red letter day for the German who benefited from the ill fortune of his teammate and Vettel to hold off a charging Mark Webber for victory and another joyful interview with BBC Sport:

Fantastic, a very special day. What makes it more special is that our factory is so close. We're progressing all the time. We're massively quick in qualifying, and we had the fastest car in this race. With Lewis, I feel sorry for all the British fans. It's always a massive disappointment but that's racing. Sebastian stopped, I won't lie, I wasn't disappointed by that one.

There was to be no such fairytale at his next home race in Germany, a misjudgement by his team in Q2 meaning he missed out on the top 10, compromising his race for a ninth-place finish. And while Hamilton cruised to a pole to flag finish to win his first race for the team in Hungary, Rosberg was left cursing his luck after contact with Felipe Massa into turn five put him on the back foot before an engine failure sent him into retirement late on.

The second half of the season promises much for Nico, especially if Mercedes have found a cure to their tyre woes in the form of the new-spec Pirellis. And congratulations also go to Nico and his longtime girlfriend Vivian Sibold on their engagement.

 

Nico's mid-season marks 

Temperament: 8/10

Qualifying: 7/10

Race craft: 7/10

Summary: Two excellent pieces of work so far, and, if Mercedes have their issues fixed, there's more to come.

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