Is Nico Rosberg Carrying Mercedes' Fight to Be F1's 2nd-Best Team?
Lewis Hamilton's despairing evaluation of his disappointing Abu Dhabi Grand Prix said it all.
"I've not been good enough," was the overruling message of the Briton's post-race address.
It's easy to see why he has come to that conclusion. After all, it's not the 2008 world champion writing off his entire debut season at Mercedes. Far from it.
It's about the run of six races in which teammate Nico Rosberg has almost doubled his points tally, single-handedly overhauling Ferrari in the constructors' championship in the process.
That is a big, big deal for Mercedes, who did not expect to have as competitive season as they have enjoyed.
While Hamilton's capture and the team's eight pole positions from the first 11 races are the obvious highlights from 2013, Rosberg put it best on Sunday when he told Sky Sports F1 after the race: "To finish second is a massive boost."
With such a result comes great financial reward, but more significantly perhaps is the positivity that will spread through the factory in Brackley and the executive boardrooms in Germany.
again best of the rest! here´s my video message to you: http://t.co/ygx9Ln01zQ— Nico Rosberg (@nico_rosberg) November 3, 2013
Hamilton, who has won once despite starting from pole five times, is as disappointed by his recent failure to be the driving force behind such positive developments.
He admitted after the race, as reported by Sky Sports' Pete Gill:
Clearly with Nico's result, the car's better than what I'm able to bring home with it. Same old...different day. It's the same every race. It can't be other peoples' fault. Nico's been getting great points for the team. I just need to work harder to try to do the same. I just want everyone back home to know I'll keep pushing.
That's not to say Hamilton has not been integral to Mercedes' success. Such a suggestion would be ludicrous; after all, Hamilton's 175 points is the lion's share of Mercedes' tally of 334.
Over the course of the season, the Briton has edged Rosberg. But it's been closer than many probably expected, and the pendulum has swung toward Rosberg in the last few races.
Hamilton slipping back
Abu Dhabi was a prime example of this.
A fine third place for Rosberg, within sight of Mark Webber at the flag, was a superb result on a night when the Red Bulls should have been untouchable (and one was).
Hamilton, by contrast, toiled in the race. He failed to get by first Esteban Gutierrez and later Adrian Sutil efficiently and paid the price with a disappointing seventh-place finish.
That made it the fifth time in the last three races Rosberg has outscored Hamilton, and their points tallies are equally damning from the Brit's perspective: Rosberg 63; Hamilton 36.
There's no intimation from Hamilton he is giving up—far from it. He remains fourth in the drivers' standings and in the fight for third after Kimi Raikkonen's non-score in Abu Dhabi.
Hamilton gave his analysis of his performance to Autosport.com:
Even if I wasn't in traffic I wasn't fast enough. I just wasn't good overall. It was like I had another 50kg in the car, I was just too slow. Just no pace.
The development and hard work that has gone in has been remarkable. For whatever reasons, maybe being a new car, I have not got on well with it.
And really it is for me very, very confusing. When I get to the race I don't know what happens. I really struggle. For a lot of races it's been like that.
Mercedes' chances of hanging onto the runner-up spot in the constructors' points they picked up in India and consolidated in Abu Dhabi will be greatly boosted if Hamilton can return to pre-Monza race form.
That's because however bad Ferrari appeared in Abu Dhabi (Fernando Alonso failed to make Q3), the drivers are continuing to get solid, if unspectacular points (Alonso duly recovered to fifth; Felipe Massa finished in eighth place).
In addition to this, the team blamed the specifics of the Yas Marina circuit layout for their drivers' poor form, and team principal Stefano Domenicali is expecting a much more competitive showing at Austin.
In quotes picked up by Setanta, he said:
We still have two races to go and I am much more confident we can re-attack Mercedes and Lotus. We know that we have a lack of traction and downforce in certain corners and we need to manage the set-up of the car in order to improve it. We know that we are also paying a big price with the temperature because the more we go into hot conditions the more our car becomes inefficient. So we should move to a situation where the conditions are more suitable for our car. That is why I said we have everything we need to fight for this place.
And what of Lotus? Romain Grosjean failed to make it four podiums in a row in Abu Dhabi, but fourth place was a good return after a weekend blighted by minor technical problems.
While Kimi Raikkonen's race lasted just one corner, and controversy continues to rage over his ongoing pay dispute (though Lotus insists an agreement has been reached), there has been speculation that the team's bid for second will be derailed.
Who will finish second in the teams' championship?
On the contrary. Lotus are 37 points back with two races left to run, so they are still the outsiders in the fight for second. But if they can replicate their impressive hauls from Korea and Japan, where only Red Bull scored more points, then they remain a threat that cannot be ignored.
It is a fascinating and long-running battle. Both Mercedes and Ferrari have the most to lose, given their factory statuses and impressive budgets. The three-pointed star leads the way, but can it remain there with a misfiring driver?
Will Massa's rejuvenation boost the Prancing Horse back into second? Will Grosjean's form guide Lotus to an unlikely runner-up spot, or will Raikkonen's apparent ambivalence to the cause undermine the Enstone team's efforts?
Sebastian Vettel might be making things boring out front, but behind there is still a great deal to fight for.
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