Formula 1

Lewis Hamilton or Nico Rosberg: Which Mercedes Driver Best Bet to Win F1 Title?

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 15:  First placed Lewis Hamilton (L) of Great Britain and Mercedes GP and third placed Nico Rosberg (R) of Germany and Mercedes GP attend the official press conference following qualifying for the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at Albert Park on March 15, 2014 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Mark Thompson/Getty Images
Neil JamesFeatured ColumnistMarch 20, 2014

Nico Rosberg won the Australian Grand Prix at a canter; Lewis Hamilton retired after only two laps.

Had the Brit's car not developed a misfire, we would almost certainly have seen a Mercedes one-two. The German squad currently hold a substantial advantage over the other teams, and though it's likely others will catch up, it's possible they won't.

At the moment, the smart money is on a Mercedes driver taking the title.

But which one?

If the championship was decided on raw ability, you'd have to back Hamilton. He's unquestionably one of the best drivers on the current grid and probably has more pure pace than anyone.

He's arguably the best qualifier, he is good in the wet or dry and it's difficult to place anyone ahead of him in the overtaking stakes.

Rosberg is also one of the best drivers around, but he isn't quite on his team-mate's level. Though the gap isn't massive and on his day the German can beat anyone, if both men drive to their absolute maximum, Hamilton will come out on top.

Publicity shots are getting worse.
Publicity shots are getting worse.Clive Mason/Getty Images

But maximums are largely irrelevant in a championship with 19 races. No driver hits his maximum all the time. What really matters is the averagehow a driver performs over the course of a season.

Fernando Alonso doesn't have as much raw pace as Hamilton or Sebastian Vettel. What he does have is the ability to drive closer to his own personal maximum more frequently than anyone else.

Alain Prost was similar. More often than not he couldn't touch Ayrton Senna over a single lap, but his calculating approach to races meant he frequently came out on top.

Rosberg is from the same mould. Maybe he lacks those few 10ths at crucial moments, but over the course of a season he'll consistently drive closer to his own personal optimum than many of his rivals.

He does a good job of managing the tyres, utilises his fuel load well, rarely overdrives the car and tends to keep his nose very, very clean.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 16:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP drives during the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at Albert Park on March 16, 2014 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
Clive Mason/Getty Images

Hamilton hasn't always done that, and his performances have been less consistent.

Long known as a single-lap expert, he was out-qualified eight times by Rosberg in 2013. As good as Rosberg is, a driver with as much pace as Hamilton should have come out on top far more frequently.

The picture continued into the races. In the 16 grands prix which saw both Mercedes men classified, each finished ahead of the other eight times.

Again, as good as Rosberg is, and as much as Hamilton didn't particularly like the W04, the Gods of Natural Talent say the fight should not be that close.

But it was, because Rosberg did a better job of managing his tyres, fuel and overall race pace. He operated closer to his maximum than Hamilton did.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 16:  Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP after winning the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at Albert Park on March 16, 2014 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
Clive Mason/Getty Images

If last year's theme continues, the title battle will be very close. The balance would have to be tipped in favour of Rosberg simply because he has the recent track record of better race management. In 2014, that's going to be key.

The extra 25 points he already has in his pocket won't hurt, either.

On the other side of the coin, if Hamilton can find the form he has shown in the past2007, 2008, 2010 and 2012 spring to mindhe'll leapfrog ahead.

It's by no means certain either will be champion when the season ends in November. Red Bull have a lot of pace, McLaren have a lot of reliability and we can't write off Williams either.

But if you had to pick one man as the favourite right now, Hamilton just edges it.

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