Nico Rosberg's Superb 2nd Place in Canadian GP Could Be Crucial to 2014 Title

Oliver HardenFeatured ColumnistJune 8, 2014


When Lewis Hamilton returned to the pit lane to retire from the Canadian Grand Prix, all eyes turned towards Nico Rosberg.

And quite right, too: So far in 2014, when one Mercedes driver has encountered problems—due to either technical malfunctions or driver error—the other has picked up the pieces, knuckled down and qualified on pole or won the race.

But this time it was different.

For the first time in 2014, Mercedes, the comprehensive victors of each of the opening six grands prix of the season, were on the rocks.

The loss of power suffered by Hamilton, which ultimately led to the 2008 world champion's race-ending rear brake failure after 45 laps, was also harming Rosberg.

The wizards perched upon the Mercedes pit wall and in the rear of the garage, those who had seemed to be in a state of perpetual relaxation since the beginning of the year, were now hunched over their screens of data.

At this stage, the best that the Silver Arrows could have hoped for was a top-10 finish, to leave the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve that night with something, anything in the bag in terms of points.

At worst, the Formula One Management television feed would within seconds cut to a shot of the No. 6 Mercedes trundling to a halt beside the race track with smoke escaping from its rear end, leaving its driver with a long walk back to the pits along the Bassin olympique. 

A weekend that, in theory, was set to be the team's most dominant of the season was about to become the darkest of blots on the copybook.

The inevitable breakdown, however, never arrived. 

The demise of Rosberg's MGU-K device somehow failed to take the German with it. And it wasn't until the 68th of the race's 70 laps that he surrendered the lead to Daniel Ricciardo, the Red Bull driver who went on to take his maiden victory in Formula One. 

Rosberg's second place finish, though—despite the end of Mercedes' winning streak and with it their chance to topple McLaren's 1988 campaign as the most dominant in F1 history—is surely the biggest of mini-victories.

The 28-year-old himself acknowledged it as a potential pivotal day in his title tussle with Hamilton, and was quoted by Jonathan Noble and Matt Beer of Autosport as stating: 

When you lose ERS it doesn't harvest anymore, then any braking is done by rear braking, so that is why the rear brakes overheated.

That made it massively difficult: I needed to cool the brakes and lost speed on the straights.

I was able to hold off the pack behind me until two laps until the end so it's still a really good result.

I was trying to hold on, doing qualifying laps all the time, but it didn't work out against Daniel.

Rosberg's performance confirmed his status as the thinking driver in this year's championship fight.

Admittedly, he was aided substantially—especially as the race reached its climax—by Sergio Perez's struggles with an electrical glitch and ageing tyres, which formed a train of cars behind the Force India, allowing the Mercedes to escape somewhat. 

However, Rosberg's ability to nurse his brakes and contend with a loss of horsepower, albeit with the strongest engine on the grid by a distance, was majestic.

And it wasn't just his caressing of the car to the flag that was impressive—it was the calmness with which he applied himself.

The Canadian Grand Prix, in general, was arguably the most difficult and stressful race of Rosberg's season.

Having been the one to take the fight to Hamilton in Bahrain and Spain, before blocking the streets of Monaco from the 2008 world champion, it was now Rosberg who had to resist a full-blown assault from behind.

Hamilton's excellent start, which saw him lead momentarily before the Mercedes drivers hit the brakes for Turn 1, caused Rosberg to lock up slightly and force his teammate wide.

Another mistake occurred following the first safety car period when the German mowed the lawn on the entry to Turn 4, which unsettled the car and forced Rosberg to make a desperate, lunging correction on the steering wheel.

And, of course, Rosberg locked up at the final chicane whilst under pressure from Hamilton for the lead, before facing the uncertainty of a potential penalty for gaining an advantage by cutting the right-left sequence. 

It was a grand prix full of potentially decisive moments for Rosberg in terms of the destiny of the race, the championship and the atmosphere within the Mercedes team, and he overcame each hurdle one way or another—sometimes keeping the car on the road, sometimes just keeping it running.

The 18 points Rosberg gained in Montreal has extended his lead over Hamilton to 22, with the former now on 140 and the chaser stuck on 118. 

And the German, perhaps more than anyone, understands the importance of a comfortable points lead with the current scoring system when both Mercedes drivers are so evenly matched.

After Rosberg won the season-opening Australian Grand Prix on a day when Hamilton retired, it took the British driver a career record of four race wins in succession before he took the lead from his teammate in the drivers' standings at the Spanish Grand Prix.

If Hamilton embarks upon another winning streak, with Rosberg settling for second on each occasion—a prospect which is entirely plausible given Mercedes' performance advantage—it won't be until the Hungarian Grand Prix in four races' time that Hamilton will regain the initiative in the drivers' championship. 

Even then, the margin between the pair will be a mere six points—a reflection of how tight this title fight is.

In first beating Hamilton to pole at the track where his teammate specialises and then surviving MGU-K disease to claim second place, Rosberg delivered his strongest message thus far to the man across the garage and displayed why he would be a worthy world champion.

And to think that drive will be remembered as an exercise in damage limitation...