Is Nico Rosberg Now Favourite for 2014 Title After Austrian Grand Prix Victory?

Matthew Walthert@@MatthewWalthertFeatured ColumnistJune 22, 2014

SPIELBERG, AUSTRIA - JUNE 22:  Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes celebrates after victory in the Austrian Formula One Grand Prix at Red Bull Ring on June 22, 2014 in Spielberg, Austria.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Nico Rosberg won the Austrian Grand Prix on Sunday for his third victory of the season. Even more importantly, though, it was his third straight finish ahead of his Mercedes teammate, Lewis Hamilton.

Rosberg is now 29 points ahead of the 2008 world champion in the Drivers' standings and the clear favourite to win his first title—just ask the bookmakers. According to Oddschecker, the German is better than even money to come out on top in what has become a two-way race between the Mercedes drivers.

Rosberg wins in Austria.
Rosberg wins in Austria.Mathias Kniepeiss/Getty Images

For most of the year, I have been unwilling to concede that Rosberg could beat Hamilton over a full season, and I still think the Brit is the more talented driver. But Rosberg's lead, now nearly halfway through the season, cannot be ignored anymore. Nor can it be attributed solely to bad luck or subterfuge.

Yes, Hamilton has been unlucky in suffering the only two retirements Mercedes has had this year, but Rosberg had the same issue in Canada and still managed to finish second in the race.

Right now, Hamilton would need to win five races in a row (with Rosberg finishing second) to retake the lead in the championship. And if Rosberg won the sixth race in that hypothetical sequence, he would be back in front.

Of course, one Rosberg DNF coupled with a win for Hamilton would blow the title race wide open again. And who knows what will happen with double points awarded at the last race of the season in Abu Dhabi?

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But Hamilton cannot count on double points and non-finishes for his teammate if he wants to add a second world championship to his resume. While a malfunctioning Energy Recovery System might be beyond his control, spinning on a qualifying hot lap certainly is not.

Hamilton (left), not in a celebratory mood following Monaco qualifying.
Hamilton (left), not in a celebratory mood following Monaco qualifying.Luca Bruno/Associated Press/Associated Press

Likewise, he cannot allow himself to become frustrated with Rosberg's advantage, as he did in Monaco. Rather, Hamilton needs to block out the distractions and focus on winning races. He was able to do that effectively during the four-race stretch from Malaysia to Spain, which allowed him to eliminate the 25-point gap Rosberg had opened following the Brit's retirement in Australia.

Rosberg, on the other hand, does not need to change anything about his approach. His season has been all about consistency—he has finished first or second in every race—and it is paying off.

Hamilton has still won more races than his German teammate, four to three, but Rosberg is dominating in the championship. Under the current scoring system, with the value of a victory so diluted, winning does not matter as much as finishing consistently.

Just look at Fernando Alonso, who is fourth in the Drivers' standings, only four points out of third, despite an average finishing position outside the top five this year—but he has scored at every grand prix.

Austrian Grand Prix post-race press conference.
Austrian Grand Prix post-race press conference.Mathias Kniepeiss/Getty Images

So has Rosberg, and if he can keep that record up, there is no reason to believe Hamilton can overtake him. But the German is not thinking that far ahead.

Predictably, perhaps, at the FIA press conference following his win in Austria, Rosberg said, "I really like to concentrate on each weekend and keep on trying to make the most of them and enjoying the moment, also with the car that we have. ... So I’m more taking it step-by-step and every weekend my aim is to extend the championship lead which I managed to do this weekend."

While it may sound cliche, that approach is working so far for Rosberg, and he has no need to alter it. 

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