Can Nico Rosberg Recover from 2014 Formula 1 Title Defeat to Lewis Hamilton?

Oliver Harden@@OllieHardenFeatured ColumnistNovember 24, 2014

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 20:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP shakes hands with Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP before the drivers' press conference during previews ahead of the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 20, 2014 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
Clive Mason/Getty Images

It was on Lap 45 of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix that Nico Rosberg knew the game was up.

The previous lap, the German—hindered by a motor generator unit failure which left him significantly short of engine power—had asked his race engineer, Tony Ross, to predict his finishing position as he desperately tried to keep his championship hopes alive.

Ross reassured his driver that fifth place—the position that Rosberg needed to win the title if Lewis Hamilton, his Mercedes team-mate and the race leader, retired in the final 10 laps—was achievable if he could keep Nico Hulkenberg, his compatriot, at bay. 

A glimmer of hope! A twist in the tale! A reprieve!

Any confidence that Rosberg took from Ross' comments, however, would have been lost within two quick glances.

The first would have been at the leaderboard, which recorded the German in P7, leaving him requiring Hamilton and another driver to hit the trouble before the chequered flag.

The second would have been at either of his rearview mirrors, in which he would have seen a Force India growing bigger as every corner passed. 

Hulkenberg was coming.

Less than a minute after the interaction between Rosberg and Ross had been broadcast to the globe through the FIA television feed, the No. 27 car was primed for the pass.

The Mercedes driver swerved across the track to claim the defensive line for the chicane of Turns 8 and 9, but by that point it was little more than a charade.

A camera attached to Rosberg's left wing mirror caught the moment perfectly as, under acceleration from the chicane, the Force India peeped out from behind his shoulder and, with little resistance, sailed by.

The faintest blink of the eyes as Hulkenberg pulled away down the back straight said it all: The championship was gone.

Whenever a tight, intense title battle draws to a close in Formula One, you cannot help but feel, and worry, for the runner-up.

Some drivers, such as Fernando Alonso, can take almost as much pleasure from pain as success, and are loaded to come back fighting repeatedly, willing to take as many setbacks as required in their quest for victory.

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - NOVEMBER 25:  Fernando Alonso of Spain and Ferrari reacts in parc ferme after finishing second in the race and second in the drivers world championship following the Brazilian Formula One Grand Prix at the Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace on
Paul Gilham/Getty Images

For every one of those, though, there is a one-shot wonder—think Mark Webber, Rosberg's former Williams team-mate, and perhaps Felipe Massa—who pours all their energies into that single season, operating under the assumption that it could be their only chance to join the elite.

And when success fails to materialise, especially in dramatic circumstances—Massa and Webber both lost titles in season finales—those drivers are disarmed, unable to maintain their levels of performance.

Rosberg's immediate reaction to his defeat, though, suggested he will not become a member of the latter group anytime soon.

In a sport rife with ego and self-importance, the German displayed an impressive degree of realism and grace, telling Sky Sports' Pete Gill and James Galloway:

I’m very disappointed, the chance was there, but it didn’t work out. But in the end, my race didn’t make a difference because Lewis won the race fair and square. He deserved to win today and also to win the championship.

He was that little bit better this year and it is fully deserved. He has done an amazing job and was the best driver on the grid this year.

It’s been a great battle between us and that is what I race for. It’s been very intense at times but most of the time it’s been fantastic.

Hamilton's five-race winning streak between the Italian and United States grands prix—which effectively took the British driver out of reach with two rounds to spare—would have prepared Rosberg for the worst ahead of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, meaning his disappointment at Yas Marina was not as crushing as it otherwise might have been.

The German's admission of his shortcomings—he added to Sky Sports' Gill and Galloway that he needs to "work on the racing a little bit"—also highlighted his self-awareness and a desire to improve, as well as his confidence that there is still more to come.

Rosberg's antics in wheel-to-wheel battle have undoubtedly been his biggest vice throughout 2014, with the 29-year-old bullied out of the way by Hamilton in Japan and at the Circuit of the Americas, for instance.

And when he has played the role of the aggressor, Rosberg has either been exposed as lacking in aggression and imagination, as he was in Bahrain, or has simply overdone it, as his mistakes at the start of the Belgian and Russian grands prix showed.

If he can become a little more streetwise and clinical when in close proximity with not only his team-mate but his other contenders, there is no reason why Rosberg, whose stature has grown significantly over the last 12 months, cannot bounce back to win the title in 2015.

Except, of course, Hamilton.

If Rosberg himself has room for improvement, the new world champion can also expand his repertoire for next season, transferring his blistering race pace into the qualifying arena, in which he was comfortably beaten by the German this year.

Hamilton should return to action next March as a more relaxed, polished performer which, as we wrote post-Abu Dhabi, could signify a spell of dominance.

If that sense of relaxation becomes complacency, however, Rosberg will need no invitation to claim a title of his own.

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