F1 2015 Head-to-Head: Lewis Hamilton vs. Nico Rosberg at Mercedes

Oliver Harden@@OllieHardenFeatured ColumnistJanuary 24, 2015

SOCHI, RUSSIA - OCTOBER 12:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP looks on next to Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP before the Russian Formula One Grand Prix at Sochi Autodrom on October 12, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Mark Thompson/Getty Images

There was a moment in the immediate aftermath of last year's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix that felt very much like closure to Formula One's latest great rivalry.

Less than 10 minutes after crossing the finish line to claim his second drivers' title, Lewis Hamilton took a seat in the cool-down room ahead of the podium ceremony.

Still wearing his crash helmet—his emotions shielded from the watching world—Hamilton bowed his head and took the opportunity to reflect on his achievement, his season and his overdue return to world champion status.

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 23:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP celebrates in Parc Ferme after winning the World Championship and the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 23, 2014 in Abu Dhabi,
Clive Rose/Getty Images

Having had his moment of privacy interrupted by Valtteri Bottas, the Williams driver who offered his congratulations, Hamilton returned to his feet, removed his headgear and dabbed his eyes with a towel before receiving further plaudits.

From Toto Wolff, his Mercedes team principal. From Felipe Massa, the man he pipped to the championship in such dramatic circumstances in 2008.

And from Nico Rosberg, the 2014 runner-up.

Rosberg, having finished a disappointing 14th in the final race of the season, had no right to be in that room, but he had the grace to seek out Hamilton and extend his compliments to the new world champion.

So there they stood—these friends, these team-mates, these rivals—embracing, patting shoulders and backs and exchanging words of thanks.

And then Rosberg took off into the night, into the shadows—no doubt to dissect his campaign and analyse where it all went wrong—as Hamilton headed in the opposite direction toward the podium, the champagne and all those bright lights.

After 19 grands prix of almost exclusive racing between the pair, finally the battle was over. We had a winner and a loser, a champion and a nearly man.

It felt like the end, but it is likely to be just the start of this particular rivalry.

With the technical regulations remaining stable for 2015, it is almost certain that Mercedes will maintain their huge pace advantage over the rest of the field, which will make the fight for the drivers' crown a two-horse race once again.

And although the prospect of a sequel to 2014 may be an unattractive one—we need a more competitive F1, and besides, last season was glorious enough to stand alone as a one-off—there will be some fascinating differences in the dynamics between Rosberg and Hamilton as they commence Round 2 in 2015.

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 23:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP and Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP attend a team photograph before the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 23, 2014 in
Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Just as the new cars are set to be expansions of their predecessors, the Mercedes drivers will be forced to evolve from last season to this one.

The beauty of a head-to-head battle at the summit of a given sport is that every element of an athlete's repertoire is gradually exposed over time. In this case, it meant that by the end of last season, everyone had a solid understanding of both men's credentials and, crucially, their weaknesses—no more so than Hamilton and Rosberg themselves.

For Nico struggling to manage his hard tyres in low-grip conditions, there was Lewis unable to be at one with his brake pedal.

For Lewis's blunted pace over a single flying lap, there was Nico's fragility in wheel-to-wheel combat.

The key to inter-team supremacy at Mercedes—and indeed the world title—in 2015, then, is which of the two can maintain all that was good about their 2014 campaign while suppressing their individual limitations.

That task is almost certainly more simple for Hamilton on the back of a year that saw him win 11 races and break his personal-best record for consecutive grand prix victories on two separate occasions.

SINGAPORE - SEPTEMBER 21:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP celebrates in Parc Ferme after winning the Singapore Formula One Grand Prix at Marina Bay Street Circuit on September 21, 2014 in Singapore, Singapore.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Get
Mark Thompson/Getty Images

What made his second title-winning campaign all the more impressive was the widespread perception that the new-spec regulations and their emphasis on car conservation were supposedly unsuited to the Briton's driving style, yet he almost instantly proved his doubters wrong.

Now with championship No. 2 in the bag, Hamilton should also cut a more relaxed, self-assured figure in 2015, although this admittedly could carry its own pitfalls. One of the central factors behind his success last season, after all, was his unflinching focus and his ability to divide his personal life and his professional life.

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 23:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP celebrates with his father Anthony Hamilton, stepmother Linda Hamilton and girlfriend Nicole Scherzinger after winning the World Championship after the Abu Dha
Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Hamilton tends to perform at his best on-track when things are stable at home—his mid-career crisis in 2011 coincided with a high-profile split from girlfriend Nicole Scherzinger—and it is imperative that he retains that equilibrium this year.

And what of those braking problems and that bizarre loss of outright speed? Those issues are correlated, which should mean some fine-tuning of his use of the brakes should see Hamilton regain his place as the fastest driver in F1.

That would be bad news for Rosberg, who drove outstandingly well for much of 2014—taking five excellent wins—but found that his best was not quite good enough.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 16:  Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP celebrates on the podium 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

It is unclear just how much he can improve, too, although his first experience of a title battle in 2014 should make him more of a more polished driver, and one better equipped to deal with the emotional and psychological pressures, in 2015.

The German's cerebral, cunning approach to racing makes him an everlasting threat to the purer Hamilton, but Rosberg would be well advised to take a leaf out of his team-mate's book.

While the 29-year-old is as good as anyone as far as managing his machinery is concerned, it became increasingly obvious as 2014 progressed that Rosberg lacks Hamilton's conviction in battle as well as his feel for a racing car.

The fact that both these traits are very much down to an individual driver's natural instincts behind the wheel makes it difficult to imagine just how Rosberg can begin to close the gap to Hamilton, never mind match his team-mate, which could leave him with no option but to rely on the tried and tested—yet ultimately unsuccessful—methods of a year ago.

There will be a sense of deja vu when the 2015 season gets underway at Melbourne's Albert Park in March.

Mercedes will once again have the fastest car by a distance, and it will be left to Hamilton and Rosberg to blow the opposition, and one another, away.

It is, in many ways, the battle that nobody wants but the one we all crave as the Silver Arrows pair put to one side the good feelings of that pre-podium room in Abu Dhabi and push each other, and themselves, to and beyond the limit once more.

Last year was just the beginning. 

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