Nico Rosberg: lurking in the shadows?

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When Mercedes finished quickest at the final pre-season test in Barcelona, the immediate response from the F1 fraternity was “could Lewis Hamilton win the world championship in 2013?” However, the driver who finished on top in Barcelona was in fact Hamilton’s teammate, Nico Rosberg. Could he be poised to involve himself in the championship race?

Since joining Mercedes in 2010, Rosberg has met some success, albeit far less than expected. His highlight came at last year’s Chinese Grand Prix, where he put the car on pole position and coasted to an easy win as the Mercedes W03 was unstoppable in the cold conditions. In Monaco, he managed to finish a strong second behind Mark Webber, and fifth place finishes in Bahrain and Singapore were also impressive.

Rosberg and Hamilton have been great friends ever since they were teammates in go-karts, so the pairing is ideal for Mercedes as there is little chance of controversy. Hamilton may be the star joining the German outfit, yet it is Rosberg who will feel ‘at home’ as he enters his fourth year with the team.

Is Rosberg capable of matching Hamilton in the same car though? His win in China was one of the most comfortable of 2012, and his pace in testing was superb. Hamilton’s time may have been set one day earlier, but the four-tenth gap between the drivers will concern the Briton. Nico has proven himself to be a race winner and a driver with enormous talent. If Mercedes can provide him with the car this year, he could challenge Hamilton for the championship, emulating his father, Keke, who won the title in 1982.

All the talk may be playing up Hamilton’s chances, and the reserved Rosberg will be happy with this. Lurking in the shadows, Nico could quieten the clamor caused by Hamilton’s arrival by winning in Melbourne, relying that Mercedes’ testing pace continues.

Ricciardo set to see Dale Jr.’s final Texas ride in two weeks (VIDEO)

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We’ve written before about Daniel Ricciardo’s love of Dale Earnhardt and his love of the No. 3, which Ricciardo has selected as his permanent number for the duration of his Formula 1 career. And additionally, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has offered up the opportunity that one day Ricciardo could race a JR Motorsports car in NASCAR Xfinity Series competition, and Ricciardo has said he’d be up for it.

And although Earnhardt Jr. has only used the No. 3 on a handful of occasions in his career in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, Ricciardo knows how much the number means to the NASCAR veteran as he prepares for his final few starts in the Cup Series the tail-end of this year.

After the Mexican Grand Prix next week, Ricciardo is set to stay in North America for the off-week between the Mexican and Brazilian Grands Prix.

In that break, he said he’ll see Earnhardt Jr. in person at the Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway (Sunday, Nov. 5, 2 p.m. ET, NBCSN) to ensure he gets to see him before he retires from full-time competition.

Ricciardo explained his planning during Thursday’s pre-race edition of the NBC Sports Group original digital series Paddock Pass, speaking to NBCSN’s Will Buxton at the United States Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas in Austin.

“Well I’ll see him for the first time in Dallas. I’m gonna go to the NASCAR race in two weeks time at Texas Motor Speedway,” Ricciardo told NBCSN.

“Yeah, so, I gotta see him race before he hangs up the helmet.

“The Earnhardt family is a huge name in motorsport, not only in America but all over the world. Yeah I wish him well.”

Ricciardo is also optimistic he’ll get the chance to do a helmet swap with Earnhardt Jr. at the event.

“Hopefully I get to see him perform well in Texas. I’m gonna try to do a helmet swap with him. We’ll see how we go.”

Stay tuned for more on this over the coming weeks.