Smith: Now out of Hamilton’s shadow, what’s next for Nico Rosberg?

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Nico Rosberg’s coronation as Formula 1 world champion may have come about in the most dramatic of circumstances on Sunday in Abu Dhabi, yet the questions that followed his success could be seen from a mile off.

Does Rosberg deserve to be champion?

Did Hamilton deserve it more?

Would Hamilton have won it without his bad luck?

The questions are tiresome. So, here’s the answers: Yes, Nico Rosberg does deserve to be champion; sure, Lewis Hamilton would have been a worthy champion, but he scored less points through the season; maybe he would have won it without his bad luck, but who cares?

To question the legitimacy of Rosberg’s title victory is to do a great disservice to the German. 2016 was the year where he righted the wrongs of his championship bids in 2014 and 2015. His insular ‘one race at a time, that’s it’ public approach worked wonders, making him resistant to the mind games that Hamilton played throughout the year. Hamilton went to extreme lengths in the title decider to deny Rosberg victory, but his rival was wise every step of the way.

Yes, Hamilton won more races. But so did Felipe Massa in 2008 when he lost to, uh, Hamilton. Champions who didn’t win the most races include Alain Prost (1986 and 1989), Nelson Piquet (1983 and 1987), and Niki Lauda (1977 and 1984). Heck, even Keke Rosberg did in 1982, winning just one race all year long.

So let’s cut the ‘did Nico deserve it’ talk. He did. Hamilton was unlucky in places, yes. But he also struggled on crucial weekends such as Baku, Monza, Singapore and Japan. It was a far from perfect season from the three-time champion.

Rosberg will have woken up this morning with two things: a fuzzy head after a big party last night, and the stark realization that he is world champion. It will take a while to truly sink in, but as he is whizzed around the globe on his championship tour, it’ll truly hit him: this is what life is like as F1 world champion.

Rosberg has finally stepped out of Hamilton’s shadow after a career spent playing second fiddle. Right the way from their karting days as teammates to their time in separate teams in F1 before finally coming together at Mercedes, Rosberg has always been number two. But no more.

“It feels like I’ve been racing him for ever and always he’s just managed to edge me out and get the title even when we were small in go-karts,” Rosberg said.

“He’s just an amazing driver and of course one of the best in history, so it’s unbelievably special to beat him because the level is so high and that makes this even more… for sure, so much more satisfying for me.

“I took the world championship away from him which is a phenomenal feeling.”

But the story does not end here. What’s next for Nico Rosberg?

There’s certainly a feeling that one world title will be enough for Rosberg. When we look back on the greatest handful of races of this generation, it is unlikely the German will feature. In terms of raw talent, the likes of Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso will perhaps be remembered more strongly.

But Rosberg will forever be world champion. If he looks back on his career in 10 years’ time and still has just one to his name, it’s unlikely that he will be too disheartened by that. Sure, there could have been more titles, but he won at least one.

That’s what separates Rosberg from the aforementioned group of drivers. For Hamilton, three world titles is still not enough; four isn’t enough for Vettel; two does a huge disservice to Alonso, who could have easily won five.

But with Rosberg, you get the impression that, having reached the pinnacle after being the underdog, not adding to the haul would not offer the same kind of heartache that it has for the likes of Alonso.

If he only ends with one, he’d match among others, his father, Keke Rosberg; the only other son of a world champion to win one in Damon Hill; and the last non-Hamilton/Vettel world champion in Jenson Button, who won in 2009. They only ended with one, but none of those careers is sabotaged by the fact it’s only the one.

That said, if Rosberg can make the same kind of personal progression that he did from 2015 to 2016 after this title success, there is no reason why he can’t add to his haul of championships

He’s beaten Hamilton once. He knows the magic formula that so many drivers have tried and failed to work out over the past 10 years. If it means another year of ‘one race at a time’ and ‘that’s it’-s, then so be it: what works for Nico, works.

The other big thing that this championship victory will give Rosberg is confidence. As he dived down the inside of Max Verstappen in a pass that was crucial to his title glory on Sunday, part of me thought “would the 2015-spec Nico Rosberg have done that?” – probably not.

Had Rosberg’s new approach still resulted in a title defeat to Hamilton, the German may have been wondering what else he could do to finally be world champion. But he now has proof that this approach works. Add to that greater confidence and the positivity winning a title in such fashion gives, and we could be looking at the making of a real force in F1.

Interestingly, a similar thing happened to Button, who like Rosberg, took a decade to win his first title. He was always regarded as being a hugely talented and capable racer in F1, but it was not until his title win in 2009 that we really saw him step up to the next level. When Button joined McLaren, most expected Hamilton to wipe the floor with him – yet until Sunday, Button was the only teammate to have beaten the Briton across the course of a season.

Rosberg will now be set for one of the most content winters of his racing life. He can enjoy his time with his wife, Vivian, who was with him through all of his celebrations in Abu Dhabi, and complete regular daddy duties with one-year-old Alaïa, content in himself with a championship on his mantlepiece. Rosberg may not grace red carpets all over the world like his teammate will this winter, but that makes him no less of a champion.

Rosberg’s first title defense will begin in earnest, and we look forward to seeing just how he manages life as top dog in F1. But for now, he can enjoy the success he so richly deserves.

And as for the naysayers? Well, don’t expect Nico to dwell on things.

“I don’t drive for credit, I drive to win the world championship, and I have achieved that,” he said.

“It was my childhood dream to win the world championship and that’s done and that’s what I’m excited about.

“I look forward to celebrating with all the people who have been supporting me.”

Butterball, Andretti Autosport extension is all gravy

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 27:  Ryan Hunter-Reay, driver of the #28 Andretti Autosport Honda Dallara, practices during Carb Day ahead of the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motorspeedway on May 27, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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Andretti Autosport and Butterball, a U.S.-based provider of turkey and poultry products, announced a new expansion of their partnership. The newly revamped agreement will see Butterball branding on all four Andretti Autosport entries in 2017.

“Butterball has been a great partner since 2014 and I’m really excited to have them on board again this year,” said Ryan Hunter-Reay. “They were with me when I won the Indianapolis 500 which was a really special moment for everyone involved. Hopefully we can bring them back into victory lane this year, not only at Indy, but throughout the season as well.”

The machines of Marco Andretti, Alexander Rossi, and Takuma Sato will feature branding just below the front suspension components. Per the announcement, the placement has created a new nickname for the assembly: “the Butterball Wishbone.”

“Butterball is extremely excited about our sponsorship with Andretti Autosport in 2017,” said Butterball CEO and President Kerry Doughty. “With the addition of the new Butterball Wishbone Sponsorship on all Andretti Autosport Indy cars for the 2017 season, we are expanding the tremendously successful relationship that began with Michael and Ryan in 2014 when we won the Indianapolis 500 in our first season.”

Butterball’s tenure with Andretti Autosport dates back to May 2014, shortly before Ryan Hunter-Reay claimed victory at the Indianapolis 500. Branding has been featured on Hunter-Reay No. 28 entry ever since.

Newgarden completes busy day in Detroit

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Josef Newgarden’s media prowess and charisma was again in full display on Thursday during a series promotional efforts for June’s Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear.

Specifically, Newgarden was in town for Detroit Grand Prix night at that night’s Pistons-Hornets NBA game.

The day began with Newgarden visiting a handful of Detroit news media outlets, where his most notable venture involved duking it out with Pistons mascot Hooper.

The day continued with Newgarden exploring more of the city, and getting in touch with its rock ‘n roll history.

That, Newgarden ventured to The Palace of Auburn Hills to the big promotional event of day, Detroit Grand Prix night. There, Newgarden was greeted with his own Detroit Pistons jersey and even tried a couple of half-court shots at halftime. However, he did not make any, making it less likely he’ll pursue a basketball career when he decides to hang up his helmet.

For an additional recap Detroit Grand Prix night, visit The Chevrolet’s Detroit Grand Prix twitter @detroitgp.

Entry lists revealed for MRTI Spring Training in Miami

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Kyle Kaiser in Miami, 2015. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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The first real good, if not final, looks at the season to come in the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires come with next week’s Spring Training, which sees four total days of action at the Homestead-Miami Speedway for all three rungs of the ladder.

The Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires will run February 27 on Homestead-Miami’s 1.5-mile oval and March 2 on the 2.21-mile road course. Meanwhile the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda series will run solely on the road course over two back-to-back days, February 28 and March 1.

Indy Lights’ field seems closest to being finalized from this group, while Pro Mazda and USF2000 still have some gaps to fill.

In one other bit, Mazda will announce the teams of competition for its Soul Red-liveried drivers this year, all of whom won Mazda Motorsports Advancement Scholarships for their next step up this year. That’s why Aaron Telitz (Indy Lights), Anthony Martin (Pro Mazda) and Oliver Askew (USF2000) teams are listed as TBAs.

Anyway, quick notes:

Indy Lights (14 cars

All drivers on the Indy Lights entry list have been officially announced, and as noted, Telitz’s team is the only significant TBA of note. Car numbers are revealed for Zachary Claman De Melo and Matheus Leist at Carlin of 13 and 26 respectively, with the known in advance.

In terms of team breakdown, it’s four each at Carlin and Andretti Autosport (with Colton Herta’s No. 98 car an Andretti Steinbrenner Racing entry), Juncos Racing and Belardi Auto Racing each with two official cars and Team Pelfrey the lone one-car entry.

Of the 14 drivers, the field is split exactly in half between seven veterans and seven rookies.

Questions from here are whether one or two more cars not at this test will join the grid at St. Petersburg and push the number back up. Since the debut of the Dallara IL-15 Mazda in 2015, the St. Pete weekend has had 13 cars in 2015 and 16 cars last year, with this one falling in the middle.

Pro Mazda (6 cars)

In what’s very much a survive-and-advance season for Pro Mazda in the final year with its existing car, a small batch of cars come from Team Pelfrey, World Speed Motorsports and the team TBA for Anthony Martin for this test.

Within a 20-to-30-plus, multiple-class series of racing, six cars for one class wouldn’t necessarily be a problem. But six on their own for an independent series is certainly an issue. The number simply has to grow by St. Petersburg to at least eight at a bare minimum, the low-water mark last year, with 10 a significant step forward at this rate (the series had 12 cars at St. Petersburg last year).

USF2000 (22 cars)

Quite by contrast, the new Tatuus USF-17 premieres in USF2000 with 22 cars at this test and the potential of more cars by St. Petersburg (the series had 26 starters last year with two additional withdrawals).

Six returning drivers join 12 rookies and four TBAs on this list, all split among 10 teams. Dutch driver Rinus VeeKay, initially announced as driving for Benik in 2017, is listed in a third Newman Wachs Racing entry for this test.

Juan Pablo Montoya samples Risi Ferrari in Sebring IMSA test

during practice for the Verizon IndyCar Series Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on June 10, 2016 in Fort Worth, Texas.
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One of the best drivers of his generation, Juan Pablo Montoya’s recent run of sampling a diverse amount of machinery continues with his testing debut in the No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE at this week’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship test at Sebring International Raceway.

Initially reported by Sportscar365, Montoya received the guest drive opportunity from an old colleague of his when he raced F3000. Team manager Dave “Beaky” Sims planned to put Montoya in for a few laps this afternoon to give him his first proper running in a GTE-spec car.

Montoya, a race winner in Formula 1, IndyCar and NASCAR, two-time Indianapolis 500 champion and past CART and F3000 champion prior to that, got into the low 2:00 range in his handful of laps before turning the car back to Toni Vilander, who will share the car for the March 18 race with Giancarlo Fisichella and James Calado. Times are unofficial because this is a series test.

Montoya’s race plans this year are thus far limited to the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil in a fifth Team Penske IndyCar. He won the individual portion of the Race of Champions in Miami last month. He’s been linked to the rumored (by RACER.com and others), if not yet official, Penske Daytona Prototype international (DPi) effort.

A couple social posts from the Colombian’s run are below, including from Vilander, IMSA Radio pit reporter Shea Adam and IMSA timing & scoring provider Al Kamel Systems. More info from this week’s test will follow soon.

@Regrann from @imsa_racing – Juan Pablo Montoya turns a few laps in @risicomp's 488. – #regrann

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