The battle for the 2014 F1 drivers’ championship looks to be one of the most intriguing and exciting for many a year. Gone is the dominance of Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull, making way for an intra-team scrap for the crown at Mercedes.
We know it will be one of the German marque’s drivers who is crowned champion of the world at the FIA gala in Qatar this December, but which one? Lewis Hamilton or Nico Rosberg?
With just eight races to go, it is Rosberg who currently has the advantage at the top of the standings. Having suffered just one retirement so far this season, the German has backed up his consistency with four wins and five further podium finishes. As a result, he leads Hamilton by eleven points – 202 plays 191.
Hamilton’s charge has certainly been hindered by a number of unfortunate incidents. Along with Felipe Massa, he is probably the unluckiest man in F1 at the moment. He has not started a race from inside the top five since the Canadian Grand Prix in June, and the last two races have seen him fight back from incidents in Q1.
And boy oh boy have they been remarkable fight backs.
In Germany, a brake failure saw him crash into the barrier at high speed during qualifying, but thankfully he walked away unharmed. His ego was a little bruised as he was forced to start down in 20th position, but he made up for it in the race with a masterclass in overtaking: he finished in third place.
Rosberg kept his part of the bargain at Hockenheim, taking an untroubled victory to extend his lead at the top of the standings to fourteen points. He couldn’t have done anything more to make the gap any wider; Hamilton was simply in stellar form that day.
Hungary was a slightly more difficult weekend for the German driver, though. Once again, Lewis saw his hopes of a sixth win of the season quite literally go up in flames as an engine fire in qualifying forced him to start the race from the pit lane. Rosberg duly took pole position, but was overshadowed in the race by Daniel Ricciardo. The Red Bull driver took a very popular victory at the Hungaroring, passing Hamilton and Fernando Alonso in the final few laps to take his second win. To quote the man himself: “That’s how you do it, ladies.”
As far as the championship is concerned, Hungary was important as we saw further signs of tension at Mercedes. Hamilton had used the wet conditions and the safety car period to get back in the mix at the front, but was given the call to let Rosberg past as he was on a different strategy. The Briton refused, saying that he would only if Nico got close enough. Come the checkered flag, the German fell just short of beating his teammate, and saw his lead fall by three points.
However, it was undoubtedly a missed opportunity for Rosberg. For the second weekend in a row, Hamilton had somehow fought back to minimize the damage of his loss on Saturday. It was an escape act that Houdini would have been proud of.
Heading to Spa, Rosberg will have been expecting to enjoy a lead bigger than just eleven. In all honesty, it should be triple that given his teammate’s misfortune; Hamilton’s Herculean efforts have stopped it from being so.
If this championship revolves around “momentum” (F1’s favorite buzzword at the moment), then Hamilton must be in the box seat heading into the final stretch of races. The Briton may not have a mathematical advantage, but he has rattled Rosberg. The German refused to get drawn into any debate about team orders following the race in Budapest, even if his face told us everything we needed to know.
Hamilton has won six of the remaining eight grands prix: only Russia and Brazil are still on his hit-list. He has the experience on title battles, and he knows that he has proven, even in the face of adversity, that he can keep fighting – and fighting hard.
As championship battles go, this has the makings of an all-time classic. Will it be Lewis or Nico? Under the lights in Abu Dhabi this November, we might just end up with an answer…