Nico Rosberg has never looked weaker in this F1 title fight

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Nico Rosberg has seen his fortunes take a dramatic turn for the worse over the past four months. After winning the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim in July, he seemed to be on top of the world and well in the fight for his maiden F1 world championship. Since then though, he has grown increasingly weak, and is now staring down the barrel of a huge defeat to Lewis Hamilton at the top of the standings.

Rosberg’s win at Hockenheim capped off something of a perfect 10-day period. In that time, he had got married, seen Germany win the FIFA World Cup, signed a new long-term deal with Mercedes and scored pole position on home soil. By winning his home race, he had increased his championship lead to 14 points and appeared to have Hamilton under the thumb.

Yet Lewis has since found his feet after a difficult run of bad luck. Ever since the Belgian Grand Prix that saw the two drivers clash out on track, Hamilton has been in fine fettle, with Rosberg left reeling. He may have 10 second-place finishes in 2014, but Lewis has 10 wins – that’s a 70 point difference just there.

Let’s see how attentive you have been this season. Two questions:

1. When has Lewis Hamilton fought back and passed Nico Rosberg for a race win this season?

2. When has Nico Rosberg fought back and passed Lewis Hamilton for a race win this season?

Starting with question one, the answer is on three occasions: Italy, Japan and Austin. At each of those events, Hamilton was left with a task of catching Rosberg, and he managed it. In Bahrain, he started from second place on the grid before eventually beating Rosberg at the finish, and he also managed to beat the German driver to third place in Hungary despite starting from the pit lane.

The point is that Lewis has fought his way back into races many times this season. Even when Rosberg won in Germany, Lewis had charged from P20 to the podium. They have been performances worthy of a world champion.

Now to question two. The answer? Never. Not once has Rosberg fought his way past Hamilton for a race win this season. For three of his four wins, Nico has started ahead of Lewis, with the fourth coming in Australia when the Briton retired in the early stages of the race.

But has Rosberg had the opportunity to do exactly that? Yes. In fact, he has squandered nine chances to pass or re-pass Hamilton and take a race win or big result this year – Malaysia, Bahrain, China, Spain, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Russia and Austin. It is not the makings of a champion, that is for sure.

As the season has wore on, Rosberg has been made to look all the more average. Although the margins between Hamilton and himself are by no means great at the checkered flag, they are still enough. When Lewis has been presented the chance to outpace and beat Nico, he has done it. Rosberg simply hasn’t.

So with two races to go in the 2014 F1 season, Nico needs to change that. His hopes appear to be precariously pinned on Lewis hitting trouble in Abu Dhabi and retiring from the race, allowing the German driver to claim a controversial double points victory. It would be an incredibly hollow way to win a championship, and would spark outrage in the F1 community. However, it seems to be his best chance.

If Rosberg suffers yet another defeat in Brazil next weekend, he will trail Hamilton by at least 31 points heading to Abu Dhabi. That means Lewis could afford to finish third in the final race with Nico winning and still win the title. In fact, Lewis can finish second in both races and will be champion by three points, assuming Rosberg wins at Interlagos and Yas Marina.

Of course, that isn’t Lewis’ style. He’ll be gunning to finish the season with seven straight wins. Should he do so, his winning margin at the end of the year would be at least 47 points, making it look like a very comfortable win indeed – and in reality, it has been quite comfortable for Lewis in recent weeks.

Nico Rosberg must turn it around now, although it may already be too late as his fire for the 2014 drivers’ championship begins to fizzle out.

Ben Hanley relieved to make Indy 500 debut

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Qualifying for the Indy 500 is never an easy task, especially for a new driver and team, and with 36 cars vying for 33 starting positions last weekend, 34-year-old rookie Ben Hanley knew there was a chance he and his DragonSpeed team would not make the show.

“I wouldn’t say we were very confident, but we wanted to [make the field],” Hanley told NBC Sports. “The biggest thing we were trying to achieve was to not be on track on Sunday in the shootout because it only takes one mistake or one little issue and that’s it, you’re not in the race.”

But Hanley would not have to worry about being bumped from the field. He qualified 27th after making three attempts on Day 1, which was enough to lock the No. 81 team into the show. Not too shabby for a driver and team making only their third NTT IndyCar Series start.

THE 103RD INDIANAPOLIS 500: Click here for how to watch, full daily schedules

“That last run everything just came together,” Hanley said. “We trimmed out a little bit more and found a good balance of trim and grip over four [qualifying] laps and it was enough to get us through.

“It was a huge relief to get through in P27. A massive achievement for everybody involved.”

Indeed it was a massive achievement, as DragonSpeed is one of the smallest teams in the garage, with no corporate sponsors and a tiny team of around 20 personnel. Many of those were picked up by the team just a week before qualifying, when members of the team’s regular crew were denied entry into the United States due to visa issues after leaving a sports car race in Italy.

“It was all down to the team organizing some people who were in and around Indianapolis who weren’t needed for the race weekend,” Hanley said. “Obviously, I don’t think many people are going to refuse the chance to work on a car that’s trying to qualify for the 500.”

Though the team made its first Indy 500 on Day 1 of qualifying, the DragonSpeed team did not spend Saturday night out late celebrating. Instead, Hanley said the extra time was spent preparing for the race.

“We went straight on to race prep then for the car, so Sunday was a good day for the guys to take time to prep the car into the race spec and get everything sorted out in a nice, organized manner.”

Following the Indy 500, DragonSpeed will run two other races this season at Road America and Mid-Ohio. The team is hopeful that a good run at Indy will result in an opportunity to run a bigger schedule next season and attract sponsors.

Hanley stated that though he’s happy to have made the Indy 500 starting grid for the first time in his career, the magnitude of his feat hasn’t hit him yet.

“It hasn’t really soaked in yet,” he said. “I think it will soak in on Sunday when we roll out to the grid.

“It was such a huge relief to not be involved in Bump Day. Even just watching [Bump Day] it was intense, especially with the weather. I couldn’t even imagine what it would be like to be involved in that.”

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