Heading into 2014, Nico Rosberg was my tip for the title. After spending many years in the shadows, he finally had the car underneath him to challenge for the championship, and if Lewis Hamilton pushed too hard, Rosberg would be the man to pick up the pieces.
And for a while, it seemed that Nico would follow in his father’s footsteps and become world champion. His victory at the German Grand Prix capped off a perfect period that had seen him sign a new long-term deal with Mercedes, get married and see Germany win the FIFA World Cup.
However, that would be the peak of his season. Just one week later, he was left fuming in Hungary after Hamilton refused to let him past despite the team asking him to do so, eventually beating Rosberg to a podium finish. Having stewed over the summer, Nico went to Spa with a point to prove, resulting in the on-track clash between the two Mercedes drivers.
And from then on, he was always on the back foot. Hamilton had won the psychological battle, and Rosberg simply couldn’t match his teammate. His final bid in Abu Dhabi was one hampered by an engine issue, but he showed resilience by willing the car home.
Nico will be back for another shot at the title in 2015, but he knows that it will take an almighty effort to get the better of Hamilton.
To be honest, heading into this year I’d always thought of Rosberg in the ilk of a Giancarlo Fisichella or a Jarno Trulli – a very good qualifier who on his day could be brilliant, but who had all-too-few “brilliant” days. This season was clearly Rosberg’s best yet in already nine in Formula One dating to his 2006 rookie year, but it still lacked the final degree of completion that Hamilton’s year featured.
The obvious flaw was his inability to convert pole positions into race wins. He won 11 poles but only managed to translate three of those into victories. One was controversial – Monaco following his qualifying stop – while the other two were authoritative, both in his home race at Germany and Brazil when he needed a win to maintain realistic title hopes at Abu Dhabi.
I thought Rosberg lost the mind games as much as the on-track battle this season, though. The back-to-back races of Budapest and Spa were mental psych-outs that probably pushed him to the edge. At Austin he really looked a defeated man. Still, he was resilient. He rose to the occasion in Sao Paulo, and he brought it home in Montreal and Abu Dhabi with his car failing in both races, in two of the most valiant drives of the year. He was gracious in defeat, and perhaps needed to go through the rigor of losing a title battle before he can win one.
Eli Tomac wins Tampa Supercross, takes red plate home
With his third win of the season, Eli Tomac took the red plate from Ken Roczen at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla. Entering with a one-point deficit, Tomac left with a four-point advantage in the 2020 Monster Energy Supercross championship hunt.
Tomac has struggled with starts so far this season. Saturday, he was part of a four-rider separation on the opening lap. He slotted in behind Adam Cianciarulo and went to school on his teammate.
“Our starts were better,” Tomac told NBCSN after the race. “That was the key. We put ourselves in a position early so that we could go to battle and ride the way we’re supposed to ride.”
Tomac claimed his 30th career win as the riders behind swapped positions. Cianciarulo and Malcolm Stewart started out with top-five runs. Both had the podium in site before they faded and gave last year’s Big Three free reign at the front of the pack.
“Early on I was just following Adam,” Tomac said. “With these short lap times I knew we had a lot of laps under our belt tonight. So I kind of just settled tonight and then made the push just before halfway.
“And I thought I’ve go to go if I’m going to go. So I was able to switch up the sand there. That was really cool with the option. A good passing spot.”
Cooper Webb finished second. It is his fifth podium of the year, but he felt he could have challenged Tomac if he had gotten through traffic a little faster. Roosters from the sand section blinded him and forced a more cautious approach from on top of his KTM.
Roczen minimized his points loss with a third-place finish. It could have been much worse. At about the halfway point, Roczen fell. Luckily for him, Cianciarulo went down on the same lap and took much longer to right his bike, which allowed Roczen to hold onto a top-three spot. Roczen ended the race nearly 11 seconds behind Webb and 18 behind Tomac.
Last year’s Big Three all stood on the podium.
Speed has not been a problem for Cianciarulo. He has been fastest in qualification every week including Tampa, but he is still learning how to get to the finish without making mistakes.
Last week Cianciarulo lost the lead late at San Diego when Webb was able to study his line. This week Cianciarulo had the opportunity to study Tomac, but he refused to simply ride and gain experience.
Earlier this week, Cianciarulo told NBC Sports: “The adversity I’ve faced – the mistakes I’ve made – have all been basically caused because of not settling. Just trying to get the absolute most I can out of every race. I guess in a way you can look at that and say it was inexperience or a rookie being a rookie.”
Cianciarulo went from second at the midway point to ninth at the checkers.
Justin Barcia and Justin Hill rounded out the top five.
Stewart had one of his best runs of the season, but he faded in the closing laps. On the final trip around the track, he nipped Jason Anderson at the line.
250 EAST: Shane McElrath won the opening rounds of his 2017 and 2018 seasons. Both of those came at Anaheim in the 250 West division. Switching coasts did not make any difference. McElrath drew first blood in the series with a 3-second advantage over last year’s 250 East champion, Chase Sexton.
“Nobody outside of my wife and I really know what went into this year and what a hit we took last year mentally,” McElrath told NBCSN. “It was a struggle. Everybody goes through their down times, and I really had a lot of growing to do last year.”
Sexton got off to a bad start on the first lap. All the news wasn’t bad. After getting mired in the pack at the start, he picked his way through the field and settled into second about halfway through the main event. Sexton made up 8 seconds as the clock ticked but simply ran out of time.
“I didn’t execute my start like I needed to,” Sexton said. “You can’t come from fifth and expect to catch them by the end of the race.”
In his first race back after a year and a half with a broken back, Jeremy Martin stood tall on the last rung of the podium
Garrett Marchbanks and Jordan Smith rounded out the top five.
Heat 1: Eli Tomac is not known for his starts. It’s time to rethink that after Heat 1. Tomac bolted to a big lead on Lap 1. … Malcolm Stewart led the field to the first corner. He slid wide exiting the corner and slipped back several spots before charging back to second. … Cooper Webb backed up his win last week with a third-place finish. … Vince Friese finished ninth to grab the final transfer. | Heat 1 Results
Heat 2: Ken Roczen stalked Adam Cianciarulo until the rookie buried his front wheel in the sand section. That stalled his momentum and allowed Roczen to take the lead. It set up a huge battle for the final battle for the top spot as the two crossed under the checkers nose to tail … Roczen won over Cianciarulo. … Zach Osborne took the final rung of the podium. … Back after a two-year hiatus, Broc Tickle finished fourth. It was like he had never been off the bike. … On Lap 1 Blake Baggett jumped into the back of Jared Lesher. They collected Joshua Cartwright, who got pinned under his bike and limped off the track. Baggett recovered to finfish eighth. … Kyle Chisholm took the final transfer position in ninth. | Heat 2 Results
LCQ: Chad Reed had to go through the LCQ, but he qualified for his 255th 450 Main where he would finish 19th. … Kyle Cunningham provided a lot of drama as time was running off the clock, but missed a corner and settled for second. Ryan Breece finished third. … Making his first Main of the season, Adam Enticknap swapped positions with Daniel Herrlien throughout the race and nipped him at the end. | LCQ Results
Heat 1: Shane Mcelrath grabbed the lead early and held it throughout the heat. He won by 14 seconds, but much of that was because of mistakes by the second- and third-place riders. … Garrett Marchbanks had a quick off early in the race. He recovered to finish second. … Jordon Smith struggled in the sand. He went down early in the sand section, but he held position for a while. A second mistake in the sand allowed his teammate Marchbanks to pass him. … The final transfer position was a barnburner as Nick Gaines held off a determined charge by Hunter Sayles on the final lap. | Heat 1 Results
Heat 2: Chase Sexton told reporters before the race that he is determined to dominate. So far so good as he let the entire heat in route to the top spot on the podium. … Jeremy Martin settled into a comfortable spot four seconds back as the battle for third heated up. … Jo Shimoda held it for a while, but was eventually overrun by RJ Hampshire, who took the final rung of the podium … Shimoda faded to fifth. … The final transfer spot went to Cedric Soubeyras. … Joey Crown finished a respectable eighth and also transferred. | Heat 2 Results
LCQ: Jimmy Decotis made his move at the right time. With less than a minute on the clock, he caught and passed Curran Thurman. … Jimmy Decotis finished third. … The battle of the night was for the final transfer spot. Jalek Swoll made a dramatic pass in the final turn, but bogged down in the whoops and allowed Isaac Teasdale to catch him at the line in a photo finish. Teasdale took the final spot | LCQ Results