Pole gave Rosberg a psychological boost, but would defeat in Spain cripple his title hopes?

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MONTMELO – When Nico Rosberg pulled into parc ferme following qualifying for the Spanish Grand Prix on Saturday, a huge amount of pressure had been lifted from off his shoulders.

The German driver dominated qualifying at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya on Saturday, beating teammate and title rival Lewis Hamilton by three-tenths of a second and posting two laps that would have been good enough for P1. For the first time in 2015, Hamilton had been second best.

Rosberg’s performance acted as a reminder of the driver that we saw throughout 2014. Although his race pace may have been lacking in a number of straight fights with Hamilton, he usually had the upper hand in qualifying, claiming 11 poles in total. Arguably, without his good Saturday form, the title would have been less of a close-run thing.

It was Rosberg’s biggest strength, which made his poor qualifying at the start of the 2015 season all the more surprising. The first four races saw Hamilton start on pole each time as Rosberg struggled to find his feet. In Bahrain, he failed to get into the right rhythm in Q2, leaving him uneasy in Q3 and ultimately six-tenths off the pace in third place.

Rosberg’s response on Saturday in Spain was an impressive one though, and the enormity of the result was not lost on the German.

“It’s important for tomorrow’s race because it’s better to start first than second,” Rosberg said. “Psychologically, yeah, it’s good. Feels great. I’m happy, so it’s good for tomorrow.”

If this is such a psychological step forwards for Rosberg, what would be the impact of a defeat on Saturday though?

Rosberg’s frustration came to a head in China when he accused Hamilton of not being a team player and deliberately backing him into Sebastian Vettel in third place during the race. However, his real gripe was not that Hamilton had done so, but that the Briton was even in the position to do it. Rosberg was helpless to stop his teammate from playing the game that way.

It is for this reason that Rosberg needs a strong start from pole position on Sunday. He must hold on to the lead in the opening stages of the race so he can then try to play Hamilton at his own game. That said, Mercedes may be somewhat wary of a repeat given the possibility of either two or three stops, thus allowing Ferrari to try and spring a surprise just as it did in Malaysia.

Although losing from pole would be a big blow to Rosberg, he already appears to have turned a corner. After China, he had to change his approach, and we saw that in Bahrain as he fought past Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen during the race. He may have lost out to the Finn at the end, but Rosberg had made an impression.

All champions have their off weekends, and this might be the case with Hamilton in Spain. It is now up to Rosberg to take full advantage of this and bring himself back in the title hunt.

Defeat would by no means cripple his title chances, but in the psychological battle, it would be a blow to lose to Lewis even when the Briton is not at the peak of his powers. He has to capitalize on the opportunity that has been presented to him today..

The Spanish Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 7:30am ET on Sunday.

NEOM McLaren Formula E announces Jake Hughes will join Rene Rast for 2023 season

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McLaren Racing
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Doubling down on their commitment to electric auto sports, McLaren Racing announced Jake Hughes will join Rene Rast to compete in the 2023 Formula E Series (FE), which completes their driver lineup.

The NEOM McLaren FE team was formed by the acquisition of the Mercedes-EQ Formula E team that won the 2021 and 2022 championships with Stoffel Vandoorne and Nyck de Vries behind the wheel.

“Today’s announcement feels like a long time coming,” said Ian James, managing director of NEOM McLaren Electric Racing in a release. “Since May this year, when we first announced McLaren Racing’s entry into Formula E, we have been working tirelessly to get in place the best possible team and structure for sustainable success.

“On the one hand, we have been working on the retention of the amazing talent that already was in place before going into the transitional phase. I’m proud to say I think we’ve done a great job on that front.

“On the other hand, we have been focusing on putting in place new processes and new talent – and the latter includes the drivers.”

The driver lineup clasps the two hands together.

Hughes brings 10 years racing experience in single seater cars, including a role with the acquired Mercedes-EQ team as a reserve and development driver for the past two seasons. He is the 2013 BRDC Formula 4 champion and has multiple wins in Formula 2, including two in 2020.

 

Announced in August, Rast joins the team after earning two podium finishes and six top-fives in 22 career Formula E starts for Audi Sport ABT before returning to the DTM Series last year. Rast’s best finish in Formula E came in the Puebla E Prix when he finished second to teammate Lucas di Grassi by less than a half second.

McLaren’s commitment to Formula E comes one year after they entered the Extreme E rally series in 2022 with Tanner Foust and Emma Gilmour in the driver lineup. After a modest start to the season, the McLaren XE drivers crossed the finish line first in Round 4 in Chile, but were assessed a time penalty that dropped them to fifth. Last week in the season finale in Uruguay, they held onto a hard-earned second place finish.