Following the Chinese Grand Prix in April, I wrote a feature explaining how if Nico Rosberg did not change his mindset, the title race with Lewis Hamilton was already over.
Five races later, the German driver has claimed three wins and two further podium finishes to bring himself to within 10 points of his teammate at the top of the drivers’ championship.
And without question, today’s victory in Austria was Rosberg’s best of the season so far.
The race really hinged on three pivotal moments, all of which swung the race in Rosberg’s favor. However, this was then underpinned by a searing pace and good level of control that allowed the German to claim his 11th career victory.
Firstly, we have the start of the race. Pulling away from pole, Hamilton failed to get a clean start thanks to a supposed clutch setting issue that, according to NBCSN’s Will Buxton, has been blighting the Briton since Spain.
Rosberg had no such problems, though, getting on the inside for the first corner to force Hamilton to back out and settle for second place heading on the run up to turn two.
The defending world champion had no plans to remain there for long, though, and was side-by-side with Rosberg at the second corner as he tried to hang his Mercedes around the outside. Yet again though, Rosberg was able to hold his line and retain first place, even if Hamilton remained just behind.
Then came the second big moment: Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso’s hefty crash at the second corner. The severity of the incident was made obvious by the finishing position of the cars, and although both thankfully walked away unharmed, the safety car had to be deployed to allow the mess to be cleaned up.
As a result of the safety car, the early battle between Rosberg and Hamilton was curtailed. On the restart, Rosberg had the measure of his teammate and was able to eke out a steady lead throughout his stint, even if his tires did begin to give way before his pit stop.
Finally, we have Hamilton’s mistake at pit exit following his stop for fresh tires on lap 35. The Briton put two of his wheels over the white line on the track, prompting the stewards to hand him a five second penalty that would be added to his final time. By this point, the fight was over.
The third part of this is perhaps the most important, particularly when you consider the worry that Rosberg had at the end of the race with the vibration on his front-right tire. Had Hamilton not needed a five-second lead over Rosberg, would he have pushed to take the lead?
Yes, he would have. But it is another matter entirely whether he would have made it past with relative ease. All weekend long, Rosberg had been the man on top. Hamilton had struggled for rhythm at the Red Bull Ring and failed to really worry his teammate, except for in qualifying when his second time in Q3 was enough for pole.
In reality, it was a flawless display from Rosberg. Hamilton’s penalty certainly eased the pressure at the front, but after the early safety car period, Rosberg never looked too worried at the front.
Rosberg now trails by ten points once again, and with three wins in the past four races, he will be hoping to carry this momentum to the British Grand Prix – Hamilton’s home race – in two weeks’ time.
His mindset has most certainly changed, but can Nico really take the fight to Lewis this year? Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff thinks so.
“Like in 2014, we are seeing the advantage swing from driver to driver across the races, and I’m sure they’ll be battling all the way to the end of the season,” Wolff said after the race.
Even without double points to keep the title race alive, Rosberg’s recent form suggests that he could still be within striking distance come the final race in Abu Dhabi.