After two years of F1 frustration, time for Rosberg to shine

© Getty Images
1 Comment

PARIS (AP) With his appeasing smile and calm voice, it would be easy to miss Nico Rosberg’s growing frustration after two seasons finishing second behind world champion Lewis Hamilton.

Behind his ever-courteous demeanor, and although he jokingly says “I wasn’t permanently frustrated” last year, the 30-year-old German driver is consumed by a desire to finally outdo his more illustrious Mercedes teammate.

Mercedes has the dominant car, and this could lead to another title scrap between the childhood friends whose idyllic teenage years racing karts against each other have turned into heated bickering between elite drivers.

It is typical Rosberg to downplay the bitterness of the rivalry and then stoke it up – sometimes in the same sentence – as he did last week when pre-season testing had ended in the Spanish sunshine of Barcelona.

“I wasn’t permanently frustrated,” he said, before quickly adding. “In my life I always like to compete against people who’ve beaten me recently, to come back and try and beat them because that just gives me more pleasure. That’s what I’m looking forward to this year. It’s a great challenge: Lewis is driving at an awesome level.”

Frustration got the better of Rosberg more often than Hamilton last year; none more so than last October at the United States Grand Prix in Austin, Texas.

After the race, in which Hamilton secured his third world title, a disconsolate Rosberg was sitting in a corner of the green room when Hamilton somewhat dismissively tossed him a cap to wear on the celebratory podium.

A stunned Rosberg threw it straight back and was then critical of the British driver afterward, saying he had been “too aggressive” during the race.

Rosberg’s main problem, apart from controlling his emotions, was carrying his speed in qualifying into the race – where Hamilton’s more steely edge ultimately made the difference.

However, as Hamilton continued to celebrate his second straight title in the closing weeks of the season, Rosberg issued a telling reminder by winning the last three races.

“I’m sure there will be a lot of success this season and I’m looking forward to winning a lot of races – hopefully,” said Rosberg, whose cautious nature prevents him making outright predictions. “We all start from zero. But of course what I have is the positive memories from the end of last year.”

Mercedes head of motorsport Toto Wolff predicts the battle could intensify due to tougher restrictions on team-to-driver radio communications.

“There is much less information and data being provided to the drivers during the races: on engine modes, on tires and strategies,” Wolff said. “The natural outcome of these regulation changes is that it will be again much more down to the drivers to take decisions. That means that the direct competition between the two is guaranteed and will be more intense.”

Rosberg must now make his mark on F1 as a winner, rather than a late bloomer who almost made it.

His tally of 14 GP wins is relatively low for a top driver. He did not win his first race until 2012, and lags way behind Hamilton’s 43 wins and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, who has 42.

He will be 31 in June and only has a few years left at the top, and there are massively talented young drivers like 18-year-old Max Verstappen or 21-year-old Daniil Kvyat waiting to show what they can do in a superior car.

Whether he can dominate Hamilton over a whole season remains to be seen. What is not in doubt, however, is that he is in the right car to sustain a challenge without being sidetracked by mechanical issues.

Over the F1 testing, Mercedes logged a mind-boggling 1,294 laps of the 4.655-kilometer (2.9-mile) Spanish circuit; equivalent to nearly 20 Grand Prix distances.

Ferrari, led by the cunning driving of four-time F1 champion Vettel, is again expected to be the main challenger.

Mercedes hardly used any soft tires in testing on the tough and grainy Catalunya circuit, preferring to keep its rivals in the dark about its outright speed on prime rubber.

“It’s the compromise,” Rosberg said. “You don’t really want to show everybody else how fast you are.”

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Fatih Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed its new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with Ford Motor Co. in an event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and team principal Christian Horner.

It’s the first Formula 1 team to launch in the United States for 2023, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin, Texas, for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen already had wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts inevitably will turn to establishing a dynasty, and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his chief rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.