When Nico Rosberg swept to three straight wins to close out the 2015 Formula 1 season, many observers thought little of it.
The German had indeed been faultless in Mexico, Brazil and Abu Dhabi, but given that Lewis Hamilton had the championship sewn up in Austin, he could be forgiven for taking his foot off the gas.
A simple perusal of his rather vibrant Snapchat account was enough to tell you that Lewis was enjoying the high life in the wake of his title success, gracing red carpets and VIP parties all over the world.
Rosberg’s victories were impressive but meaningless in the grand scheme of things – but now that the streak stands at five after the first two races of 2016, should Hamilton be getting worried?
Sunday’s win in Bahrain was Rosberg doing what Rosberg does best: cool, calm, controlled driving. He turned up the wick when required, but otherwise monitored the gap to Kimi Raikkonen in second place. The result was never really in doubt.
Hamilton has been unlucky in the opening two rounds of the season, and is yet to have a real fight with Rosberg on track. A poor start in Australia dropped him back down the order, while a Turn 1 clash with Valtteri Bottas on Sunday left him with damage, making third place a considerable achievement.
Hamilton seem unbothered about the result after the race, telling reporters in the media pen that he felt “chilled” and was happy to have recovered to the podium. The 17 point deficit to Rosberg after two races doesn’t seem to bother him.
But it should.
Sure, it may only be two races out of 21, but Hamilton needs to end Rosberg’s run as soon as possible. Three races in a row with the championship settled may have been circumstantial, but five on the bounce? No driver has ever won that many and not taken the championship.
Chilled as Hamilton may be, Rosberg’s hot streak is surely cause for concern.
Lewis is continuing to make the most of his celebrity status and jet-set lifestyle. He stayed with the Crown Prince in Bahrain, using the studio that was built for Michael Jackson to work on his music, a passion that he continues to forge alongside his racing.
Even with so many interests – the cynic would perhaps call them distractions – outside of racing, Hamilton remains sharp on track. Bear in mind he beat Rosberg to pole in both Australia and Bahrain, the lap to P1 in the latter being particularly impressive. All he needs is a clean start and a little more luck, and the fight between the Mercedes drivers will be back on, just as fierce as ever.
All the while, Rosberg is revelling in this success. His quintet of wins takes him to 16 in F1 – nearly a third of his victories have come since the end of October – level with Stirling Moss as the most successful driver never to have won a championship.
Is 2016 set to be Nico’s year though?
Mathematically, the 17-point advantage may not be much, but the dominance that Mercedes appears to enjoy once again this year makes it significant. Assuming in a ‘normal’ race that the Silver Arrows finish one-two, Hamilton will need three wins to get back into the lead of the championship. By that reckoning, he may not hit the front until Spain, and even then, his advantage would be just four points after a quarter of the season.
The foundations for Hamilton’s title success in 2015 were laid in the first part of the season. He won three of the first four races and beat Rosberg in all of them, giving him a lead of 27 before F1 hit Europe. Another strong run began in Canada and lasted until he clinched the title in Austin, in which period Rosberg beat him on track just once.
When a team enjoys the kind of edge that Mercedes does, momentum is everything to the drivers. Hamilton’s last two championships have come largely thanks to runs of domination – which is exactly what Rosberg is putting together right now.
The Chinese Grand Prix has been a memorable race for both drivers over the years. It was the site of Hamilton’s demise in 2007 and one of his finest hours in 2008, while Rosberg won his very first grand prix there in 2012.
Yet the next race on April 17 could be the most important of them all. It could be where Hamilton ends Rosberg’s streak and wakes up in this title fight, or – more significantly – where Rosberg beats his rival in a straight on-track battle and makes it six wins in a row.
And by then, Hamilton would surely be getting worried.
The battle for the 2016 championship already appears to have more depth and excitement than last year’s ever did. Maybe this might just be Nico’s year.