Nico Rosberg would have spent much of the summer break agonizing over how a 43-point lead over Lewis Hamilton in the Formula One championship had turned into a deficit of 19.
The German would also have devoted his energy toward planning a reversal of fortune in the title fight and how to stop his Mercedes’ teammate’s ominous momentum, beginning with this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix.
Chasing his first F1 title, Rosberg has appeared to wilt under pressure over the past few races, handing the initiative back to Hamilton as the British driver chases a third straight drivers’ championship and fourth overall.
Having failed to win any of the first five races, when he was hampered by mechanical woes and engine troubles, Hamilton has roared back to win six of the past seven, with an increasingly exasperated Rosberg unable to stop him and to contain his own frustration.
Victory on Sunday would be a 50th career win for Hamilton. More importantly, perhaps, it would deal another blow to Rosberg’s fragile confidence.
A third straight year as runner-up to Hamilton – his rival since they were racing karts as teenagers – would be unbearable for Rosberg having won the opening four races of the season.
“I know I’ll have the best car out there and I’m massively pumped to be back on track,” a defiant Rosberg said. “It’s like a clean slate at this stage.”
The German driver insists that “what’s happened so far this season is in the past,” but it is clear that Rosberg will need a more steely approach over the nine remaining races and must not take Hamilton’s resurgence so personally.
For his part, Hamilton did well to contain what must have been huge frustration early on, and is not shy in reminding Rosberg that he has slashed his lead away.
“The first half of the season was a bit of a roller-coaster, so it’s great to be in the position I’m in,” said Hamilton, who has won twice at Spa. “The way myself and the team have performed gives me huge confidence.”
Last year, Hamilton won here from pole – five years after his other win – with Rosberg finishing second after recovering from a poor start.
Stretching through the Ardennes forest, the Spa circuit is the longest of the year at just over 7 kilometers (4.3 miles), and features famed F1 corners such as Eau Rouge and Blanchimont, an incredibly steep hill and moody weather conditions that can leave one part of the track damp and another part dry.
These ingredients make it arguably F1’s most pure test of drivers’ pure skill, and is regularly cited alongside Japan’s Suzuka as the race they enjoy most.
Unlike another iconic track in Monaco, which is twisty, sinewy, notoriously slow and tough to overtake on, Spa is incredibly fast with more than 70 percent of the race at full throttle and average speeds around 230 kilometers per hour (143 miles per hour).
“Spa is a great track, one that every driver enjoys,” said Hamilton, who has extra incentive to win there again. “It’s been such a proud few weeks for British sport, with the Olympics … I’ll do my best to keep the flag flying.”
Mercedes team management, meanwhile, will hope the second part of the season is free of the tensions that saw Hamilton and Rosberg crashing into each other in Spain and Austria.
While both drivers retired after the Barcelona collision – advantaging neither – the last-lap crash at the Austrian GP in early July cost Rosberg dearly as he dropped to fourth, while Hamilton won.
It also infuriated head of motorsport Toto Wolff, who said he was “fed up” trying to analyze which driver was in the wrong. It stoked an edgy rivalry that spilled over into open feuding during the 2014 campaign.
While maintaining that team orders will not be imposed – meaning the drivers are still free to race against each other – Mercedes has made it bluntly clear it will not accept any more crashes when they go wheel-to-wheel.