Rosberg focused on himself, not Hamilton, to win first title

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ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — The biggest change for newly crowned Formula One champion Nico Rosberg this year was staying calm despite his often turbulent relationship with rival Lewis Hamilton.

Rosberg won his first F1 title on Sunday to end his Mercedes teammate’s bid for a fourth title overall. Hamilton won the race itself but Rosberg’s second place was enough for him to finish five points ahead in the standings.

The German driver focused on himself the whole season, not allowing the frustrations of his rivalry with Hamilton to unsettle him.

“For sure it’s a key ingredient as to why I’m here now. It’s the approach I’ve taken,” Rosberg said. “I’ve really learned to focus hard. It takes a lot of sacrifice to stay so focused for the whole year.”

When Hamilton sealed last year’s title with three races to go at the United States GP in Austin, Texas, he made a dismissive gesture toward Rosberg.

The three podium finishers each get a cap: with 1st, 2nd, and 3rd written on them. Race winner Hamilton tossed Rosberg’s second-place cap toward him with barely a glance in his direction, let alone consoling words.

Rosberg reacted by tossing it straight back at Hamilton even quicker than it had arrived.

Hamilton’s gesture appeared to be one-upmanship, goading right at the precise moment when his teammate was utterly dejected.

“Austin was a horrible experience for me,” Rosberg said.

But getting so irritated that day merely exposed his frustration to the watching world, while Hamilton smiled serenely.

Rosberg showed far more mental strength this year.

Even at pre-season testing in Spain, he seemed different. Less edgy, less verbose, and quietly determined to turn his fortunes around.

All season long he has repeated the mantra of taking it one race at a time.

The clich� from one of the more eloquent drivers became a force field, helping him to block everything else out and stopping him looking too far ahead or thinking too much about Hamilton.

Publicly, at least, he spoke about Hamilton like he would any other driver, rather than the rival haunting his title dreams.

There have been tensions this year.

They crashed on the final lap in a dramatic end to the Austrian GP in early July, when Hamilton was desperately trying to overtake Rosberg. It followed a similar incident on the first lap at the Spanish GP in mid-May – although both went out so neither gained points.

But after what happened in Austria, both were warned by Mercedes that they risked having team orders imposed on them.

Mercedes had seen this before in 2014, when their drivers feuded at the Monaco GP and the Belgian GP.

Tensions were still apparent heading into the final race of 2014 in Abu Dhabi. Before that year’s title decider, Hamilton was asked if there was something he could do to ensure a clean race. He said there was not.

In a flash, Rosberg snapped at the British driver: “Yes, Lewis can do something to keep it clean, which is drive cleanly himself.”

It was Rosberg once again rising to the bait.

But after this year’s incidents, Rosberg reacted in a low-key manner, noticeably steering away from score-settling.

Even in the days before this race, Hamilton was stepping up the mind games, repeating that he thinks he has been the better driver this year and consistently bemoaning his bad luck with engine problems.

If Hamilton’s intention was to dominate the pre-race news conferences before their latest title decider, then he won hands down.

But Rosberg was clearly not interested in engaging in a war of words and, while Hamilton hogged the limelight with his audacious statements, Rosberg sat next to him, cupping his chin on his hand, visibly detached as he looked away into the distance.

If Hamilton’s intention was to undermine Rosberg’s composure, then it failed.

Their rivalry goes back to when they were racing karts against each other as teenage friends and shared rooms together at races.

The two 31-year-old drivers are contrasting characters.

The jet-setting Hamilton has always loved to travel, often using his bright-red Bombardier Challenger private plane.

He has a taste for the high life, with high-profile friends in the music and fashion industry such as singer Rihanna, designer Stella McCartney and model Gigi Hadid.

In contrast, Rosberg, who has a young daughter with his childhood friend and wife, grows and eats his own vegetables.

Jenson Button joins NASCAR Garage 56 at Le Mans with Jimmie Johnson, Rockenfeller

Jenson Button NASCAR Le Mans
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The NASCAR Garage 56 entry in the 24 Hours of Le Mans will be driven by champions of three major-league series — Jenson Button, Jimmie Johnson and Mike Rockenfeller.

The lineup of the Hendrick Motorsports-prepared Next Gen Camaro was announced Saturday before the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

NASCAR’s Garage 56 project was announced in March 2022 as a joint effort by NASCAR, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear. It marks the return of a NASCAR team to Le Mans for the first time in nearly 50 years with Hendrick fielding a Camaro ZL1 as the “Garage 56” entry in the 100th edition of the sports car classic.

It’s long been expected the car would include Johnson, the seven-time Cup Series champion who is returning to NASCAR’s premier series as a driver-owner in 2023. Rockenfeller, the 2013 DTM champion and 2010 Le Mans overall winner, has attended every NASCAR Garage 56 test since last year while racking up simulator testing hours.

The surprise was Button, the 2009 Formula One champion who has become a popular commentator. Rick Hendrick initially said wanted four-time Cup champion and current Hendrick Motorsports COO Jeff Gordon to drive the car, and Gordon had raced a sports car at Indianapolis last year to test his race shape.

GARAGE 56 ANSWERS, ANALYSISMore on the NASCAR-Hendrick entry for the 24 Hours of Le Mans

“Since the beginning of the Garage 56 project, it has been our goal to partner with the top racers in the world to represent us in Le Mans,” NASCAR chairman and CEO Jim France said in a release. “The lineup of Jimmie, ‘Rocky’ and Jenson is everything we could have dreamed of – three elite drivers who have won at the highest levels of motorsports worldwide. As we celebrate the 75th anniversary of NASCAR, we are honored to have these world-class champions help bring the sights and sounds of a NASCAR race car to fans in Le Mans, and across the world.”

Button had one of the most prolific careers in F1 history finishing with 15 wins and 50 podiums on top of his 2009 World Championship and is widely considered one of the top British drivers of all time.

“As a lifelong racing fan, I have always dreamed of racing certain cars, with and against certain drivers and competing in certain events,” Button said in a release. “In June, a number of those dreams will come true in one event when I get to bring NASCAR to the world stage alongside my pals Jimmie and ‘Rocky’ for the 100th anniversary of the most prestigious race in the world. I’m really looking forward to sharing this journey with NASCAR, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear, and current and future NASCAR fans from around the world.”

Johnson will make his 24 Hours of Le Mans debut a year after starting his first Indy 500. He has 83 victories in the Cup Series, where he will return for the Daytona 500 next month with his Legacy Motor Club team.

He also has been involved with testing the Garage 56 Camaro.

“I’m super thrilled – it’s been at the top of my bucket list to compete in the 24 Hours of Le Mans someday,” Johnson said. “To have this opportunity come – and to partner with everybody and this driver lineup – is truly an incredible opportunity and one that I am thankful to be a part of.”

Rockenfeller teamed with Johnson on the No. 48 Ally Cadillac in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in 2021-22. The German driver has been the lead test driver for Garage 56 and has driven during every on-track test.

“It has been a great journey so far with the whole team and project,” Rockenfeller said. “To be involved as a driver from day one until now was already a great honor, and to now have Jimmie and Jenson alongside me as teammates in Le Mans is unbelievable.”

The car will continue testing with all three drivers next week at the Daytona International Speedway road course. Rolex 24 and four-time IMSA champion Jordan Taylor, who drives for Corvette Racing, will be the team’s backup driver and coach. Taylor also won the GTE Pro class in 2015 at Le Mans, where he has four podium finishes.

The project also is being supported by IMSA GTP team Action Express, whose general manager is former NASCAR executive and Daytona 500-winning crew chief Gary Nelson. Action Express built the first test car for the Garage 56 but since has handed off the project to Hendrick, where it’s being over seen by vice president of competition Chad Knaus (the crew chief for Johnson’s seven championships).

“Action Express got it going and built the mule car, and then Hendrick joined the program, took it from where we had it, and they’re doing a major percentage of the work,” Nelson told NBC Sports. “We just did a test a couple months ago on a wet track. We’ve done a couple of other tests as they were ramping their program up. Now their car is good, tested and running. We’re still involved and here to help. The Hendrick guys have taken the reins, and Rick Hendrick and Chad Knaus are a thrill to work with and doing a much better job. It’s more NASCAR than prototype racing.”