Nico Rosberg won back to back grands prix and scored his second Brazilian Grand Prix victory in a row on Sunday. Meanwhile, Lewis Hamilton had continued to make headlines even before he reached Interlagos. Media outlets carried stories of his slow-speed collision with parked cars at 3 a.m. in Monte Carlo and later reports claimed he had a “fever”.
Hamilton brushed off the stories when he arrived in Sao Paulo. Referring to the championship when questions were asked about his apparent drop in commitment, he said everything was fine and it was “job done.”
He said the same thing when asked about being beaten to pole for the fifth race in succession by Nico Rosberg. Despite Hamilton’s casual words, you could tell that this really did matter. The 0,078 sec gap between the Mercedes drivers during qualifying definitely hurt. Championship settled or not, it was still “game on” between these two. Rosberg had won the first part of the weekend. And won it well. Hamilton had no answer.
Hamilton made the slightly better getaway and started to pull alongside Rosberg in the hope of forcing the German into a tight line through the first corner, thereby giving Hamilton track position going into the second turn at the bottom of the hill. But Rosberg was having none of it as he held his ground, the pair almost touching as they plunged downhill. He emerged in front and immediately began to pull away. Hamilton knew he had it all to do from here on.
Hamilton stayed less than two seconds behind until the first pit stops and then made a big effort and closed in. Despite being within striking distance, Hamilton found that Rosberg made no mistakes. Within 10 laps, Hamilton’s tyres had started to lose their edge.
Finding it difficult to run in his team-mate’s slipstream without unduly damaging his tyres, Hamilton asked if he could be put on a different strategy. The team said no, mainly because they did not have the luxury of a healthy gap over Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari in third place. Hamilton would have to rely on wrong-footing Rosberg in traffic after their final stop with 20 laps to go.
Given the tight and twisting nature of Interlagos, Rosberg knew what to expect as the leaders got among a clutch of slower cars. When Rosberg told his engineer “don’t talk to me anymore”, it was clear he needed full concentration to deal with the situation. For the second day running, Hamilton didn’t get a look in. This was pressure. And Rosberg dealt with it.
After the race, Rosberg paid tribute to the victims of the Paris terror attacks.
“It was a great weekend for me. Of course, everything is relative with what happened back in Paris, but it went perfectly. Lewis put on a great challenge but I was able to control it and I was really happy with that,” said Rosberg.
Hamilton looked resigned as he stood on the podium for the 16th time his season. “I had good pace, but you just can’t overtake here,” he said. “I was behind Nico and in traffic for some time and I just killed my tyres.”
In the meantime, Rosberg’s fifth win of the season ensured him of second place in the championship over Vettel, who took the maximum from his Ferrari to finish a distant third and indicate how much work needs to be done in the light of another Mercedes one-two.
Rosberg is on a roll, albeit a couple of races too late for the championship. Nonetheless, this is becoming quite a psychological blow for Hamilton as the last race beckons in Abu Dhabi on 29 November. Despite winning the championship, no way does Hamilton want to go into the winter with everyone saying Rosberg is just as quick. On the basis that you’re only as good as your last race, the final one promises to be a cracker.