The Inside Line #78: Quite the surprise

TILI Logo PrintYes, I thought it was all over too. When Nico Rosberg made a half-hearted attempt at passing Lewis Hamilton on lap two of the Belgian Grand Prix in August and wholly made a mess of Hamilton’s left rear tyre with his front wing, I figured Hamilton’s world title chances were cooked. Rosberg finished second to Daniel Ricciardo, while Hamilton grumbled and groaned over the radio, clearly disinterested in driving around to finish 14th at best, and whined so much that the team eventually retired the car. The post-race fallout – Hamilton scurrying away from a closed door-meeting at Mercedes to blab that Rosberg said he had done what he’d done on purpose, Rosberg coolly suggesting sometime afterwards that it was just a racing incident as he tried to look disappointed about having a 29-point championship lead – was all very predictable [1]. But just as things looked to be heading down an obvious path, Hamilton flipped the script.

As responses to a moment that I felt might have ended his title hopes go, Hamilton’s four straight wins – with Rosberg second in three of those races and in a different class – has been enormously impressive and a massive surprise. Sure, the advantage Mercedes has over the rest of the field is so pronounced that second place is the worst possible result for Hamilton or Rosberg if their cars are reliable or they don’t hit one another, but Hamilton has held firm after a moment I expected would break him and raised his game. Other than learning Hamilton has more steel than I thought, I’ve also learned that (a) sections of the British media, whose cheerleading after Belgium for Hamilton stopped just short of involving pom-poms, might have slightly over-reacted [2] and (b) Rosberg isn’t cut out to play a villain [3]. The booing on the Spa podium clearly rocked him, and he’s been a shadow of his former self as the season has progressed and Hamilton has applied the blowtorch. The scorecard after the Russian Grand Prix stands Hamilton nine wins, Rosberg four – and perhaps more tellingly, Rosberg has now finished second nine times in 16 races, seven of them when Hamilton has won. And yet the championship remains up for grabs. Should double points in Abu Dhabi rob Hamilton of the title, Rosberg’s championship “victory” should enter the sport’s record books accompanied by an asterisk. [4]

A look at how Hamilton has positioned himself perfectly for the title with three races remaining is the main focus of Episode 78 of ‘The Inside Line’ this week, while we also look at people with happy faces (Romain Grosjean, thanks to Lotus finally securing an engine supply deal with Mercedes next season), people with sad faces (Jenson Button, as he wonders if the final three races of this year will be the last of his career), and update Jules Bianchi’s status two weeks after his shocking accident at Suzuka shook the F1 world to its core.

Check out ‘The Inside Line’ on SPEED TV Australia (Foxtel/Austar channel 512) at 7pm on Wednesday October 22, and/or on ESPN (Foxtel/Austar channel 508 in Australia) at 8.30pm on Thursday October 23.

– — —- —-

[1] At the time, I thought Rosberg had played Hamilton perfectly, knowing him as well as he does …

[2] A post-race podcast by one of the sport’s British broadcasters after Spa mentioned Rosberg was German once or twice … In related news, one of the panel probably undid the top two buttons of their shirt. And no, it wasn’t Theodore Slotover.

[3] When someone is trying to show that they’re not affected by something and not doing such a great job of it, the game is up. Even if he did care about being booed for much of the back-end of 2013, Sebastian Vettel did a pretty good job to wear his best poker face as it went on.

[4] After Russia, someone tweeted this gem: Hamilton could win in Austin and Brazil before a DNF in Abu Dhabi; Rosberg could finish second in Austin, DNF in Brazil and win Abu Dhabi. Hamilton 11 wins, Rosberg five for the season. Result? Rosberg wins the title, 342 points to 341 … I won’t tell Bernie if you don’t, OK?

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