This next driver is one who has, I believe, immense talent, which has yet to be exploited by a car worthy of it. He has been in this sport long enough now to be considered a veteran, yet his stats just don’t do his talent justice. He put in some great drives this year, but they could have been better, and his place in the final standings doesn’t reflect what he’s really capable of.
9. Nico Rosberg
Rosberg started out as one of the most impressive and consistent scorers. Indeed, between the Chinese and European grands prix, he was the highest scoring driver in the field. Similarly to Perez, his season went off the boiler towards the end. So badly in fact, that after Singapore, he didn’t score a point.
The year started off very promising during testing, as Mercedes found that it was one of the fastest cars over a single lap, and decent on long runs. This long run speed, however, did not last long, as Mercedes found that the chassis chewed away mercilessly at its rear tires. This pre-season worry would end up preventing the team from doing any real chassis development throughout the season.
In Melbourne, Rosberg was off to a good start, staying high up the time sheets throughout practice and the first 2 qualifying sessions. However, in Q3, just as Rosberg seemed a shoe-in for a front row start, he locked up big time and ended up 7th. The race, at the start at least, started very well as he capitalized on the slow starting Red Bulls to go 4th behind the two Mclarens and his teammate, Michael Schumacher. But just as he was getting into his groove, his rear tires started to go, and soon he was passed by Vettel. He remained in contention, remarkably, for a 5th-7th place finish up to the end until he got caught up in the debris caused by Maldonado on the last lap. Rosberg and the cars behind him (Di Resta, Raikkonen, Kobayashi, Perez, Vergne and Riccardo) shuffled around the shards of sharp carbon fibre. Unfortunately, Rosberg limped to the line in 12th place with a puncture.
At Sepang, the immense heat had all the teams concerned about tire wear, but none more than Mercedes. It’s tires would barely last 10 laps and the drop-off in performance was significant. It turned out that the rain on sunday would ruin any chances of a normal race, and Rosberg made his way home 13th on Sunday.
In China, with the Mercedes only getting stronger, the cool weather the team was craving came. This, coupled with Rosberg, desperate to get the pole he felt he should have had already, produced one of the most precise, articulated and dominant laps of the season, propelling the young German to his career first pole position. The race was much in the same, as he produced Vettel-esque first laps to pull ahead of Schumacher to the tune of nearly a second a lap. This lead was unchallenged for the whole entire race, thanks partially to the botched pitstop with Jenson Button. Rosberg eventually came home the victor, more than 20 seconds ahead of Button for what would stand as one of the most dominant race wins of the season. Rosberg was in the game.
In Bahrain, the heat returned with a vengeance. Rosberg was still in the running for pole (he was fastest in third practice) until another unfortunate lockup left him fifth on the grid. What seemed like another possibly easy pole, was gone. The race was pretty straightforward. He hunted down the one-stopping Di Resta to finish fifth, but the tire wear was too great for him to challenge the Red Bulls and Lotuses which dominated. This result however, assured him that given reasonable track temperatures, he could keep himself in the title hunt.
In Spain, Rosberg qualified sixth, the Mercedes not liking the long, high speed corners of Catalunya’s track. He was nowhere near the leaders in the race and finished a safe 7th place after being passed by the charging Kobayashi and Vettel late in the running.
In Monaco, the Mercedes was back in its element. The two Silver Arrows tied their best ever qualifying to go 1st for Schumacher and 3rd for Rosberg (basically China reversed). However, Schumacher had a grid penalty to serve, promoting the younger German to the front row, a major boost in the tight and twisty maze that is Monaco. The race was pretty uneventful, due to the lack of passing. Rosberg made a couple of fruitless attempts to pass the leading Red Bull for the lead, though. As a result, Rosberg boosted his title hopes, nevertheless, by finishing 2nd behind Mark Webber. Rosberg was now 5th in the driver standings, still firmly in contention.
In Canada, the double-DRS on the Mercedes led many to believe that the Silver arrow would be the car to beat on the long straights of the Montreal circuit. This was not to be, as the Mercedes, in a bid to solve its rear tire problems, had started to neglect normal chassis upgrading. Rosberg still did a great job in qualifying to go 5th. Again, his race was solid, if unspectacular, finishing 6th after 70 laps.
In Valencia, Mercedes was thankfully back on a track it knew it could do well at. The tight and twisty corners, paired with unusually long straights for a street circuit gave the Mercedes team confidence. Rosberg, again, qualified respectably in 6th and duly finished there. The spotlight was on his teammate, however, who used a different tire strategy to go from 12th to 3rd at the end of the race.
Thus ended Rosberg’s streak as the field’s highest scoring driver, as the development of the WO3 dropped off in a further bid to improve the car’s tire wear. In the next four races, Rosberg qualified no higher than 13th, and finished no higher than 10th. Strangely, his teammate managed 2 top-3 qualifying spots and 3 top-7 finishes. Rosberg had lost any realistic chance for the title by this point.
Italy and Singapore brought some relief in the way of points as Italy played to the WO3’s double-DRS and Singapore played to the WO3’s affinity to tight corners. Decent Q3 appearances and a total of 16 points in those two races gave Rosberg some hope.
In Japan, the long, fast corners made the weekend a nightmare for Rosberg, as he qualified 15th. The race, however, only lasted one straight, as Rosberg was caught up in the Alonso-Raikkonen clash.
Over the last five races of the season, Rosberg made 4 Q3 appearances, but failed to score any points, the pace lost over the season proving just too much to overcome.
What started out looking like the year Rosberg could become a champion turned out being a year Rosberg would finish the season fighting hard just to score, or not score, a single point. I’ve placed Rosberg higher than Perez only for the reason that Rosberg’s car lost almost all of its performance by the end of the season, yet he still managed to put the car in Q3, a place the car didn’t belong.
I really hope that next year, Mercedes can give Nico and Lewis a car which is not only fast, but consistent and easy to develop, because the fact that they haven’t built one yet is frankly inexcusable given the team’s means and employees.