The Rehabilitation of Nico Rosberg
I think it’s fair to say I was a big Rosberg fan. I admit initially it was because my burning hatred of Lewis Hamilton that moved me towards someone who in many respects was the anti-Hamilton, but I’d say Rosberg was one of the few sports people/teams I’d be properly invested in. Ecstatic when they won, and a bad result putting me in a bad mood for the rest of the day (the others being Brad Keselowski, the Carolina Panthers, the England football team and Bristol Rovers football club.) You’ll see that there isn’t a current F1 driver on that list, and since Rosberg retired at the end of the 2016 season I still haven’t found my driver.
Anyway, the point I’m trying to make in this piece is ultimately, I was right. Without trying to sound like Ben Shapiro , this piece is basically “Sean DESTROYS Hamilton fanboy twitter (those who haven’t already blocked me) with FACTS and STATISTICS.”
Nico Rosberg was a top 20 of all time talent who had the misfortune to be paired with a top 5 of all time talent in a dominant car over three years. Time has been kind to Rosberg, as in the two years since his retirement, Lewis Hamilton has gone on to win back to back championships against another generational talent, Sebastian Vettel. Crucially, in both years, Rosberg scored more points per race than Vettel either did (in 2017), or is likely to do (2018).
In addition, although Rosberg could be sloppy under pressure, and anonymous in the wet, he didn’t make the sustained series of errors that has blighted Vettel’s 2018 season. And when put under pressure by Hamilton in summer 2016, Rosberg’s response was to win four out of the next five races, including three in a row. Rosberg’s Singapore Grand Prix in 2016 was perhaps his finest hour, dominating the weekend and holding off a late charge in the race from Daniel Ricciardo. Vettel hasn’t had those weekends. He hasn’t been able to put Hamilton under the pressure that makes him crack. More importantly, Vettel hasn’t been able to put himself in position to win the races where Hamilton is anonymous- Rosberg was.
To be honest, it shouldn’t have taken two seasons of Hamilton dominating the latter part of the season, something Vettel himself used to be the master of, for Rosberg’s talent to be acknowledged by the fans and more crucially, the British media. In an era where Hamilton marches towards more and more records, Rosberg took 29 pole positions and won 22 Grand Prix races partnered with a man who has only ever been beaten by a team-mate twice. No one wins 23 races in their career based purely on luck, or by having the best car. No one can go toe to toe with statistically the best qualifier of all time and outqualify him over a season.
Just look at those statistics. Nico Rosberg is the only man to outqualify Hamilton over a season (in 2014), and the only person apart from Jenson Button (in 2011, when Hamilton had his worst year to date) to beat Hamilton over a season, when they were team-mates. Hamilton is a driver who is capable of pulling a quali lap out of thin air, and has put together some of the best single laps I’ve ever seen, and Rosberg beat him. The fact that Bottas, who many regarded as a top talent at Williams, has just rolled over instead of taking the fight to Hamilton, is further proof of Rosberg’s talent.
But who was responsible for creating this myth around Rosberg that he was talentless, a driver who could just be plugged in to the car and would win races? Mainly the media. More specifically, the British media. I mean, it’s kind of fair enough for them to be cheering for the local lad, and they’re nowhere near as bad as Dutch TV who regard F1 as “19 moving chicanes and Max Verstappen,” but as a Rosberg fan (or even I imagine as a neutral) it was hell. Having to sit through hours of “why Hamilton was the best ever” and pointless analysis about who had the “psychological advantage” week in week out was mind-numbingly infuriating, and I’m glad towards the end of the Hamilton/Rosberg rivalry more people began to pick up on it. It was also partially down to the fans, Rosberg’s reputation taking a hit after he and Hamilton made contact at the 2014 Belgian Grand Prix, leading to him being booed on the podium at several races. However, his reputation began to recover after an assertive drive at the 2015 Mexican Grand Prix, leading to the crowd chanting for him, and him playing the Tifosi in Monza in 2016 was brilliant.
Time will be kind to Nico Rosberg. I just wish more people had appreciated what we were lucky enough to watch between 2014 and 2016 at the time.