• Opinion

Legacies on the line for Rosberg and Hamilton

Nate Saunders
August 15, 2014
© Sutton Images

While we know the next eight races will determine which Mercedes driver will be world champion for 2014, they may also define the Formula One careers of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton.

From the moment we knew the Silver Arrows would dominate this season, the comparisons between Rosberg/Hamilton and Alain Prost/Ayrton Senna started in earnest. While that is primarily down to the driving style of the pair, it is perhaps a more apt comparison because of the fact that this may well be the season and rivalry both men are remembered for. It has been a contest between one man who has been constantly overshadowed in his career and another who has so far been able to achieve the multiple world championships his incredible talent suggests he could. Both can rectify those statements this season, but only one of them will.

Despite Rosberg's upbringing arguably making his passage to motor racing easier - a point brought up by Hamilton earlier in this title fight - nothing has been handed to him since he arrived in F1. It is easy to forget the prospect Rosberg was in 2006, coming into the sport as the reigning GP2 champion and setting the fastest lap on his debut in Bahrain. But years of toil at a largely uncompetitive Williams preceded his move to Mercedes in 2010, where his consistent ability to beat Michael Schumacher was often waved away with the caveat that the seven-time world champion had lost his edge after three years away from F1.

Clearly Rosberg was underestimated coming into this season by many observers. But his lead in the title race this season is down to two things; his consistency across the season and, most of all, the fact Hamilton has had more reliability issues. The latter is harsh on a man leading the world championship but it is also true; Rosberg is yet to turn in a "champion's drive" like we saw from Hamilton in Bahrain, Germany and Hungary. His victories have come on the back of the strength of his Mercedes. Even Rosberg's best drive of the season in Monaco was overshadowed by his controversial mistake in qualifying, the moment which has swung momentum in his favour more than any other in 2014.

Nico Rosberg has benefited from Lewis Hamilton's misfortune this year © Sutton Images

The fact that his question "Why isn't he letting me through?" to the Mercedes pit wall in Hungary was broadcast to the watching world only strengthens the argument Rosberg is succeeding because of the car this year, rather than on merit by outdriving Hamilton on the track. It is another example of Rosberg being overshadowed by the fortunes of his team-mate alongside him. The only way Rosberg can emerge from those shadows in 2014 is with a couple of championship drives of his own, anything less and the charge he only won because of the car beneath him would remain.

By contrast, it is perhaps brave to suggest a character like Hamilton would be defined by one season in F1. But this is not just any old season for him - this is the season he has been begging for since winning the title in 2008. McLaren gave him a dud to defend his title in 2009. Costly collisions and a car which faded put paid to his title ambitions in 2010, while his hopes in 2012 were again limited by his car - prompting the decision to move to Mercedes. As he said at the beginning of the year, this season is his best chance for world title number two. It's as good a chance as he's ever going to get.

And yet, it's not been the cakewalk he or some others may have predicted. At the start of the year the title seemed Hamilton's to lose, especially considering how he beat out Rosberg in his debut Mercedes season and for much of the opening weekend in Melbourne. Up until the Spanish Grand Prix that one-sided affair was going to script, with four straight victories for Hamilton after Rosberg won the season opener after his team-mate retired early on.

However, 11 races into a season he was supposed to be walking away with and Hamilton trails by 11 points, forced into a position of chaser which he openly admits is his preference. Whether he enjoys being hunter or not, failing to emerge from 2014 as world champion in such a dominant car would be a huge blot on Hamilton's legacy. He would go from a man never given the tools to the multiple titles he deserves to a man who could not get the job done when he did.

Lewis Hamilton has turned in several "champion's drives" this year © Getty Images

Hamilton has had the lion's share of bad luck for Mercedes. His gremlins in Australia, Canada, Germany and Hungary were all costly at different points of those race weekends, but prompted heroic charges through the field on the latter two occasions. Drives such as the ones we saw at the Nurburgring and Hungaroring define a champion, great examples of him putting it all on the line when the chips are down, something which has earned Hamilton plaudits across the world since his debut in 2007. Yet all of these drives will be for nought if he does not win the title.

Of course Hamilton's bad luck may well be the main factor to cost him the title this year. He may even lose it in the controversial double points finale. But as we have seen time and time again from Hamilton, not just this season but throughout his career, he is not always the best at making things easy for himself - the final laps of the 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix are painful reminders of that. His meltdown in Monaco and his qualifying blunder in Britain were both examples of the mental strain getting the better of him this season. Anyone thinking Hamilton does not have another moment like that left in him this year is guilty of wishful thinking.

If he were to lose the title in those circumstances, Hungary's team orders controversy and his bad luck this season would always give his fans the comfort of believing he was the victim of a German conspiracy (orchestrated by his British-based team) but the fact would remain; Hamilton did not deliver a second world title when he finally had the car to do so.