It’s strange isn’t it? In the last week we’ve flown nearly 7,000 miles back from Singapore and today I’m heading to Heathrow to fly nearly 7,000 miles back in the same direction for the next race, a mere 172 miles away from where I was the Sunday before last.
Quite why, we didn’t go straight to Malaysia and have a back to back race I don’t know. It would have been slightly more logical, but then things don’t always make total sense.
Like the title battle this season. Does it make sense that Nico Rosberg can win 4 races in a row and open up a 43 point lead over his rival in the other Mercedes? Only for Lewis Hamilton to hit back over the summer months and go into the shutdown with a 19 point advantage. Then for Nico, after only 1 win in his last 8 races, to return from the beach, take the next three races in a row and lead the Championship once again.
Drivers fortunes fluctuate from race to race, over at Ferrari Vettel and Raikkonen have swapped positions in the title race 6 times this year, but with Rosberg and Hamilton its feast or famine it seems.
So what happens from here on in? Six races to go and there’s really nothing in it. Who will come out on top once the Chequered Flag drops in Abu Dhabi? Nobody knows, but we all have a theory or two, don’t we?
Interestingly this week Daniel Ricciardo has said he believes Nico will do it. “Before the summer break when Lewis made up that deficit on Nico, I thought no one was going to touch Lewis, but Nico has come back,” he said. “I’m going to throw a spanner in the works and say Rosberg [will win it].”
And he’s not alone in that view. Others are throwing their weight behind the German driver. It makes sense too. After all he’s taken a maximum 75 points since the summer break, is driving without errors and is taking his chances when they arrive. Chances that you can argue have been handed to him. Engine penalties for Lewis in Belgium, a poor start (again) in Italy and a disappointing qualifying in Singapore, have all allowed Nico the opportunity to race, without having to either overtake or defend from his team mate.
But surely these scenarios can’t continue forever. Eventually the two Mercedes drivers are going to have to fight for the same piece of track, something they haven’t done since Spain really. We know what happened there of course and to be honest, we’ve all been waiting for a repeat ever since. Not a repeat of the outcome necessarily, but at least a race or two where the Silver Arrows give us a golden battle. Something reminiscent of Bahrain 2014, still one of the best races out of the 199 I’ve had the pleasure to commentate on so far.
We want to see a fight because a) it’s exciting, obviously, but also b) because we want to see if Nico can actually beat Lewis in a straight fight on the track. I’ve been racking my brains on this as to when Nico has actually managed to overtake Lewis and beat him and other than the start in Austria last year; I’m struggling to remember an occasion.
Take nothing away from Nico, 22 wins to his name and 51 podiums, he’s a talented driver, but you do feel that Lewis is the racer of the two. The one who if he needs to get the job done and get by this man, he’ll find a way to do it. Not always though, sadly the inability to follow closely behind a car without it affecting the performance of your car and it’s tyres, does rather restrict the drivers ability to race on far too many an occasion.
Trouble is there’s also another factor that has been affecting Hamilton’s ability to race his team mate, and that’s his starts. Five times this season Lewis has been on pole and has ended the first lap having lost places. Twice he’s completed the lap in the lead, but the way he’s been talking about the start recently, it’s clear, Lewis has little faith in his getaways. Together with his engineers he needs to find some answers, although it would be understandable if that lack of faith has got into his head already. Either way, Lewis needs a clean weekend soon, free of engine penalties, poor starts, mechanical problems in practice, to get his mojo back. I don’t subscribe to the theory that his busy schedule away from the track is having an adverse effect on his performances. Nico maybe a family man but his schedule is just as hectic. Don’t ever think that a modern day Formula 1 driver spends his time lazing around in between races, especially at a championship winning team like Mercedes.
The next four races take place within the space of five weeks, they could decide the destiny of this Championship, the next one will almost certainly give Mercedes a 3rd straight Constructors Title. But as for the drivers battle, I see the honours being split, Nico ahead in Malaysia, Lewis coming out on top in Japan and Austin, Nico taking back the initiative in Mexico. After that Brazil is anybody’s guess and Abu Dhabi is down to who can handle the pressure the best, and for the majority of this season, Nico has coped brilliantly with the pressure, especially when out in front, controlling the race. Think back to Austria and Germany – possibly Spain, although that for me was 50/50 as to who was at fault – and cracks did appear. But since the summer, the cracks on the evidence we’ve seen, have been fixed.
It truly is a fascinating battle ahead, not the only fight up and down the grid, but the one which will dominate the headlines. I know a lot of fans get a little fed up that it’s the same two drivers that could become champion once again, but in what is the longest season ever in Formula One, we should be grateful that with half a dozen races to go, the title is still wide open. I don’t know who will come out on top, but I do have a feeling that we’re set for a decider under the lights in Abu Dhabi and that will do us all very nicely indeed, whoever wins out.