Ever since Lewis Hamilton’s engine spluttered to a stop in Malaysia, Nico Rosberg has been staring at the prospect of his maiden championship crown. To the extent that, for the last three rounds, the title fight has been out of Hamilton’s hands, and it remains so as the pair head to the finale.
Alain Prost stood by the philosophy of winning races and championships by the smallest possible margin. A policy made famous, in part, by the stark contrast it played to Ayrton Senna’s relentless approach.
Suspicions that Rosberg was beginning to race with the championship firmly in mind first surfaced in Austin, yet the most compelling evidence to date was on show in Brazil.
On both restarts, Rosberg dropped several car lengths behind his teammate, evidently not interested in fighting Hamilton. Of course, his tentativeness could be cited as simply a decision to get out of the worst of his teammates spray.
Regardless, a race-winning strategy it was not.
No wonder Hamilton described Sunday’s win as one of the easiest of his career. The guy directly behind had no interest in challenging for top honours from lights out to chequered flag.
That is not to suggest that Nico should be critisised though. Since victory in Japan, the German has known that he can finish second to Hamilton in each of the remaining races and still wrap up the 2016 title. On a treacherous day at Interlagos, when drivers turned into passengers in the blink of an eye, the risk versus reward equation is not even worth calculating if you’re in Rosberg’s shoes.
This won’t change in the two weeks leading up to the showdown either. If Rosberg wasn’t willing to take even a calculated risk in Brazil, then he most certainly won’t race Hamilton in Abu Dhabi.
Without the intervention of reliability gremlins, Rosberg should comfortably finish second in the race, especially given that Mercedes seem to have finally found a solution to their launch procedure issues which cost them dear earlier in the campaign.
So what can Hamilton do? Win the race, and hope that lady luck over the course of the season will balance herself out.
Rosberg would unquestionably be a worthy champion, even if he does trail home second for the fourth consecutive race. Prost’s approach to racing was just as valid and formidable as Senna’s.
Praise Rosberg for driving smart. After all, if his championship challenge were to end in the barriers because he was frantically chasing down Hamilton in the closing stages on Sunday week, we would all critique him – and rightly so!