Rosberg’s ‘lack of overtaking skills’ under examination


Driver pairings have polarised fans of Formula One for as long as the sport has been in existence. The Senna fanbois hated Prost with a passion, such that Alain publicly requested: “Be a fan of Aryton, just don’t hate me”

Lewis Hamilton aspires to be like his hero Ayrton Senna and in a number of ways both on and off track he is beginning to emulate the great Brazilian. Like Aytron, Hamilton divides fans of the sport like no other current driver. And as with Senna and Prost, it is….

‘love’ Lewis = ‘hate’ Nico


‘hate’ Lewis = ‘love’ anyone who beats him.

All this a rather fun as the comments rage on websites around the world, yet at times the cold hard facts of the who is better than who are simply ignored.

Commentators and F1 pundits are not exempt from this bias and during the Malaysia GP a certain TV commentator throughout the race ridiculed Rosberg for his lack of ‘race craft’. This attack was at its most lengthy during the period required for the German driver to recover his position following the Mercedes strange decision to pit both cars on lap 5.

So let’s look at the facts and whether they support the proposition that Rosberg was vastly inferior at overtaking when compared to Hamilton. The scenario and data are from the period following the withdrawal of the safety car in the 2015 Malaysia GP.

We will examine how each driver regained their pre-safety car race position and the challenges they faced.

Prior to the fateful first Mercedes stop under the safety car, Hamilton was in P2 with Rosberg directly behind him.

Following the pit stop, Hamilton re-joined in P6 but Rosberg had to queue for his tyre change, thus losing out to both Ricciardo and Massa who also stopped. The German was in P9.

So as the safety returned to the pits, the order was

  1. Vettel
  2. Hulkenberg
  3. Grosjean
  4. Sainz
  5. Perez
  6. Hamilton
  7. Massa
  8. Ricciardo
  9. Rosberg

Lewis had two slow (2014+) Force India’s, a Renault powered Toro Rosso and a Lotus up ahead between him and his previous P2.

Meanwhile Nico had much stiffer additional competition in the form of Ricciardo and Massa, both of whom now had new sets of medium compound Pirelli’s.

The cold hard facts are that it took Hamilton 4 complete laps following the withdrawal of the safety car to regain his second place – and he passed 4 cars to do this.

Rosberg took 8 laps to pass 6 cars, so yes – in the ‘cars passed per lap’ statistic, Lewis come out better.

Yet his Nico had 2 much quicker cars ahead of him in P7 and P8 than Hamilton, each with new tyres which Pirelli stated were over 1 second a lap quicker than the primes Rosberg was using.

Once Nico was in the same position Hamilton was following the restart, Rosberg took just 3 laps to move from P7 to P4 between the end of lap 11 and the end of lap 14.

Worthy of note too is the fact that Rosberg’s the spread of time Nico had to regain to return to P2 was greater than Lewis’. By the end of the first flying lap after the restart, the German driver had a 4.69 gap to his eventual P3 target Nico Hulkenberg.

Hamilton’s time spread to P2 was a mere 1.6 seconds as he set about his work.

So, the task was different for the two drivers to regain the positions they held prior to the safety car and the pit stop. Rosberg clearly having the more difficult challenge.

The big picture would suggests there is no evidence to support the view that Rosberg handled the traffic any less ably than did Hamilton. Given the 6 car challenge and spread of time, Rosberg reclaiming P3 is arguably a greater achievement than Hamilton’s return to P2.

Just because well-known ex-racing drivers speak – it doesn’t mean what they say has any foundation based in reality. In fact the reality is that these people are as vulnerable to pre-conceived perception bias of anyone, and the facts at times clearly contradict their opinions.


50 responses to “Rosberg’s ‘lack of overtaking skills’ under examination

  1. I think a better scenario would be to compare Rosberg and Hamilton’s attempts to pass JEV in Hungary last year. Bahrain last year also shows the trend that Rosberg has to break at the moment. What would have been the outcome in Australia this year had Hamilton been following Nico?

    • The article appears to be a direct response to criticisms made about Rosberg in this race at that time of the race. And not to address it as a wider issue…

      Demonstrating pre-conceived ideas affect individual analysis.

      • The reality is that Rosberg did what he had to do in Malaysia, come the flag he didn’t lose position to anyone, however Nico’s overtaking attempts remind me of Hamilton’s attempts to pass Schumacher in Monza 2010 (may have been 2011), that day Hamilton was predictable, no improvisation, he knew what Schuey was going to do, but continually attempted the same manoeuvre unsuccessfully over and over again until he just gave up. But we all know that Hamilton ‘can’ overtake, we have all seen him. Nico though doesn’t seem to think outside the box, Twelve laps (or however many it was after the safety car) on the faster tyre in Bahrain and he couldn’t figure out a way to make any attempt stick, Bottas pass on Massa should be recommended viewing for Nico, the overtakes sometimes have to be engineered through a series of corners, sometimes laps.

      • Brilliant article, your Honor!

        The broadcast that I watched suffered from this same prejudice. And I swallowed that prejudice whole, as it reinforced my prejudices.

        Thanks for the well reasoned article! It has helped to change my view of the performances by the Mercedes drivers.

  2. Not sure that RBR (Ricciardo) was faster than TR (Sainz) in Malaysia, which would make your argument a little bit weaker.

    But irrespective of that, someone’s overtaking skill is not shown that much versus weaker teams, but when said person has to do combat with his team-mate and other strong teams. That’s where the criticism for Nico is coming from.

  3. You might be right, and said mysterious commentator was wrong in this case.

    But this is hardly a) evidence to dismiss the overall point or b) ‘the bigger picture’. I’d have thought that what also needed to be bought into the ‘big picture’ was his crappy defence / overtake attempt at the start.

    I’m sure somewhere there are overtaking statistics over the course of the year. Perhaps you might want to start with the ’14 versions? You might be right, but it needs a damn sight more evidence than one GP.

    ” In fact the reality is that these people are as vulnerable to pre-conceived perception bias of anyone, and the facts at times clearly contradict their opinions.”

    I believe the phrase is “those in glass houses”.

    • I think Mysterious Commentator had a point. Don’t get me wrong, I like Nico and I think he’s a very fast driver, but time and again he seems to lack that final bit of assertiveness.

      Nicely pointed out about the start … Nico should have known/expected Seb’s trademark knife-cut towards the pitwall and acted accordingly. And he didn’t. I don’t think Lewis falls victim to those kinds of actions as easily as Nico is bullied.

      Mind you, this is no thin-clad criticism to Seb, as I think he was great yesterday and I think the three of them are proven winners … it’s just that some are winnier imnsho 🙂

  4. I couldn’t watch the race live so heard of Rosbergs struggles before I got to see them myself. Something that struck me during this overtaking phase was that three (or was it just two?) cars fell out of the way for Rosberg. I was waiting for him to overtake and then suddenly the car in front just went horrifically wide and gifted him the pass before he’d even had one meaningful stab.

    Was a bit odd if I’m honest. Wasn’t even like he scared them off the road!

  5. Maybe the post express the same biased view. Just in the other direction. Data from just 1 race are pretty much inconclusive.

    I remember that here in Brazil, in early 90’s, TV commentator started to point that Prost had more difficulties with backmarkers than Senna.

    Is that true or just national passion?

  6. I think said commentators expressed opinion is mainly based on past performances. Just look at how Rosberg tried and tried in Bahrain last year while at the same race Hamilton needed less attempts to go past Rosberg and generally his overtakes looked smarter, taking better lines and not just relying on having a better car. And when you compare Rosberg his overtakes with Hamilton’s you will notice that Hamilton uses better racing lines when overtaking. Hamilton also has a lot more variety in on which part of the track he overtakes

  7. You’re clearly forgetting that no other car out there is as good as the Mercedes. It’s gone from “a 2.5 sec faster car than anyone else” to “he had some quick opponents in front of him…” facts are that in a direct battle Nico loses.

  8. stupid comparison, nico is of course worse at overtaking, you can check last years stats and find how many times nico overtook lewis and vice versa. Oh and in malaysia you should watch a replay, maybe 3 cars just let nico pass by slinding off.

  9. Rosberg isn’t a good overtaker. There are dozens of examples of other drivers making great overtakes. I can’t think of one by Rosberg in the 168 times he’s raced in F1. The mystery commentator would have been speaking on the basis that Rosberg was going to make a meal of regaining 3rd place – and who can blame him, because he did.

  10. Bahrain, Hungaryand Spa all races he should’ve won, but failed to do so, mainly for one simple reason….

  11. Worth bearing on mind Sochi last year. Nico went through the field and took second… But for gods sake he was in a Merc! Against Lewis I don’t remember him making a move stick.
    Back when Alonso and Trulli raced for Renault Trulli would beat him in qualifying but on race day Fred went forwards, jarno backwards..

    • But most of those positions in Sochi was as a result of him stopping early, the Pirelli that could’ve done back to back races that weekend and others pitting.

      Carlo he was also in a Merc in Hungary and got overtaken by Jev in his leaf blower TR and try as he may, couldn’t get back pass.

    • He didn’t do much overtaking that day. He botched the overtake on Lewis in T1, put on magical tires, and trundled around waiting for people to pit. One of the few overtakes he actually had to make, on Bottas, he botched, pushing him into cutting the chicane. For such indiscretions Magnussen and Grosjean (?) got penalties last year.

          • I don’t see your point, he just scared Bottas off. It was actually a very good overtake and necessary considering. Hamilton-esque. Bottas just dosed off didn’t seem to see him coming. He said as much after the race.

          • Thanks Fortis for the video.


            Rosberg dived from too far away. He took too much speed in the corner, using a line as if he were alone in that corner. Bottas was entitled to more space than… nothing. For similar moves, Magnussen and Grosjean got penalized that year; Rosberg however was given a carte blanche. If it were Perez or Maldonado on the receiving end, an accident would have been unavoidable, and that would have been classified likely as a racing incident.

            But more importantly, with the obnoxious car advantage of the Merc, surely Rosberg could have made a cleaner move without needing to desperately dive from afar…

  12. I’m sorry judge, but there’s no way this article can defend the indefensible. The evidence is heavily stacked against him.

  13. “following the Mercedes strange decision to pit both cars on lap 5.”

    It’s strange that you deem this a “strange” decision, as a majority of the teams decided to pit their drivers there and then (only a minority was left out). Also, Merc was banking on pure speed to quickly go back in front, which they did. It’s just that Merc wasn’t expecting such consistency from Ferrari on their race-pace, and were expecting better pace from themselves. In short, the calculators had no battery…

    “So let’s look at the facts and whether they support the proposition that Rosberg was vastly inferior at overtaking when compared to Hamilton. ”

    The comments on Rosberg’s lack of overtaking skills weren’t purely based on Malaysia, although this GP clearly didn’t help. Your points on traffic are very pertinent and cogent, namely that Rosberg and Hamilton cleared traffic roughly equally well.

    BUT, Nico still hasn’t shown anything near speed convincing enough to trouble Lewis. In T1 on lap 1, it’s not clear what he was trying to do, so Vettel easily stayed in front. The first laps he didn’t trouble Vettel at all. When they emerged in free air, at no point he put Hamilton in a position to defend.

    And the thing is, this echoed many such incidents from 2014. Rosberg has failed at numerous overtaking attempts, the spotlights being T1 on Hamilton in Sochi (and the one on Bottas, in the same corner, was essentially botched), The Bus chicane on Vettel in Spa, at the end of the Kemmel straight on Hamilton in Spa (although I admit this will have the jury split), the impotence faced with JEV in Hungary, his inability to close in on Hamilton and get within DRS range in Hungary (the infamous team orders), his inability to repass Hamilton at *any* occasion in 2014 after he got overtaken by him (Austin, Monza, Abu Dhabi till ERS overcooked)… I’m sure there are other such incidents.

    There are two overtaking moves that might have worked had Lewis not defended aggressively, namely Bahrain (once in T1) and Hungary (last lap), but both would have likely ended as racing incidents had there been contact.

    At the end of the day Rosberg failed to make a single competitive pass on Lewis in the same machinery, and was slightly out of depth on a number of occasions when trying to pass people in supremely inferior machinery. So surprised be not if people jump the gun when evidence is inconclusive during any given GP…

  14. It would be more accurate to compare chances rather than laps per pass. It seemed as if Rosberg was very cautious when trying to pass while Lewis always forces the issue. There were a few occasions on Sunday when I thought Rosberg could have passed but he held back.

    Going on to the point others have made, when Lewis gets behind Nico you know he is going past and usually within a few laps. Nico gets behind Lewis and you know it ain’t happening. To me that says it all. Nico may be the faster driver but he hasn’t got that edge needed.

  15. “Hamilton divides fans of the sport like no other current driver”.

    The way everyone was hating on Seb about is it the driver? is it the car? And the feelings that fans had for Webber. I thought that that ranked pretty high on the division scale.

  16. Good piece really. It’s interesting to see an analytical view on this. It’s testing to have to be set in front of the sloppy clueless opinions of J. Herbert and Damon Hill (most especially the former), not to mention Coulthard and Jordan. As well as they might be intelligent blokes in their own right, their plain-sight views and inbuilt character profiles of many drivers are vexing. The next time I watch a GP and nobody rates Rosberg starting in P3 with a chance of winning… If Kimi is to continue to have chance after chance given to him what’s the issue with Nico. Just look at his pace. In the Malaysian GP he was approx 5 secs faster than Hamilton. This is bared apparent throughout. It’s likely the only reason Rosberg didn’t finish P2 was because he lost out by approx 10/12 secs in the additional traffic to Lewis. As you mention, having to deal with the fresh rubber fast cars in the form of Ric and Massa is a very time consuming task. Having accomplish that and all the others up front in as many laps as he did was actually quite impressive. His overtake on Massa can hardly be seen as anything other than an excellent overtake. Most worrying really, the power of media over opinions of the masses. I’m subjected exclusively to British commentary and, not unexpectedly, British nationalistic bias. Pretty heavy a difficult to listen to at times though some bias is always going to be there and is usually a positive in sport, it outreaches that here. The likes of jelly-headed Herbert in particular make me want to jettison from this Earth and take up shelter on a more EDIFYING planet. Good piece.
    Nico: please pull a pass on Lewis in China. Right up the inside.

    • Despite Kimi’s somewhat at times lack of interest, he’s still a proven commodity in every aspect, that’s why he’s continually getting chance after chance. Can we truly say the same for Nico?

      • Lack of interest? Guess work boyo. Kimi’s very good. No doubt. In this games of relativity you have to give him the benefit of the doubt. But he’s still in F1 because of subjectivity/media worth/commercial value over anything else. Who else could sell Jeans? However, I’d agree Nico needs to pull out one balls-out performance but you never know. He is being compared to Lewis after all. Perhaps he’ll get a chance if he starts from the back at some point… What I’d remember though is this: Button’s record vs Lewis is massively skewed. He likes to remind people he had something over Lewis in races: if you look back, barring a handful of exceptions he trailed significantly. Nico has the equal of Lewis in Quali and race pace the vast majority of the time. He’s an incredibly fast driver, he just needs to put ONE on track pass on Lewis, and… that’s all F1 is. Head-cases.

  17. It’s not just about the actual time it takes to move through the field… but the manner in which he does it. He appear too indecisive, and will never win the overtake battle with Hamilton.

    And don’t forget about the too many questions he asks the engineer. For that very reason I am glad they banned the coaching.

    • Save me. The director broadcasts Rosberg’s messages of that order for that one obvious reason: your opinion and their enjoyment. Rosberg is no different to any other in the questions he asks and why he asks them. Hamilton does similar.

  18. tj13- The Senna fanbois hated Prost with a passion, such that Alain publicly requested: “Be a fan of Aryton, just don’t hate me”

    That was Prost’s response to a reporter’s query. I’m sorry I’ve forgotten his name but he can be seen about once a week, at least, on SkyF1’s Senna segments. Senna and the reporter had a run in because Ayrton read an article he felt was biased toward Prost. When Senna asked the reporter if he was a friend of Prost’s he said [paraphrasing], “Yes, as much as a reporter can be,” to which Senna replied, “Then we have a problem.”

    The reporter went to Prost and told him what Senna said and Alain gave his now-famous quote.

    In NO way was Prost’s statement in response to “Senna fanbois.”

  19. Was it the same writer of this article that claimed last year that Seb had crashed out Lewis at Spa within the rules and was simply doing what great winners do – take over, do what it takes and stand tall despite any soft and unwinner like complaints, as he pushed the rules to limit ruthlessly. And won over the Merc management who then went on to sabotage his car to give the weaker, less politically clever and less talented Lewis a clear run at winning 11 to Nicos 5, as well as the WDC. If the same writer remembers last season as well as Coulthard then applying an unbiased and objective context to the reaction to this one race would be the stark realisation that there is no evidence in 2 years that Nico has the race craft to challenge Lewis and definetely is proven unable to overtake at the same completion rate.
    Its actually embarrasing for the readers of the article that the author is so blind to his own lack of objectivity that he accuses an ex F1 driver of confirmation bias without even a sense of irony

  20. ” .. claimed last year that Seb had crashed out Lewis at Spa .. ”

    I think that should read ” … claimed last year that Rosberg had crashed out Lewis at Spa … “

  21. I think the interesting things about Rosbergs weekend were as follows:

    1.) He was comprehensively beaten in qualifying by Lewis. History has shown that on a freshly rained on track it is normally Nico who beats Lewis for the first lap or two, before Lewis then learns where the grip is and goes faster.

    2.) Rosberg pitting behind Lewis, what was the +10 delta about from Mercedes? and Hamilton was slow away too. More games at Mercedes this time from the Hamilton camp?

    3.) Mercedes pitted Nico on to a 3 stop strategy at a completely un-optimal point, moving him out of the way of Hamilton. Lewis would have to had passed his team mate on track if Nico had stayed out. I’m somewhat sceptical this change in tactics was purely for Nico’s benefit.

    4.) Rosberg looks pretty broken, after race one he was on about Lewis driving like a World Champion. The only time I’ve really heard that sort of thing in the past is when there is a distinct number 1 & 2 in a team. Maybe there is at Mercedes post Spa…

  22. I Will Never Understand Why The 2 Drivers Of The Same Team Are Pitted In The Same Lap.

    It Happened In monaco 2013 And I Really Did Not Find It Amusing, At All.

    Using A Different Strategy For Each Of Them Maximizes The Team Chances Of Success.

    GO, 44 !

  23. I’ve always thought that when a top car, in this case the very top car, the Mercedes, passes a midfield car, then it’s far easier for the next top car to do likewise. After the first Merc passed the midfield pack, those cars are far more willing to let the next Merc thru as well.

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