According to Swiss psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross a grieving person goes through five emotional stages, signified by the acronym DABDA.
If you read the Fleet Street press, one might get the impression that Nico Rosberg is grieving for his already lost chance of winning the 2015 F1 World Championship Title.
The first stage of grief is denial and Rosberg should be beyond this stage. Still believing that he has a chance this year would be optimistic to say the least. Nil-3 defeat in qualifying, Nil-2 in wins and Nil-3 in race finishes – the numbers are damning. Of nine free practice sessions eight have ended with both Mercedes team mates setting a time. Hamilton was faster in five of them. Nico may have believed at the start of the season that he had a second chance, but the numbers suggest: “He’s dead, Jim.”
Hamilton, free from the burden of a nagging celebrity girlfriend, is at the height of his game. He can play cat and mouse with his team mate at will. During yesterday’s Chinese Grand Prix, Lewis kept Rosberg at arm’s length just outside DRS range for the entire first stint, but when both were back out of the pits Hamilton was over four seconds up the road. Lather, rinse, repeat after the second stint. Rosberg knows he’s not fast enough to threaten his team mate and it threatens to break his will.
The anger phase was visible to anyone who bothered to look in the two press conferences on Saturday and Sunday. After the race Rosberg was furious and accused the Brit of backing him into Vettel deliberately.
There is no definitive way of knowing if this is true or not, but Hamilton might perceive the German in a slightly less competitive Ferrari the preferable opponent to his team mate in the same equipment. Then, Rosberg’s accusation carries merit.
For many, Lewis’ ego is the size of Belgium and like almost all champions before him he is willing to employ any means this side of disqualification to maximize his own result with no tear shed over the consequences for anyone else.
Rosberg, at least most of the time, is loyal to the team that he was part of since day one. It’s that loyalty which prevents him from employing the necessary ruthlessness to beat his team mate. What he needs to be is Dick Dastardly. Being Penelope Pitstop won’t win him any trophies and even his automatic lipstick application arm is not working properly at present, causing Nico to look rather dishevelled this year.
Rosberg tried the Dastardly approach last year in Spa, but Hamilton outfoxed him in the PR stakes, so Nico ended as less Dick D. and more Muttley instead.
The key for Nico to move on is he must convert his anger into determination. If he fails to do this, he will continue cycling through the five stages of grief.
This is most likely the stage Rosberg is in right now. He has to bargain with a higher authority that Hamilton cracks if things go wrong. An untimely engine failure, an invisible contaminant or a drive-through could easily destabilise the Brit’s notoriously brittle control over his emotions Hamilton has demonstrated he can flip from an “I am the Greatest” Muhammad Ali-style self-confidence into a full-on self-destruct. His whining in Monaco last year is evidence of this, when Rosberg, at least in theory, may have been moderately Dick Dastardly-ish during qualifying.
To avoid slipping into the next phase, Rosberg ideally needs to win the next race at Bahrain. It was here were it all started to go wrong in 2014, when despite having fresher, softer tyres and DRS Nico just couldn’t pass a brutally defending Hamilton, who used every ounce of space and was on the ragged edge of a drive-through penalty.
It was in Bahrain where Rosberg started a long list of moves he backed out of to avoid a collision. When he finally didn’t (in Spa), but it was too little to late and he got punked by Lauda and Wolff.
If he ever reaches this phase it’s game over for Keke’s fair-haired boy. What the final crack in a driver’s confidence does was immortalized by none other than Felipe Massa. He never recovered from the humiliation of “Felipe, Fernando is faster than you.” at the 2010 German Grand Prix.
See: Eddie Irvine, David Coulthard, Felipe Massa, Rubens Barrichello, Mark Webber.