The Italian Grand Prix at Monza represented the 50th start for Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg as teammates at Mercedes; a not insignificant total in which to draw some conclusions. They are in their third season together and have raced over two different formulae.
Below is a snapshot of the raw data associated with the big “ticket items” one often looks at when comparing teammates. Given they’ve been in a front running team during their time together, and over the last two years enjoying the most dominant car, such big ticket items are relatively conclusive, which might not necessarily be the case for a lower-rung teammate comparison. So, from that perspective, fans and fanboi alike are fortunate that we don’t have to dig deeper into Top 5 finishes, Top 10 finishes, Q2 or Q3 berths and the like.
– Better WDC “How can you talk if you haven’t got a brain?”
This headline stat speaks for itself. The goal of any driver, ultimately, is to end ahead of their team mate in a series or championship by any “legitimate” means possible. Whether they’ve secured more or less poles, wins or fastest laps along the way is largely irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. Senna and Prost spent two seasons together and finished ahead of each other one time apiece. Both secured one championship each. End of story. The details are largely irrelevant.
In this case, Lewis has beaten Nico in two full seasons and leads him in their third season together. Also, end of story… or is it? Where’s the fun in that?
–Win / Podiums “… some people without brains do an awful lot of talking, don’t they?”
Given the front running nature of Mercedes these past three seasons, and the totally dominating margin of the ’14 and ’15 Mercedes in particular, this set of numbers are quite high for both drivers in a similar way as they were for Senna and Prost in the ’88 and ’89 seasons. Mercedes have won a combined 29 races from the past 50 over the past three seasons, which is a 58% strike rate.
Lewis has delivered a substantially higher amount of victories to Mercedes, 19-10, however their respective podium tallies are almost equal, 32-29. This highlights the paradox that emerges by possessing by far the best car in Formula One. It’s something every driver would love, and yet, it’s also something that makes a driver even more vulnerable to mechanical failures or random DNF’s as the points differential between 1st and 2nd place rarely is enough to recover points quickly enough. The title race therefore becomes about consistency, and there’s little worse than a title winner where pure consistency has triumphed over talent and speed – as was nearly the case in the ’14 season.
–Poles / Fastest laps “I’ll get you, my pretty, and your little dog too!”
These stats also favour Lewis overall, but it’s in this area I’ve been mildly surprised by this pairing.
Nico’s been found wanting, time and again, come race day over the past three seasons in one-on-one combat with Lewis. But he’s given Lewis more than a run for his money in one lap pace, especially on the non-Tilke tracks, so much so that he secured the ’14 qualifying award and thus handed Lewis his first season-long qualifying defeat of his stellar career.
Sure, Lewis may have decided to focus on “racing” and not “qualifying”, and there might be peace in the Middle East one day too, but aside from all the speculation and fanboi-disingenuity of apparently a race driver not being able to focus on going fast on Saturday AND Sunday in the same year, Nico beat Lewis conclusively in ‘14. I often try – and by often I mean very rarely – to recall my thoughts as to what I speculated might be the outcome of a potential Lewis-Nico partnership when it was announced Lewis would leave his creators, McLaren, and join the Silver Arrows. I can’t be entirely sure I can separate my presently evolved memories from what I actually thought then, but one thing I didn’t think was that Nico would trouble Lewis over one lap in any consistent way; such was my regard for Lewis’ one lap pace. Perhaps I overestimated Button’s pace, perhaps I underestimated Nico’s… either way it has be surprising.
Lewis has of course still beaten Nico overall, but there’s no doubt that Nico isn’t leaving much on the table (Hungary and Belgium ’15 notwithstanding) and, often enough, showing Lewis a clean set of qualifying heels. Recently Lewis has lifted his qualifying to a place I expected him to be at the last 3 seasons, but overall, their partnership over one lap has been close.
-Points and Proportions “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”
It’s all about the points, isn’t it? Points win championships. Lewis has won more points in every season they’ve been teammates and by virtue of that has more points overall, unlike his three seasons with Jenson Button where Lewis was beaten in 2011 and also beaten overall in points over their three seasons together. Against Nico they’re running at 55% – 45% in Lewis’ favour, more or less within a 10% band. That’s where a top team wants to see a points distribution by their chargers. It’s one of the closer top pairings in recent history, so make of that what you will.
For me, the Belgian GP and recent Italian GP were telling. Lewis stepped up at a track (Belgium) where he is historically average at (not bad) relative to his available equipment over the years, while Rosberg looked decidedly average (not bad) at a track, or track style, that seemed to favour him over Lewis in the past three years. Lewis’ qualifying and race execution combined with Nico being nowhere pace wise at Spa and Monza essentially means it’s over for him in ’15, and that’d have been the case with, or without, his Monza DNF in my opinion; such is the momentum Lewis has now.
Over their partnership, Nico can hang his hat on being the only team mate in Lewis’ (junior or Formula 1) career that has ever out qualified him over a full season. That’s not insignificant given the names of Lewis’ teammates include Alonso and Button. This one lap performance has certainly increased Nico’s stock (compared with 2012) as Lewis was then, and is now, known as a one lap master and has proven so again this season finding astonishingly consistent Q3 form. Engineers will be sure that at the very least Nico can get the very best from a car, or as close to, almost every qualifying.
That aside, it’s clear that it’s only been the domination and the “best car paradox” combined with errors from Lewis (and/or Lewis’ side of the garage) that has allowed Nico to stay in contention each season, in particular the ’14 season. I don’t think this season will see the title go down the last race such is Lewis’ momentum, and I felt that before Nico’s Monza’s DNF. Nico’s best chance was ’14, a season where Lewis was struggling to regularly find repeatable weekend-long form for one reason or another and Nico was invariably ahead of him in qualifying, giving Lewis more work than was necessary for him to secure the WDC. That chance is gone and moving over at Italy, that clear liquid at Singapore and that strange gremlin at Abu Dhabi may remain with Nico for some time.
So, given that 50 is a nice round number, it’s time to call it. Lewis is better than Nico in pretty much every way, though, Nico is good enough to not only push Lewis over a lap but to also capitalise on any of Lewis’ emo-form slumps and keep the points relatively tight over the past three seasons. Mercedes’ domination is such that even if Lewis wasn’t there, Nico would be world champion of ’14 and likely ’15… again, the paradox emerges. It’s clear, as it was with Lewis’ partnership with Jenson, that Lewis is the only one that can beat Lewis and he has done so often enough to provide us entertainment during these past two seasons in particular – though that fluctuation seems over… for now.
Lewis’ next challenge is no longer intra-team but it is as Sebastian Vettel’s is… and that is for the Ferrari and Mercedes to achieve relative parity and for them to sort out who will be the greatest of this generation. Let’s hope that’s sorted out over the ’16 season.