Nico Rosberg has beaten Hamilton to five consecutive pole positions coming into the final race of the season, which is a significant reversal from the early part of the season. This has led to many commentators looking for the reasons and this has led to speculation that there are three potential reasons for this reversal in the Mercedes teammates fortunes.
Firstly, Since Singapore the FIA have clamped down on the teams playing fast and loose with tyre pressures, running them lower than Pirelli recommend to increase grip – but also increasing the risk of tyre failure. Is this the source of Hamilton’s performance deficit?
The second possible explanation is that Lewis lifestyle and lack of preparation has seen the balance shift between the Mercedes drivers. Speaking to the Guardian, Ron Dennis stops short of attributing Hamilton’s demise to partying, however he makes it plain Lewis’ behaviour is not something he approves of.
“If he was at McLaren, he wouldn’t be behaving the way he is, because he wouldn’t be allowed to,” Dennis states. “He’s shaking off some of the chains he didn’t want to have.” Any romantic ideas that Lewis may one day return to McLaren appear to be wide of the mark as Dennis concludes, “I don’t approve of everything he does or says”.
Lewis did inform the Mercedes team on the Monday before the Mexican GP he had a fever and would be arriving a day later than planned. That night he crashed his car after a party.
Ron Dennis also reveals that Hamilton’s behaviour during his time at McLaren resulted in difficulties and attributes Lewis’ inappropriate “social process or behaviour or tendencies,” to his child protégé status.
The third possibility is that the Mercedes car has been evolving in a way that doesn’t suit Lewis Hamilton. This is something Lewis alluded to in Brazil and has done so again in Abu Dhabi. “In terms of my overall performance in the last few races, what I can definitely say is there has been a change in the car.”
Despite winning the three races following the Singapore GP, Hamilton believes the lack of performance that weekend has driven Mercedes engineers to make changes to the car in an attempt to solve the ‘Singapore problem.’
“We are still trying to get to the bottom of [the loss of pace in Singapore] as a team,” Hamilton explained. “The engineers looked into it and came up with lots of different explanations and we grabbed at one and changed a few things.
“But the car had been fantastic all year, so that doesn’t really completely make sense to me. And the car balance has not felt the same since.
“It has not been as comfortable, while Nico seems to be more comfortable with it.
“I’ve still got the pace in the race, but it has definitely taken some of my advantage away overall, so now I have to push to try to get the car back to where it was for me.”
Nico Rosberg, who could have won the Russian GP along with the race in Austin had his car not failed and he stayed on the track whilst leading in Texas, sings a different tune. “There is no big change in the feel of the car. The two of us have always been very close all season – right now it is just swinging the other way, my way. Remember last year I was always quick in qualifying – and then in the first half of this season I was not – and now I am again… These are little things that swing both ways”.
In a Q&A, Nico Rosberg is pressed on the resurgence of his form. “What’s there to wonder? As I just said, last year I was faster in qualifying,” the German added, “It’s very simple: I am faster now. Period”.
Rosberg was asked again whether the car developments were the reason for his recent dominance over his teammate, he replied: “No, only work is behind it. No other reason”. We could be left to imply, Nico is suggesting one Mercedes driver has been working whilst the other….
The level to which the relationship between Hamilton and Rosberg has deteriorated is clear from Rosberg’s final response to being asked whether he and Lewis talked technical matters over openly. “No talking, but it is open – so if I search I can find these things. But it is not so that everything is really put on the table…”
The Abu Dhabi GP is a dead rubber, yet a number of paddock commentators see this weekend as of particular importance for Hamilton. Martin Brundle observes, “I fully expect Hamilton will head to Abu Dhabi with a renewed and strong purpose for maximum attack, he has to stop this confidence-boosting performance of Rosberg before the winter”.
This year, Lewis has been able to do as he pleased in his private life and still he won races together with another F1 driver title. The dominance of his Mercedes machinery and the failure of his team mate during the first half of the 2015 season have played into Lewis’ hands. Yet in 2016, the challenge will be greater for Hamilton. Ferrari will be closer to Mercedes and Rosberg now has the belief he can beat Hamilton.
For this reason alone the battle of the Mercedes drivers this weekend will be fascinating. If Lewis Hamilton believes the car development is beating him and not Rosberg, then this will have implications for his mindset over the long winter break as the car may be developed further away from his liking before hitting the track next March in Barcelona.