The Formula One season continues this weekend at the picturesque Gilles Villeneuve circuit in Montreal, Canada.
With the man of the moment, after his extremely classy Monaco grand prix victory, being Nico Rosberg, it’s an appropriate time to assess his world championship credentials.
Opinion of Rosberg was split into two disparate camps before the 2013 season. One claimed he was a very good driver, reliable and quick, but one who was never going to be defined as a “great”. The other that he still had not been given the machinery to prove himself fully and that the lack of a world class, highly performing team mate was masking his true talent.
Rosberg holds the impressive record of being the only man to set a fastest lap on his debut, when he finished seventh in the 2006 Bahrain grand prix. That season ended with the German being beaten in the championship by the vastly more experienced Mark Webber but their respective performances were very equal.
For the next three years Rosberg honed his racing skills in an often unimpressive Williams while outpacing his team mates, Alex Wurz and Kazuki Nakajima. These two hardly shone in their time in Formula One but have since gone on to show well in the sportscar scene, both for the Toyota Prototype team.
The highly intelligent Rosberg, a man who turned down a place at Imperial College to study aeronautics and who fluently speaks five languages, had probably realised by the end of 2009 that he wasn’t going to get much further up the grid in his current seat and for 2010 joined for the new, rich and shiny works Mercedes squad.
A move that would normally elevate a driver’s profile actually had no such effect, as the announcement that his team mate would be Michael Schumacher pushed Rosberg firmly out of the limelight.
Even when Rosberg went on to outshine Schumacher convincingly for the next three seasons, his profile remained minimal. The pundits and the observing world didn’t see a hugely talented son of a world champion, but a merely good driver who was beating an old, pseudo-Schumi.
While it’s firmly established that the Schumacher who Rosberg faced was a shadow of his former glory, he was in a no win situation. Whenever he beat Schumacher it was because Schumi was old; whenever he finished behind him he was underperforming.
All this is why 2013 is so important for Rosberg. Finally he has a team mate who is rated as being in the top three of the whole grid to compare himself against and while many predicted that Lewis Hamilton would put Rosberg into a number two role with his speed, this hasn’t been the case so far.
In fact Hamilton finds himself in a remarkably similar situation to the one which made him so unhappy at McLaren. He has a quick, intelligent team mate who works harmoniously with his engineers and who is liked by his management, while he continues to struggle to harness his blazing, raw speed.
In a season which is less about pure speed and more about brainpower, and with a winning car now underneath him, maybe Nico Rosberg will win the championship which half the paddock never thought he would.