That’s Life…

Here we are again post race, specifically the Grand Prix of Singapore. We would all like to have hoped that Red Bull or Ferrari or Williams, or Force India or yes, even McLaren at this stage of rebuilding their once mighty team, could somehow really and truly show up and challenge Mercedes for the race win on merit, but that is just not how this year has panned out, has it? The only real story line this year has been, will Lewis match Sebastian Vettel for four WDCs or will Nico Rosberg, after driving in the shadow of Hamilton much of these last three years, finally find the pace and the luck to finish ahead of his teammate come the end of November?

I suppose I could be talking (typing) about F1’s new owners. They are after all Americans, I’m an American and I curate my own American F1 site. I know there is a story, a real story there somewhere, but truth be known I am not really that inspired to comment, at least not as of yet. This is the kind of story I want to see percolate a bit more before I feel I can give it the proper treatment, i.e. I am going to either rip Liberty Media a you-know-what after they royally cock it up, or I will be heaping tons and tons of praise on this media company for finally getting it right and setting F1 on its new and more correct course, with me you always get the extremes, no gray area for this blogger…

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Nico Rosberg in March and he picks up right where he left off, winning with teammate Lewis Hamilton behind. It did help that Mercedes got a free pitstop while Ferrari did not, but a win is a win. Rosberg would go on to win another three in a row.

I will say this however, it has been a good couple of years for us in the good ol’ US of A as far as F1 is concerned, don’t you think? NBC Sports Network took the plunge and signed F1 up with regular coverage over the race weekends (although there could be more, a lot more, in my opinion) and a bit of support programming with Will Buxton’s “Off The Grid.” There could be more of this as well.

Haas F1 made the grid with a car that not only saw the checkered flag, minus the one Fernando Alonso took out (sorry ‘Nando) but also is in the points. In fact was this not the best start for a new F1 team in the history of the sport? Someone check that please. (Note my colleague at F1blog.com reminded me it was actually Mercedes back in 1954 that has the honor of best start for a team in F1 – Thank you Dave Mortimore for that correction). Why isn’t anyone talking about that, by the way? And while Haas F1 has tapered off a bit, there is no denying the team has done an incredible job to stay relatively competitive at most of the circuits so far this year, their brake issues aside. They have 28 WCC points and lie eighth ahead of Renault, Sauber and Manor. Not too shabby…

Now the Americans own the sport that for the most part America had forgotten, true Grand Prix racing. Europe didn’t seem to care that the U.S. had forgotten it, so bully for us, now its ours. Not bad U.S., not bad at all.

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Spain, this photo needs no explanation. What I will say is this is the beginning of the end of Nico’s hot streak. He will not see the podium for another two races and while drivers have their ups and downs, the German just does not look the same in the car or out on track…

So I should be talking about all of that stuff right? Wrong. What I want to talk about is what I usually talk about, the people, the personalities, the mishaps and the comebacks, in a word, the drama of F1. And look no further than Lewis vs. Nico for all of it. All wrapped up in a nice and sometimes not so nice ball of wax. And here is where we get to this post’s title and relevance.

I really like Nico Rosberg. I have said this several times over the years and I want nothing more than for his 2016 campaign to end with the title this year. In my heart of hearts I do not I think that will happen this year, Lewis on balance is just driving so well – I’m such a pessimist sometimes, or is it narcissist? I always forget. If you asked me at the beginning of the season I would have unequivocally said “Yes, Nico for the championship for sure.” Now I am not too confident. While Rosberg did put in two very proficient drives in Belgium and Monza, it was not all down to his raw speed. As it stands currently, Nico has to have luck on his side to get this thing done, which as David Hobbs always reminds us, he would rather be (lucky) than fastest. I am still of the opinion that faster is better, luck notwithstanding.

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Q: What is wrong with this picture, or rather who is missing from this picture? Rosberg has a horrible race and Hamilton as you can see, a great one. A win virtually handed to him by a missed call on the part of RB, it was all smiles for Ham. BTW it was no fun for Daniel Ricciardo in case you can’t guess.

Then the other day I was listening to the radio and the song “That’s Life” by Francis Albert Sinatra began to play and I immediately thought of Nico Rosberg. The first stanza:

“That’s life (that’s life) that’s what people say
You’re riding high in April
Shot down in May
But I know I’m gonna change that tune
When I’m back on top, back on top in June.”

Rosberg starts the year off with win after win, picking up from the run that he finished off last year right after losing the championship to Hamilton when the Briton drove past him after an error on the part of Nico. Usually Hamilton is driving Nico off the track. In fact Lewis has driven Nico off the track so many times I can’t even remember how many. So why Nico is all of a sudden the bad guy for turning the tables on his teammate is a bit mystifying, but whatever, back to my point. Nico is riding high and Hamilton is suffering a spell of bad luck as well.

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Austria and for the second time this season and the umpteenth time as teammates the Merc boys come together. On this occasion Rosberg comes away the loser. Not to mention a brouhaha over Rosberg taking a very creative apex to push Ham wide. It looked liked any other racing move that Ham has used on Rosberg but the German took a lot of flack for it…

But like a ball that is thrown up in the sky (and like the song), what goes up must come down and Rosberg eventually hit his own rough patch of bad luck and did some dodgy driving it must be said. Hence ‘shot down in June’ just like the song says. He has the wrong engine setting in Spain and leaves the door open for Hammy, who says thank you very much and takes the inside line at which point Rosberg shuts the door and we all know how that one ended.

The next race was Monaco and a track that Rosberg has excelled at the last three years. This was not to be the case in 2016, an unsettling feeling due to his brakes failing all but put an end to his confidence in the car and in the tires and he drove a sad race to finish seventh, getting nicked at the very end by the other Nico in a Force India.

Back to the song:

“I said, that’s life (that’s life) and as funny as it may seem
Some people get their kicks
Stompin’ on a dream
But I don’t let it, let it get me down’
Cause this fine old world it keeps spinnin’ around…”

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Baku and Rosberg is back. Driving flawlessly on a demanding track after a poor showing in Canada. A pattern this season is emerging for both Merc drivers, up and down, up and down. This is the up for Rosberg but short lived, Ham recovers to win four on the trot while setting some records as well…

On we go to Montreal, a bad start and elbowed off the track by Hamilton (what a shocker) a spin and a puncture and then fuel saving all conspired to really hit the points leader where it hurts…in the points and Nico’s dream has definitely been  ‘stomped on.’ Prior to all this bad luck, which would be right around the Russian GP, Rosberg held a 43-point lead over Hamilton.

“I’ve been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate
A poet, a pawn and a king
I’ve been up and down and over and out
And I know one thing
I pick myself up and get back in the race…”

Alas, it is the weekend of the Grand Prix of Europe and the inaugural race of Baku and Rosberg is as the song goes ‘back on top.’ He has picked himself up and is back in the race, literally. It is a great weekend for the German, not only does he look fantastic on track, driving at a level that no one else can touch, but teammate Hamilton is in the woods and does not reach the podium.

Now right when I (only look at how many times I chose Nico to win in the Staff Picks section of this blog – which by the way is how I lost my lead among the staffers), you and everyone one in Rosberg’s corner thinks things have finally cycled back to being in his favor, Hamilton goes on an incredible run of four race wins in a row and our protagonist has to not only endure watching his lead in the championship diminish race by race but cannot even finish second in what beyond anyone’s dispute is the fastest car out there, period…

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This is pre-Singapore presumably. Rosberg would have another reason to celebrate at the end of the GP. A WIN. The third in a row and he would re-claim the top spot in the WDC as well. Six races to go and the momentum, if not swinging back to the German, is at the very least arrested from swinging towards Hamilton…

Here is what it looked like:

Austria LH P1 – NR P4, Great Britain LH P1 – NR P3, Hungary LH P1 – NR P2, and last but definitely not least in Germany, Rosberg’s real home grand prix: LH P1 – NR P4.

Dismal, quite frankly. Oh, but I still hear the song if only just barely. Go Frank, go…

“That’s life (that’s life) I tell ya, I can’t deny it
I thought of quitting, baby
But my heart just ain’t gonna buy it
And if I didn’t think it was worth one single try
I’d jump right on a big bird and then I’d fly…”

That’s right, “I thought of quitting baby, but my heart just ain’t gonna buy it,” and so what happens? Lewis has to take an engine penalty in Belgium, leaving Rosberg uncontested for the win which he pulled off, although the way he has been driving a win was never a sure thing. Then Italy where with fresh engines Hamilton was again the odds-on favorite, lapping half a second faster then Rosberg, which in terms of Monza is like a week and a half ahead not to put too fine a point on the matter. But remember, Nico ain’t buying it and when the red lights went out Sunday in front of the Italian faithful, Ham missed his bite point and had a slow getaway while Rosberg was fast and it was easy breezy from that point on for car number six to claim another much needed win and to pull within two points of teammate and still (barely) championship leader Hamilton.

Singapore, night race, Rosberg has not had the best of luck here, in fact I don’t think Rosberg has ever been on the podium. But for that matter Hamilton’s record here is also nothing to write home about. Last year it was a huge mystery why the silver arrows were so far off the pace compared to Ferrari and Red Bull. Will this year be the same? Who knows? By the time you read this post the grid will be set and while Rosberg did finish FP2 on top with Hamilton, Daniel Ricciardo, Sebastian Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen, and FP1’s top driver Max Verstappen all behind him, it really is only practice. Sunday’s race will be one of strategy and more than likely a safety car as which point you can go from leading to mired in the pack in an instant.

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Mr. Sinatra’s rendition of That’s Life could not be more apt in describing the season so far for Nico Rosberg. While Lewis Hamilton on balance is a bit faster than his teammate, if this season is anything to go by, speed will not decide the championship. It will be as Mr. Sinatra says, “I’ve been up and down and over and out and I know one thing I pick myself up and get back in the race…”

Whatever happens on Sunday, the real point/lesson this year is the up and down nature for both Merc drivers and if the races thus far are anything to go on, then it will not be race craft (well maybe a little) or luck (well maybe a bit of this one too) or raw speed (ok raw speed will definitely play its part) but aside from any of those insignificant things, what is evident to me at this point, is what really will make the difference in this year’s championship will be the perseverance of one driver who does not let any obstacles get in their way. Who is more willing to pull themselves up by their bootstraps when down, which one of these drivers will not let the pressure or adversity thwart their path to the final goal?

“That’s life (that’s life) that’s what people say
You’re riding high in April…”

Sing it Frank, sing it…

-jp-

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