x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Formula One: Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg developing fascinating rivalry

Forget about the Red Bull Racing saga, another installment of the interesting rivalry between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg at Mercedes should play out at this weekend's Chinese Grand Prix.

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain, right, and his teammate Nico Rosberg of Germany listen to a reporter's question during a press conference. Both will square off in the Chinese Grand Prix this weekend. Vincent Thian / AP Photo
Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain, right, and his teammate Nico Rosberg of Germany listen to a reporter's question during a press conference. Both will square off in the Chinese Grand Prix this weekend. Vincent Thian / AP Photo

One of the men who must have been happiest about the implosion at Red Bull Racing in Malaysia last month was Lewis Hamilton.

The squabbling between Sebastin Vettel and Mark Webber took away from the embarrassment the 2008 world champion clearly had, judging by the look on his face at the podium, anyway, having earned his third-place finish only after Mercedes-GP teammate Nico Rosberg has been told to stay behind him.

Rosberg did a better job of conserving fuel and tyres during the race and was denied the third-place finish by team principal Ross Brawn.

While Hamilton was the winner on the track between the two German cars, it was clear who the moral victor was.

Like any good racing driver, Hamilton has an ego.

He believes he is the fastest man out there, and though he is still settling into his new team after leaving McLaren-Mercedes at the end of last year, it will irk him that he needed an assist from the team to finish ahead in Malaysia. He will want to beat his teammate on his own terms Sunday in China.

Which is easier said than done as Rosberg runs well at the Shanghai International Circuit.

It was the scene of his only victory in Formula One, 12 months ago, and he has also led the 2010 and 2011 races at various stages, demonstrating good speed in a Mercedes that was not the fastest car on the track on either occasion.

This is Rosberg's eighth full season in F1 and we are still in an odd situation of not knowing just how good he is. He is obviously quick, but how quick?

He spent his first four years with the Williams team, and senior staff acknowledged that when he left in 2009, even they were not sure just how good he was, though his last two years with Williams were spent with a markedly inferior teammate in Kazuki Nakajima, who was rarely a threat to him.

At Mercedes he became the only driver to beat Michael Schumacher in the same car over a full season.

He achieved it in all three seasons they were together before his German compatriot retired, to be replaced by Hamilton, but even that feat was minimized by the fact that Schumacher was no longer the driver who had won seven world titles before his first departure from the sport in 2006.

Hamilton is the first driver againsh whom a serious gauge can be made, given the Briton's pedigree as a world champion, and so far it is looking good for Rosberg.

In the opening round of the season in Australia, they were evenly matched, with Rosberg the faster in the rain on Saturday, Hamilton quicker on Sunday in the dry, and they were running in the same group of cars when mechanical problems forced Rosberg to stop.

But in Malaysia it was Rosberg who had the upper hand on speed.

He was faster in the first two parts of qualifying, run in the dry, before Hamilton did the better job when the rain came in the final part of the session.

Rosberg ran the better race in Sepang, and Hamilton will not want a repeat of that this weekend as he seeks to establish himself with the Brackley-based team.

The inter-team duel will be fascinating this weekend. Rosberg, as already stated, is a force in China, but Hamilton is no slouch in Shanghai either, having won there in 2008 and 2011, and without absorbing a grid penalty for a gearbox change he made last year, which dropped him down the order, he may have pushed Rosberg harder to earn his victory.

Sunday's duel should be a fascinating subplot of what already promises to be an intriguing race.

gcaygill@thenational.ae

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