x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

In Formula One, two cannot fit into won

Mercedes have won the three races held this season and, given their speed advantage, it is hard to see anyone challenging Lewis Hamilton or Nico Rosberg for the drivers’ title.

The laughs may become fewer and farther between if Mercedes teammates Nico Rosberg, left, and Lewis Hamilton continue to battle for the Formula One title.  Clive Mason / Getty Images
The laughs may become fewer and farther between if Mercedes teammates Nico Rosberg, left, and Lewis Hamilton continue to battle for the Formula One title. Clive Mason / Getty Images

Before Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton had been asked to describe his friendship with Mercedes-GP teammate Nico Rosberg.

The 2008 world champion was forthright with his response.

“Nico and I, as with anyone, can count our friends on one hand,” he said.

“Nico does not come into those five friends I have, and I don’t come in the five friends he has.”

The pair, who have known each other since they were youngsters competing in karting, do have a good relationship.

That was evident by their friendly reaction to each other after Sunday’s race in Bahrain.

Hamilton won ahead of Rosberg in a race where they went wheel-to-wheel many times throughout the 57 laps.

They were in a class of their own in Sakhir, often lapping more than 1.5 seconds faster than anyone else.

The fact they were able to pull 24 seconds ahead of third-placed Sergio Perez in the final 12 laps of the race after a safety car period – despite the fact their tussle was slowing them down – showed just how much speed they had in hand.

Mercedes have won the three races held this season and, given their speed advantage, it is hard to see anyone challenging the German team for the drivers’ or constructors’ titles.

Meaning one of Hamilton or Rosberg is going to be champion.

It is not rare to have a season where one car is dominant.

But while 2011 and last year were hurt by Sebastian Vettel being the only driver to do the winning for Red Bull Racing, this season is different as Hamilton and Rosberg appear well matched.

We will never know if Hamilton would have had the pace in Australia to beat Rosberg as an engine problem sidelined him, but he was the faster man in Malaysia and deservedly won.

Sunday was different.

Rosberg had done the better job setting up his car and was quicker, but he was unable to make a passing move stick on his teammate thanks to Hamilton’s inspired defensive driving.

Hamilton has two wins to Rosberg’s one, but it is the German who leads the title by 11 points because of Hamilton’s non-finish in Australia.

They joked on the podium in Sakhir with each other, and Rosberg did a good job of putting a brave face on his disappointment, but it is hard to believe it will last. Only one of them can win the world title this year, something that may well end up defining their careers.

Hamilton’s 2008 championship success has faded into memory in the face of Vettel’s era of dominance, and the Briton is desperate to rectify that.

This is Rosberg’s first real chance at the title after nine years in the sport, and he has the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of his father, Keke, who won the world championship in 1982.

There is a lot at stake for both drivers as it cannot be taken for granted that Mercedes will have the same edge next year.

Hamilton had a great, championship challenging package in his first two years, but has had to wait six seasons to get another strong car.

Both men have pressing cases as to why they need to be champion.

Both have already won this season and shown good speed.

But there can only be one.

Come the end of the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on November 23 one of them likely will be celebrating while the other will be wondering what could have been.

It will be the desire not to be that latter individual that will drive them to push with all they have.

Both of them could easily justify not having won a championship in recent years, as neither had the best car and were off the pace with the dominance of Vettel in his Red Bull.

Failing to be champion in a car as dominant as these Mercedes and losing to a man with the same equipment, however, does not bear thinking about.

It is an outstanding opportunity and they know it.

With 16 races to go expect plenty of twists and turns and a gradually reduced amount of podium bonhomie.

The serious business is only just beginning in the quest to be the man standing tall at the end of 2014.

gcaygill@thenational.ae

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