Martin Brundle: Lewis Hamiton hasn't gone backwards, Nico Rosberg has moved up
Sky F1's Martin Brundle on what has caused the shift in the balance of power at Mercedes - and what F1 must do for 2016...
Last Updated: 02/12/15 7:00am
I often use the phrase 'you're either giving pressure or taking pressure in F1, with nothing in between' and that's certainly been the case for the two Mercedes drivers.
It would be interesting to know what the finest sports psychologists think about the great turnaround, but observing those two as closely as we do it all appears very subtle in nature.
Technically at Mercedes there will have been changes post the tyre pressure saga on the grid at Monza, and the weird Singapore GP where Mercedes never really showed up, relatively speaking. This may have played into Nico Rosberg's hand in a small way.
Former driving champions tell us how mentally challenging it is to defend a world title and to an extent history confirms that but Sebastian Vettel rather rewrote that rule with four on the bounce. After defending his title Lewis Hamilton said his 'job was done' for this season at the beginning of the Rosberg rout, but his pole position, win and laps led ratios have taken a pounding lately along with his supreme confidence that he can beat anybody, especially Rosberg.
I think Rosberg changed post-Austin. His error there gave away victory and the championship. 'Cap gate' in the podium room was amusing but I believe very significant. When that cap came back Hamilton's way, and along with Lewis's sarcastic comments in the press conference, Rosberg took on a new determination and steeliness.
He admitted in our Sky Sports F1 interview in Brazil that it annoyed him and gave him energy. He had nothing to lose now, a wonderful mindset to unburden and empower anyone, and his personal confidence and ability were clearly strong enough to recover in the next few days before Mexico.
He hasn't been beaten since, and for my money it's about Rosberg moving forward rather than Hamilton backing off. The last two corners of his qualifying lap in Abu Dhabi were mesmerising in speed and technique, and Ant Davidson tells me it's one of the very best laps he's ever seen at the Skypad.
Rosberg has sorted qualy, aced the starts, and kept his head thereafter for three races under relentless pressure from one of the fastest F1 drivers of all time. From time to time his radio messages suggested he was still struggling to stay calm, but he did.
Hamilton tried something different late in the race when his side of the garage were apparently given strategy freedom. Despite the challenge of 15 laps on supersofts I'm surprised they didn't go for it on low fuel on a rubbered-in track for the final stint. He was unlikely to yield second place to Kimi Raikkonen, and even if he did, so what, it was worth the risk. Manor's Roberto Merhi did 28 laps on his supersofts although at a somewhat different pace.
The old saying 'show me a good loser and I'll show you a loser' holds true but I don't think Lewis has handled it all particularly well and has only fed Nico's determination and confidence. It's often seemed churlish behaviour and excuses on Hamilton's part, especially his petulant refusal to follow his engineer's instructions.
Another one for the psychologists, Lewis has chosen to distance himself from the other drivers, especially on the pre-race track parade. This must add subconscious stress into race day and driver briefings.
The real Lewis Hamilton I've known for very many years is a thoughtful, entertaining and engaging person, and I don't get the loner stance. I also think the kid from Stevenage is faster than the rapper from LA, and that a confident and diligent Rosberg can now beat mid-Atlantic man. He's upped his game.
Kimi Raikkonen drove a fast and consistent race which is great news because we desperately need Ferrari frightening Mercedes all next year, and that requires a four-man fight, not a wasted seat.
Mark Webber says that his friend Fernando Alonso is like an unexploded bomb ready to go off and we saw some of that in the race. One moment he's on the radio saying if there's no Safety Car he's parking the McLaren, having had a first corner shunt and a subsequent penalty.
Late in the race I'm told he called for a set of supersofts to demonstrate what a great chassis the McLaren actually is, setting third best lap of the race despite being bog slow at the end of the straights. In some ways pointless on low fuel at the end of a race, but in other ways impressive. When I'm walking the track on Friday afternoons Alonso is always one of the most committed, which further underlines what a cracking job Jenson Button has done against him this season, just as he did against Lewis at McLaren.
Abu Dhabi is a great venue but not a great track for F1. It works much better for GP2 because they can follow each other more closely. At the risk of sounding like a stuck record, would those people choosing the 2017 regulations please take note, the solution is under your noses, not in the data.
It's been a so-so season of F1, but still some great races and amazing moments. Mercedes has done an incredible job all round, and Vettel has steered a fast-improving Ferrari team to greater heights. His maturity is very impressive especially compared with his main rivals. And the rookies have inspired us too.
From Thursday to the early hours of Monday morning Yas Island was a throbbing beat of music, parties, business and motorsport. F1 has more mechanics in the paddock than many other series can muster in the grandstands on race day. It's a global phenomenon.
But we are surviving on history, heritage and momentum generated over 65 years. Those responsible to add new energy to the F1 flywheel can only shout at each other in calamitous meetings, create unnavigable processes for change, think in the short term and only of their own interests, and seem fearful of true competition. They have allowed a totally financially unviable situation to develop where many teams are as good as broke and surviving rather than flourishing, and so have to employ the richest rather than the fastest drivers. And many great circuits are on the brink too.
All despite billions coming into the sport. Sort it out guys and girls, you're the guardians who have to engage the next generation.
I am, however, already looking forward to the 2016 season.