How has Nico Rosberg gained the upper hand on Lewis Hamilton?
Sky F1 technical analyst Mark Hughes explains how the Mercedes driver has bounced back from his title defeat with successive wins...
By Why is Nico now beating Lewis?
Last Updated: 19/11/15 3:36pm
So, just how has Nico Rosberg turned the tables on Lewis Hamilton recently?
Five consecutive Rosberg poles, two consecutive victories (and had it not been for Nico's throttle problem in Sochi it might even have been three of the last four). Even Rosberg himself doesn't have an explanation.
What about an alternative technical theory? Rosberg's run of form has coincided almost exactly with the post-Monza ruling on tyre pressures. Is that just a coincidence? The team believe it is, saying they can see nothing on the data to support that interpretation. But let's just put it out there.
After the Monza controversy - where the left rear tyres of both Hamilton and Rosberg were found to be under the Pirelli-dictated pressure limit on the grid - a technical directive was brought in that insisted the pressure/temperature measurements taken on the grid could be used to penalise anyone not complying.
Since that time, teams have had to take extra care in ensuring that their tyres are within these limits even as late as the grid prior to the formation lap. Which effectively means running them with higher pressures and lower temperatures than they otherwise would have done - which reduces their performance.
In order to minimise loads upon the delicate Pirelli shoulders - following the Spa blow-outs - the tyre company increased the minimum pressures. This changes the shape of the tread, bulging it out more in the centre, reducing the area of the contact patch, the lower resultant grip thereby lowering the loads upon the shoulder.
Obviously, the ruling applies to everyone, so why should it have impacted more upon Hamilton than Rosberg? Well, the following is just a theory but built around known facts.
Hamilton: Car has changed since Singapore
Lewis points to unspecified changes to his W06 for Rosberg's strong run
The facts: the reduction in grip will be greater at the back than the front - simply because the rear tyres are bigger. This in turn will have narrowed down the car's set-up window, which will now be more defined.
Traditionally, Hamilton has not been as precise or fussy about his set-up as Rosberg, his more free-wheeling improvisation allowing him to get pretty much the same lap from a variety of set-ups. But if the set up window through which the car works has now been narrowed, has it made getting that set up sweet spot exactly right more crucial? And if so, does this suit the way Rosberg was already working anyway but not Hamilton? That's the theory.
The team says it sees nothing to support that. But would it necessarily show? It might just see one driver happy, the other less so, as they each worked away through the practices at finessing a balance they could work with.
But there's one other factor that roughly correlates with the switch-around in form between the pair: in between Spa and Monza, Rosberg became a father for the first time. Rosberg's way of working is more particular than Hamilton's. Was his wife's pregnancy detracting from his usual focus in this? And with the baby born and everyone healthy, has that focus - which last year helped him out-qualify Hamilton over the season - returned?
Or has Hamilton, once the title became a formality, simply dropped his game a small but crucial amount?
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