Vettel, Schumacher and Ascari – a group of men who have achieved incredible feats in the World of Formula One. 13 World Championships and 146 wins between them – All part of the exclusive 7-in-a-row and now joined by Mercedes very own Nico Rosberg after he took his 7th straight win at the 2016 Russian Grand Prix.
It all started way back in 2015 when an angry and frustrated Rosberg dominated the Mexican Grand Prix by leading every session of the weekend. Motivation came easy for the German after losing the World Championship to team mate Lewis Hamilton at the previous round in utterly embarrassing conditions. The Mexican Grand Prix’s high altitude even the field but it didn’t sway him as he resisted late race attacks from Hamilton – winning by 2 seconds.
With two rounds left in the season and the Formula One road show heading to Brazil, there was nothing but pride for the two Mercedes team mates. Hamilton appeared on the pace early but Rosberg surprisingly bounced back to take pole. Hamilton didn’t get Rosberg at the start and never got another chance with Brazil living up to it’s reputation as a tire killer track. Hamilton reiterated this on the podium saying he ‘would have had the pace to pass Nico had the tires not degraded whilst following behind him’ Rosberg took back to back wins for only the 2nd time in his career as Hamilton finished 7 seconds behind in 2nd.
Abu Dhabi saw the the last race of the season play out under the sunset in the UAE. After looking strong all weekend Rosberg took pole comfortably and Hamilton lost the race at the start by getting off the line poorly. But further into the race fortunes changed as it looked to be his to win because he was rapidly catching Rosberg throughout most parts of the race. Hamilton again uncharacteristically couldn’t capitalize and fell short of victory by 8 seconds. Rosberg took his first ever hat-trick of wins and ended the 2015 season with 6 wins. Despite being embarrassed by a dominant Hamilton all year, Rosberg had the last laugh and had renewed his apparent nonexistent confidence going into 2016.
2016 burst onto the scene at the public roads of Albert Park in Melbourne, Australia and straight away Hamilton stamped his authority on the race with his first pole position in 7 races. However the downfall of Hamilton was new clutch regulations which widened the margin for error on the starts and he got it very wrong. Very very wrong. Vettel got it very right and jumped into an early lead as the two Mercedes team mates banged wheels in Turn 1.They found themselves behind the Ferrari’s and a safety car just before the halfway mark gave them the chance they needed to win. By employing a better strategy with medium tires Mercedes jumped Ferrari and their drivers didn’t change positions. Rosberg won the season opener from a good start and getting the better of Hamilton early. Althought he wasn’t necessarily the better driver than Hamilton on this weekend – consistency not pace was Rosberg’s strength. He would be good at Endurance!
Next race was the Duel in the Desert: Bahrain. A track infamous for the classic Rosberg vs Hamilton battle in 2014. Lewis Hamilton again asserted that he was a three time World Champion by confidently taking pole. But again his hard work on Saturday was spoiled by a bad start and a diving Valtteri Bottas at the inside of Turn 1, damaging Hamilton and dropping him down several places. This gifted Rosberg his 5th consecutive victory as Hamilton recovered to 3rd behind Kimi Raikkonen.
Bad luck followed Hamilton all the way to China as technical issues forced him to start from the back of the grid. Rosberg was set to win as Ferrari were off the pace all weekend. After the first corner Hamilton posed no threat to Rosberg as he the former got caught up in the first lap calamities which saw Hamilton’s front wing turned to trash. No one challenged Rosberg as he finished 37 seconds ahead of Sebastian Vettel. Hamilton recovered to 7th. Some called it pure luck for Rosberg in China and there not wrong – he capitalized on Hamilton’s bad luck, will fate catch up with him?
We headed to Russia thinking ‘well Hamilton has won here the last 2 times, he’ll come right today’ and a normal championship battle would resume. And that did all looked possible up until Q3… China gremlins crept back to Hamilton and he failed to set a lap time (in Q3), securing a 10th place grid spot. From this moment onwards Nico Rosberg was in complete control of the weekend, he took pole and led from the start and wasn’t challenged by anyone off the line (impressive given the 800 meter run before the first braking zone). He set the fastest lap, won the race and took his first ever Grand Slam, pole, fastest lap and win whilst leading every lap – the definition of dominance.
Some said that Hamilton would have won because he was catching Rosberg before a water pressure issue saw him back off. However Toto Wolff of Mercedes said post race when talking about Nico’s car: “we faced an issue on the MGU-K during the middle part of the race” When Hamilton was catching Rosberg it was likely because Rosberg was going slower to nurse the issue.
This win means Nico Rosberg joined the highly exclusive club of 7 time consecutive Grand Prix winners. Amongst members are Alberto Ascari who won 7 on the trot between the 1952 and 1953 seasons. However it has been referred to 9 in a row as the Indy 500 was an official Formula One event but F1 drivers rarely competed in it. Ascari won 6 of the 7 races in the 1952 Formula One season (not including Indy 500) – just under an 86% win percentage for the season (the highest ever).
The next man to do it was Michael Schumacher who won 7 races in a row in 2004 – between Round 7 at the Nurburgring and Round 13 in Hungary. His streak was broken by Kimi Raikkonen and McLaren-Mercedes at Spa. The incredible thing about this season was in the first 13 rounds, Schumacher won 12 of them – Jarno Trulli won the other round in Monaco which turned out to be the only win of his career.
The last man to achieve more than 7 victories was Sebastian Vettel, as he won the last 9 rounds of the 2013 Formula One season. At Round 10 in the season Vettel had won 4 of the first 10 races and left Hungary with a 38 gap to Kimi Raikkonen in the drivers standings. After Hungary Vettel won the next 9 races and dominantly secured his 4th Drivers World Championship in the most incredible fashion ever seen. He left the season with a 155 point lead over Fernando Alonso – in perspective Hamilton only had a 59 point lead over Rosberg at the end of 2015.
The one thing in common all three members of the elite 7 in a row winners club have is dominating the World Championship in the year. Although both Schumacher and Vettel were in one season and Rosberg has been across two. The form he has shown can surely not mean he is 100% in the box seat to win the 2016 Formula One season. Even if victories in China, Bahrain (arguably) and Russia were gifted to Rosberg with problems that were out of Hamilton’s hands, Rosberg still had to drive 305km to victory each time.
If Rosberg goes onto win in the next round at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya then he will join names such as Jack Brabham, Jim Clark, Nigel Mansell and Lewis Hamilton to win 5 consecutive races within a season. What do all those drivers have between them? 113 wins between them and 9 World Championships – A group of drivers that only the best can join.
The point of all this is to show the feats that Rosberg has achieved without being World Champion – If everyone has the talent to achieve these feats + a World Championship, why can’t Nico? This has to be his year, simple as that.