Today came the announcement that Nico Rosberg has signed a new “long-term” contract to remain at Mercedes after 2014.
The news comes at a vital time in the ongoing championship battle between himself and team-mate Lewis Hamilton, with Rosberg currently just four points ahead going into his home race this weekend, the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim.
There is, however, a lot that can be read into the relatively early timing of this deal, despite it coming at the team and driver’s home race, it also comes before the usual rumours and speculation of the so-called ‘silly season’ get fully underway.
It also suggests that Rosberg remains fully committed to Mercedes, a team of which he joined back in 2010, regardless of the outcome of this year’s championship battle.
In many ways this is not mind-blowing given the way Rosberg operates, he likes to take the meticulous approach whereas Hamilton tends to live more on instincts.
And speaking of Hamilton, this deal does have an impact on him as well. The 2008 champion is believed to be under contract until the end of 2015 but with his team-mate now re-signed for a period maybe of upto four or five years, should Rosberg beat Lewis this year some questions may be asked over the Briton’s long-term future.
Could Nico as champion lead to a Mark Webber-style scenario for Hamilton? Would he feel comfortable racing alongside a driver who has beaten him at the same team? These are questions that could boil down to something in-particular, ego.
I say this because here we have a guy who is trying to mix being a world-class racing driver with also being a celebrity figure with the pop-star girlfriend and other high-profile associates.
To then lose to a driver many perceive to be worse than him it would also mean a massive hit to the whole Lewis Hamilton brand.
On a pure motor sport basis you could compare him to his first F1 team-mate, now Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso. Both have problems when the other side of the garage is on an equal footing let alone the idea of being the lead driver.
While Hamilton seems happy endorsing the battles with Rosberg on the track for now, it is the thought that by the end of it all a Rosberg win would create the impression that ‘Nico is faster than Lewis’ and that could be hard for Hamilton to take.
Of course there then has to be thought pattern of what Hamilton’s options are should Rosberg win the title.
Mercedes comfortably has the fastest car and will be hard to catch regardless of the opportunity for other engine makers to make improvements and close the gap to the current Mercedes V6. If Hamilton could bear the thought of partnering Rosberg as champion then there would be the chance for redemption in 2015.
While he is under contract with Mercedes next year, if he did decide to make the knee-jerk reaction and look elsewhere, there has already been speculation surrounding a possible initial approach by McLaren.
The two parties obviously know each other very well and with the upcoming tie up with Honda perhaps there is the option for Hamilton to try to restart his search for a second title with the team that brought him through.
Away from that would likely be considered a major risk with Ferrari seemingly looking inward for a possible replacement probably for 2016 and Red Bull would more than likely stick to their young driver program if there was any indication Sebastian Vettel was considering his future.
That would leave midfield teams with maybe Williams if the Grove team can continue their rise back to the front then comes the big risk which would be Haas Formula who, given Gene Haas’ apparent aspirations, may look for an established driver for his team set to début in 2016.
Pressure is on
For now all that remains part of a ‘What if?’ scenario and should Hamilton emerge victorious in this year’s championship then all will remain status quo. But with Rosberg now not going nowhere it seems for quite some time, the pressure on Hamilton to come out on top has just gone up several notches.
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