Formula 1

Can Nico Rosberg really mount a serious challenge to Hamilton's dominance?

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Nico Rosberg's third victory of the year in Austria at the weekend moved him to just 10 points behind Hamilton in the world championship.

And the interest the result creates goes beyond the mathematical reality of what is now a very tight title battle. It was the first time this year - and arguably, depending upon how you look at it, the first time since the start of 2014 - that Rosberg had beaten Hamilton in a straight fight without there being any nagging "what ifs" hanging over the result.

Hamilton beat Rosberg in all the first four races to build a 24-point championship lead, at which stage the world champion appeared in complete control of the season and well on course for a third world title.

In fact until Austria, Rosberg's only wins had been in Spain and Monaco. In Barcelona, Hamilton found himself stuck behind Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel after a bad start, which allowed Rosberg to totally dominate the race, and as for Monaco, well everybody knows what took place there.

A Mercedes team error, calling in Hamilton for an unnecessary pit stop during a safety car period, allowed both Rosberg and Vettel to pass Hamilton who eventually finished third. Hamilton looked very ill at ease at the Red Bull Ring and made a number of uncharacteristic errors in practice, but somehow managed to turn poor practice runs into a superb qualifying session as he took pole position on the Saturday with a storming lap.

It was a different kettle of fish in the race on Sunday though, as Hamilton made a poor start, which he later blamed on a clutch problem, and this allowed Rosberg to take the lead at the first corner, after which he never looked back.

BBC F1 co-commentator David Coulthard said: "This level of performance from Nico Rosberg this weekend, he needs to deliver that more often. And if he can…"

The sentence went unfinished, but the sentiment was clear. If Rosberg can drive like this more often, Hamilton would have a real fight on his hands. However to all those who follow Formula 1 it seems pretty clear that Hamilton is the faster driver, and that, in a one to one race, with no mistakes or engine failures, Hamilton will almost always prevail.

Rosberg is only happy when he is leading the race and has a clear track in front of him, but even then, when he comes under pressure from Hamilton he tends to buckle.

In Austria, Rosberg produced a race weekend as convincing as any in his career. The simple question that we would all like answered, is can he produce this sort of performance on a regular basis.

If he can the World Championship could be a battle right through to the end of November. If not, Hamilton will have wrapped up the championship by late September.

Then, Rosberg will have a mountain of questions to answer regarding his ability to be a racing driver, as opposed to just being Mercedes' number two.

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