The first glimpse of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton ahead of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix left little doubt as to who is feeling the heat as they go head to head for the 2016 Formula One drivers’ title.
As is becoming Hamilton’s news conference tradition, he took his seat, checked his phone and began photographing the journalists before him as well as himself. You’d never know he was the one who realistically must win come Sunday.
Rosberg was tetchy throughout.
Maybe it was having to sit alone with his rival, perhaps it was questioning that tried to coax him out of his “one race at a time” mentality, it could have been thoughts about the chance to emulate his world champion father, Keke.
But Rosberg certainly seems aware of the enormity of this weekend’s meaning to his career.
This was despite claiming that he was “relaxed” by a third consecutive title joust with his Silver Arrows stable-mate.
— Formula 1 (@F1) November 22, 2016
Asked about Hamilton’s best performance of the season, Rosberg said: “I’m not really thinking back…”
Asked about the reliability issues that have dogged Hamilton in 2016, Rosberg said: “The season isn’t finished so it’d be premature to get into such thoughts, I don’t have them at the moment.”
And asked about how bitter a failure to round out the championship would be, Rosberg – snappily – said: “That’s not going to make me go faster, to have such thoughts about something that might or might not happen in the future.
“For me what’s important is now. That’s worked for me until now.
“That’s why I’m in this position fighting for the championship right here because of that approach.
“So I’ll just stick with that and focus on the race win this weekend. That’s it.”
HAMILTON’S MIND GAMES
Rosberg’s souring mood may not have been lifted by Hamilton aiming a few pointed jabs his way.
The three-time champion was determined to offer opposite explanations to a number of questions posed to both drivers.
When asked to name their best and worst races of the season, Rosberg refused to discuss negatives, Hamilton retorted: “It’s important for me to remember the negative ones because those experiences are generally what help you appreciate more the wins.”
— Formula 1 (@F1) November 24, 2016
This was after asking the audience to remind him of those bad races. Of course Hamilton could not initially recall his nightmare in Baku – “I had a dodgy engine setting ” – or throwing the win away in Japan – “Proud I gave everything”.
It was telling that after Rosberg highlighted his win in Singapore – the last time top spot in the standings changed hands – Hamilton determined his favourite memory of the season to be Rosberg’s worst performance of the season by a mile, his shocker in the wet at Monaco where Hamilton mastered the sodden start to cruise to victory.
Lewis’ language was also stronger when he too was asked if he had been impressed by Nico in a particular race this season: “I haven’t seen any of his races. I don’t think there’s one that particularly stands out.”
THE PRESSURE COOKER
Sat within feet of each other for over half an hour, both managed to remain civil and they each spent good time outlining their respect for one another, built on careers and lives that have been intertwined for so long.
Such respect prompted Rosberg to say he will not resort to underhanded tactics in order to secure the title.
Still Hamilton held the air of superiority.
True Hamilton has suffered with reliability and has made more costly poor starts than his team-mate, but his summing up of 2016 seemed deliberately exaggerated when considering both men have won nine races this season.
“The championship generally hasn’t gone the way I’d hope. 2016 generally hasn’t been a spectacular year.”
Securing a first win in Monaco for eight years, a first win in Brazil ever. Becoming the first man to win the British Grand Prix three years in succession.
Not a spectacular year? Not buying it.
Hamilton has always been a fighter and he is certainly capable of the spectacular, as he reminded the room – and Rosberg.
— MERCEDES AMG F1 (@MercedesAMGF1) November 24, 2016
“There’s been moments in the year – 43 points behind – when I thought it was impossible to come back from and somehow turned it around.
“I’ve also been 33 points behind and [now] almost turned it around. This year’s shown that me that anything’s possible if you put [your] mind to it and I’ll face this race with the same mentality.”
Rosberg has been punchier this season on the track, and not always to his benefit. Think a clumsy, and costly, coming-together with Hamilton in Austria and of course the pair’s wipe-out in Barcelona.
One wonders if Hamilton has sown any seeds of doubt in his usually unflappable colleague’s mind ahead of the fiercest test of his career in the heat of the Abu Dhabi desert.