Another action-packed F1 weekend is over and, once again, it’s the unpredictability and excitement that remains the talking point - an unusual feat when talking about a German driver claiming pole, and completing a solid victory the following day.
Going back just a decade, the unparalleled dominance of Ferrari and Michael Schumacher was turning a lot of the casual fans away from the sport. Even last year, the sport couldn’t hide the negative murmurs regarding Sebastian Vettel’s supremacy.
Much like the Old Firm’s rule over Scottish football, and Phil Taylor’s ever-expanding darts trophy cabinet, it can win great sportsmen endless amounts of trophies.
But when the majority of spectators prefer ever-changing strategies and tactics, meaning the outcome is never written in stone beforehand, having this level of even competition can only be positive for the sport.
So far this season, we have seen three separate winners over three races and the latest to be spraying the winners’ champagne is Nico Rosberg. The 26-year-old, who is in his seventh season of F1, drove like a veteran with dozens of wins under his belt - a great feat considering it was his first. After qualifying, BBC’s Eddie Jordan noted that he doesn’t think he has seen the German drive that well before, commenting on the pressure he should be under: driving for a great constructor, alongside his multiple world champion teammate, under the constant comparisons to his father.
Rosberg remained unfazed, though. To see the driver standing in the garage whilst others are trying to best his Q3 time is a remarkable sight. Forget pressure - that is a remarkable level of confidence for a driver, as well as the team in their drivers’ ability. I’m sure many other drivers would love to have that from their bosses.
Despite a dominant drive, the race wasn’t about Rosberg. The story of the race was in the "what-ifs" down the pack, partly with the ten-car battle over eight positions, but also with the aforementioned German former world champions.
What if Vettel had started better? What if he had taken more care with his tyres? Beginning 11th after falling three tenths behind Rosberg in Q2, Seb soon fell to 15th during the first lap. A two-stop strategy saw him claw back up to 2nd at one point, with others ahead of him pitting for tyre changes, but six laps from the end, tyre degradation saw him fall back down to 5th behind teammate Mark Webber.
Once he decides on which car spec he prefers, Vettel will improve, I have no doubts about that. I talked a few weeks ago about Vettel pushing his car to the limit; when the confidence returns, so will the podium finishes. He continues to silence the doubters who argue whether the defending champ can race from the back, but he still has to won over a lot of doubters.
What if Schumacher’s pit had been successful? What if luck had been on his side? After the gearbox issue in Australia, this time a loose wheel nut saw him out at lap 12, and saw Mercedes fined €5,000 post-race. If things had been different for Schumacher, who holds the lap record for the Shanghai circuit, he may have pushed his teammate for the rest of the race, despite being in the slower Mercedes. A silver arrow 1-2 would have been a remarkable feat.
The biggest what-if remains with Rosberg: what if this is the peak of his F1 career? Only time will tell.