Mercedes will give Nico Rosberg every chance of turning the tables on team mate Lewis Hamilton in Monaco next week after he lost out to the Briton for the fourth race in a row in Spain on Sunday.
Rosberg’s fourth successive second place, after winning the Australian season-opener, left him three points behind Hamilton and ‘gutted’ at the loss of the overall Formula One lead for the first time this year.
One more lap at the Circuit de Catalunya might have seen the German pass Hamilton, who took the chequered flag just 0.6 of a second ahead after being chased to the line, but he was more concerned about the start than the finish.
“It’s a bit of a weakness that we have at the moment,” Rosberg said of his getaway from second place on the grid with Hamilton on pole.
“Just inconsistent and now I’ve had a couple of bad starts in a row. Actually, three bad starts in three races. And that’s costly…need to work on that.”
Qualifying and a quick start is even more crucial in Monaco, where overtaking is extremely tricky on the tight and twisting streets – particularly if the man in front is your team mate with the same equipment.
Mercedes motorsport head Toto Wolff, who again assured the fans that his two drivers would be allowed to race freely, said the team were working hard to resolve Rosberg’s problem.
“It seems to be a problem related to the clutch,” he told reporters.
“That is a special project of ours. We expected some improvement for Barcelona which didn’t kick in as expected and we just need to sort it out for Monaco because that’s crucial there. We discussed it in the debrief right now.”
Rosberg won in Monaco last year and the German knows every kink, kerb and corner of what amounts to a home race in a principality he grew up in as son of 1982 champion Keke.
“Lewis did a great job the whole weekend and was just that little bit ahead,” he said on Sunday. “But there’s a lot of positives for me to take out of it.
“I’m fully motivated to just try to get that little bit extra and to edge him out next time – and it’s do-able.”
Hamilton’s failure to finish in Australia cost the 2008 champion heavily and consistency has been Rosberg’s ace, with the pair still barely apart in the standings despite the Briton’s four wins to the German’s one.
With double points on offer for the final race in Abu Dhabi, a first that has not gone down well with fans who decry the change as a gimmick, there is everything to play for.
Even if no driver has ever won four races in a row and not gone on to take the title that year, there is always a first time for everything.
While ‘gutted’ to lose out again in Spain, Rosberg left no doubt he had the mental fortitude to battle against a rival he has known and raced against since they were teenage team mates in go-karts.
“Break me down mentally ? I think he will struggle with that one,” he said. “He has the momentum. There is no way round that. I have to try to break it.”
Wolff, who introduced a sports psychologist to the team last month, agreed Rosberg was completely focused.
“We have seen in the past that you can win championships with three wins if you just keep scoring and I guess he knows that,” said the Austrian. “He’s such a competitive and tough personality who has no problems with coping with that situation.”
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