Lewis Hamilton’s back to back victories in the Italian and Singapore Grand Prix couldn’t have come at a much better time in the title race. With electrical gremlins consigning title rival and Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg to a non-finish, Hamilton’s maximum 25 point-score puts him three points clear atop the standings for the first time since the Spanish Grand Prix in May, with 150 left on the table from the remaining five races. Of course, three points is a far from insurmountable gap for Rosberg to overturn, particularly when one considers the Abu Dhabi double points lottery – but Singapore could well prove decisive come the final reckoning.
One cannot legislate for poor reliability, but Rosberg appears to have lost his way since the now infamous collision at Spa that forced Hamilton to retire, saw the German branded a cheat and booed on the podium afterwards. Many had been willing to give Rosberg the benefit of the doubt in Monaco, when his error in Q3 brought out the yellow flags to deny a seething Hamilton the opportunity to set a faster laptime, but this latest misdemeanour – failing to yield to his team-mate when he had evidently lost the corner – pointed to his cracking under the pressure of an intra-team title battle as fraught as any in recent years.
It was a chastened Rosberg that emerged at Monza, where Hamilton again took pole position. With Hamilton’s sluggish getaway dropping him to fourth behind Kevin Magnussen and Felipe Massa, the race looked to be there for the taking, but two unforced errors at the first chicane gifted Hamilton a morale-sapping victory. Rosberg looked well and truly rattled.
That made bouncing back in Singapore all the more important to stem the tide. Qualifying just 0.007 seconds from pole clearly hurt – “damn it!” came his frustrated response to being told of the deficit to Hamilton – but with none of his steering wheel functions working on the dummy grid, Rosberg was robbed of the chance to respond. He was on a hiding to nothing starting from pitlane, unable to pass Marcus Ericsson’s Caterham with gear selection issues, no hybrid power and no DRS assistance and promptly retired the car for the second time this season. An opportunity missed, advantage Hamilton.
What remains to be seen is whether Rosberg can steel himself to fight back as we enter the business end of the season. Whereas his team-mate knows precisely how to win the title and is high on confidence after two successive wins, Rosberg has not visited the top step of the podium since Hockenheim back in July, a statistic he could do with changing next time out in Suzuka. Win there and it’s game on again, but another Hamilton win would undoubtedly prove a heavy blow to his title credentials. It’s up to you now, Nico.