Why Nico Rosberg is fighting a losing battle
The fight for supremacy at Mercedes is nearly over after three races, argues Kate Walker.
"A good front is half the battle in love or war."
So wrote American author and anarchist Elbert Hubbard, and if Hubbard is correct then Nico Rosberg has already lost the 2015 Formula 1 World Championship.
The fight for supremacy between two teammates is little short of war, involving the talent and tenacity of two competitive animals bred to fight for every possible advantage whether on track or off.
Last year, when the drivers' title was a two-horse race in which the rest of the field was merely a support act to the Silver Arrows' show, Rosberg had a definite advantage in qualifying, while teammate Lewis Hamilton was the dominant force on Sundays.
Each man used every tool at his disposal to deal his opponent psychological blows, but the season-long game saw the pair trading blows right up to the season finale in Abu Dhabi.
This season, however, Hamilton has been able to hit the ground running in a way Rosberg has yet to match, and three races into a 19-round calendar the German driver is showing signs of psychological defeat clear to all and sundry.
Half the mental battle has already been lost.
Qualifying edge gone
Hamilton has been able to overturn Rosberg's qualifying advantage at the early races, dealing his opponent a psychological blow.
Another blow came from Niki Lauda, who this week told reporters: "Nico is definitely a little bit behind Lewis. He has to sort himself out.
"It is not anything I can talk to him about. I don't know why – he is not driving as well as he was. He will know what he has to do, and he must do it himself."
Rosberg has attempted to deal his own jabs at a teammate brimming with self-confidence and on-track success, but Hamilton remains unaffected.
In addition to the post-race sparring match that was the official FIA press conference in Shanghai – in which Hamilton was judged to have (again) emerged victorious – Rosberg's comments on his teammate's ongoing contract renewal negotiations revealed his opinion on the double-champion's worth.
"I think he deserves a lot of money," Rosberg said. "But I wouldn't give him $200 million."
Making matters worse for the German is that – with only three grands prix run thus far – there is already much chatter surrounding the wisdom of Mercedes' stated intention to let their drivers race.
Strong Ferrari not helping
A resurgent Ferrari and reinvigorated Sebastian Vettel have been giving chase to the Brackley racers, and there are murmurs aplenty that Rosberg will be shoehorned into a number two role to prevent the Scuderia from snatching the drivers' title from the dominant team, as last happened with McLaren in 2007.
At the beginning of the weekend, Rosberg pointed to Vettel as a potential ally in his quest to win the 2015 drivers' championship, telling reporters: "Vettel can be a help, yes. Already in Malaysia he was in that sense because Lewis only took three points from me and not seven.
"But it depends; he can also become a big problem if he continues winning!"
Still a long way to go
Before the lights went out to mark the beginning of Sunday's Chinese Grand Prix, however, Vettel was already a problem for Rosberg, with the Mercedes driver forced to defend himself against accusations that – with nearly 90 percent of the season remaining – he was at risk of having to take on a number two role to support Hamilton's title defence challenge.
The Mercedes post-qualifying open media call on Saturday night saw Toto Wolff imply as much in front of the press, saying that Ferrari's return to form "could trigger different behaviour from us".
He added: "What we always tried to do last year was to play it fair and square, stay as neutral as possible, so we don't argue at the end of the race."
Rosberg gasped audibly.
"Definitely I don't like that," he said. "Because it's an artificial addition to our fight. It's not a fair fight for one or the other. But we're racing for Mercedes and in the first instance we need to win for Mercedes."
After the post-race TV interviews were complete, one seasoned Rosberg watcher returned to the press room quipping "someone put Nico on suicide watch".
There is little doubt within the paddock Rosberg has lost his good front, half the battle already lost a month before the F1 circus arrives in Europe.
Ferrari's Vettel scores the third podium in a row
Hard-fought one-two finish for Mercedes in a tense Chinese GP