In defence of Nico Rosberg

Rosberg 2014 portrait

Nico Rosberg has been painted as a cartoon villain since the Belgian Grand Prix, but his actions are easy to understand.

If you're lucky in F1, really lucky, you might get one shot at the World Championship you've been dreaming of since your parents first took you karting. Some, like Jenson Button in 2009, grab that chance with both hands; others, like Mark Webber in 2010 or Felipe Massa in 2008, have to watch it slip away and wonder if they'll ever get close again.

Nico Rosberg is entering the peak of his career. He is 29 years old, driving for this season's top team, and for the first time stepping out of the shadow of his surname to be his own man. He is also leading the Formula 1 World Championship, and that is a position that you can never again expect to be in.

However, Lewis Hamilton, one of this generation's most gifted drivers, is sitting alongside him in the garage. That man is the main threat to his title lead.

For years, Nico was seen as a good, obedient team player. Never outstanding, but serviceable.

When he was beating Michael Schumacher, it was never seen as being on merit; it was because three years out of the sport and the march of time had slowed the old German maestro.

Then, when Schumacher stepped away from F1 for good, Rosberg wasn't allowed to lead the team. Instead, they lured Hamilton away from McLaren, bringing in the Brit to head the charge.

At Malaysia in 2013, while the eyes of the world were on Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber's 'multi 21' spat, he sat patiently behind Hamilton's ailing sister car because of team orders, allowing a podium it was easy to take on merit go to the new boy. Nobody cared how he clinched two race wins to Hamilton's one that season, or how Lewis only outscored him by 18 points despite Rosberg having two extra retirements.

When it became apparent that the W05 was going to be a serious contender, the media wondered about how Hamilton would win the title, not Rosberg. Even after Nico took command of the championship, it was seen as being because of the mechanical faults which were befouling Lewis, not because of Rosberg's own speed and consistency. The implication was always that Nico won because Lewis had broken down; the idea that Rosberg could have won those races anyway was never considered. 

In Bahrain he towed the company line in the aftermath of Lewis giving him a viscous chop. After Monaco, he weathered the storm of accusations that he had deliberately braked late to stop Hamilton from setting another flying lap. After the series of mechanical gremlins on Lewis' car, he politely dispelled the conspiracy theory of a bias towards the German driver.

He is the pretty boy who once had a picture of Britney Spears pasted over his own snap in his passport. He is a mechanical driver, not passionate, needing to examine the data to reach the heights that Lewis hits naturally.

Then, after the team sided with Hamilton when the Brit decided to disobey team orders and keep Rosberg behind him at the Hungarian Grand Prix, something snapped in the German.

Rather than decompress over the summer break, Nico turned up to the Belgian Grand Prix absolutely seething. He was done being seen as the pretty and inoffensive driver who only picked up success when others ahead of him weren't there to take it themselves. He was done with being sold short.

This year might be the only chance he ever has at winning the title, as what's to say that next year the team won't go the way Williams, McLaren, and Ferrari have in recent years? Angry at the team, he decided to draw a line in the sand.

He refused to cry uncle and jump out the way of Hamilton again, and has immediately been cast as the villain for the rest of the season. But after having his achievements diminished, of playing second fiddle at the team he's spent most of his F1 career with and helped build into the behemoth it is today, he simply said 'no more' and kept his nose in.

The emphasis is so much on the fact that Nico didn't get out of Hamilton's way, there has been no examination of the other side of the coin; that Lewis expected Rosberg to jump out of the way of him.

Nico Rosberg cannot win a championship if that is what his main rival is expecting of him.

He showed the killer edge that the likes of Ayrton Senna and Fernando Alonso are absolutely revered for. The contact was nowhere near as cynical or foolhardy as when Damon Hill left his car up the inside of Schumacher at Silverstone while the pair dueled for the 1995 title. And yet, Rosberg has been found guilty by the entire F1 world.

He is no such thing. Nico Rosberg is simply a person taking a stand. He is done being sold short. He is done being patient as his team passively favour their marquee driver. He is done being taken lightly and doesn't want his rivals to expect him to jump out of their way.

What's more, with his own long-term future sewn up at Mercedes, he is letting Hamilton know that if he signs on the dotted line too, he shouldn't expect a passive team-mate. He will get a warrior alongside him.

Rosberg is taking a stand and no longer relying on others to define his career. He wants his World Championship, and with the season entering the home stretch, he has finally shown what he is made of.

He is not the bad guy of F1 for what he did; he is simply being the person F1 has shaped him to be.