He may insist that winning isn't the same without going head-to-head with his team-mate, but Nico Rosberg believes that he had Lewis Hamilton covered as they finished 1-2 in the Russian Grand Prix.
Rosberg ended Hamilton's run of wins at Sochi Autodrom having effectively been handed a head-start by the Briton's engine problems in qualifying, but the two ran at the head of the field for much of the race, with Hamilton's recovery from tenth on the grid only being slowed by a water pressure issue in the later stages.
Having gained from the chaos at turn two on the opening lap, Hamilton passed both Valtteri Bottas and Kimi Raikkonen on track to assume second place, and slashed a 13-second gap almost in half as he pursued a possible first win of the season. Having got to within 7.7secs of his quarry, however, the Briton was told to back off in order to preserve his car if he wanted to see the chequered flag, allowing Rosberg to pull clear once again.
“[My race] was mainly just managing the gap to Lewis behind,” the German, who has now won all four of this year's races, confirmed, “With the traffic, sometimes I would lose a couple of seconds and then he would lose a couple of seconds when it came to him. I was trying to keep it at twelve seconds or something and then, towards the end of the race, I was feeling great and it was very comfortable.
“I knew his lap times and it was just down to the traffic. It was a long stint on the soft tyres, so I had the opportunity to use that gap and use it to use the tyre a bit less initially to have more at the end of the race. Then I had plenty of tyre left and could push on it very comfortably.”
Rosberg confirmed that he, too, had run into mechanical problems during the race – 'I was very close to not making it to the end as well,' he claimed – and insisted that he had had to think about protecting his car, but still managed to set the race's fastest lap just two tours from the chequered flag…
“For sure, I lost a fair chunk of performance because I had to turn everything down,” he said of the MGU-K issue, “But, of course, I had a healthy lead and was aware that Lewis was dropping off, although I wasn't aware that he was also having to turn things down. I just saw him dropping off and though it was the tyres because he definitely did use them more earlier in the stint.”
The 2016 points leader was also mystified as to why Ferrari had not been able to produce a credible challenge in Russia, although the Scuderia was hobbled by a gearbox penalty that consigned Sebastian Vettel to seventh on the grid – and an early bath after he was punted out by Daniil Kvyat. Raikkonen, however, failed to threaten either Mercedes, although he eventually joined them on the podium.
“I was surprised this weekend,” Rosberg admitted, “We have always said that they were close but, this weekend, they were not close at all and that's impressive to see. We need to try to understand that now because we don't understand it. For sure, the asphalt is very unique, so that must be part of it, but it was an impressive car performance [from Mercedes] this weekend.”