They may not have won in Canada, but there was evidence that both the Mercedes drivers, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, produced performances which illustrated how much the pair have developed as drivers in recent times, as their title battle intensifies.
Rosberg surprised many by taking pole on one of Hamilton’s strongest circuits, but in the race his management of a car, which had series problems with ERS, brakes and fuel consumption was impressive and it was noticeable how Hamilton nuanced his driving, by planning waves of attacks on his team mate, rather than driving all-out, as he might have done in the past.
This is perhaps to be expected in two drivers who are now entering the peak of their careers; Hamilton is 29 and Rosberg will be too, shortly.
But it also shows how, when there is a championship at stake and everything is raised to a higher level of intensity, drivers find new depths in themselves.
Hamilton’s drive was noted internally at Mercedes as something of a milestone; he would not have driven like that a year ago. Faced with an on-form and confident Rosberg, he had to regroup after the shock of losing out in qualifying. He didn’t win the start, despite the better getaway off the line, Rosberg shut him out into Turn 2.
So then it was down to attack plans and strategy. What was most noticeable was that he did not sustain the attacks, but built up and pushed, retreated at times, to regroup on energy, fuel and tyre saving and then came again. He was trying to break Rosberg’s rhythm.
Rosberg made a mistake, going straight on at the T13/14 chicane for which he was lucky not to be punished, as he broke the DRS tow by doing so.
This was an interesting marker for the season, as it was clear that in a finely balanced decision the stewards didn’t want to affect the outcome of the race and the title battle. Hamilton came again and observers and insiders were of the view that had both cars remained healthily, the Briton would probably have prevailed in the end.
That said, Rosberg’s drive also took him to a new level. The team were amazed that the car came home in one piece after hitting problems around half distance. It was the first time this season that a car has finished a race without the MGU-K unit working.
This year the engineers give the drivers messages every lap on settings changes for many parameters of the car as a matter of course. When trouble hit, Rosberg was making multiple changes every lap to solves problems, like something out of the movie Apollo 13.
When both cars hit problems with electronics on the Energy Recovery System, this meant three main things: the car was down on power with no electric boost; the fuel consumption increased as a result; the rear brakes were being asked to do something for which they were not designed.
Rosberg dug in and made it happen for himself; as long as the car kept running, there were points to be scored. He was helped by the Force India cars one-stopping which slowed their advance and that of the Red Bulls. Without that he would have finished lower down the order.
“All of a sudden, our ERS just stopped – on both cars at the same time – which is crazy,” said Rosberg in his post race You Tube video review of the Canadian Grand Prix.
“So then I was pushing so many buttons trying to get the thing going again and at the same time battling Lewis, who had the same problem.
“I thought my race was over and he would easily pass me.
“From then on I just lost out at the pit-stops because we had a problem with the left-front so I lost a position to Lewis there, which was really unfortunate. Then he had the brake failure so I had to be even more cautious with the brakes as we had been saving them all race and that made it really challenging because we put the brakes even further forward, just using the front brakes and doing qualifying laps because I had the whole train of cars behind me.
“It is unbelievable that it worked out with a second place, it’s a great points finish but obviously a really bad result for the team in general because we want to win, but there you go.”
One way of looking at it is that Hamilton’s two retirements have now handed 43 points to Rosberg. Hamilton seemed quite calm about it after the race, presumably believing that some day soon, the law of averages will mean that Rosberg will have a reliability setback.
But as the cars develop and the new technology finds better reliability, that may be questionable.
And the driver himself has shown that he knows how to keep his head in a crisis.