Since Nico Rosberg won the Chinese Grand Prix, there has been much media speculation about him winning his first drivers' title. Could this be the season for the German Mercedes driver?
A day afterNico Rosberg drove to victory at the Chinese Grand Prix,
Germany's mass-circulation daily newspaper "Bild," which never lets a chance go by to formulate a bold or provocative headline, posed the following question: "Mr Rosberg, are you already world champion?"
Rosberg's victory in Shanghai was his third to open the 2016 Formula One season and as "Bild" pointed out, every other driver who has won the first three races of the campaign has gone on to claim the drivers' title.
Not only is he the first to win a trio of races to start the season since fellow German Michael Schumacher did so in 2004, but including three victories from the end of last season, Rosberg has now won six successive grand prix races. This is something that only three others - Sebastian Vettel (nine) Alberto Ascari (seven) and Schumacher (six) have accomplished.
And in terms of sheer numbers, having pulled out to a 36-point lead over his Mercedes teammate, Lewis Hamilton, in the standings everything seems to point to Rosberg going on to win his first title. So what has changed to give the Wiesbaden native the edge on his British teammate, whom he has trailed for the past couple of years?
DW Formula One expert Mark Hallam pointed to Rosberg's claim that he "found something extra" since last year's disappointment inAustin, where Hamilton clinched the 2015 title.
At the same time, though he noted that "in a sport of fractions of a second, such claims aren't easily assessed."
According to Hallam, another factor seems to be the birth of Rosberg's daughter last summer, which appears to have given him "renewed focus, not fear out on the track."
Bad luck for Hamilton
Another factor is the fact that Hamilton hasn't been his old self so far in 2016. In both Australia and Bahrain the defending world champion started from the pole position, but only finished second and third respectively. In qualifying in China, his Mercedes suffered a mechanical failure, something that was obviously beyond his control, and indeed Hallam noted that Hamilton had been the victim of a "hefty chunk of misfortune" in all three races.
However, questions have been raised about Hamilton's mindset going into 2016, after spending much of the off-season living the jet-set lifestyle, meeting the rich and famous, as he documented via Twitter.
Asked whether there were any signs that Hamilton, as a three-time champion, could have lost some of his desire out on the track, Hallam said it was "still too early to assert as much."
He also said that like many others who follow the sport closely and as Rosberg has hinted himself, he sees Hamilton as the only serious rival to the German this season, "barring continued and pronounced progress from Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel."
'A long year ahead'
For his part, Rosberg is playing down all the title talk.
"I'm a very happy man today and, after three races I can be really pleased about how my season has gone so far," he said following his win in Shanghai. "But it's a very long year ahead and there's a lot of points still on the table, so I'm not losing my focus," he added, referring to the fact that this is the longest Formula One season ever, with 18 more races to go.
The Monaco-raised son of Finnish 1982 world champion Keke Rosberg also warned against counting out Hamilton, pointing out that his teammate is a "double world champion, hard to beat in the previous two, three years. Lewis will never give up."
This is something that the 30-year-old Rosberg knows all too well; after all, Hamilton erased his 29-point lead in the 2014 season to take the drivers' title.
And while everything has been going his way so far in 2016, one has to think that Rosberg is bound to suffer a setback or two over those 18 races. Only after he comes through these will we know if he really does have what it takes to become the drivers' champion.