MONACO (AP) — Nico Rosberg would love to take the spotlight away from Lewis Hamilton at this weekend’s Monaco Grand Prix with a third straight win on his favorite track.
While Hamilton has just announced a new three-year deal with Mercedes on Wednesday, Rosberg will return to Monaco — where he grew up — full of confidence after his victory at the Spanish Grand Prix.
It was amid the heat and sharp bends of last year’s Monaco GP where relations between the teenage friends and go-karting rivals started turning frosty, with Hamilton infuriated by what he perceived as Rosberg’s deliberate attempt to thwart him in qualifying.
Unfazed, Rosberg won from pole position to kick-start his own title challenge, and the German driver is aiming to do that again Sunday.
“We had a perfect weekend in Spain and, for me personally, it was good to close the gap a little in the points,” Rosberg said. “Monaco is a home race for me and it’s strange to just walk or take a scooter to the racetrack, but also very cool to sleep in your own bed each night.”
The Monaco qualifying spat set the agenda for a bitter squabble that rumbled on all last season — reaching crisis point at the Belgian GP in August — as Rosberg challenged Hamilton for the title until the last race of the season in Abu Dhabi.
Relations have eased somewhat, and Hamilton firmly shook Rosberg’s hand after his win in Spain.
But another win for Rosberg — who is 20 points behind — would start to turn the pressure back on.
“We saw the advantage swing between them last year and I think we will see more of that in 2015,” Mercedes head of motorsport Toto Wolff said. “They are mentally tough, resilient and hate to lose. They push each other all the time.”
Rosberg’s Spanish GP win from pole position was vital to check Hamilton’s momentum, after the British driver had secured four straight poles and won three races.
Since leaving McLaren to join Mercedes in 2013, Hamilton has competed in 43 races, winning 15 and securing a further 11 podium finishes to replace four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel — the only other driver to beat him this season — as the sport’s No. 1 driver.
Hamilton, who is in the final year of his contract, signed a new three-year deal Wednesday estimated to be worth 90 million pounds ($140 million).
His remarkable consistency has seen him reach the podium in 21 of the past 24 races since the beginning of last season, with 14 wins, five second-place finishes and two third places. With 36 career race wins, and given Mercedes’ superior speed, he should overtake Vettel’s 40 wins this year.
But given how comfortably Rosberg won in Spain two weeks ago, finishing 18 seconds ahead of Hamilton and 45 clear of Vettel, the German has not given up hope of catching Hamilton.
“I didn’t have the best weekend in Barcelona, so to come away with second was OK in terms of damage limitation,” Hamilton said. “I’m now fully focused on Monaco, the race that everybody looks forward to and one I particularly love. It’s the biggest challenge of the year for a driver.”
Monaco’s tight, sinewy, serpentine-like street circuit is the most difficult to overtake on in F1 along with Spain’s Catalunya track, and whoever takes pole will be hard to stop. In a bid to increase the slim chances of overtaking, tire supplier Pirelli will be bringing a new version of its ultra-fast supersoft tire.
“Building a rhythm right from the beginning of practice is so important, as you really need to feel your way into the circuit,” Hamilton said. “You have to be inch perfect at every point.”
Red Bull dominated F1 when Vettel won four straight titles from 2010-2013, but has been plagued by performance issues this season amid an increasingly uneasy relationship with engine supplier Renault.
Australian driver Daniel Ricciardo, so impressive when winning three races last season, is already on his fourth and last allocated engine for the season. Teams using more than four engines per driver over a season face grid penalties.
McLaren has made its worst ever start to the season — no points from five races — since rekindling its once-successful partnership with Honda and despite boasting two F1 champions in Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso.
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