Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg heads into this weekend’s 18th round of the 2016 Formula One World Championship a firm 16 points ahead of his teammate and reigning world champion, Lewis Hamilton.
While the gap should be enough to see Rosberg clinch his first ever world crown in three short races time, the German driver knows that anything can happen at any time and his advantage severely reduced, especially if he suffers any one of the many reliability issues that have plagued his fellow Mercedes driver this season.
Speaking to the press ahead of today’s opening free practice sessions here in Mexico, Rosberg revealed that he is not focusing on the championship this weekend, instead he is focused on just doing the best job possible.
Nico, it’s been a great season for you so far and the upshot of that is that you can clinch the world championship here in Mexico this weekend. You wouldn’t be human if you didn’t think about that. How does it change your mindset?
I’m well aware of that, and yeah, it’s been a great season so far, which has put me into this position, y’know? It’s exciting to be in this championship battle now with Lewis towards the end of the season. We’ve been there before but anyways, it’s very cool. And that’s it. As I’ve said before, that for me, my way at the moment of achieving the best possible performance is really just to focus on the things that are within my control – and that’s, here in Mexico, try and win the race, and that’s it.
Given the intensity of your battle with Lewis, how is the atmosphere in the team at the minute? Are there echoes of 2014 or is this different somehow?
The atmosphere is really, really good. As an example we had a great party on Sunday night after Austin. All the mechanics, engineers together, it’s great. The team has come a long way and, in every area, we’re just so strong now. Even just this team feeling. Pulling in one direction, having a good time together. Everything. The atmosphere is awesome. I think everybody is thrilled by this battle which we’re finding ourselves in.
What about the dynamic between you and Lewis?
Not something I think about too much really. I try and do my thing and get the best possible result. That’s it. Of course it’s intense – but at the same time there’s an easy-going side lately.
In Austin we heard some quotes from Bernie Ecclestone. Can you reply to what he said? He said if you win it could be good for you and for the Mercedes team but not necessarily for the sport because there’s nothing to write about you. What do you say about it?
I spoke to him personally and he said that’s not exactly the way he said it. And anyways, for me it’s not something that’s important to me. For me, I focus on my thing and that’s it.
You’ve been racing your entire life: you’ve been in Formula One for ten years, been fighting for the championship for the last three, what would winning the World Championship mean to you?
It’s a childhood dream. But that’s where it ends for me. As I said, what’s important for me this weekend is winning the Mexican Grand Prix.
How do you work with Lewis with the battle? Do you copy his settings, do you watch his telemetry or do you work all alone, apart from him?
It’s as-usual. Everything is open, everything is shared and that’s it. So nothing has changed.
Here we’re a long way up in the air. What’s it like to drive at altitude or is there anything that you feel when you’re driving and is there anything extra that you need to do to be ready for that?
Have you noticed that on your run this morning? What do you do 21k? No, for sure you notice it. So it’s one of those races where the fitness is important and it’s one of those I’ve worked towards. But it’s OK because there are long straights also to relax – so it’s not the toughest race of the year. But it’s just as difficult for car. Not just for us drivers, because the car having less air volume density makes a big difference. For cooling.
Nico, how special will it be to get the championship here in Mexico, considering that last year your good streak started here? After Austin, you began to win here in Mexico? How special would it be to complete the year with a championship here?
I have great memories from here last year. Winning here was awesome, and also to get so much support from the Mexican people, even after that, through the whole year, social media, it’s really nice to see, so I look forward to meeting everyone again this weekend. The podium is one of the best in the year, in the baseball stadium, it was absolutely phenomenal and in terms of the championship, it’s not within my control if I get it this weekend, so for me it’s all about just winning the race and then we see what happens.
Two questions to you: do you think it’s unfair when people say that you’re only leading the championship due to Lewis’s failures? And also, just to bring you up on Bernie’s point, 2016 he said it would not be good for the sport if you were to win. Last year he had another pop at you and said it would be bad for business if you won the title. He seems to be doing you a bit of a disservice, don’t you feel?
Well, you’re talking a lot about what other think and their opinions. I’m here to win races and not to please everybody that’s out there. There’s always going to be people that have opinions that will be going against me in some way or other. Those are two examples that you’ve given me and that’s the nature of the business, it’s always going to be like that so I like to focus on the people who really support me. And that’s it.
Bernie’s come out and said that he’d like to see walls put around circuits. Now I know that you’re quite keen on driver safety; what do you make of that? He would like to see walls to stop people going off track, increase the drama, to increase the danger. It sounds a bit bonkers to me but I just wanted to get your opinions.
Well, my opinion is that there are ten other areas which we should look at before... if we want to make the sport even better than it is before we start looking at turning back time on safety. That would be my view on that.
What do you think are the keys to repeat (your victory) here in Mexico on Sunday?
Well, we’ve seen this year that the results from last year don’t really make a difference to this year except for a positive memory, so we’re all starting from zero and the keys... I think to have a good rhythm through the weekend, starting from FP1, building it up and then the usual things: good qualifying, good start, race pace, those things.
It seems that your mindset is very much each race and your mind isn’t on the broader story. Is that a decision that you’ve reached, the way that it works for you or is it as a result of you having had a word with an expert in the area of mind management? I was just wondering how you stumbled on or decided that the idea that it was one race at a time and that was it.
It just feels right, it feels right to focus on the things I can influence to keep it simple, be in the moment and it’s been working so just stick with it.
How would you expect the track to have evolved twelve months on, how will it be different or not from last year and how would you expect the supersoft tyre to be a factor after last year’s experience?
Normally the track surface gets a bit rougher and that will make it a bit different on the tyres, so that’s the main thing we need to learn and discover and see how that’s gone.