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Rosberg looks to pressure Hamilton

By AP - May 21,2015 - Last updated at May 21,2015

Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg of Germany gestures during a news conference in his motorhome at the Monaco racetrack, in Monaco, on Wednesday (AP photo by Gero Breloer)

 

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 favourite track.

While Hamilton is widely expected to announce a new deal with Mercedes during the race weekend, Rosberg returns 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.

The Monaco qualifying spat set the agenda for a bitter squabble that rumbled on all 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, will reportedly sign a new three-year deal 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.

Ferrari, who have yet to say whether Kimi Raikkonen will stay next season, are reportedly eager to sign Hamilton, whose contract situation has dragged on since January.

But given how comfortably he won in Spain two weeks ago, finishing 18 seconds ahead of Hamilton and 45 clear of Vettel, a revitalised Rosberg has not given up hope of catching Hamilton.

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, tyre supplier Pirelli will be bringing a new version of its ultra-fast supersoft tyre.

“To be quick on Sunday, you need a smooth weekend with lots of track time, so the drivers can really attack the limits,” Wolff said. “We will need to be at our best.”

Form is something Red Bull and McLaren lack.

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 have made their worst ever start to the season — no points from five races — since rekindling their once-successful partnership with Honda and despite boasting two F1 champions in Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso.

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