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Top Merc: Rosberg Refuses To Roll Over

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, June 22 2016
Nico Rosberg, who under went some lean times in recent Formula One races, is back on top after winning European Grand Prix on Sunday.

Nico Rosberg, who under went some lean times in recent Formula One races, is back on top after winning the European Grand Prix on Sunday.

Mercedes AMG’s Nico Rosberg re-asserted control of the 2016 FIA Formula One World Championship Sunday with a victory in the Grand Prix of Europe that left nothing to debate.

Rosberg qualified on-pole, set the fastest race lap (1 minute, 46.485-seconds on Lap 48) and led all buganalysis51 laps/190 miles en route to a 16.696-second victory over Sebastian Vettel of Scuderia Ferrari. Force India’s Sergio Perez finished third on the new, tight and manhood-challenging 3.730-mile/6.003-kilometer/20-turn Baku City Circuit in the capital of Azerbaijan.

“I think the circuit is incredible,” said Vettel, the four-time World Driving Champion. “You need to be ‘well-equipped’ _ let’s put it this way _ around here…some proper high-speed corners and very, very close.”

Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton finished fifth, ending the three-time/reigning world champion’s two-race winning streak. Hamilton, who began the day nine points behind Rosberg, now trails in the championship by 24 points.

“It’s been a great and awesome weekend, really, yeah,” Rosberg said after his fifth victory in eight starts. “Everything went cleanly, you know, from the beginning to the end. And even in the race, it was a special feeling out there in the car because it felt like I could do whatever I wanted. The thing would just stick to the line, stick to the ground, there was no risk of making mistakes or anything. It felt really, really special and I’m very, very happy.

“It’s been an awesome result, first time here, I think it’s been a big success. The track is exciting, definitely, and a lot of overtaking also today I hear, so all-in-all good.” The German, who scored his 19th career victory, is the first winner of the European GP since two-time world champion Fernando Alonso won the 2012 edition at the Valencia Street Circuit in Spain. Rosberg’s winning time was 1 hour, 32:52.366-seconds.

Meanwhile, Haas F1 Team drivers Romain Grosjean and Esteban Gutiérrez continued the first-year American-based team’s recent mid-pack struggles while finishing 13th and 16th, respectively. In the Canadian Grand Prix one week earlier, Gutierrez finished 13th while Grosjean was 14th.

Rosberg led into Turn 1 and was never challenged as a tactical battle unfolded behind him to see who would finish “best of the rest.” Starting 10th, Hamilton rose as high as fourth before his charge was halted by ERS problems on his Mercedes F1W07. After several laps down on power, the Brit eventually found the right settings on his steering wheel to resolve the issue, but by then it was too late to improve his position.

Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen took fourth, while Valtteri Bottas was the lead Williams in sixth, ahead of the two-stopping Red Bulls of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen. Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg and Williams’ Felipe Massa completed the top 10.

Rosberg was near flawless on a day when Mercedes checked-out on Ferrari. And in the aftermath of two carnage-ridden GP2 races with multiple safety car deployments, there were no major incidents Sunday amid plenty of passing.

“I think for sure a little bit the experience helps in that case,” said Rosberg, whose winning average speed was 197.721 mph. “We’re all much more experienced and we’re able to avoid the incidents better and we also learned a lot from what was going on in the GP2 for sure, because we were watching and that was mayhem. So I think we picked up a few things there as well and that’s it, but very surprising anyways.”

Vettel said Sunday’s show spoke to the quality of this current field of F1 drivers. “I think we’ve talked a lot about this track being high-risk, dangerous,” the German said. “It reminds me…a couple of months ago I had a very nice lunch with Sir Stirling Moss. Obviously in ‘their time,’ you can argue it was very dangerous everywhere they went and he said it was a big deal of the reason why he jumped in the car, because it was dangerous. Otherwise anybody could do it, so the thrill of it was exactly that challenge.

“I think we had some corners here where you don’t want to think about what’s happening if you get it wrong, very little room for mistakes and error but then it definitely makes you more alert, you’re awake and obviously you try to go as hard as you can and push but I don’t think we were taking it easy, any one of us. But equally, you don’t take any stupid approaches to risk because it could end quite badly.”

Like Vettel, “Checo” Perez said he was shocked the safety car never had to be called into play. “It’s not that we were taking it easy out there; I think we were all pushing and every braking point you really feel it can go wrong at any point,” said Perez, a native of Mexico. “There is no room for mistakes in any place. The very least that can happen to you if you make a mistake is you lose a couple of seconds but I’m really surprised and I think well-done to everyone because nobody made a mistake. Very surprised.”

Ricciardo initially chased Rosberg until Vettel powered his Ferrari past the Red Bull on the main straight on Lap 6 as the Australian pitted early to switch from Pirelli supersoft tires to softs. A handful of others did likewise on two-stop strategies, but when he was instructed to pit on the eighth lap, Vettel overrode Ferrari and stayed out until Lap 20, one lap before Rosberg pitted.

“Yeah, yeah, basically I was called in,” Vettel said. “We wanted to react to Daniel who pitted. He was struggling a lot with his tires; obviously we passed him and then he went into the box. But I had a decent feeling, the pace was quite OK, I thought, and then we decided to stay out so I was asking the team to stay out, the tires felt OK and I wanted to keep going. I was maybe at that point seeing that Daniel was struggling and feeling that the tires were not feeling so comfortable in the first, six, 10 laps, a bit worried that the second stint would be very, very long.

“In the end I don’t think there was much in it. Obviously we lost position to Kimi, who undercut us, but we played well as a team together.” However, when Raikkonen suffered late ERS problems _ as he did in Montreal _ Perez jumped the Finn going into Turn 1 on the final lap for third.

Grosjean started 11th and Gutiérrez  15th on the first-time F1 venue, both on the Pirelli P Zero Red supersoft tire, with the plan to make one pit stop. That strategy quickly changed for Gutiérrez, however, when contact with the Force India of Hülkenberg on the opening lap sent Gutiérrez to the pits on Lap 8 with a damaged front wing. Along with a new nose, a set of Pirelli P Zero Yellow soft tires were bolted onto the VF-16, dropping Gutiérrez to 21st. A second pit stop at the end of Lap 29 for a used set of Red supersofts carried Gutiérrez to the end of the race, although he was lapped by Rosberg on Lap 32.

“It wasn’t a good day for us,” said Gutierrez, driver of the No. 21 car. ”I had some damage to the car at the start, and then after that I was just trying to recover as much as I could. We didn’t have the pace to attack the front. I was struggling to overtake and to regain positions. Now we need to keep our focus for the next race and keep optimistic. We’re not where we want to be, but we’ll keep pushing and try to optimize everything to get the most from the car for Austria.”

Grosjean enjoyed a better start, climbing to as high as eighth by Lap 10 before pitting for a new set of Yellow softs. As pit stops cycled through, Grosjean rose from 17th to 12thby Lap 25. But Grosjean had to make a second pit stop due to a build-up of debris picked up in the car’s radiator intake ducts. With the risk of his Ferrari-powered No. 8 VF-16 overheating, Grosjean had no choice but to stop. Haas F1 sent Grosjean back out on a used set of Pirelli P Zero White medium tires that would take him to the finish. Grosjean, however, was lapped by Rosberg on the 43rdcircuit.

“The car felt very good at the beginning of the race and everything was going well,” the Frenchman said. “We then had a bit of rear (tire) graining and we had to pit to go onto the soft tires. The plan was to go to the end. We then had too much rubbish at the front of the radiators and we had to stop again to clean them. That extra stop cost us a lot of performance. We had to fit the medium tires to go to the end, as we didn’t have any more softs. We did our best, but we’re still not where we want to be.”

Rosberg (141 points) leads Hamilton (117) in the world championship with Vettel in third (96). Raikkonen reclaimed fourth from Ricciardo (81-78), Verstappen overtook Bottas (54-52) and Perez passed Massa (39-38).

In the constructors’ stakes, Mercedes raised its total to 258 points, followed by Ferrari (177), Red Bull (140), Williams (90) and Force India (59). Haas F1 remained eighth in the standings with 22 points. There was no change on either side of American businessman Gene Haas’ fledgling team, as seventh-place McLaren and ninth-place Renault both failed to score points. Haas F1, the first American-based F1 team in 30 years, maintained its two-point margin behind McLaren and its 16-point pad over Renault.

“A challenging race,” said Guenther Steiner, Team Prinicipal, Haas F1 Team. “We’re still aiming for points. We had very good pit stops and we’re making progress, so now we look ahead to the next race.” Round 9 is the Austrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg. Practice begins July 1 with qualifying on July 2 and the race running on July 3.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, June 22 2016
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