Nico Rosberg was counting no chickens -- and keeping his karaoke plans under calm control -- after another triumphant weekend climaxed in an explosion of Mercedes’ best bubbly in Japan on Sunday.
The controlled Rosberg had sparked the celebrations by taking clear command of the drivers’ world championship as he confirmed Mercedes’ third consecutive constructors’ title success with a flawless performance at Suzuka in the Japanese Grand Prix.
On a grey, but dry day at the classic figure-of-eight circuit, the 31-year-old German, who dominated practice and started the race from his 30th pole position, provided the searing light that illuminated his team’s triumph and post-race celebrations.
He started first, led all the way and finished ahead of all his rivals, despite strong performances from Ferrari and Red Bull. It was Mercedes’ 60th F1 win.
It was Rosberg’s fourth win in five races since the mid-season European summer break, his ninth win this year and the 23rd of his career, a statistical achievement that has carried him 33 points clear of team-mate and defending three-time champion Lewis Hamilton.
That Hamilton’ name is not mentioned until the fifth paragraph of this report sums up both Rosberg’s dominance and the Englishman’s frustrated demise. He arrived seeking a personal hat-trick of Suzuka wins, but left disappointed.
On Sunday, seven days after being thwarted of victory in Malaysia by an engine failure, he finished a battling third behind Dutch teenager Max Verstappen of Red Bull after a storming recovery, having fallen to eighth after making an ultra-slow start.
Rosberg now has 313 points to Hamilton’s total of 280 with four races – and a maximum 100 points for four wins – to go. In the teams’ title race, Mercedes has 593 ahead of Red Bull on 385.
Since the German Grand Prix in July, where Hamilton won his fourth race in a row, he has been winless, and sometimes powerless, while Rosberg has recovered and blossomed.
That Hamilton scored his 100th podium success and limited the damage to his own title bid in the process was scant consolation after a weekend he will want to forget.
His speed remains intact, but his focus seems blurred by other events that, in Suzuka, included a fall-out with the media after a Snapchat furore following Thursday’s news conference.
By contrast, Rosberg has kept a low profile and this has been shown in the serenity that has characterised his driving and his dealings with the media.
“I am not thinking ahead of the next race, just one at a time,” he said. “I’ve been doing it this way for a while and it is working for me. So I will carry on…
“It’s been another awesome weekend. It is beautiful to win here in Japan and it is amazing for the team to win three constructors’ championships.
“I congratulate all my colleagues. Let’s celebrate that! But not too much… I want to keep some energies for the next races because I know Lewis and he will fight back.”
Rosberg’s diplomacy and tact deflected attention away from Hamilton’s struggles to find himself, his best set-up and his best performance. The Briton, who has been wracked by bad starts, engine failures and reliability issues all season, put on a brave face in defeat.
“I am very proud to be a part of this team. I did the best I could from where I was in the race and I will give it everything I’ve got for the rest of the year and we will see what happens.”
Hamilton started second on the grid, on the damp inside part of the track. Within seconds of the lights-out, he was eighth.
“The damp patch didn't really have anything to do with it,” he said. “I made a mistake. Then I was just working my way up from there. It was tricky, but I did the best I could.”
Hamilton caught up with Verstappen in the final laps, but was unable to pass him when the Dutchman defended his position at the chicane, sending Hamilton down an escape road.
“It doesn't matter now, it's done and we move forwards,” said Hamilton, when asked if he was satisfied with Verstappen’s move.
“I saw him coming in the mirrors,” said Verstappen. “The laps before that, he was closing. I saw he had a good exit so I defended into the last chicane. So yeah, all good. Lewis is fighting for the world championship so you're not going to do crazy things...”
Four-time champion German Sebastian Vettel came home a grumbling fourth for Ferrari ahead of team-mate Finn Kimi Raikkonen and sixth-placed Daniel Ricciardo who was unable to carry on at Suzuka where he left off with his first win of the year for Red Bull in Malaysia.
Like Hamilton, Ricciardo had started from the wet side of the track. “It looked like all of us on that inside line struggled, especially Hamilton,” he said. “I don’t think my initial launch was that bad, but then having to go around him I crossed the wet patch and lost out.
“It seemed like we couldn’t really follow the cars that well with the dirty air and we didn’t really have the straight line speed to make an attack. We just struggled today. I didn’t feel that there was much we could do.”
Mexican Sergio Perez and his Force India team-mate Nico Hulkenberg finished seventh and eighth to give their team a grip on fourth place in the teams’ championship ahead of the two Williams of Brazilia Felipe Massa and Finn Valtteri Bottas, who came home ninth and 10th.
It was a bleak weekend, too, for the McLaren Honda team on one of their ‘home’ circuits with two-time champion Spaniard Fernando Alonso and 2009 champion Briton Jenson Button struggling in 16th and 18th positions.