Nico Rosberg is refusing to get carried away by thoughts of celebrating a maiden Formula One title triumph at the end of the season, despite getting one hand on the championship crown with victory in the Japanese Grand Prix.
The German eased to a maiden win from pole position at the Suzuka circuit on Sunday, chalking up his ninth win of the year, to lift himself 33 points clear of Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton in the overall standings.
Such is Rosberg’s margin that, with just four races to go, the 31-year-old can take the title without needing to win another race.
“I don’t feel relief,” said Rosberg, only the fifth driver to win nine races in a season. “I’m just happy to win the Suzuka race.”
“Rosberg’s comments are in keeping with the approach that the German has adopted this year, focusing on each race as it comes rather than the campaign as a whole.
Runner-up to Hamilton in the overall standings in the last two years, he is not planning to change it now that the title is within reach.
“The best reasoning is that it’s actually working quite well,” said Rosberg. “So why change something if it’s going quite well?
“The approach that I have at the moment is just coming here, focusing on the weekend and trying to get that win.”
Never has a driver who has won eight or more races in a season gone on to lose the title.
Rosberg also currently appears to have the psychological edge over Hamilton, who cut a distracted and withdrawn figure in Suzuka.
But Rosberg, who can equal Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel’s record of 13 wins in a season if he triumphs at the remaining races, knows how quickly fortunes can turn.
Hamilton has not won since the German Grand Prix at the end of July while Rosberg has won four of the five races since.
Nevertheless, the Briton had been on course to take back the overall lead until his engine blew in Malaysia.
Rosberg also knows that in Hamilton he faces a formidable competitor, who earlier this season converted a 43-point deficit to the German into a 19-point advantage with a streak of six wins from seven races.
“You can see how quick it goes in Malaysia, you’re in the lead and if the other guy wins its 25 points lost and then the gap is down to eight,” said Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff.
“Remember when Nico won eight races in a row and then Lewis had that winning streak?
“I think its going to go down to the end.”
For only the second time this year all 22 drivers saw the chequered flag, giving a better chance to rate their performances.
Who starred at Suzuka?
1. Max Verstappen (no change)
Unusually the Red Bull wasn’t quicker than the Ferrari at Suzuka, but penalties for the red cars elevated Verstappen to third. That gave him a shot at second after Hamilton made a poor start, and his combination of great race pace and very firm defending ensured he took it.
2. Sergio Perez (up 8)
It’s hard to see what more Perez could have done with the Force India this weekend. He qualified right behind the faster cars, got in among them at the start, but thanks to DRS and the rapidly-degrading tyres he was never going to stay there. Palmer also hindered his chances of staying ahead of Raikkonen.
3. Nico Rosberg (up 1)
Took his third consecutive Suzuka pole position but this time he managed to convert it into a win. It did help matters that Hamilton made another dreadful start, after which Rosberg could have cruised home with one hand on the wheel, but he did everything required of him.
4. Kimi Raikkonen (up 4)
Should have started where Verstappen did, from where second might have been possible, but a gearbox change penalty put paid to that. That meant he had to battle his way forward which he did well, though he wasn’t able to stop Hamilton jumping him.
5. Nico Hulkenberg (up 10)
Generally shaded by his team-mate but finished close behind and put a superb pass on Bottas.
6. Sebastian Vettel (up 16)
Redeemed himself after his Malaysia embarrassment with a solid drive which might have yielded a podium finish had Ferrari not made his final pit stop too late.
7. Valtteri Bottas (down 1)
Clearly the quicker of the two Williams drivers and only fell behind his team-mate because he was called in for his pit stop too late.
8. Romain Grosjean (up 8)
Brilliant in qualifying where only a problematic Drag Reduction System kept him from taking fifth place. Haas seemed to be taken by surprise by their car’s performance and were more conservative than they needed to be the in race, missing out on points.
9. Lewis Hamilton (down 7)
Yet another bad start, his fourth this year, which have collectively dealt a serious blow to his title hopes. He made some good passes and showed decent pace on his record to third, but he needed more.
10. Esteban Ocon (up 11)
Impressed on his first visit to Suzuka despite not having anything like the chassis he needed for this track..
The rest of the grid:
11. Jolyon Palmer (down 2)
12. Fernando Alonso (down 7)
13. Daniil Kvyat (up 7)
14. Felipe Massa (no change)
15. Marcus Ericsson (down 2)
16. Daniel Ricciardo (down 13)
17. Pascal Wehrlein (no change)
18. Kevin Magnussen (down 6)
19. Jenson Button (up 8)
20. Felipe Nasr (down 1)
21. Carlos Sainz Jnr (down 10)
22. Esteban Gutierrez (down 4)