By Pablo Gorondi
BUDAPEST, Hungary — Nico Rosberg’s lead over Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton may be down to a single point midway through the Formula One championship, but the German driver appeared as relaxed as ever on Thursday.
Rosberg, who has five victories and 168 points this season to four and 167 for Hamilton, said that the Hungarian Grand Prix, which Hamilton has won four times, does not feel different to him than any other race, even if Hamilton may have cost Rosberg a win here in 2014 by ignoring team orders to let Rosberg pass.
“Until now I’ve had the best season of all drivers. I don’t look at the big picture,” Rosberg said. “The best approach for me to win is to focus on the weekend that’s at hand.”
Rosberg, who was runner-up behind two-time defending champion Hamilton in 2014 and 2015, said not even the usual team analysis of last year’s race at the Hungaroring would do much good.
“The asphalt is new and that will make it very different out there,” Rosberg said. “We almost start from scratch. Also the curbs are new so that will change a lot of things.”
Hamilton and four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari both said they were disappointed with the Hungaroring overhaul.
“I wish they didn’t (change it). I wished they’d saved their money,” Hamilton said, describing the circuit as “amazing” but lamenting its loss of character. “The track was pretty amazing before. The older this track gets the better.”
Vettel, last year’s winner here, said he was disenchanted by the likely loss of the circuit’s characteristic bumps and the updated curbs, some of which have been renewed while others added and modeled on those at other tracks like Barcelona and Abu Dhabi.
“It would be a shame if all the bumps disappear,” Vettel said. “The curbs define the soul of the track. If we put the same curbs on every single track, then all the tracks feel a little bit the same just with different types of corners. I’m not a fan of it.”
While Mercedes has won nine of 10 races this season and 41 of the last 48, the team has been below par in Hungary lately. Daniel Ricciardo won for Red Bull in 2014 and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel was first last year.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was fourth here in 2015 and is the only non-Mercedes driver to win this year.
“It was a great weekend, I enjoyed that one a lot,” Verstappen, the youngest F1 winner ever, said about his previous race here. “Hopefully this year we are aiming for more than fourth. We can be on the podium.”
The Hungaroring’s slow, winding track is often compared to the Monaco circuit and Red Bull’s chances here were judged to be good by no other than Mercedes chief Toto Wolff, who said the team was a “major threat,” especially if it rains on Sunday. Early forecasts say there is a slight chance for showers on race day.
Rosberg was also relaxed about the new radio communication rules between teams and drivers during the race. He was penalized 10 seconds at Silverstone because instructions from Mercedes warning about problems with the gearbox and telling him to avoid seventh gear were judged to contravene rules making drivers perform “alone and unaided.”
Although he finished second behind Hamilton, the penalty pushed Rosberg back to third.
New rules from FIA, motorsport’s governing body, say teams will be forced to call the drivers into pit lane for repairs — or to withdraw from the race — if they warn them of any malfunctions, motorsport.com reported.
Radio rules are “not something I think about,” Rosberg said, while acknowledging that all the advice and instructions drivers were getting during the race frustrated fans.
“It’s come about because fans said we were like puppets out there, just doing what the engineers are saying,” Rosberg said. “Now we’re trying this and I think it’s ok. It makes it more challenging for us out on the track.”