IN THE DRIVER'S SEAT

Down-to-earth Rosberg won't get excited yet

Racing drivers are athletes, right? Their bodies, temples. They train assiduously, and they watch every calorie that they consume.

So why was Nico Rosberg sitting, not in a first-class airport lounge, but with some friends in a Burger King at Shanghai's Pudong Airport on Sunday night?

"It's become a tradition," said the man who took his first F1 pole and victory here in 2012. "We celebrated this way then, and it's become something that we do here every year."

He has a lot to be celebrating now, too. He and his wife Vivian adore their seven month-old daughter Alaia, and earlier this year, in a story he specifically plays down, the new father saved the life of a five-year-old who got into difficulties swimming in Monaco.

And he's won all three of the grands prix so far this year, bringing the streak he started in Mexico last year to six. He leads team-mate Lewis Hamilton, the reigning world champion, by 36 points.

Yes, Mercedes are still winning all the races, but they shouldn't be penalised for doing a better job than their rivals. That's the name and aim of the game, and they deserve their success.

On nine occasions, the man who won the opening three races of a season has gone on to become champion: Alberto Ascari in 1953; Juan Manuel Fangio in 1954 and 1957; Ayrton Senna in 1991; Nigel Mansell in 1992; Damon Hill in 1996; and Michael Schumacher in 2000, 2003 and 2004. But informed of this, he merely smiled.

"Nine? That's not a very exclusive statistic, is it?"

"Okay, six if you factor in that Fangio and Schumacher did it more than once…"

"Same difference!"

It takes a lot to impress this quiet and often misunderstood racer, so frequently overshadowed by the charisma and pizzazz of Hamilton, whose outgoing nature is much more similar to Rosberg's roustabout father Keke, the champion in 1982.

"I keep saying, this is only the third race of 21; there are another 18 to go and anything could happen, so there's no point in getting over-excited about anything this early in the game."

Of course he has a point, but there is something worth getting excited about.

Perception is everything in F1. So when its burghers tell people it's no good, they tend to go along with what they're told. After all, if even Bernie Ecclestone, the man tasked with making it work, thinks that, what else are they to believe?

These days it's become fashionable to denigrate the sport, as if by doing so one can be seen to have identified the insiders' truth invisible to those ignorant observers who are less well informed. The man in the pub who reckons he's a bit handy behind the steering wheel himself, thinks he looks and sounds smart by talking it down.

But for all that it gets a bad rep these days, Formula 1 is pretty damn good right now, when for up to two hours on a Sunday afternoon all the political infighting and the nonsense deriving from the hapless Strategy Group are temporarily suspended.

Yes, Mercedes are still winning all the races, but they shouldn't be penalised for doing a better job than their rivals. That's the name and aim of the game, and they deserve their success. We've now had three cracking races, full of action most of the way down the field, and sooner or later Ferrari are going to start challenging Mercedes seriously.

So here's an idea, as nobody seems able to agree on technical rule changes for 2017: Why not can them altogether and stick with what we have? The cars are noisier and faster than last year, and the racing is good and will only get closer via the laws of diminishing returns, whereas rule changes always favour those who invest the most and usually confer advantage on only one of them.

The three-compound tyre format works. There's no need for engine equivalency, nor for even more downforce. Just for a sensible approach to spending and to F1's future financial model.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 19, 2016, with the headline 'Down-to-earth Rosberg won't get excited yet'. Print Edition | Subscribe