BARCELONA: At the end of this siesta, Nico Rosberg embraced his pregnant wife, Vivian, safe in the knowledge that his championship challenge has finally been born. After months of being outclassed by Lewis Hamilton, his team-mate and rival, Rosberg at last has his foot in the door following victory in the Spanish Grand Prix yesterday (Sunday).
With his first win since November, the ninth of his career, Rosberg reduced the gap to 20 points in the drivers' championship and put a stop to Hamilton's momentum.
The depleted grandstands will not have been enthused at this soporific affair, neither will Formula One's power brokers, who meet this week to discuss the rule book, but Rosberg will not have minded a jot. He summoned a faultless performance here, leading from the start and never looking back, untroubled all afternoon.
For Hamilton, it was a case of what might have been. His getaway was poor, immediately falling to third, before a sloppy tyre change at his first pit stop cost him any realistic chance of catching Rosberg. The reigning champion ended up 17.5 seconds adrift, easing off to save himself and the car for the next fight in Monte Carlo, in just under two weeks' time.
Even further back, 45sec behind the victor, was Sebastian Vettel for Ferrari. Given the hopes pinned on their revival ahead of this race, widely regarded as a benchmark of a car's performance, their apparent lack of pace was a serious worry for the rest of the year. Vettel struck a remarkably upbeat tone: we had better hope he knows something we do not.
Without doubt though, this was Rosberg's day. It is difficult to understate how badly he needed to turn the tables on Hamilton here. Ever since the duo collided in Belgium last August, something has been missing. That inner steeliness was only to be seen in patches. Many feared he was finished as a competitor. Despite Hamilton's troubles, this served as a well-timed riposte.
"It's been a fantastic weekend," the 29-year-old said afterwards. "Everything worked out, it all came together. At one point I thought who knows, maybe Sebastian can keep Lewis behind. But seven points is better than nothing. A fantastic team result today, especially after the break. Everybody brought upgrades and we're still dominating which is good to see."
One note of caution. Rosberg barely had to work for this one, with Hamilton entangled in all sorts of troubles from the start. If the two-time champion had a cleaner run, who knows how this might have panned out. But through a combination of self-inflicted mistakes and blunders by the team, Hamilton was always going to be second-best here.
On a circuit where eight of the past 10 races had been won from pole, a rare qualifying mishap proved costly. Then, a botched start left him fol-lowing Vettel for the first half of the race. With following another car a tall order on this twisty track, he never got close enough to launch a serious attack. The final nail in the coffin came with a tardy first pit stop. His mechanics spent 5.3sec changing all four tyres, three seconds longer than Vettel, allowing the German to emerge ahead. Switching to a three?stop strategy eventually gave Mercedes yet another one-two but left Hamilton no chance of catching -Rosberg. "The pit stop compromised Lewis's race a lot," Toto Wolff, Mercedes' head of motorsport, conceded. "We have to analyse it but it looks like a problem with the wheel gun."
Hamilton was subdued but not especially downbeat. The Briton, 30, said: "I had quite a poor start - it's been a long time since I've had such a bad start. I'm grateful I could get those points for the team, so it's damage limitation for me. This is just a hiccup I guess. I'll sort it out for the next race."
Other than Rosberg, the biggest star of the day was the jackman at Lotus. With Romain Grosjean overstepping his mark as he braked from 50mph coming into the pits, Jason Milligan somehow kept hold of the jack despite being shunted about five metres. An ice pack where it hurts most was his reward.
The other Lotus driver, Pastor Maldonado, made a hash of overtaking another car, running over the speed bumps at turn one before colliding with Grosjean. He lost half his rear wing and retired 20 laps from the end. Elsewhere, Carlos Sainz Jnr impressed again with smart overtaking that saw him finish ninth.
A truly dismal race for McLaren ended with Jenson Button 16th and Fernando Alonso retiring with a brake issue. While they leave Barcelona with plenty of soul-searching to do, Rosberg will return home to Monaco as settled as he has been for months ahead of his home grand prix. The championship fight is back on.