MERC DOMINANCE CONTINUES: Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg (left) and Lewis Hamilton celebrate with team members at the 2016 Russian GP at the Sochi Autodrom racetrack. Image: AP / Ivan Sekretarev
Soch - Nico Rosberg brushed aside any suggestions that he will enjoy an easy drive to his first Drivers' championship after cruising to a seventh consecutive victory at the 2016 Russian GP.
Rosberg, winner of all four races this year and seven in succession including last season, said he expects his Mercedes team mate, defending world champion Lewis Hamilton, to mount a strong challenge to him - despite his 43-point lead.
Hamilton finished second on Sunday after another weekend of mechanical problems and other setbacks, having escaped a damaging collision on the opening lap for the first time in 2016.
'Lewis is going to bounce back'
Rosberg said: "I am well aware that Lewis is going to bounce back when he has a clean weekend and it will be the usual tough battle against him. Sport is all about ups and downs and I just need to make sure I prepare mentally."
Hamilton drove with great vim from 10th on the grid - he was unable to run in Q3 on Saturday due to an engine failure - to finish second even after being told to slow down by his team because of another engine problem during the race.
Rosberg's win lifted him alongside the only other men to have won seven races in a row, Italian Alberto Ascari and compatriots Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel, whose own race for Ferrrari was wrecked by an opening-lap collision with Daniil Kvyat of Red Bull.
All three went on to win the championship, but as Rosberg pointed out when he spoke to reporters: "The other people did not have Lewis Hamilton as their team mate. Yes, I have a good points lead, but there are 425 points to go and I have only a 43-point lead now so it is completely not worth talking about.
"Lewis is driving as strong as ever. For sure, he will bounce back massively. He doesn't have an issue with fighting back either with his head. I am sure we will see a lot more of the battle between us and it is always going to be a tough battle."
Hamilton not giving up
Hamilton, who appeared downcast after the race, said later that he would never give up in defence of his crown and intended to fight all the way.
"(Rosberg) has the buffer of knowing that, even if he has two bad weekends, he is still in the fight, which is a huge confidence boost, and generally he has been starting at the front with no-one to really bother him.
"So far, it has been a nice Sunday drive for him, but there are still 17 races to go and still 17 races in which I can give him hell."
More seriously, Hamilton expressed concerns at the frailty of his engines this season and his loss of supply, as he has been using them rapidly, and the strong chance of facing reprimands and penalties.
"I'm not sitting here now feeling all happy because really nothing has gone particularly well," he explained. "I got myself back up there in this race, but I wasn't able to fight for the win.
"I believe I had a chance to win. That is the only thing in my mind. Also, I am running out of engines as the races go by. It is not hurting, not yet. It is just not great.
"I am aware there is likely to be one more 10-place penalty because I have one more reprimand to go - and the last one was just ridiculous."
His reprimand received on Saturday was given because he failed to obey a sign on a bollard, a decision that was seen as laughable in the paddock.
Meanwhile, Ferrari also believe they can still mount a challenge despite their lack of consistency and reliability.
"We are looking for a big challenge and ok, what has happened, it is part of the racing story," said team chief Maurizio Arrivabene. "We have had bad luck and human mistakes, but I prefer to have problems now than later on.
"We need to make sure it doesn't happen again. The championship? We are not giving up. I don't want the team to give up."