Nico Rosberg
Nico Rosberg is focused on further closing the gap to Lewis Hamilton at this weekend's Monaco Grand Prix. Reuters

Nico Rosberg had barely been a factor in the opening four races of the Formula 1 season. After only winning one of the final nine races of last season to lose out in a fractious title battle to Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton, Rosberg appeared to be struggling to take the man with whom he shared a garage. But his challenge was emphatically ignited two weeks ago when he cruised to victory over Hamilton in the Spanish Grand Prix. Just 20 points behind his rival and heading into, not just his home race but his most successful race at the Monaco Grand Prix, suddenly he is firmly back in the title picture.

“We had a perfect weekend in Spain and, for me personally, it was good to close the gap a little in the points,” he said ahead of the Monaco Grand Prix this weekend, according to “There’s still a long way to go this season so it’s all there to fight for, I’m just taking it race by race. Next we have Monaco -- the most legendary, exciting and challenging event in the calendar. Throughout the whole weekend, the atmosphere is very, very special. It’s a home race for me.”

Rosberg has made the most of the home comforts by winning the prestigious race in each of the last two years, already one more than Hamilton, who also resides in the principality. Hamilton has looked poised to dominate the 2015 drivers’ championship at times this season, yet wins for Sebastian Vettel in a rejuvenated Ferrari and Rosberg have kept the title holder within reach.

Only in his first title-winning season in 2008 has Hamilton taken the checkered flag at the famous Monaco street circuit. But as he seeks a second victory, he has had a significant weight taken off his mind. For months speculation has run rampant over whether the 30-year-old would agree to extend his contract with Mercedes beyond the end of this season. Earlier this week it was confirmed that he had inked a new three-year deal that makes him the best paid driver in Formula 1.

“I don’t feel any different to the last race,” he said, according to The Guardian. “But I guess sitting here, waking up this morning knowing that contracts will be announced today, thinking another four years here -- I’m excited. It’s an exciting feeling. A real positive feeling. Solidified. I don’t have to worry about it, don’t have to give it a second thought, it is how it is and now I can go away and work towards my goal.”

As well as seeking a perfect way to celebrate that contract renewal, Hamilton has the motivation of trying to prevent Rosberg from joining the Briton’s hero Ayrton Senna, along with Graham Hill and Alain Prost, as consecutive hat-trick winners in Monaco.

So far this weekend Hamilton has been on top. Quickest in both of Thursday’s practice sessions, in the afternoon he surpassed Rosberg’s best by more than seven-tenths of a second. Given that the last six winners around the tight Monaco circuit have come from pole position, Rosberg will be desperate to find some extra pace for Saturday’s all-important qualifying session. If the drama in last year’s qualifying, when Rosberg set the fastest time and then controversially ran off the track to bring out the yellow flags and halt Hamilton’s quick lap, there could well be some more thrills between the two Mercedes teammates.