By Alan Baldwin
BARCELONA (Reuters) - If last year is anything to go by, Nico Rosberg's Spanish Grand Prix victory could be the start of a run of success for the German that puts the heat back on Mercedes team mate Lewis Hamilton.
Before Sunday's race, the fifth of 19 this season, double world champion Hamilton had racked up four pole positions in a row and won three times to build up a 27 point lead in the Formula One standings.
The Briton now heads home to Monaco knowing that, if the tide has not exactly turned, his momentum has at least been checked.
Those who wrote off Rosberg after the opening races, declaring him no match for his team mate and possibly psychologically scarred by last year's bruising campaign, may have to reconsider.
While Hamilton will want to show that Barcelona was no more than a blip, in a race that was no thriller, Rosberg has demonstrated he still has what it takes.
By his own admission, the German had a 'perfect race' on Sunday but he added that he had done nothing different to previous races.
"It's great to close up seven points to Lewis, great to go to Monaco next, I really like that track, and that's it. Early days," he told reporters.
Mercedes motorsport head Toto Wolff said both men were mentally very resilient and predicted another close battle between them.
"As much as we would like to find a dynamic that is pro or against the drivers, they come out very strong even after a bad weekend or a defeat," he said.
"You saw it last year -- Nico went on a run and the balance swung to him. I think you are going to see the same this season; two drivers who are matching each other and trying to out-perform each other," added the Austrian.
"For the team it's a good situation because it lifts the performance of the whole team and it is the best case."
Last year, Rosberg took Hamilton down to the wire -- the rivalry admittedly fueled by the now-ended experiment of awarding double points for the final race -- thanks to a run of form in Europe.
After five races in 2014, Hamilton had won four and Rosberg one but the German was much closer in the standings thanks to his team mate's retirement in the Australian opener.
This time, Ferrari have entered the mix -- while last year's runners-up Red Bull have already declared the season a write-off -- with Sebastian Vettel winning in Malaysia to deny Mercedes a clean sweep.
But while Ferrari have clearly closed the gap, Spain showed Mercedes again at their most dominant with the German manufacturers' third one-two finish in five races.
"It's much more than we've seen recently, much more than Bahrain, much more than Shanghai, Malaysia, so it's really a big step in the right direction for us," said Rosberg after taking the chequered flag 17 seconds clear of Hamilton.
"It just shows that we have an awesome team at the moment, everybody's doing a fantastic job... again we won the development race this weekend, compared to Ferrari. So that's an important indication for the rest of the season."
Rosberg has won in Monaco for the last two seasons and will be hard to deny a hat-trick, despite Hamilton being at the peak of his powers.
Last year, the Briton left Spain as a winner and did not clamber to the top step of the podium again until his home British Grand Prix in July.
Despite that, he went on to win 11 races to Rosberg's five and take the title.
"We had such an amazing year, kind of record-breaking as a team," Hamilton said on Sunday.
"For us it was hard to imagine trying to do that again or trying to beat it and that's our goal this year and I think we're definitely on the right route to doing that."
(Editing by John O'Brien)