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LONDON (Reuters) - History suggests Nico Rosberg is a solid bet for the Formula One world championship after his dominant start to the season, but the German would be wise to ignore the statisticians and be very wary of Mercedes team mate Lewis Hamilton.
Rosberg's triumph in Sunday's Chinese Grand Prix made him the seventh driver since 1950 to start a campaign with three straight victories.
Adding in the three he won at the tail-end of 2015, Rosberg also became the fourth ever to rack up six Formula One world championship race wins in a row.
All those who previously achieved such winning streaks went on to win the title that season.
The caveat is that 2016 has a record 21 races and Mercedes gives its drivers equal status -- and none of the drivers who enjoyed such hot streaks in the past had a team mate like Hamilton.
The Briton is a triple world champion, who has beaten Rosberg in the end of season standings every year since he arrived at Mercedes in 2013.
His 43 career grand prix victories, compared to Rosberg's 17, puts him third on the all-time list of winners behind Michael Schumacher and Alain Prost.
Rosberg is the most successful driver never to have won a title, having now overtaken Britain's Stirling Moss who was overall runner-up four times in the 1950s.
When Italian Alberto Ascari (1953) and Argentine Juan Manuel Fangio (1954, 1957) won the first three races of the season there were eight or nine rounds.
Even seven times world champion Schumacher, Rosberg's compatriot who won three races in a row at the start of the 1994, 2000 and 2004 seasons, only had a maximum of 18 races to contend with and just 16 in 1994.
In that sense, Rosberg's season has barely started and he knows it, even if he is 36 points ahead of Hamilton.
"Six wins, that doesn’t count for me because three were last year. So I just think about the three wins this year," said the German after another dominant afternoon in China.
"But it’s early days. Three races is just a small handful and we have 18 to go. It’s the longest season in F1 history and my team mate is dear Lewis and he’s going to push like hell -- like always.
"It’s been tough to beat him in previous years and it’s not going to be any different this year... he’s the benchmark."
Both have only to look to 2014 to see how the situation can change -- even if that season had the novelty of double points for the final race.
Rosberg, whose Finnish father Keke won the 1982 title with one win all year, led by 29 points after the Belgian Grand Prix in August 2014 but Hamilton then reeled off five wins in a row on his way to the championship.
The Briton had 10 wins last year and 11 in 2014 compared to Rosberg's six and five respectively.
"I need to win all 18 races," Hamilton said after China, but the champion has always been better at driving than doing the mathematics. With 25 points for a win and 18 for second place, there is everything to play for.
If Rosberg were to retire at the next race in Russia, a grand prix that only Hamilton has ever won since its debut in 2014, the gap between them could suddenly become 11 points.
"For me, it's a marathon not a sprint," said Hamilton. "Right now I still have the best car, we are still the best team and we still have 18 races. I don't see this as his championship."
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Ken Ferris