Race Blog
Monaco 2014

Open warfare declared

Well, don’t say I didn’t warn you!

My ‘Open warfare imminent’ post-Spain blog focused hard on what may come to pass between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, the fallacy of their oft-trumpeted ‘friendship’, and of how the German had better put up or shut up.

Monaco certainly delivered on every front. With on-track hostilities already in full swing, we now have an off-track cold war of political intrigue complete with chilling allegations of underhand tactics.

Everyone has an opinion on what transpired in Q3 at Turn 5 of the sinuous race track that winds its way around the Principality. Arguments rage as to the cause of Rosberg’s errant trajectory and whether it was deliberate or not, but we are all united in anticipation of a tense and bad-natured fight playing out for our viewing delight over the next 13 grands prix.

All publicity is good publicity, so ‘they’ say, and right now Mercedes are revelling in a spotlight shining bright on how Stuttgart’s engineering prowess is making every other F1 team look more than a little ill-prepared for F1 2014.

That publicity may turn a little less positive if and when their two highly paid F1 W05 Hybrid race car drivers take that cold war attitude and act out their frustrations in an on-track hot war. For now at least Toto Wolff, Niki Lauda and Paddy Lowe are doing a great job of letting racers be racers. Long may it continue.

Thinking now of Rosberg’s Q3 ‘cock-up’ – I mean lock-up – watching replays of the incident, Nico’s body language and answers to questions, my opinion remains the same as it was upon first seeing the incident on Saturday afternoon. The German recognised an opportunity afforded him to influence both his and his team-mate’s starting positions in the most important qualifying session of the year… And took it.

Now that’s my opinion, and you may agree or disagree, but the arguments against seem weak at best.

Of course it’s nigh-on impossible to prove that a driver chose to cause a caution flag to be waved, but the actions – when seen from Nico’s on-board camera – appear very suspect indeed. Approaching the Mirabeau corner braking area at a different angle to his usual line, then sawing at the steering wheel before locking the right-front wheel would be frowned upon if performed by a rookie, but when a seasoned race-winner drives in such an erratic and frankly out-of-character way it’s explained away (by many) as nothing more than a mistake.

A well-timed ‘mistake’ certainly.

Checking telemetry will prove very little more (in this instance) than what one can see from the onboard camera. The fact that Rosberg locked a wheel and went into an escape road is not in doubt, it’s the timing and whether he ‘chose’ to do it that are the questions – and telemetry won’t give you answers to these uncertainties.

The question, as with all investigations into alleged misdemeanours, is what the perpetrator had to gain from his actions.

Top-level F1 drivers are among the most driven men on the planet and will take any chance they can to gain an advantage over their rivals. Just look back through the history books – you don’t need to go very far – to read of myriad examples of duplicitous behaviour. Senna, Prost, Schumacher, Alonso and Vettel are just some (recent) drivers who have used less than chivalrous strategies to gain the upper hand when fighting both on and off the track.

Explaining away highly suspicious actions by stating obvious platitudes such as “We don’t like to think of any drivers as anything less than honest” is naïve in the extreme.

I remember walking back into the media room at the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix and stating to a few journalists present that what had just transpired had the distinct smell of foul play. Despite the Renault team’s less than routine Fernando Alonso pit stop strategy, the Spaniard’s team-mate Nelson Piquet’s well-timed shunt, the post-race body language (of some of the team’s key decision makers), etc, etc, etc, my suggestion that some well-aimed questions might be in order was dismissed out of hand, scornfully rejected as simply the wayward thoughts of a snapper who knows no better…

Now of course I’m not for one second suggesting that Nico Rosberg and his inner circle of trusted aides cooked up a plan to stifle Hamilton’s pole-chasing lap, but it’s surely not beyond the realms of possibility that in such a high-pressure moment – not only of the weekend but the season as a whole – a driver may choose to indulge in some less than sporting behaviour so as to secure the most prized race-starting position of the year.

To opine, as some ‘experts’ have, that Lewis – in trying to set his fastest lap after Nico had set his and therefore leaving himself at the mercy of yellow flags thrown as a result of Rosberg’s (possibly) planned ‘mistake’ – is in any way to blame for his failure to set a pole position time, gives tacit support to such underhand tactics happening in the future.

Whatever, we can all have our differing thoughts and opinions on what happens both on and off-track during a Formula 1 season, but, when all’s said and done, I prefer to be a realist and not view the sport I love, and those who participate in it, through rose-tinted spectacles.

And one last thing, please, my journalistic ‘friends’, will you now all stop saying and writing that Rosberg and Hamilton are friends. As Lewis himself answered to questioning on Sky TV following Sunday’s Monaco Grand Prix: “We’re not friends, we’re colleagues…”

I thank you!

Please now take a few minutes to enjoy my pictures from the 2014 Monaco Grand Prix by clicking here.

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