Walking the razor's edge
So what to say that hasn’t already been said?
It’s probably impossible to have an original thought about what happened on lap two at Spa-Francorchamps’ Les Combes corner last Sunday afternoon.
Drivers, ex-drivers, team bosses, ex-team bosses, journalists, photographers, fans, just about anyone and everyone who has a passing interest in Formula 1, they’ve all waded in, opining this way and that about the whys, wherefores, rights and wrongs of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton’s Sunday afternoon contretemps in the Belgian Ardennes.
You can’t stop what’s coming.
As far back as pre-season testing it was patently obvious that the 2014 world champion would be driving a Mercedes ‘Silver Arrow’. The oft-repeated and tiresome line that the title fight would play out between two drivers who were both rivals and ‘friends’ became just that – tiresome.
Contact was inevitable. The fact that it took until race 12 for the gloves to finally come off is the only surprise.
You simply cannot have two highly motivated, highly competitive, highly paid, high on themselves, title-chasing F1 drivers fight for the same piece of Tarmac without one or both of them breaking carbon fibre, slicing rubber, voicing accusations and throwing a strop.
So who to blame?
The drivers? Racers will be racers, ’twas ever thus. This is not the first time intra-team rivalry has boiled over and it will certainly not be the last.
As with all sporting disagreements, one can choose to side with either of the protagonists. Nico obviously felt he had a point to prove and is well aware – but would never admit – that when it comes to the close-quarters, high-speed dogfight that is the battle between two equally matched cars, he is the – slightly – less capable of the two Mercedes pilotes.
Feeling aggrieved at some of Hamilton’s defensive moves in previous 2014 races, the German opted not to give any quarter when racing his English team-mate from Belgium to Abu Dhabi.
Of course when emotions get the better of any of us, rational decision-making becomes all the harder to achieve, with the resultant actions often having ramifications way beyond the incident in question.
Sitting close behind Lewis’s W05 Hybrid, Rosberg would have been well served to wait a lap, then, with DRS enabled – from lap three onwards – scythe in to the lead in a clean and simple move.
But no, not in the heat of battle. In a crude, ill-judged and petulant move, contact was made and the inevitable occurred.
Temptation resisted is the true measure of character, and for one so considered in his approach to the job at hand, Nico really did let himself down badly last Sunday afternoon.
Hamilton – well, really I can’t see that Lewis’s – on track – actions can be criticised at all. Defending cleanly, taking a normal line, he did nothing wrong.
The Englishman’s own – sadly all too predictable – petulant behaviour came post race…
The team. Well they’ve hardly covered themselves in glory, have they?
A complete and utter failure to control their highly paid employees has resulted in all-out war being declared and set to be played out for billions to ‘enjoy’ for the next seven grand prix weekends of the 2014 season.
Publicity is why every company chooses to get involved in any sport –none more so than F1 – and boy are Mercedes getting some now.
I – like everyone else – welcomed the ‘let them race’ attitude of the Brackley team’s management, no doubt sanctioned by the Stuttgart-based board members – but, when an obvious lack of on-track discipline has resulted in a complete breakdown in cordiality, different decisions will inevitably have to be made. Hundreds of millions of Euros are being spent by this blue-chip brand in pursuit of one goal. Winning.
When the buck stops that is all they and every other team, sponsor, commercial partner, board member, tea lady and share holder cares about.
Winning is all that matters and right now Nico Rosberg represents the German marque’s best chance of title success.
29 points to the good of Hamilton, a multi-year contract just signed, German (when it suits!), handsome, married, PR friendly… Need I say more?
Look back though the sport’s history. The ruthless, hard-as-nails, take-no-prisoners attitude almost always prevails with race wins and title success predictably following.
Lewis, with his ill-judged ‘Nico has admitted he crashed into me on purpose’ line, and previous examples of snappish decisions – tweeting highly sensitive McLaren telemetry traces was an ego-driven watershed in the otiose – will make the team very wary of his mood fragility.
With rumours already circulating the paddock that Lewis may want away from the team, it shouldn’t come as any surprise if and when a team orders edict is rubber-stamped in Stuttgart.
Red Bull. Red Bull are coming…
As much as the Mercedes team hierarchy won’t admit it, they are worried. Worried that they could throw it all away. While this team are consumed in rusk-throwing conflict, the best team in F1 are on the march and have their German rivals cross-hair-covered, ready to pounce and steal away the three pointed star's ultimate desire.
It’s a long shot, certainly, but make no mistake, the four-times world champions are pulling out all the stops in a relentless drive for title number five.
A new attitude to aero, new gear ratios for Spa, the best strategists on the pit wall and back at base, only one driver – the incredibly impressive Daniel Ricciardo – in the hunt, a quick and experienced team-mate to back him up, feverish work by Renault to increase power unit power, energy recovery system functionality and drivability, three wins in the bag, etc, etc. They’ve got the Brackley boys spooked.
Monza will surely see a Mercedes victory, but Singapore, Suzuka, Sochi, Austin, Sao Paulo and Abu Dhabi could all play into the hands of Red Bull’s RB10. Rest assured, if the crack Milton Keynes outfit get a sniff of victory they will be hell bent on taking it.
Titles have been thrown away by all dominant teams before. Williams had the best car and engine package throughout the 1986 season but through driver rivalry and poor decision-making Nigel Mansell, Nelson Piquet and the team as a whole did a great job of ‘giving’ the drivers’ crown to McLaren’s Alain Prost. The Frenchman took the title at the final race.
With the increasingly important spectre of a double-points finale at Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina to look forward to, who knows what may happen…
Daniel Ricciardo for 2014 world drivers’ championship glory?
Stranger things have happened!
Please now take a few minutes to enjoy my pictures from the 2014 Belgian Grand Prix by clicking here.