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25 Aug 2014

The Belgian GP has proven to be the tipping point in what had already become a fractious relationship between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.  The problems are many but a feud on this level only heightens when both drivers, drive for the same team.  Mercedes dominance has been clear to see all year, with us having to go back to 2004 (Ferrari) and 1988 (McLaren) to see one team with such a clear advantage over their rivals.  Ferrari had their drivers (or should I say Rubens) under control in 2004 but like Mercedes, McLaren saw the egotistical scales tilting in 1988.

I don't need to write about the tumultuous relationship between Senna and Prost as the story has been told over and over, from different perspectives.  However what I will say on that matter is that Prost was always villainized, something that irks me and perhaps always will.  Prost was a thinker, a planner, a strategist but came across as more outwardly reserved, whilst Senna cut from a similar cloth had a fierce personality.  Senna's never die attitude is what endeared him to his followers and even made those that cheered for others, respect what seemed like an ability to out drive the machinery he was in.

Does any of that sound familiar? I see echoes of the Senna/Prost rivalry emerging in Hamilton/Rosberg as both vigorously tries to best the other as the Championship comes to a climax.  The media (especially the British) has not made things any easier creating a hyperbole around the pair as they both look to take the drivers championship, creating friction that Mercedes management seem ill equipped to deal with.  Like Ron Dennis and McLaren in 88, Toto Wolff & Niki Lauda have emphasized throughout that both drivers are on equal footing and are allowed to race.  Unlikely to lose the constructors title to Red Bull now, with an almost unassailable lead they could just let the pair have at it.  However I'm sure the Daimler board of directors won't be impressed with their drivers feuding, all the time leaving the door open for Daniel Ricciardo to ghost in behind and take the drivers title.

So what of the incident in Spa?  Post race, like many others I took to twitter and as always I tried to see the argument from both sides of the fence, afterall this was a racing incident, not investigated by the race stewards.
Of course this came across as a defence of Rosberg, much to the annoyance of the Hamilton fans, although this was not my intention.  The move was never on for Rosberg, I simply believed at the time that Rosberg was showing Hamilton "I'm here and you're going to have a battle on your hands".  Toto Wolff's reaction in an interview with the BBC post race was that the move was "absolutely unacceptable, absolutely unacceptable, lap number 2 of a long race, a crash between two team mates"

The problem with the incident, is what ensued for Hamilton, the instant deflation of the tyre handing Rosberg the lead of the race, with Hamiltons stricken W05 taking what would usually take just over a minute to get back to the pitlane, taking double that and of course all the time the delaminating tyre causing irrecoverable damage to his cars floor.  This more than anything is what people are unhappy with as even with a damaged front wing Rosberg was able to continue at a relatively decent race pace, whilst Hamilton's race was destroyed and his championship chances once again eroded.

If we were to rewind to lap one and look as Hamilton and Vettel diced for position in a similar way, Vettel (although he was actually further alongside Hamilton coming toward Les Combes, along Kemmel straight) abandoned his attempt to overtake, taking to the run off instead).
So does that make Rosberg's move wrong? Well lets also cast our mind back to Germany, when Hamilton was trying to get back through the pack and came up against Jenson Button at the hairpin.  Hamilton conducted an overtake in the same vein as Rosberg, where a collision ensued.  The result was a similar Front Wing breakage on Lewis' car but as the speed was much lower in this incident Button wasn't penalised with a puncture.  Yes I realise these are different incidents but in terms of racing incidents they both carry the same merits.  Just like the Rosberg / Hamilton scenario initially both blamed one another, Jenson later said he understood why Hamilton thought I was giving him the space to pass, but came short of actually admitting fault in any way (A racing incident.

Moving onto the post race debrief which has now sparked the insinuation that Rosberg intentionally drove into Hamilton.  As always this started out as a one sided argument with Hamilton telling the media that Rosberg had admitted driving into him.  As always though context is important, with Toto Wolff coming to Rosbergs defence:

"Nico felt he needed to hold his line,", "He needed to make a point. He didn't give in. He thought it was for Lewis to leave him space and that Lewis didn't leave him space. "For Lewis, it was clearly not him who needed to be aware of Nico.
"So they agreed to disagree in a very heated discussion among ourselves, but it wasn't deliberately crashing. That is nonsense."

Rosberg is clearly towing the line that he rolled the car into the gap, hoping that Hamilton would allow him the room to retain his momentum, which in his eyes would have allowed both of them to continue their fight.  Hamilton however didn't have to leave him that space, he had the position and was entitled to put his car in that position.  Thus making it six of one, half a dozen of the other: Racing incident.

Did Rosberg intentionally crash into Hamilton? Only 1 person truly knows the answer to that...  What is clear is that the incident is the tipping point in the Championship and more importantly a major issue for Mercedes to deal with going forward.  As we have seen in the case of Red Bull / Vettel / Webber / Horner / Marko, team orders are not always a resolution to such incidents, with a toxic relationship between all the parties created, with each beginning to believe the other is 'taking sides'.  Turkey 2010 created much the same ripples for Red Bull as we are going to see going forward at Mercedes if things aren't controlled.
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12 comments:

  1. F1 isn't drag racing. Cars will get near you, touch you, run you off track. It is the nature of racing. "Investigations" ruin the sport. I can't believe Rosberg would intentionally hit Hamilton given the fragile nature of today's front wings. He stuck his nose in and couldn't make the move. No more, no less.

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  2. Matthew, thanks for posting this. As a neutral party ( I dont' care who wins ) I thought the press reaction was way off base with everyone placing all blame on Nico. To me this was yet another 'he drove into me'/'he closed the door' incident that happens all the time in pretty much every racing series. Text book 'racing incident'

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    Replies
    1. You don´t know anything about overtaking whatsoever.

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  3. Now now, who said you could have an even-keeled and thought out look at this... Over here in the states 2 of the announcers on NBC are clearly pro Hamilton, and yet they know enough about racing to know that this is just a racing incident.

    Yes, it has some implications on the WCC... but that is part of racing.

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  4. Look at the line Lewis takes AFTER the wing endplate comes off; Where between his car and the lefthand curb is the "room" he says he left?
    -Racing Incident-

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  5. Not having the footage I would like to see what went on in Bahrain again as my memory which may be mistake was that Rosberg gave up space that he was entitled not to

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  6. Thanks for a good article Matt. I appreciate your even handed approach.

    FWIW, as a casual observer I can only say it looked deliberate to me....and all the more clever because it is impossible to make any blame stick. However, the fact these drivers all have exceptional spacial awareness about the limits of their car , and that the accident happened AFTER Rosberg started to pull out of a move doomed from the onset is telling. Add to that as well the high probability this has won the WDC, I think the circumstances only point to one conclusion. I am not a Hamilton fan, but to quote Niki Lauda

    ""You have to be a bastard if you just want to win [races] in Formula One, no question. You cannot win by being a nice guy. Tell me one nice guy up there. Are you going to say Fernando Alonso? No, it’s a breed of people who are 110% focused and use every trick to blow the other one off."

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  7. Eric Boullier post Belgium GP -

    "Throughout, Jenson and Kevin were in the thick of it, and it was great to see them racing the Red Bulls and the Ferraris fast and hard. They both drove extremely well, exhibiting redoubtable derring-do, and, although they raced wheel to wheel with each other, they never touched"

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    Replies
    1. Four car's racing wheel to wheel and not one "clumsily" put their colleagues out of the race....

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  8. "Did Rosberg intentionally crash into Hamilton? "

    When two cars touch this way, you always damage your front wing, but only every fourth or fifth time will you damage a rear tire. Being the championship table leader and, in that moment, faster than Hamilton (he had passed Vettel and caught up to Hamilton), he had more to lose than to gain. Rosberg is not that stupid. He most certainly wanted to keep the most momentum possible and misjudged the closing gap (also bear in mind that the drivers can't see their wings) for a couple of inches.
    Hamilton, on the other hand, has demonstrated more than once, that he is a pretty ruthless driver and he couldn't care less if his team mate, leading him in the championship table, loses his wing on his car, which is what usually happens in these kinds of incidents. That's not meant to say he did it intentionally, but I'm pretty shure he didn't give a flying f about Rosberg's line in this corner, as he was clearly in front.

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  9. I believe the question is not malice, as I do not believe for a second Nico wanted to damage Lewis car, and more so, his own on lap 2.
    That said I think Nico did it deliberately, did what should be the next question, and my answer to that is put his car right up there in an aggressive position and not back out. Was this the right decision, i guess only time will tell.
    Did he set out to force Lewis into an off or a DNF. I do not belive so

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Whilst I'm trying to keep atop of the blog you may have noticed of late that there is less content appearing. For those of you that haven't realised, most of my work has now been moved over to Motorsport.com where I'm working with Giorgio Piola.

I'm still doing the technical image gallery for each GP with the continued support of friend of the site Sutton Images. However, as always my time is limited and so this might not be updated as quickly as it once was, so keep checking back.

As some of you may have found out already I'm also working with the Missed Apex crew on their podcast from time-to-time, either doing race reviews or dedicated 'Tech Time' shows.

I've embedded the latest version of the podcast below and will update this a frequently as I appear. However, please head over to Itunes if you want it to appear in your player when episodes are available. The show is great to work on and has a great lineup of 'regulars' but has also enticed some bigger names recently too, with Will Buxton and Bradley Philpot on shows during the summer break.


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