Sunday, 22 May 2016

Hamilton and Rosberg's Nightmare in Barcelona - Who Was To Blame?

As the dust settles from the scintillating Spanish Grand Prix the internet is alight with praise for Max Verstappen's brilliant win at only 18 years old. Yet one can't but notice the massive stir over the most contentious issue in a long time. Who was at fault - Lewis or Nico?

Carnage at Turn 4 for the Mercedes duo

Unless you've had your head buried under the sand you will be aware that both championship contenders didn't even negotiate a full lap before making contact with each other and plunging into the gravel trap. An attempted overtake from Lewis Hamilton on Nico Rosberg heading into the braking zone of Turn 4 ended in disaster for Mercedes.

What Happened? 

Nico's red rain light signifies he is harvesting mode
From lights out the two silver cars immediately locked horns. Lewis' big move off line to defend ultimately allowed Nico to have better momentum into Turn 1 and take the lead. As both began to exit long sweeping right hander of Turn 3 Nico's rear rain light began to flash - his car had entered harvesting mode. With the recent ban on radio instructions from the pit wall its now up to the driver to make sure the car is configured in the correct settings off the grid. Nico didn't do this, his power unit hadn't harvested enough energy on the way to the grid meaning at some point on the first lap he would get a drop in performance. This energy is worth around 160-180hp, equivalent to a swift family saloon or sporty hatchback. This happened through Turn 3 which gave Lewis a 17kph (11 mph) advantage. Nico's reaction was to make a adjustment on the steering wheel to select the correct engine mode and hit the overtake button for maximum power available.

Lewis smelt blood and decisively went for the gap on the inside of the circuit. As Nico began to close the door Lewis' front wing was alongside. However, Nico continued to close the door forcing Lewis onto the grass leading him to lose control and make race-ending contact for the both of them as he rejoined the circuit.

Lewis squeezed onto the grass

Who Was At Fault?

Team boss Toto Wolff stated the blame was equal and immediate driver/team meetings took place after the incident. It was clear from the post-race interviews of Lewis and Nico that their hand's were tied around their back - the official line was to accept the stewards decision of a "racing incident". However social media was ablaze with debate, often negated by whether you were team Lewis or Nico previously. Through this emotional storm you need to navigate your way to a logical answer. This all depends on your 'racing philosophy' of course...

Mercedes bigwig Niki Lauda was first to throw his hat into the ring, labelling Lewis' actions as "Stupid".

“It’s very simple for me. It was a miscalculation in Lewis’s head. I blame him more than Nico. For the team and for Mercedes it is unacceptable. Lewis was too aggressive to pass him and why should Nico give him room? He was in the lead. It is completely unnecessary and for me the disaster is that all Mercedes are out after two corners.” - Niki Lauda

Its obvious that Niki wouldn't be happy with the result, but after inviting Mercedes chairman Dieter Zetsche to the race only to witness the ultimate sin being committed this would be doubly sour. He clearly thinks Lewis' aggressive move put to much unwanted risk at the table and cost the team a potential 1-2 result. Triple World Champion Jackie Stewart was equally unimpressed by Lewis' decisive overtake attempt.

Scotsman Jackie Stewart was critical of Lewis
"You didn't see Juan Manuel Fangio, Sir Stirling Moss, Jim Clark do that.One of the major assets for all the great drivers is their mind management.I learned to remove emotion from my whole body to head and that's why I always won my races in the first five laps.It was a spontaneous movement by Lewis that if he were to think back on it, he wouldn't have tried it again.He needs to think about what happened in Spain, he has to consider the ramifications to his employers.The damage that it caused to Mercedes is the combined total of those drivers, as they would have been first and second.He has to rethink his complete attitude towards what he is responsible for and that applies to every top-line driver."- Jackie Stewart

These are quite hard words from Jackie, a man who has cut his teeth in the corporate world and understands the value of team work and the ultimate result for Mercedes. His quoted great drivers of Fangio, Moss and Clark certainly are legends of the sport. More recent names amongst such greats would certainly include the late Ayrton Senna, a hero of Lewis Hamilton. Back in 1992 Jackie Stewart was also very critical of Ayrton's driving, famously putting it to the Brazilian that he is often involved in on track incidents more so than any other World Champion. His response is now etched in history and to some ring true now -"if you no longer go for a gap you are no longer a racing driver".

The outspoken son of F1 ace Giles Villeneuve and World Champion in his own right, Jaques Villeneuve sat on the opposite side of the argument. Labelling Nico's defence as "killer" the Canadian felt "..he moved when Lewis had already made his move. You don’t do that, it’s why there is a rule in place. It’s the most dangerous thing you can do in racing - and the unfairest."

Interestingly Jacques also pointed out that  "you never saw it in the ‘80s because they’d kill each other". In this age he feels that drivers don't seem to respecting dangerous moves with much improved safety levels giving a false sense of security.

'97 Champ Jacques Villeneuve weighed into the argument
No one can deny Nico left absolutely no room for Lewis with an aggressive closing of the door. We have seen plenty of close racing from these rivals from the past which has continually strained the relationship. But they always seem to jossle with respect and understanding. Who can forget the nail biting battle between them at Bahrain in 2014, jousting and swapping positions continually, yet leaving just enough space for on another? As bitter as the pairing appears its important to remember both drivers were karting team mates in their teens. The future stars not only raced together, they shared rooms together. As fiery as the relationship becomes this can never be forgotten. Unfortunately now it seems this relationship is now worse that ever. Even with their hand's tied behind their back by the corporate world of modern F1 the body language is clear.

My Verdict

Perhaps you are in the mind frame that a potential 1-2 result should have made Lewis more conservative in his approach, or that his move was too risky on his team mate and race leader? You might have made your own mind up nor care for mine, but my verdict ultimately lays blame at Nico's door. His mistake gave Lewis the opportunity that he was entitled to take. Whether it be calculated or a knee jerk rection, Rosberg closed the door aggressively and late. I don't feel Lewis should be conservative and hold off from making such a decisive move. He is fighting for a chance in the championship. We know to well the performance of both drivers is close and track position is vitally important especially around Catalunya. As Senna said "if you no longer go for a gap...".