Our dear old friend Team Orders. He’s been keeping a low profile of late. Minding his own business.
At Malaysia last year, he threated to steal the show. At Bahrain 2014, his absence was noted by everybody. Even when Felipe Massa decided to ignore him in Sepang, barely anybody batted an eyelid.
But come Hungary 2014, he returned with a vegence. The talk of the town. On everybody’s lips. And his presence meant Lewis Hamilton was damned for obeying him and damned if he didn’t.
Hamilton’s miraculous drive to third at the Hungarian Grand Prix appears to have finally removed the gloves from the all-Mercedes championship battle. The opening jabs were exchanged in Monaco, but now it seems the two horse race for the F1 driver’s title is every man for himself.
But were Mercedes wrong to ask Lewis Hamilton to move over?
Nico Rosberg would arguably have won the race given the opportunity for “hammer time” once released from the dirty air of Lewis Hamilton. In being stuck behind him, he lost crucial seconds that, judging by his pace in the final few laps, would have seen him right up there with eventual winner Daniel Ricciardo.
From Mercedes point of view, they want the maximum haul of points possible. 1st and 4th is better than 3rd and 4th, regardless of which driver scores them.
But in asking Hamilton to move aside, they shot themselves in the foot threefold and created a situation where Hamilton couldn’t win
Firstly, should Hamilton have moved over and Rosberg gone onto win the race, critics will argue why when occupying the same piece of tarmac, they didn’t bring Hamilton in at the same time for fresh rubber (especially give the number of sets of soft tyres at Hamilton’s disposal following Saturday’s qualifying inferno). Surely in pitting Rosberg for a late dash for the win, they could have pitted Hamilton too? Their strategy seemed to favour Rosberg when their own errors in not fitting the option tyre for Hamilton following the Perez-crash-induced Safety Car prevented the Briton from finishing the race.
Additionally, had Hamilton obeyed team orders, he would have lost even more ground in the title race through no fault of his own – his team’s mechanical cock-up in qualifying, followed by their tactical indecision in the race.
Secondly, if Hamilton ignored team orders (as he did), they were creating a total thunderstorm for internal relations, with the team effectively unable to control their drivers any more. Why should Rosberg now play ball in the future when Hamilton clearly wasn’t? You have two men – whose sole purpose in life is to win the F1 World Championship – and you’re asking one to bend over for the other. Rosberg refusal to be drawn on the issue after the race was telling, in that he has a closer bond with the team. Hamilton was happy to say he puts himself before the team and didn’t mind publically saying they were wrong.
Thirdly, the PR disaster from either outcome was inevitable. Whilst legal and part of the sport, team orders are unpopular with the fans. The wheel to wheel combat in Bahrain was what we all wanted to see (and saw again on the last lap in Hungary). But in such blatant manipulation of a result, they did the sport and themselves no favours.
Was Hamilton wrong to disobey his team?
Rosberg was on the faster tyre, in the faster car (given Hamilton’s minor damage in the turn two spin). The German should have had the capacity and the speed to be able to close up to Hamilton and pass him. By remaining around a second behind, he never gave Hamilton the option. Hamilton should not have had to compromise his own race to satisfy the one person on track he was trying to beat – especially when that car couldfn’t keep up with him.
At the time too, Hamilton himself had an outside chance for a win, on medium tyres that should have made it to the end, with Alonso in front whose tyres shouldn’t have.
Conceding three seconds or so by letting Rosberg passed would have compromised his own chances of victory.
Whilst his mechanical errors through the season in races and qualifying were not deliberately caused by the team, Hamilton was not to blame either. Hamilton’s deficit in the Championship is mainly through no fault of his own so this was his chance to take his destiny into his own hands. And from a personal point of view – it worked.
Hamilton was also faster than Rosberg in every practice session. Rosberg compromised his own race when struggling to keep pace with Jean Eric Verge in a Toro Rosso. Hamilton breezed past with one of the overtaking moves of the race around turn 4.
In obeying team orders, Hamilton would have lost ground on Rosberg. In disobeying them, he’s created friction and rivalry in a team where tensions were always going to be rising.
Just like the seismic fallout with Fernando Alonso in 2007 – it all comes to a head in Budapest.
It’ll be a fractious end to the season for the Silver Arrows but they only have themselves to blame.
Monday, 28th July 2014