Show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser.
In sport, there’s a distinct difference between the good and the great.
The good are supreme on their day. The good carry themselves with grace and respect. The good are team players.
The great are supreme every day. The great carry an aura, a knowledge of their greatness. The great are ruthless winning machines who will bend, and sometimes break, the rules.
On Sunday, F1 enthusiasts witnessed the good and the great.
Nico Rosberg is the good. A man who this season reached the peak of his powers. His nine victories were earned in impressive style, driving better and faster than he ever has, sealing a deserved World Championship title.
Lewis Hamilton is the great. A man who remains the best racer in F1. A man who secured more poles, more wins and more magic moments and drama than his Mercedes teammate. And as we saw in the final race in Abu Dhabi, a man who will do all it takes to win, regardless of the consequences.
Schumacher, Senna and Vettel all have that edge to them. That win-at-all-costs edge. They ignore team orders, they care not for the ramifications of their actions. They are just winners. One world title is not enough.
Hamilton carries the same personality traits as these greats of the sport. Max Verstappen, my pick to win the 2017 title, has that quality, too. In Singapore 2015, for example, he refused to move over for his teammate Carlos Sainz. His mantra, like the aforementioned greats, is if you want to get past, go ahead and try it.
There will be moments were these greats overstep the line, get punished and get admonished. But they don’t care. All they care about is winning.
On Sunday, we saw this in Hamilton, when he disobeyed team orders in a vain attempt to win a fourth world title. We saw exactly the qualities that the public adores and that all sports need. He’s been applauded and pilloried in equal measure for his actions but I think he did nothing wrong. What did Lewis have to lose?
The exact reason Mercedes employed him was because of his unique edge. If you take away that edge, if you start to concede the slightest inch, you’re no longer a racing driver.
I’m not sure Mercedes were even right to ask him to change his tactics. The constructors title was already won, a Mercedes driver was guaranteed to win the World Championship, the final race was all about the drivers. If Rosberg was fast enough, he’d have found a way past.
Mercedes, as a public relations exercise, had to tell Lewis to speed up and not risk losing the race. They’re a brand trying to flog road cars after all. I don’t believe for a second they expected Hamilton to pay any attention.
In Monaco, Nico Rosberg, struggling in wet conditions, was instructed to move out of the way to allow a faster Hamilton to pass and ultimately win the race. He obliged. The true team player. Would Hamilton have done the same? Hungary 2014 suggests not.
In winning the World Championship this year, you sense that this is the culmination of a lifelong dream for Rosberg. I wrote last year that Jenson Button was totally content to just win one title. Rosberg is in that same mould. Will he step up to another level or will he happily race out his remaining career as part of that exclusive ‘World Champion’ club as Button has? I suspect the latter.
As for the talk that Mercedes need to clamp down on Hamilton’s disobedience, it’s never going to happen. First, his actions remained within the boundaries of fair. He didn’t force Rosberg off, he stayed just the right side of acceptable. Secondly, he won the race and Rosberg won the title. No harm, no foul.
Mercedes know they have the best driver on the grid. They also know they have another driver, capable of winning races and championships. Why would they change that? The inner wranglings, the awkward team meetings, the gritted teeth they’ll have to show to the press is a small price to pay for more victories and more exposure by having Formula One’s only box office name.
Hamilton is great. He may have lost this year. But he’s no loser.
Thursday, 1st December 2016