By Lee McKenzie
Good guy/bad guy. Or was Spa just two drivers trying to create their destiny? Lewis Hamilton came into Formula 1 carrying so much promise yet only has one world championship to his name. He’s desperate to cement his place in the history books as one of the all-time greats, while Nico Rosberg knows he has never been closer to joining that elite club. Until this year Rosberg’s name had never really been in the frame but he has delivered, defended and attacked like he knows how rare these opportunities are.
Hamilton and Rosberg are the yin and yang of Mercedes but now the feng shui balance is in total disarray after the incident at the start of the Belgian Grand Prix where Rosberg clipped Hamilton while the Brit was leading.
Lewis had seemed measured and controlled during my interview for the BBC. Nico was obviously more defensive. I asked him if he felt that he was being made to be the bad guy and he said, “In Britain I’m the bad guy. In Germany, Lewis is the bad guy”.
One of the many things that Mercedes has been successful at this year is letting the drivers race and on the few occasions where it has gone wrong, managing the situation well through openness and honesty in the media. Now, though, we are at a watershed moment in the championship and, through no fault of the team, things will have to change. Mercedes will have to manage and control the situation or at least deliver the orders. What the drivers do with the information is then up to them.
Let’s look at the events of the race before we think of the comments afterwards when Lewis claimed Nico said that he did it deliberately.
Nico ran into Lewis. During the race Fernando Alonso ran into the back of Sebastian Vettel and plenty of times this season we’ve seen drivers clipping each other. Some have continued, some have retired but there has never been the same level of scrutiny and emotion applied by the drivers or media.
The closest I can remember was Turkey 2010 when Vettel and Mark Webber came together. Red Bull didn’t manage the situation well and the fallout between the drivers was huge. Their relationship on and off the track never recovered. The similarities were that both drivers were team-mates and in cars capable of winning the championship. Many of these situations come down to a simple brain fade, a moment where enthusiasm overtakes talent or quite simply a mistake. We all make them but maybe not in an F1 car in front of millions of people on television. That is why I felt what happened between Hamilton and Rosberg was disappointing to see but far from a crime and definitely not something that required booing or a witch hunt.
Now comes the tricky bit. If Nico did say to Lewis that he did it deliberately – and as I write this, the German is yet to comment – that puts a very different light on things. Mercedes has said that saying it was deliberate was “nonsense” but it was correct that Nico felt he should hold his line and make a point, adding: “He thought it was for Lewis to leave him space, and that Lewis didn’t leave him space.”
I doubt if Nico would seriously and calculatedly take a risk like that having no idea if he would crash, continue or retire. He also didn’t know if Lewis’s car would have had no issues and happily driven off into the sunset towards 25 points and the championship lead while he was left limping back to the pitlane. Yesterday, it worked out for Rosberg in that Lewis got no points and Nico extended his lead, but it could easily have gone the other way.
Who knows what will happen in the coming days or what will be said behind closed doors? I’m pretty sure the Merc bosses will not be sharing their information or conversations as readily as Lewis did after the race.
As we head into the Monza weekend there will be several teams rubbing their hands with glee, none more so than Ferrari, which normally bears the brunt of the scrutiny, pressure and criticism at its home Grand Prix. In a difficult year it can enjoy not being the centre of attention – all eyes, even those of the tifosi, will be on Rosberg, Hamilton and the Mercedes bosses. As they say in Italy, it’s un bel casino.