Nico Rosberg's simmering anger with Lewis Hamilton spills over into fireworks at Spa
With the fallout from the title rivals' clash dominating F1, Martin Brundle examines Rosberg's mindset, explains why failing to avoid a crash is different to causing one, and asks whether all this would have happened under Ross Brawn as Mercedes mull a change of tack
By Martin Brundle
Last Updated: 27/08/14 9:25am
Nico Rosberg made some very bad decisions on Sunday although the championship points table doesn't reflect that.
He speaks a number of languages and I strongly doubt he’s stupid in any of them, and therefore I’d be very surprised if he actually said he ran into Hamilton on purpose as he would know the potentially grave consequences of such words.
Of course it’s a debatable point, is failing to take action to avoid an accident any different to proactively creating contact? In my experience it very much is. Senna was my barometer; he would make very bold moves and let you decide whether to have the accident or not in order to gain psychological dominance. I wouldn’t yield after a while in F3, so we crashed. But we weren’t team-mates.
He also of course intentionally crashed into Prost at Suzuka in 1990 with a pre-determined action decided way before the race, which was unacceptable, but you have to hold your ground otherwise you’re simply mentally filed away as weak forevermore.
In some ways Senna, the emotionally-driven genius, was revered in some quarters for putting right a perceived injustice that day from the FIA and I often felt that Michael Schumacher could never quite understand that when he was rebuked and booed for some of his more questionable actions.
Rosberg’s post-race words and otherwise limited explanation do at least explain why, having turned away initially, he then not only straightens the wheel but actually turns towards Hamilton. It was an instantaneous moment of anger and petulance which has been building up for a while.
Hamilton had correctly defended the inside line and all racing drivers know that it’s a little bumpy and often dirty there but still with decent grip. It does compromise and tighten the line into the chicane however, and Rosberg was perfectly within his rights to have a run down the outside while judging Hamilton’s braking performance. We’ve seen thousands of such passes there over the decades, including later in the same race by Valtteri Bottas. However Hamilton braked late, stayed under control, and made the apex, entitling him to the normal racing line. Rosberg’s move was off, but he didn’t accept it or take rational action.
Teams always make several spare front wings, have them readily stacked in a frame in the pitlane ensuring they have the same settings as the race car set-up where possible, and practice relentlessly the procedure to change the nose and attached wing assembly. That’s because, as we all frequently witness, it’s rather easy to damage them, being invisible and two meters away from a seated driver on the extremities of the car.
Rosberg’s action was guaranteed to damage his front wing so it would have been an own goal had he not punctured Hamilton’s tyre. I spoke with Pirelli and they explained that contact by a front wing end fence on the relatively small curve between the tyre tread and the side wall of a rotating tyre creates a 90% chance of a puncture, but the tread and sidewall itself (and of course the wheel) are much less likely to puncture. It must be said that the vulnerable part mentioned is the one quite often hit. We saw Jules Bianchi get such a puncture on lap one of the race, but conversely Alonso hit Vettel in the last lap losing a big chunk of front wing but Vettel had no puncture. Hamilton was unlucky, Rosberg got lucky through his own actions and error and not for the first time this year.
And so the bad blood of several incidents came to the surface. As with any relationship you don’t always know what goes on behind closed doors, although Hamilton chose to share his version of events on Sunday evening. I don’t blame him for jumping on the bandwagon to maximise Rosberg’s pain and hope to gain in what will be an intense increasingly psychological battle until the title is won.
This may all stretch back to karting and junior formulae days, but definitely increased at the 2013 Malaysian GP when Ross Brawn forced the faster Rosberg to stay behind Hamilton as they were both struggling on fuel and other issues. But that was for third place when the championship was but a dream. Obviously the events of 2014, such as Bahrain, Spain, Monaco and Austria have massively fuelled the flames.
Could the team do with some Brawn calm authority now? Yes of course. He wouldn’t have blamed Rosberg publicly as the cars crossed the line like Niki Lauda did, he would have found out all of the facts first and then managed the situation down. Toto Wolff was incandescent that his drivers had made contact and he would have more been thinking about the new presence of Red Bull and Daniel Ricciardo in the championship.
But I will not beat up on the Mercedes management because F1 fans deserve to see a race between these two drivers until a winner emerges, and not team orders as we have seen at McLaren, Ferrari and Red Bull in the past. It’s crucial for F1, and I’m hoping that we don’t get a ‘whoever’s into the first corner first will lead’ and ‘no racing after the final pit stop’, but I fear now that I’m going to be disappointed.
I can’t see how the FIA can reopen the events of Sunday post-race based on interpretations of comments in a private meeting, but let’s see. They may want to at least be seen to be investigating the incident, but in this new age of a more lenient ‘let them race’ stance, they would have to be investigating a whole bunch of minor contact issues moving forward.
And what can Mercedes-Benz do to smack Rosberg? Leave one of his spark plugs out, a wheelnut loose, disinvite him to Monza? Exactly. There will now have to be a strict racing agreement and protocol which they all buy into, but there will be increasing tension and mistrust between the two drivers despite what any flowery press releases and comments might suggest. Rosberg has missed the opportunity to defuse the situation with the team and fans and say sorry, but that could well have been seized as a great weakness in Hamilton’s eyes. This is Formula 1, not Formula Fun on a global jolly with your former karting buddy.
Daniel Ricciardo brilliantly won the race with a measured, classy and fast drive to once again be the man who took the crumbs from the Mercedes table. His team-mate Sebastian Vettel would have at least liked to have been in a position to run into him because that would have meant he was quick enough, yet still easy on his tyres like the amiable Australian.
I’m not sure we were told by any key people over the weekend how rubbish Formula 1 is these days, so just to remind you of that in case in all of the excitement of recent races you had forgotten.