Today, on lap two of the Belgian Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg made contact at Les Combes. Hamilton was ahead and Rosberg behind, and the front right endplate of the German’s car hit the left rear wheel of the Englishman’s. It caused an immediate puncture for the leader and ruined his race completely, as he retired later, while Rosberg also suffered and ended up second in a race which a car with the Mercedes’ margin of superiority really ought to have won. As it was, the affable Australian Daniel Ricciardo scooped the win gratefully.
Hamilton was understandably upset, as his championship hopes have taken a large dent this afternoon. More pertinently, Mercedes bosses Toto Wolff, Paddy Lowe and Niki Lauda are to varying degrees angry about the lost points for the team that was caused by the incident. Hamilton is even on record tonight claiming Rosberg did it on purpose and even admitted to it. Mercedes is, it seems, at full fratricidal war.
Which will lead, one supposes, from a period of incident, to hotheaded reaction, to reaction to the reaction, and finally much-vaunted PR-savvy apologies and making-up. It all is quite predictable. But the passion of this particular fight could well have an unintended side effect. It might well turn the respective sides of the garage from simmering competitiveness (generally thought to promote improvement) to petty point-scoring and even sabotage (which is obviously negative). Then, as we saw today, Mercedes seriously risk gifting this title to Daniel Ricciardo. There is recent historical precedent, also involving Hamilton – 2007, when McLaren infighting presented the championship to Kimi Raikkonen.
Why is this incident the tipping point? Why not Bahrain, for instance, or Monaco qualifying? In Bahrain nothing happened so that’s all right then. In Monaco there was a quotient of ambiguity about Rosberg’s actions. But not here. Wolff and Lauda were incandescent post-race, and the blame was laid squarely at Rosberg’s door.
When you look at it, it’s hard to argue that he wasn’t to blame. He was never on a par with Hamilton, could and should have backed out and it was Hamilton’s corner. To boot Rosberg takes the added responsibility of being the driver behind and as such the driver with the greater degree of control over the situation.
But it was a small misjudgement. We have seen the great and the good, not least Hamilton himself, lose their front wings clipping other cars – I’m led to believe it’s seriously difficult to know where your front wing actually is. The consequences might so easily have been worse for Rosberg than Hamilton, if the angle had been slightly different, and then I wonder if the blame game would be being played with such alacrity as it is this evening.
I can see why Wolff and Lauda feel as they do. I can also see why they are making it clear to the press, because failing to criticise Rosberg would lay them open to charges of favouritism. As it is, though, their strategy is high-risk; Rosberg may well turn now from total team player to besieged sniper. The knives are well and truly out now. It remains to be seen whether the knife throwers are actually putting their own in the firing line.