Rosberg Takes F1 Drivers’ Title As Time Runs Out On Hamilton

They say fortune favours the brave, but Formula 1 is such a procession these days that playing it safe has become the winning tactic.  Lewis Hamilton’s heartbreakingly unlucky engine blow up 11 laps from the end in Malaysia seven weeks ago ensured that there would be no dramatic head to head finale to the season for the Drivers’ title.  All Nico Rosberg has had to do for the last four races is to stay out of trouble and come second.  It seems rather fitting that the anodyne Rosberg should take the title by avoiding confrontation.

That is not to suggest that Rosberg doesn’t deserve the title for his consistency, and towards the end, a new-found grittiness and determination to make the most of his ascendant position.  Nevertheless, the season will be remembered more for Hamilton’s ups and downs; the mechanical failures, the troublesome starts, the grid penalties, the inexplicable lapses, the exciting comebacks and a disastrous engine fire, that made many people, including Hamilton, wonder whether there was a conspiracy at Mercedes to deliberately undermine him.

Cry conspiracy and images of grassy knolls and faked moon landings come to mind.  But Mercedes didn’t have to sabotage Lewis’s car to undermine him.  They only had to make him their ‘unofficial’ no. 2 driver, which is what appears have happened this season.  They swapped his mechanics, who had helped him to win two back-to-back titles, with Rosberg’s at the start of the season; they refused to give him undercutting, race winning tyre strategies; they gave him wrong engine settings, and they denied him technical assistance citing the radio ban yet blithely broke the rules for Rosberg.

If ever confirmation were required that Mercedes wanted Nico Rosberg to win the Drivers’ title, it came in the final laps of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Sunday.  Rosberg only had to finish third to win the title; Hamilton needed to win and ensure Rosberg finished fourth or lower, to retain it.  Contriving a 1-4 finish was always going to be a nigh on impossible task at a sterile, soulless, difficult-to-overtake modern racetrack like Yas Marina.  Red Bull’s team principal Christian Horner had mischievously suggested that grid leader Hamilton should drive purposely slow in order to back up Rosberg against his rivals.  It would have helped Hamilton’s cause if one of those rival drivers, Red Bull’s young hot head Max Verstappen – a boy who will not be told what to do by Mercedes head Toto Wolff, thank you very much – hadn’t spun himself into last place off the grid.  You can’t say lady luck has not been perched on Rosberg’s car all season.

Hamilton was caught in a difficult damned if he did, damned if he didn’t situation.  He had to win the race so couldn’t risk playing cat and mouse until his position at the front was secure.  Had Hamilton backed up Rosberg too soon, Mercedes could have tried to force an undercut on him, scuppering his title hopes entirely.  He could also have been overtaken by Vettel on fresher tyres, and again the title would have evaporated.  Hamilton had to leave it as late as possible to employ a strategy that he knew was unlikely to come off.  It would have relied on other drivers having the will, along with the car speed, to challenge Rosberg.  But, being the champion that he is, at least Hamilton had a go.

Mercedes had declared publicly that they would allow their drivers to race, and since both the Constructors’ title and Drivers’ title had already been secured by them, there was no reason for Mercedes to act otherwise.  Unless, of course, they had another agenda and were, in fact, backing Rosberg for the Drivers’ title.  Their dissembling became clear when Hamilton’s tactics began to take hold and the cars started to bunch up.  On crackled Hamilton’s radio with Mercedes race engineers pleading with their leading driver to speed up so Mercedes could get ‘the win’.  Lewis pointed out drily that he was ‘comfortably’ in the lead.

More unimpressive was champion-elect Rosberg’s reaction to his teammate’s wily tactics.  Rather than attempt to pass Hamilton if he felt the pace was too slow or simply grind it out, he went begging to the team to intervene.  Back came more of the same instructions to Hamilton.  They were dismissed disdainfully with the pert retort: ‘I suggest you just let us race.’  Clearly Mercedes needed someone with more authority to negotiate with the defiant Hamilton.  On came Paddy Lowe, the technical director, with the same demand to speed up and win the race.  Hamilton’s reply:  “Right now, I am losing the world championship, whether I win or lose this race.”  Obviously his team didn’t think he was losing it well enough.

In the end, neither of the other team’s drivers, Vettel or Verstappen behind him, appeared inclined to intervene so not only were Hamilton’s efforts in vain, but it made a mockery of Mercedes’ concerns about Vettel winning the race.  Vettel couldn’t have appeared less interested in helping Hamilton to win as many world titles as him!  But Hamilton’s competitive desire to hang on to his world title had revealed to the watching world, once and for all, what everyone had suspected all season: that Mercedes were not impartial.  They clearly favoured Rosberg and wanted Hamilton to play ball so their man could take the world title.

Hamilton’s resistance, rather than being seen as a legitimate attempt to fight for his world title, was condemned by Toto Wolff – he who likes to make phone calls to other drivers’ dads ordering their son to stay away from his drivers (we wonder which one?) – as ‘anarchy’.  Wolff has threatened to sanction Hamilton for disobeying team orders.  Considering he had publicly stated that he would allow the drivers to race, he has clearly been exposed as a liar.  Or perhaps what he actually meant was that he was happy for them to race so long as Lewis won the Grand Prix by a distance and allowed Nico to come home safely in second place and take the world title without having to ruffle his neatly coiffured blond hair.

The internecine battle at Mercedes does highlight one of the biggest problems in F1: the inherent conflict in having both a constructor’s title and a driver’s title – having two drivers in the same team with a unifying goal to win the constructors’ title, but paradoxically, being each other’s biggest rival for the individual drivers’ title at the same time.  Is F1 about the team or is it about the individual?  It can’t be both without creating these kinds of polarising clashes.

But perhaps that’s what Bernie Ecclestone and his cronies in F1 want.  Controversy.  Controversy generates publicity.  As the old adage goes: ‘all publicity is good publicity.’  At a time when the racing as a spectacle has never been duller, with a single team dominance and barely any overtaking on insipid, sanitised tracks, a cynic (otherwise known as Bernie E) might argue that the sport could do with all the publicity it can get.  And if that means Mercedes getting into unedifying spats with their own drivers over surreptitious team orders, then so be it.  After all, the fall out from the race is proving to be far more interesting than the racing, or the lack of it, on the track.

With no other team capable of challenging Mercedes’ dominance this season, the outcome of almost every race has been predictable.  The only thing about this season that has been unpredictable is Lewis Hamilton.  Hamilton is pure box-office.  No one attracts as much drama as he does.  It is his travails, his misfortunes and his altercations with his own team and teammate that have made this season in any way memorable.  So in a strange way, the 2016 season has got the champion it deserves.  Not the colourful, adventurous, inconsistent, occasionally self-destructive, mostly spectacular, boy racer Hamilton, but a bland, orderly, calculated, cerebral, conscientious, consistent driver, who, with a lot of help from his Mercedes team, has maximised his potential by taking advantage of their dominance.  Rosberg epitomises the modern driver and his world title win reflects modern F1.  Safe, mechanised, processional, self-preserving and corporate.  But very little racing.

Actual racing requires combustible boy racers, monstrous cars and fierce competition from different teams.  Without competition sport has no purpose.  Without competition from drivers of other teams, the 2016 constructors’ title was a Mercedes procession and the drivers’ title was a Mercedes hegemony compromised by their internal team strategy.  If this is the best F1 can offer, why would any fan bother to turn up next year?

The only hope is that with new regulations coming into the sport in 2017, it will make the other teams such as Red Bull with their exciting drivers Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo, and Ferrari with world champions Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen, more competitive and we can finally get to see some honest racing again.

 

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Teenage Kicks and Overtaking Tricks: Max Verstappen Thrills in Brazil

Never tell a teenager what to do.  It’s the surest way of guaranteeing they will do the exact opposite.  Toto Wolff, head honcho of Mercedes, clearly doesn’t have children.  If he did, he would have been aware of the contrariness of teenagers and might sensibly have refrained from making a phone call to Max Verstappen’s dad to have a ‘chat’ about him.  Wolff vehemently denied asking Daddy, a former F1 driver himself, to order his boy to stay away from his precious Mercedes drivers, as the drivers’ title race reaches its denouement.  Or perhaps more pertinently, to stay away from his precious Nico, bearing in mind Max’s Red Bull has been nowhere near the front-running Lewis Hamilton in recent weeks, but has got a little too close for comfort with Nico Rosberg’s Mercedes (like two weeks ago at the Mexican Grand Prix).  After all, fearless teenage boy racers can be dangerously unpredictable as well as contrary.

Toto may have refuted the allegation that his phone call to Verstappen Senior was about warning off his son, but the way Junior was gunning for Rosberg during Sunday’s Brazilian Grand Prix, the penultimate race of 2016, the youngster appeared to believe it.  He was racing as if it was he, and not the Mercedes drivers, who had a point to prove.  And it was his timely intrepid and audacious racing endeavour that would end up rescuing a race that threatened to dissolve into a literal damp squib.  An unceasing deluge of rain had created a chaos of crashes, safety cars and red flags that caused endless delays, stoppages and a paucity of racing, frustrating the Brazilian crowd into unashamedly voicing their disapproval with a chorus of boos (remember that familiar derisive sound from the Olympics?) and dismissive thumbs down gestures redolent of disapproving Roman emperors.

However, as soon as the racing finally got under way again for the third and final time, Max was hovering on second placed Rosberg’s tail like a seasoned hunter, and in a serendipitous moment as an extra shower spurt from Hamilton’s car spray conveniently blinded Rosberg, Junior grabbed his chance and swept past the championship leader before he could cry ‘water!’  Max got as close as one second behind to the race leader, until Hamilton stepped on the gas and produced a couple of fastest laps to increase the gap to two seconds, before Verstappen suffered a dramatic mishap on the straight that looked for all the world to have derailed his challenge.  He appeared to hit the white line on the track edge which sent his car into a half-spin.  Yet, somehow, Verstappen managed to regain control of his car and avoid hitting the wall, without losing second place to the fast closing Rosberg.  A remarkable save!

While there has, clearly, never been any doubt about Max Verstappen’s raw driving talent, doubts about Rosberg’s ability to drive in treacherous conditions were once again confirmed as he was outshone, not only by Max, but also by his own team mate, Hamilton, who was cruising in front on a waterlogged track as though he were in a rowing boat rather than a racing car.  Of course, Rosberg is in the fortuitous position of not having to win or even come second.  A third here would have ensured he would win the title in Abu Dhabi by finishing second.  In the event, a fatuous tyre strategy from Red Bull (that might have made a cynic wonder whether Toto Wolff had also made a phone call to Red Bull chief Christian Horner) ruined any possibility of Verstappen relegating him to third in Brazil and then repeating the feat in Abu Dhabi to throw open the title race.

Red Bull’s gamble to put intermediate tyres on both their drivers late in the race when there was no possibility of the rain abating and the track drying turned out to be a disastrous decision as Verstappen was forced to return to the pits a few laps later to reverse the team’s tyre choice.  By the time his new extreme wet tyres were fitted and he returned to the race, he was down in 16th place.  Clearly Verstappen felt he had not done enough to prove his racing credentials because he then went on a bender that saw him gain 13 places in 16 laps with some breathlessly daring and extraordinarily clever overtaking manoeuvres to end up back where he had been – third behind Rosberg – when the race had re-started for the third time.  Talk about coming full circle.  It was a fittingly Senna-esque drive in the rain on the home circuit in the home city – Sao Paulo – of the legendary Brazilian racing idol.

Hamilton’s uncontested victory means the title tussle goes down to the final race, if not necessarily down to the wire, in Abu Dhabi, in two weeks’ time.  Thanks to Hamilton’s heartbreakingly unlucky engine blowout in Malaysia five weeks ago, Rosberg has not needed to win any subsequent race.  A second or third place in a far, far superior car to the rest of the field bar Hamilton should ensure he wins the title in Abu Dhabi.  A title that will have been won more because of Hamilton’s wretched luck with reliability that was so remarkable it had many people cry conspiracy, rather than Rosberg’s ability to better his team mate in a straight fight.

Of course, should Rosberg win the world title – as he surely will, with the amount of good fortune he has enjoyed this season – no one is going to place an asterisk next to his name with the caveat that he only won because he got lucky and Hamilton was the superior and more deserving driver.  The annals of sport are brimming with great champions, but they are also full of lucky winners who only won because their rivals somehow contrived to lose.  Sport, like life, isn’t always fair.  The best don’t always win.  But as the rain-sodden Brazilian Grand Prix so vividly demonstrated, the best always steal the show.

A Sorry Sunday of Sport

One of the biggest disadvantages of being a multi sports fan is that sports inevitably clash.  However, on the plus side, by the law of averages someone somewhere should win and make yours truly a happy bunny.  Obviously the law of averages was out of sync today because everyone lost, apart from one favourite, who only won at the expense of another favourite.  Go figure.

Football:  It’s like being back in the 70s.  The Scousers look good and United are utter tripe.  Oh happy days now no one can accuse United fans of being glory hunters any more.  Oh happy days now away matches are all about the day out with your football mates.  Oh happy days to be able to drink to oblivion and not worry about being too blotto to remember that amazing performance, the goal glut, a goal scored from halfway line.  Oh happy days indeed…ugh.

Motor Racing:  If I was looking for sporting joy I wasn’t about to find it at the Singapore Grand Prix.  Lewis Hamilton was racing how I was feeling – meh.  The top 3 on the grid started Rosberg, Riccardo, Hamilton and the top 3 at the flag finished Rosberg, Riccardo, Hamilton.  In between, the race threatened to get interesting when Raikkonen passed Hamilton halfway through the race, triggering a three stop Mercedes strategy which allowed Hamilton to undercut Raikkonen and come out of the pit lane ahead of the Ferrari.  It inspired Red Bull to pit Riccardo and the Australian put on a late charge on fresh tyres to try and catch race leader Rosberg.  But it turned out to be much ado about nothing as Rosberg was able to hang on comfortably to the chequered flag despite suspected failing brakes.

Hamilton must be cursing the summer break for wrecking his momentum.  Before the hiatus, he had managed to turn round a 43 point deficit into a 19 point lead.  Since the resumption of racing, Rosberg has won every race unchallenged and has gone back into the lead for the driver’s title.  Hamilton, on the other hand, has gone into a funk.  The world champion needs to find his mojo again pronto because, right now, his season is veering a tad off course.

Tennis:  Overlapping with both the football and the motor racing was Britain’s Davis Cup semi final tie against Argentina.  There was never going to be any good sporting news to be found here.  Britain’s defence of the Davis Cup was over the moment Andy Murray lost his epic (does he play any other kind?) 5hr opening match against Juan Martin del Potro on Friday.  The rest was just detail.  Britain are a one man team.  It’s that simple.  If Andy wins both his singles, Britain win the tie.  If Andy loses one of his singles, Britain lose the tie.  Even though Argentina did everything they could to give Britain a chance by inexplicably allowing Del Potro to play in the doubles rather than saving him for the final singles rubber when they knew he was only fit enough to play one more match, Britain simply don’t have a second player good enough to take the gift.

It is notoriously difficult to come back from 0-2 down to win in the Davis Cup.  This year, only Croatia have achieved the feat, against the USA in the quarter finals back in July.  But that’s because Croatia have a number two in Borna Coric who can back his teammate up when the number one balls things up, as Marin Cilic did in their opening rubber.  From two sets up he lost the next three sets against Jack Sock to lose the match.  Coric also lost his tie to send Croatia 0-2 down.  Cilic commendably made up for his lapse by winning the doubles with Ivan Dodig and his reverse singles to level the tie at 2-2.  But it needed young pretender Coric to step up in the deciding rubber.  Fortunately for Croatia, Coric is a talented upcomer who, although ranked 54 in the world, comfortably defeated number 26 Jack Sock in four sets to propel Croatia into the semi finals.

Alas for GB, there is no one of Coric’s class in the British team.  Kyle Edmund, Britain’s own young upcomer, was more imposter than young pretender as he lost rather tamely in his tie against Guido Pella.  It was a very disappointing performance from someone who should be a competitive number two to Andy Murray.  Yes he is only 21, but then Coric is only 19.

It was entirely predictable that the Murray brothers would win the doubles on Saturday.  What was entirely unpredictable was seeing Del Potro at the other end.  It was a completely baffling decision considering his odds of beating the Murray brothers with partner Leo Mayer were minuscule to none, whilst his odds of beating Dan Evans, who was predicted to play the final rubber, were entirely on.  Argentina made a very risky call, but maybe they knew that Britain simply didn’t have a good enough number two.  Any one of the second string Argentinians could have won it for them.

The difference in class between Andy Murray and the rest was evident when, unlike Edmund, he had no trouble dispatching Guido Pella, despite being hampered by a thigh strain that required a medical time out early in the third set.  The only worry was whether the limping Murray would be able to play out the final few games.  Thankfully, the gulf in ability was too huge to threaten even a clearly injured Murray who won out in three easy sets 6-3, 6-2, 6-3.

Argentina had been playing mind games with Britain by keeping them guessing about whether Delpo would be playing, although the Argentinian press were adamant that he would not.  Delpo had practiced briefly in the morning and was nowhere to be seen during Andy’s match.  But then neither was Leo Mayer.  And it was he who came out for the final rubber to face Dan Evans.  They say one of the worst things you can do to someone is give them hope.  Argentina had given Britain hope, and when Mayer came out way too hyped up with all guns blazing and spraying way too many balls out, Evans won the first set and the Argentinians must have wondered whether they really had shot themselves in the foot.

They hadn’t.  Any nascent hopes of an unlikely British victory were soon emphatically quashed as Mayer discovered his service rhythm and started serving bombs and thumping bone crunching forehands from the Del Potro school of bone crunching forehands.  Mayer has also suffered injuries from the Del Potro school of injuries, which has seen his ranking plummet to an unfortunate 114, but he was once number 21 in the world and he was playing like it.  Of course it helped that Dan Evans has no real weapons that could hurt his opponent, and his serve and general performance were wilting under the Argentinian’s relentless onslaught.  Del Potro was keeping a poker face on the support bench but he must have been feeling very relieved to see that Britain simply didn’t have a competitive second string.  Once Mayer had broken in the second set, the outcome of the match was never in doubt.

Ultimately, Argentina had deserved to win the tie, not only for Del Potro’s remarkable performance against Andy on Friday – Delpo is surely the de facto world number four – but also because they were able to play as a team.  The format of the Davis Cup enables a team with a big star player to win 3 matches and thus win his team the ties, but that is not really a fair reflection of the strength of the country.  Great Britain won the Davis Cup last year because Andy won all his matches in the quarters, semis and final.  Had Andy beaten Delpo, Britain would probably have retained the trophy.  But it is neither fair nor realistic to expect Andy to win everything, and in all honesty, this should be the last time Andy commits to the Davis Cup.  He turns 30 next year so his time at the top is short and there is still unfinished business with Grand Slams.  Let the others take on the Davis Cup burden that Andy has carried on his shoulders, by himself, for so long.  They need to try and step into Andy’s shoes even if those shoes may be far too big to fill.

Sometimes you can have too many favourites.  It leads to confusing emotions when they inevitably end up playing each other.  In the Davis Cup semis, I faced the nightmare scenario of having a favourite playing for each team!  Obviously Andy is the unequivocal number one, but I do have very soft spot for Delpo (who doesn’t?).  So it was a bittersweet moment when he defeated Andy as I couldn’t be completely gutted for Andy, but I couldn’t be completely happy for Delpo either!  Likewise, an even more ambiguous scenario was unfolding in the other semi final between Croatia and France, where closer favourites Marin Cilic and Richard Gasquet would be pitted against each other.  Both had won their opening rubbers, and then Marin had teamed up with Ivan Dodig once more to win the doubles.  Then came the dreaded first of the reverse singles, which could decide the outcome of the tie.  Marin vs Richard.  Whom did I want to win?  I couldn’t choose, but I had a sneaking suspicion about who I thought would win.  The tie was taking place in Croatia, Marin was on a roll and Richard had recently come back from a back injury, so I wasn’t sure that any supporting was required as I believed Marin would win.

The two semi finals were taking place simultaneously, and weirdly, the scores in both of the first rubbers mirrored each other.  Andy Murray won his first two sets 6-3, 6-2 and Marin Cilic won his first two sets 6-3, 6-2.  Marin then broke early, but then spoilt the symmetry by getting broken back.  Marin’s Achilles heel has always been his wobbly temperament under pressure and nervy tendency to lose matches he looks like he is cruising in, so these days I rarely consider any match of his over until he has won the final point (see this year’s Wimbledon quarter final against Roger Federer).  However, Richard has been equally biscuity (i.e. crumbling under pressure) of temperament himself in the past though he is tougher these days.  These days it is injuries that tend to scupper him, and it was no surprise that he couldn’t sustain his comeback.  Cilic has also been looking like the man ever since that aforementioned comeback against the USA post that humiliating defeat to Sock after being 2 sets up, and he was less likely to lose this match than Del Potro was to play in the final rubber.  Cilic won the third set 7-5 to send Croatia into the final.  After a sorry day when everyone else had lost (and Andy’s win counting for naught), finally someone I liked had won.  Well, it was one way of ensuring a win.  Have enough favourites and somebody you like is bound to win!

So it’s Delpo vs Marin in the Davis Cup final.  Who do I want to win?  The parallels between them are unnerving.  Both were born within a week of each other in 1988; both are 6ft 6 inches in height; both have one Grand Slam each, the US Open; both are trying to win their first Davis Cup, and I have a soft spot for both of them.  Of course, Delpo has the heart-rending fairy tale comeback narrative.  The crowd though will be with Cilic since the final will be played in, erm, Croatia.  Er, toss a coin?  I think I am going to go for the 6 ft 6 inch former US Open champion trying to win his first Davis Cup.

Back To Front To Indifferent For Lewis Hamilton

If F1 races in recent seasons have been predictable in their outcome because of Mercedes domination, Lewis Hamilton remains predictable in his unpredictability.  After starting at the back of the grid in Spa last week and coming through a chaotic race to finish an excellent third, Hamilton returned to familiar territory at the front of the grid at the Italian Grand Prix.  He had been a whopping half a second faster than teammate Nico Rosberg in qualifying so should have been on easy street in the race.  But this is Lewis we are talking about.  Straightforward is not his middle name.  What should have been business as usual in a good way turned into business as usual in a bad way.  Lewis has been having trouble with the clutch on his starts all season.  It cost him in Bahrain; it cost him in Canada, and it would cost him in Monza.

It looked like Hamilton had fallen asleep at the wheel as the lights went out at the start.  His Mercedes was swamped as the other cars stormed past, and by the time he woke up, he was down in a disastrous sixth place.  Getting into and out of trouble is Hamilton’s speciality, but here, in front of a fanatical Tifosi, Hamilton was uncharacteristically underwhelming.  Although he was able to pass Ricciardo and Bottas to go fourth, and was assisted by a conservative two stop tyre strategy from both the Ferraris versus a one stopper for Mercedes, to eventually finish second, his wretched start had left him too far behind Rosberg and ruined his chance of a win.

For the second race in a row Nico Rosberg was able to cruise to victory.  He had got away brilliantly at the start and was never troubled again.  It was the drive of the day.  Nico Rosberg looks like the best driver in the world when there is no pressure on him.  When the rain stays away and Lewis is safely tangled up in one of his seemingly endless crises, Nico Rosberg is unbeatable.  Rosberg will need Hamilton to keep toppling off the edge he so relishes living on if he is to win that elusive driver’s title.

Rosberg’s Relaxing Win at Spa

After a month’s holiday, the F1 circus resumed on Sunday with the Belgium Grand Prix.  Lewis Hamilton had incurred so many grid penalties for taking on extra engine parts, he should have started the race in Holland.  Thankfully, irrespective of the number of penalties accumulated, the furthest back he could start was in 21st place.  In what was surely the most exalted last row on the grid in F1, he was joined in 22nd and last place by former team mate and two time world champion Fernando Alonso.  All of Hamilton’s difficulties had left Nico Rosberg with an unexacting front spot on the grid and a shoe in for a win.  It was simply a question of how effective Hamilton’s salvage operation was going to be.

The fun-most part of F1 is always the start.  At Spa, it was like a demolition derby.  Roseberg got away brilliantly, but behind him carnage ensued.  Young buck Max Verstappen, who had started in 2nd place, ended up in a three way collision with the two Ferraris of Kimi Raikonen and Sebastian Vettel, leaving them all with extensive damage, and sliding down the order, with Max and Kimi being forced to pit.  The mayhem continued with Manor’s Pascal Wehrlein crashing into Jenson Button’s rear and taking him out.  Then, the Toro Rosso driver Carlos Sainz’s back tyre exploded, leading to the virtual safety car being deployed.  Who said F1 was a dull procession?

With all the chaos going on in between, if you couldn’t be clear in first place like Rosberg, the next best place to be, ironically, was at the back.  Both Alonso and Hamilton benefited so much from the whacky races going in front of them that they were in 12th and 15th place by the end of the first lap!  By the time the virtual safety car was deactivated, Hamilton was 12th.  More drama followed as Kevin Magnussen then spun his Renault backwards into a tyre wall.  We were only on lap 6!  Out came the actual safety car, and with several of the drivers on softs choosing to come into the pits, Alonso and Hamilton, who had started on mediums, now found themselves, amazingly, in 4th and 5th place.  And then, as if there wasn’t enough going on, the red flag came out.  The race was stopped.  The tyre wall needed a proper rebuild job and the rest of us could take a breath and lie down for a moment.

A much needed 10 minute breather later and the cars were back out again.  Hamilton was now only four places behind Rosberg.  Soon it would be three as he had little trouble passing the under powered McLaren-Honda of Alonso.  He had Nico Hulkenberg of Force India in his sights.  By lap 18 he was past him and gunning for second placed Daniel Riccardo.  And that was where any hopes of a miraculous challenge for top spot ended.  Hamilton had complained on radio of losing grip so the team brought him in on lap 22 of 44, which meant he would be on a 3 lap strategy while Riccardo and Rosberg would only pit twice.  A stuck jack meant Hamilton had a slightly longer pit stop than necessary, though it didn’t affect his position.  He would finish in a comfortable third place behind Riccardo and Rosberg, who could have stopped for tea and cake and still won the race.

In fact, Rosberg’s most disconcerting moments of the day came after the race.  First, he discovered Lewis had managed to finish third, so the deficit between them in the driver’s championship had only narrowed by 10 points, with the Brit still 9 points ahead overall.  Then, when he jumped onto the podium, he was greeted by a chorus of mild boos.  No, this wasn’t an outtake from the Rio Olympics, but perhaps the gaggle of Dutch fans who had come from over the border to follow Max had been unduly influenced by the naughty antics of the Brazilian crowd.  Or maybe most F1 fans just don’t like Rosberg.  Maybe if he did more crowd surfing like Hamilton or drank champagne out of his shoe like Riccardo (yep, Aussies are weird), he might be more kindly regarded.  Perhaps he likes being the pantomime villain, though it’s rather unusual (actually unheard of) for them to come in handsome, blond haired, blue eyed silver spooned packages.  Rosberg won’t care so long as he wins that coveted driver’s title.  But with Hamilton’s penchant for making miraculous comebacks it’s not only in the popularity stakes that Rosberg might struggle to come out on top.

 

Wheel of Fortune Turns Against Rosberg

Back in April, yours truly at Random Towers wrote a blog about Lewis Hamilton’s early season travails and suggested that in order to inject some excitement into the F1 season he should allow teammate Nico Rosberg to gain a massive head start in the Drivers’ Championship and then dramatically claw back the lead and hurtle past to win the title.   Obviously Lewis has been reading my blog!  And followed suit!  How pliable of him.  From 43 points down to 19 points up.  Courtesy of 6 wins in 7 races and now 4 wins in a row after winning the German Grand Prix on Sunday.  Way to go Lewis!

As for Nico Rosberg, he needs to hire a driving instructor to teach him how to steer right.  After driving Hamilton off the track in Austria on the final lap rather than turning into the corner in due time and destroying his own race victory in the process, he tried to do the same to young Max Verstappen at the German Grand Prix.  Now precocious Max isn’t exactly averse to using some iffy defensive tactics of his own, like moving in the braking zone, but Rosberg was never going to get away with shunting a fellow driver off the track twice in four races.  Misfortune though is like buses.  It all comes at once.  Rosberg had already suffered from a disastrous start, dropping from pole to fourth, which is what left him grappling with Verstappen for third.  Mercedes had then tried to under cut the Red Bull with an earlier pit stop for Rosberg, but to no avail.  This left Rosberg trying to get past in his unique way, which cost him a 5 second penalty.  A 5 second penalty taken in the pits that bizarrely turned into an 8.2 second penalty thanks to a malfunctioning stop watch.  You know your luck must be out when German equipment starts conking out!  The unwitting delay didn’t affect the outcome though and Rosberg finished fourth, behind the two Red Bulls, with his teammate serenely coasting to victory at the front.

Rosberg may now find himself 19 points behind going into the summer break, but it’s not all over just yet.  That would be far too straightforward, and since when does Lewis Hamilton do straightforward?  There will be the obligatory twist in the tale.  Hamilton has to take a grid penalty in the next couple of races for using more than the permissible engine parts at the beginning of the season, which could cost him his hard earned lead.  Lewis though has form for making epic comebacks from back of the grid (see Hungary and Germany 2014) so the prospect of a Hamilton charge up the order is enticing.  F1 needs all the help it can get in having more wheel to wheel racing and overtaking, so it is good to know Lewis Hamilton takes his duties as entertainment ambassador seriously.  Well, this is a man whose idea of celebrating a home Grand Prix win was to fling himself onto his delirious fans to enjoy a spot of crowd surfing!  Dull, he ain’t.  And that can only mean more excitement for F1 fans.

Red Bull Gives You Wins

Red Bull Racing must be feeling very pleased with themselves.  After the debacle at the Russian Grand Prix, the team’s management ruthlessly demoted hapless driver Daniil Kvyat to their junior team, Toro Rosso, and promoted preciously gifted teenager Max Verstappen to take his place in the senior car.  At the time, the move was considered rather harsh by many, with fellow racing driver Jenson Button coming out in support of the beleaguered Russian.

But what an inspired decision it proved to be!  With the two Mercedes boys recklessly playing dodgems at the front during the start of the Spanish Grand Prix on Sunday and promptly taking each other out, Max Verstappen kept his cool to become the youngest winner in F1 history at just 18 years old.

What an auspicious start to his racing career.  No doubt the team will be enjoying something a little stronger than Red Bull to celebrate his win, though young Max may want to stick to Red Bull.  It gives you wins, don’t you know.