It is not often that one incident can define both a race and a championship, and in the process overshadow everything else. Does anyone remember what else happened at the Japanese Grand Prix in 1989? Or the Australian Grand Prix of 1994? The Mercedes clash at Spa will likely be one of those rare instances.
Lewis Hamilton came out of Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix as the team-player aiming for a 1-2 when he was hit, “on purpose” as quoted post race, by his nefarious team-mate. Rosberg – booed on the podium – was the villain of the piece; taking Hamilton out “on purpose” for any number of reasons ranging from anger at losing two places at the start, to a desire to maintain his slender championship lead. It seems, as the dust begins to settle, that the “on purpose” was a mis-translation of “to prove a point”. Which puts a somewhat different complexion on things.
What point was Rosberg trying to prove? Based on the Hamilton/Rosberg on track battles so far this season it seems logical to assume it was this; he is no longer prepared to allow his team-mate to out-muscle him. Rosberg may have been putting down a marker to say that he will no longer be the one who lifts first to avoid a shunt.
There have been races this season – Bahrain most notably – where Hamilton has used robust defence on Rosberg. In some cases the German has pulled out to avoid an accident, leaving the 2008 World Champion with the upper hand and able to lean on his team-mate. Hamilton had the line but was his move across Rosberg a 50/50 gamble or based on previous experience of Nico shying away from direct confrontation?
Toto Wolff is understandably very unhappy with a clash that cost a certain 1-2 result. Trying to resolve the matter and prevent it completely derailing the rest of Mercedes’ season might already be impossible.
With the Hungary team-orders fiasco handled so badly – confusion over who said what, confusion over whether it should be enforced and no clarity on whether to reprimand the ‘disobedient’ Hamilton or not – what precedent was set? How does the team move on if some actions are penalised and others are not? Equally, if the FIA decide to punish Rosberg retrospectively on the basis of Hamilton’s comments it could set a horrible precedent for team-mates making accusations and counter-accusations against each other about on-track behaviour and divining each others intentions.
No one would want to be Toto Wolff or Paddy Lowe right now but bottom line: races should be decided on the track, not in the motorhome.