The past 24 hours has been reminiscent of Malaysia 2013 and the whole multi-21 saga. Team orders or just ‘let em race’ are the opposing philosophical views.
The ‘let em race’ brigade believe they a pure racers at heart and that their heroes should be blood, guts and thunder – all out from flag to flag. “Screw the rest, I’m here to do my best”
This of course was the eventual line Sebastian Vettel trotted out after the three-week break following the multi 21 race.
The problem is that whilst this appears passionate, full of valour and being true to oneself, the reality behind the scenes makes this position disingenuous.
Many hold to the perception that Vettel mugged his team-mate Mark Webber in Malaysia, as the cars were cruising for a 1-2 they had been instructed to turn down their engines to ensure reliability.
Turning up his engine and launching a sneaky attack on his unsuspecting team-mate, meant Sebastian lost credibility in the eyes of many fans. It wasn’t a fair fight.
However, had young Seb told the team to ‘screw their team orders’ and inform Mark he had one lap to get ready for the impending onslaught, Vettel may have been deemed by many as heroic and a champion of anti corporate influences on F1.
So in Hungary 2014, was Lewis Hamilton a champion of the real racers or just a ‘sneaky’ Vettel-esque opportunist move?
Mercedes discuss the various strategies available to both drivers prior to the race and both drivers are aware of each others’ plan A and Plan B or C options.
For the driver who is behind arriving at the first pit stop, there is often a counter strategy devised, to give him the opportunity to actually create the opportunity to jump their team mate should the strategy play out as simulated.
Due to Lewis’ position, it appeared track position would be a problem for him and so running long on the prime was thought to deliver better long-term track position for him.
This could mean that Hamilton found himself ahead of his team-mate, who was on fresher tyres but who had another pit stop-loss of time to suffer.
The call came for Hamilton to let Rosberg, who had been catching Hamilton at over a second a lap, through and again Lewis chose to question the team’s decision and whether they were putting him at a disadvantage.
The result being for around 12 laps, Rosberg was ‘stuck’ behind Hamilton.
Due to the lower track temperatures during the race when compared to the rest of the weekend, the difference between the pace of the prime tyre and the soft tyre was less pronounced. The prime worked better at lower temperatures. This was why Mercedes fitted him with the prime at his second stop.
Rosberg knew on the go-kart circuit that is Hungary, it was pointless ruining his tyres and strategy to challenge Hamilton and was informed by the team on more than one occasion Lewis had been given the call for him to move over.
Lewis in the meantime was punishing the prime tyre during the first half of its life, lap times of the other prime runners demonstrate he was 1-1.5s quicker than Massa, Vettel and Bottas at equivalent stages of them running the prime tyre after the second stop..
However, payback was always likely, during the last 10 laps of the race, Hamilton was up to 2-2.5s slower than other prime tyre runners, because he failed to take the measured approach to the entire stint the tyres required and the team had set out.
Yet he finished third and ahead of his team-mate rival for the WDC.
So what? Lewis did – as he said post race – what was right for him, just as Vettel did some 18 months earlier.
Add to this that Mercedes most likely have the WCC in the bag, so its gloves off time – time for Nico and Lewis to slug it out, so we can see who is the best… Right?
Yet this was no fair fight. Had Rosberg known his team-mate was going to hi-jack his strategy, he would never have pitted from behind JEV. At the time, Vettel was behind Rosberg and Lewis behind Vettel. Nico had track position.
If the duel was merely to be between Lewis and himself, Nico would have run as long as possible on the soft tyre, which was already proving to be surprisingly durable – again due to the lower track temperatures. This would have given Rosberg track position over Hamilton. Rosberg didn’t realise the rules of the game had changed and track position was now ‘king’, so he pursued the optimal strategy provided by the team.
Had Nico abandoned the strategy, run long, this would have created a situation where as the driver ahead, Rosberg, would have eventually received first call on tyre strategy for the second stop. the german would have chosen the optimum moment where he had a gap to Lewis, pitted for fresh rubber and blasted out of the pits and created the undercut on Lewis with his ageing tyres.
So was Lewis really a hero? He couldn’t have achieved the result he did without Rosberg failing to understand the new rules of the game.
Once again, Lewis placed himself at odds with the team. As Toto Wolff said after the race, “What we had at the beginning of the season doesn’t function anymore. Perhaps we need to have a new way. It’s getting intense and we need to sit down and discuss how to handle things.”
These are not the comments of someone deliriously happy with the way the day panned out or the fact Lewis drove spectacularly from the pit lane to the podium. Maybe the rules of the game will change, and track position will be the new strategy goal from the moment one driver gets pole position.
Yet Lauda’s insistence that the drivers be allowed to race without strategy protocols, wasn’t completely endorsed by Wolff who said, “This is one of the thoughts we are having. At the moment, we have a 170-point advantage in the constructors’ championship and maybe it is a moment of loosening it a bit, in agreement with both of them.” – See more at: http://www.f1times.co.uk/news/display/09170#sthash.tAhfcTpV.dpuf
Toto has one eye on Stuttgart, who may be less than impressed if designing race strategies for each Mercedes driver to overcome the other, will result in a sub-optimal performance of the team, and more race wins are jeopardised.
This of course would be great for the fans, but the blanket global marketing campaign issued from Germany following each race win may then have to take a rain check every now and then.
This should have been one of Hamilton’s most euphoric moments after such a mesmeric drive and following a day of woeful despair. Yet Lewis’ demeanour on the podium was subdued, because he knows there will be ramifications for his actions – though what they will be – we can but speculate.
And for what; a handful of points which pale into insignificance when the prospect of Abu Dhabi and double points looms on the horizon?