Brought to you by TheJudge13 reporter Adam Macdonald (@adamac39)
Ladies and Gentlemen, boys and girls, welcome to the contemporary Punch and Judy Show featuring Niki Lauda, Toto Wolff, Paddy Lowe, Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg and a whole backing cast. It’s the most entertaining puppet show that travels the world to amuse the indulged fans over an eight month season.
The fallout from Budapest was clear for all to see. The civil war that is brewing amongst the ranks at Brackley is, in truth, something that will keep us glued to our screens for the rest of the year as punch and counter-punch ensues (if you’ll pardon the pun). The public playing out of such a drama as team orders always stirs debate and brings out allegiances; with this battle being no different.
Whether you think Lewis Hamilton did the correct thing or not by not moving over to let Rosberg through is irrelevant to this debate, as loyalties seem to become painfully obvious in the wake of…. errr…. Multi 644 …or whatever it will become known as down the line. The obvious lack of cohesion between the troops makes an all dominating team like Mercedes look silly and open to ridicule.
The lack of foresight to such an eventuality as we saw meant the team politics resemble something like a Punch and Judy show. Slapstick in their nature and a lack of order down to the core, we the adoring aficionados of the sport gaze on wondering what will happen to Mr Punch (played by the combination of Lauda and Wolff), Judy (Rosberg and Hamilton), the baby (a symbol for control, order and success) and the policeman (Ross Brawn).
The story so far has seen the monumental rise from a midfield team to the front of the grid, thanks to the careful guidance and meticulous planning of all involved. Now ten races into a season where they have blown away the opposition, Mr Punch finds itself at a fork in the path of the journey. How the trio manage this volatile situation is of paramount importance to ensure they receive the Stuttgart seal of approval; but the problem here is that Mr Punch is flawed.
The corporately driven Toto Wolff wants what is best for the team as a business not allowing emotion to cloud his vision, much. Those who argue that he favours Nico Rosberg are neither supported or unsupported with this statement, as ‘what is best for the team’ could mean Rosberg winning or not. One thing this viewpoint does not lend itself to is the teammates driving each other off the track, like a certain Red Bovine pair did in Turkey, in 2010.
One of the most respected racers of all-time for his courage, passion and persona, Niki Lauda is the complete opposite to Wolff. The level of emotional investment he feels makes it hard for him to be impartial, such is the way he comments on the situation ‘the way he sees it.’ To my mind, one of the reasons he would seem to prefer Lewis Hamilton is quite a simple train of thought – he sees some of his own racing spirit and heart-on-sleeve personality in the Briton.
This then leaves Paddy Lowe in the middle of the two, aligned to a puppet (which works well with the analogy) as he is on a string between both the Austrians. His softly softly approach means questions remain as to whether he indeed has authority within the setup. His title within the team, Executive Director (Technical), allows for a less biased stance, with more of an interest to merely see the cars home in one piece.
On a side note, those who question Lowe’s impartialness due to his McLaren history with Hamilton I disagree with. If anything, it makes him even more ‘fair’ as he seeks to treat each driver equally, as shown by his instructions to the pair in Bahrain.
The plot thickens
Now with an all-conquering car and both Championships seemingly wrapped up and heading in the direction of Mercedes AMG, the baby – the control – will become even more difficult to manage. Judy (ROS/HAM) expects Mr Punch to care for the baby and ensure it stays safe, although surely this is an impossible outcome given the mixed views Mr Punch has.
In the performed puppet show, the baby is frequently dropped, sat on, hit or put through a sausage machine. Hamilton and Rosberg have already shown they will rebel if given orders, demonstrated by Hamilton in Barcelona and Rosberg in Bahrain, using ‘illegal’ engine settings in both circumstances. This latest rebellion is just another example in a series of internal disputes. Hamilton has been publicly ear-clipped by the Mercedes announcements that drivers will be forced to listen to team orders, although the storyline of the puppet show demonstrates this is a flawed route to follow.
It is naïve of Judy (ROS/HAM) to expect Mr Punch to be able to control the situation. Back in Malaysia 2013 there was a policeman, Ross Brawn, to manage the situation ensuring it never spiraled out of control. This policeman was not felled by Punch’s slapstick as in the puppet show, instead the law enforcement was squeezed out of the team, leaving a fundamentally lawless state.
In many versions of the slapstick course a ghost and/or devil appear towards the end of the sketch. Mr Punch invariably chases away the devil or tricks the ghost into hanging itself, although in this real life version things would seem to be heading for a different outcome. A race ending collision between the pair is being offered at 5/1 by bookmakers, as the coming together is seemingly inconceivable. However, with a lack of strong and decisive leadership at the top this looks to be ever more likely.
The show usually ends with applause from the audience when Mr Punch triumphs in chasing away the devil. I, for one, will be the first to applaud if the situation is managed properly and there are not metaphorical fireworks before the end of the year (there definitely will be actual fireworks in Abu Dhabi – there always are). However, I struggle to see how this is possible given the way the season is playing out.
The Curtain Call
To avoid a repeat of the puppet show we saw at the Hungaroring the rules must be laid down. However, common sense must prevail given the enormity of the prize at stake in 3 months-time. Can either driver really be expected to help the other as they do battle for the ultimate racing accolade, the Formula One World Championship?
The major flaw in this plan is to Mr Punch himself – common sense is not his strong point. Lauda, Wolff and Lowe have some time to mull over their next step although the most telling event of the story so far was actually something that did not happen. Christian Horner may have been the subject of ridicule after the Multi 21 affair, but at least he had the stones to come over the radio to Vettel – even if all he could muster was a plea bargain of “Come on Seb, this is silly.”
He may have lacked the authority of the Ross Brawn that day, but he cornered Vettel into a position of obey me or disobey me. Hamilton was afforded ‘wiggle room’ when his defence of his right to keep the German behind unless Rosberg could get close enough to pass him showed the state of play. The very fact the team later admitted part of the reason for not giving him a direct order to slow down was due to “feeling sorry for him” given the recent qualifying woes, shows emotion is clouding their judgement.
Consistency is the key to this affair. Keep the stance constant and there will be no tears at the end. If not, then unhappy campers will be made, dark clouds will form above and the pressure will heighten, ultimately resulting in the bubble bursting.
Get your popcorn ready folks – it’s going to be an amazing few months…