During the previous At the recent F1 outing in Hungary, there were claims that Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton was backing up his teammate and title rival Nico Rosberg.
After pitting first time for the yellow marked soft tyres, Lewis Hamilton claimed over team radio to be “struggling for pace”.
During this phase of the race, Red Bull rival, Daniel Ricciardo, was catching Lewis’ team mate in P2 by up to a second a lap. This prompted the team to intervene demanding of Hamilton that he ‘pick up the pace’.
Lewis replied “I’m working on it”.
The risk to Mercedes was that Ricciardo could snatch second place from Nico by closing the gap, then pitting first and gaining ‘the undercut’. This would rob the Silver Arrows team of a sacred one-two finish.
The Honey Badger continued to close as Hamilton’s pace barely improved.
The Mercedes pit wall intervened, threatening pit Rosberg next time around before Hamilton. Of course Lewis realised this would possibly give Nico the undercut on him.
Suddenly, the wily old world champion did ‘pick up the pace’.
Toto Wolff was asked after the race whether Lewis was backing up his teammate, he has this to say:
“I’m sure he didn’t want to back him up,” he smiled knowingly.
“All weekend we were discussing with them that they need to be very cautious on the tyres… We didn’t have any experience on those tyres, so he over-managed it probably.
“He had everything under control, he knew that Nico was behind him and didn’t realise that the [traffic] train was approaching fast and that there was a different strategy behind him, so I guess he didn’t have the complete picture and for him it looked OK.
“That’s why he just took it easy.”
That’s great Toto, but it doesn’t explain the need to threaten Hamilton.
With the Hungaroring making it notoriously difficult to overtake, Lewis knew he was in the box seat whether in ‘tyre save mode’ or ‘engine saving mode’ or ‘backing up Rosberg mode’.
After the race, Hamilton explained he’d been ‘managing his engine’ but despite this a grid penalty at Spa appears to be odds on for Lewis who will need need extra unit components to see the season out.
Despite Lewis protestations of innocence, the ‘backing up’ incident was reminiscent of China 2015 when Nico complained during the race about his teammates lack of pace as Vettel closed in on Rosberg who was stuck behind Hamilton.
Lewis responded in China, “it’s not up to me to look after Nico’s race.”
Yet Mercedes appear to have now found a way of forcing Lewis to consider the ‘greater good’ of the team and in the meantime with Rosberg’s new deal signed us up for two more seasons of this fun and games.