I said controversy would be the main theme heading into this race weekend. And in typical Formula 1 style, its surrounds a lot of topics, not least the contact between the two Mercedes drivers last time out. Will there be team orders? What was Rosberg’s penalty? Will Hamilton have luck on his side? As it turns out we saw an answer for all of these questions this weekend, some even before the race began.
It was a valiant effort from Lewis Hamilton to take the race win from Rosberg. But even after people criticised his teammate for crashing into him on purpose and accusing Mercedes of favouritism, they now feel the need to point out that it was in fact a fixed race result as part of a punishment for Belgium’s events. I don’t usually respond to conspiracy theories, particularly if they are just opinions based on facts seemingly developed out of thin air. But on this occasion, with the amount of press coverage and attention it got from broadcasters, I feel the need to point out a couple of facts and concepts that perhaps tell the story a lot better than “Rosberg made a mistake on purpose.”
First lets look at Lewis Hamilton’s pace throughout the race weekend. He was clearly faster than Rosberg, and Qualifying confirmed this. In the opening stages of the final part of the session, he managed to set a lap time four tenths faster than his teammate – a gap you would think would be big enough to warrant him calling it a day with four minutes left in the session. But with a lot of other unknowns at play, Mercedes instead decided to let Lewis do another run on tyres that really wouldn’t have made a difference to his race stints.
As it turned out, Nico didn’t have a response. His lap time was still two tenths slower – in the same piece of kit as Hamilton – despite showing up as being faster in the speed trap. This was largely down to his sector times, which showed up as being a tenth and a half slower than Hamilton’s in each of the three crucial areas on the track. Then in the race we saw that whilst Hamilton got a bad start, Rosberg was still unable to stretch the gap to Massa, and when it came to Hamilton applying the pressure he cracked more than once – the second time being for the lead of the race.
We know from the radio message sent to Hamilton during Qualifying that making sure you don’t flat spot your tyres will be key to stretching out your stint length as long as possible, so naturally any drastic lockups due to late braking would mean game over as far as that stint was concerned. So rather than deliberately running across the chicane twice on purpose, Rosberg wanted to ensure that his tyres lasted without going off so he could secure second place and not hand it to Massa, because much like Silverstone and Canada, he had no answer for Hamilton’s pace over the course of a lap.
That ultimately denied us of some racing, but it was a measure of the amount of pressure Lewis is able to put on his teammate at a circuit he clearly has the advantage on. A more interesting conspiracy theory regarding Rosberg’s punishment would be the data sharing that their pair usually do within the team.
Previously they were called out by Toto Wolff for both using engine modes that they were told not to in Bahrain and Spain, to attack and defend their positions. With the constructors battle tied up for Mercedes, it seems they were still wanting their drivers to share data from both sides of the garage, in order to maximise the teams result and help them further develop this advantage going into subsequent seasons. However with Hamilton seemingly being two seconds faster than Rosberg all weekend, one would assume that this sharing may have been limited this weekend as a punishment for not following the rules.
Mercedes wouldn’t want anything but a one-two finish so to guarantee it, they will have gave Rosberg any advantage Hamilton had found in Practice, whether it be in aero setup or ERS consumption. The fact that Rosberg had to ensure his tyres were in good enough shape to last both stints to the extent that he was willing to miss the first chicane twice, to me seems like such a punishment may have been implemented for costing the team a one-two finish last time out.
Whilst we’re on the subject of conspiracy theories, as noticed by @f1fanatic_co_uk on Twitter an interesting technical tidbit was pointed out by Mark Hughes in his race report today. According to him Williams have to get permission from Mercedes whenever it wishes to use their “overtake” button – which we know from Austria as being the turbo boost – and that it “tends to come more readily when the fight is with a Red Bull or a Ferrari than when it’s a Mercedes.”
We saw on Sunday whilst Hamilton was recovering through the field that he was able to pass Massa, when Williams told him not to use his overtake button for a couple of laps. Whether that has anything to do with Mercedes not giving them permission so they don’t have to fight with the Williams after a run of non-race-winning-results is an interesting prospect, and one that would certainly explain their lack of aggressive strategies when it comes to challenging for race wins. And after three terrible years, the team might just be happy with a competitive car and “knocking on the door” for good results.
I’m not saying this could be the case, for sure Mercedes have engineers on hand at Williams to advise them when its best to use all of these systems, so it doesn’t interfere with the control electronics. And from an engine suppliers point of view, they will have a vested interest in making sure that they have a reliable package, otherwise one assume that Williams would be getting their Power Unit at a discounted rate. However its not unknown for Power Unit suppliers to sell their components at a discounted rate to some teams this year, in order for them to gather data. And with the ties Toto Wolff has in the team in owning 16 per-cent, it makes for a very interesting dynamic.
Anyway thats enough of going down that rabbit hole, lets get back to the racing and more specifically the incidents between Magnussen and Bottas versus Perez and Button. We saw that Magnussen got a five second stop and go which was added on to his elapsed race time for forcing Valterri Bottas off track, whilst Jenson Button didn’t get any penalty for doing what some say was virtually the same move on Perez down at the second chicane.
Having looked at both incidents, I’d say it was a close call for the stewards regarding Bottas and Magnussen, but he just didn’t leave him the space that the Williams was entitled to. We saw earlier on in the race that you can fit two cars through the first chicane with Lewis Hamilton’s move on Felipe Massa for second, and the Williams was on the inside then when the move was made. I’d say in the eyes of the stewards, they probably felt Magnussen could have avoided pushing Bottas off track by braking earlier and just giving him enough space to stay on the road.
As for Perez and Button, that was just close racing. Perez didn’t shortcut the chicane that much, and Button shortcutted the first part of the corner as much as he could to give him the space on the inside, so I’d say it was a racing incident. What happened at the following corner when the pair went wheel-to-wheel at one of the narrowest parts of the circuit, for me confirms that they respected each other battling for that position.
My driver of the day award goes to Daniel Riccardo. After making a Mark Webber-esq start from ninth place to drop back four places, he certainly did make it up by making his alternative strategy work and by extracting the most out of the car in the second stint in a drive worthy of the Maestro himself, Fernando Alonso. He of course was sidelined after experiencing his first mechanical failure since Malaysia 2010 halfway through the race. It was a sore sight, especially on home soil. I don’t think I’ve been more disappointed to see a driver retire, let alone see Ferrari perform as poorly as they did in front of the Tifosi.
One thing that probably did impress the Tifosi this weekend however may well have been the top speeds the drivers experienced throughout the Race. We said in our preview that the cars were on course to reaching speeds of 225mph with DRS, and as it turns out Riccardo managed to match that overtaking Sergio Perez. We also saw top speeds of 222mph from Lewis Hamilton, with Valterri Bottas also reaching 224mph during the closing stages of the race when they were on low fuel.
It was also interesting to see the lines the drivers were taking through the new Parabolica. Whilst many were keeping to the confines of the circuit, I found some drivers were running two wheels over the white line and onto the green bit of paint midway through the corner. In the old days – well I say old, I mean last year! – you couldn’t get away with that, and I think its down to something Nico Rosberg pointed out in Sky’s coverage when they analysed the changes.
He said that the exit of the corner is actually at the midpoint, because by the time you reach the exit you’ve already been on the power flat out for around 200 meters, which means the astroturf isn’t enough of a deterrent. So rather than have it just on the exit of the corner, Rosberg himself actually suggested that it should be all the way across the green part of the track, to stop drivers from essentially taking the mickey out of it. And I agree. Corners like Parabolica need to retain their challenge for drivers, and whilst we saw that it is still easy to spin off into the gravel in GP2 and GP3, the danger of doing so has been greatly reduced.
Final thoughts go out to the Monza facility where you may have noticed the old banking looked slightly newer than it did previously. Whilst it looks like it has been resurfaced with a new layer of concrete, it has instead been coated with the same stuff they use on old churches to stop the concrete from falling apart altogether. Thats a good thing, because it ensures the sustainability for one of our sports most prized pieces of heritage for years to come.
Next up its Singapore, where the business end of the Formula 1 starts to come alive. We will be in for a lot of stories, not least regarding the smaller teams and some potential new owners.