MONACO GP DEBRIEF
CONTROVERSIAL POLE BRINGS WIN
A fraught weekend; a tense grand prix. Rosberg vs Hamilton is shaping up to be a classic F1 rivalry
Sometimes it’s not what’s said; it’s what’s not said that matters. So how, then, to interpret Lewis Hamilton’s ‘nonspeak’ after a scintillating Monaco GP weekend, in which tension simmered between Mercedes’ two aces and reached boiling point during qualifying, and just – just – stopped short of bubbling over into something messy?
Some context: in response to media questioning following a race in which Hamilton and team had yet again juggled superlatives, his responses were muted to say the least. Quizzed as to whether he and Nico Rosberg would “share a pizza” and thrash out their differences over Nico’s Saturday slither up the Mirabeau escape road during qualifying (foul or fumble?), Lewis offered: “I don’t really have an answer for you there.” Rosberg, for the record, reckoned: “We always sit down and discuss it and then move on. And that’s what we’re doing this weekend also.” Then came a question about what Lewis had meant on Saturday, post-qualifying, when he said that he would handle any fall-out from Mirabeau-gate “like Senna”.
“I don’t know,” Hamilton answered. “I can’t really remember to be honest. I think it was just a joke. Obviously I didn’t…” [‘…take Nico off at the first corner,’ one assumes is the unspoken implication].
A further probe, this time into whether Monaco, and earlier 2014 races, had been
“truly one-to-one”. Lewis replied: “I don’t fully understand the question.”
Curiouser and curiouser. Hamilton is a man quite capable of effusive eloquence when things have gone his way. Yet after Monaco, a race in which he was beaten by only the tiniest of margins and might easily have won had it not been for a qualifying session blighted/ manipulated by a Rosberg-induced yellow ag, he was little better than silent. Who knows what goes through Lewis Hamilton’s mind at moments like these; what slights he perceives? We’ll probably never know, but he does paint himself as victimunderdog when results have not gone his way.
“Of course he does,” his supporters will declare. “He’s a natural-born winner, satised only with victory.” And yet by wearing his heart so proud on his sleeve, he exposes tensions of character that may yet be further exploited by a highly talented and hugely canny team-mate. However hard it might have felt to proffer a hand to victor Rosberg on the podium, would Lewis’s 2014 title ambition not have been better served by just such a magnanimous gesture? A congratulation through gritted teeth? No, that was a reach too far for a sensitive, complex, spiritual soul such as Lewis.
Truly though this pairing has echoes of Lauda/Prost and Prost/Senna, as a marginally greater outright talent meets a rival in equal machinery, who brings gifts over and above the most sublime wheelcraft.
Lewis and, indeed, Nico, who wrought a second straight Monaco masterclass, are lucky to be driving for a team capable not only of delivering the W05 Hybrid, a machine likely soon to be regarded as an F1 Meisterstück, but also intent on managing driver relations, rather than condoning internal war. Mansell/Piquet-era Williams this is not. Instead, with a management triumvirate of Toto Wolff (executive director, business), Paddy Lowe (executive director, technical) and Niki Lauda (non-executive chairman), Mercedes are blessed with a team tough enough to absorb blows, yet deft enough to issue soothing balm via media channels.
A more controlling, less embracing culture might have reacted defensively, rst to the contested yellow ag during qualifying, then to the exposure-by-media of mutual driver antipathy. Instead, Wolff was content to acknowledge that both his drivers were “in some ways like teenagers” and therefore needed, and would continue to need, guidance. Conceding that the exploration of boundaries to which the team could be pushed was “a dynamic process, still being calibrated,” Wolff explained that his two charges were: “both very different
and require time to be spent with them to understand what they need, to function at their best.”
Whether both can be kept happy in what’s becoming an increasingly fraught title campaign was, Wolf admitted, less clear. “But over the long term I think we can – although there will be peaks in either direction.” Peaks and, inevitably, troughs, for with just four points between these gifted protagonists after six races (Nico’s 122 to Lewis’ 118) the chase should go all the way to Abu Dhabi, leaving the ‘loser’ doubtless bereft.
Such lofty concerns will not, this year, trouble Marussia’s Jules Bianchi, but after a polished race that netted the team’s first ever points (two, for P9), he could hold his head high among company blessed with far more lavishly resourced machinery. “At different times,” he said, “I had both Jean-Eric Vergne and Romain Grosjean behind, and they weren’t really able to catch me. I felt I drove a good race with good pace, but this is all thanks to the team.”
There was no danger of this plucky band getting above themselves after their longsought breakthrough and sporting director Graeme Lowdon caught the mood perfectly as he quipped: “Of all the places to score our first points – Monaco. We can’t afford to celebrate!”
There was always the Red Bull Energy Station to repair to for a can of something cold, and the chance to rub shoulders with the man who’s rendered his four-time champion team-mate anonymous: Daniel Ricciardo. There he was, not gloating, just smiling, after another stellar drive – this time to P3. That said it all