Ric­cia­rdo’s against-the-odds win almost went un­no­ticed amid the fall­out from war­ring Merc driv­ers

F1 Racing - - CONTENTS - by An­thony Rowl­in­son

A grudge. A nudge. A fudge. From Nico Ros­berg’s har­boured dis­con­tent, to his and Lewis Hamil­ton’s lap-two con­tact, to on-the-hoof pol­icy pro­nounce­ments from se­nior man­age­ment, this was a Bel­gian Grand Prix Mercedes won’t for­get in a hurry – even though they’d prob­a­bly like to. It started with the usual script: a front-row lock­out for the Sil­ver Ar­rows (Nico ahead of Lewis); talk of op­ti­mism for the race ahead; con­fi­dence from the pole-sit­ter that of course P1 is the best place to start a race – and from his team-mate that P2 rep­re­sented a “bless­ing in dis­guise”. Mind games. Sub­tle self-as­ser­tion. Jock­ey­ing for po­si­tion both on- and off-track.

And, equally fa­mil­iar, was the sub-text of trou­ble at t’mill. As is in­evitable when two gifted race driv­ers are placed in equally com­pet­i­tive, dom­i­nant ma­chin­ery, each will sense the

op­por­tu­nity to win a world ti­tle and, as we have so reg­u­larly seen since Mel­bourne, nei­ther Lewis nor Nico are pre­pared to let it slip through their ngers. For Lewis there is the chance to end the drudgery of spend­ing ve years watch­ing ri­vals cruise to ti­tles in far su­pe­rior ma­chin­ery. For Nico, the prize not only of win­ning a rst ti­tle, but of be­ing the rst Ger­man to win the world cham­pi­onship for the Sil­ver Ar­rows.

The stakes could scarcely be higher and it’s against this back­drop that their ever-more in­tense ri­valry must be viewed. Is it a sur­prise

that cracks in their re­la­tion­ship are be­gin­ning to show? Or that Merc’s tri­umvi­rate of Toto Wolff, Paddy Lowe and Niki Lauda are strug­gling to con­tain the spikes of en­ergy gen­er­ated by the fric­tion of in­tra-team com­pe­ti­tion? Hardly. More re­mark­able is that it has taken un­til round 12 of the 2014 F1 world cham­pi­onship for one W05 Hy­brid to touch another.

But touch they did, on the crest of the ma­jes­tic Spa-Fran­cor­champs cir­cuit, sec­ond time down the Kem­mel Straight, as a speed-car­ry­ing, com­bat­ive Ros­berg at­tempted to round Hamil­ton on the out­side of the Les Combes right-han­der, try­ing to force his way suf­fi­ciently far along­side Lewis to stop Hamil­ton turn­ing in for the im­me­di­ate left. His at­tempt was short by a me­tre or so, and as Hamil­ton took his line for the fastest exit, his left-rear Pirelli was sliced by the outer ex­trem­ity of Ros­berg’s right-front wing.

The punc­ture was im­me­di­ate; the two-thirds-of-a-lap-with-flail­ing-tyre re­turn to the pits ag­o­nis­ingly slow. And the con­se­quences? Both im­me­di­ate and long-term…

Lewis’s race was shot, even though he grumped on at the team’s be­hest to a lap40 re­tire­ment, his third ‘zero’ of the sea­son. Ros­berg, mean­while, de­layed after a front-nose change and a strat­egy re­vi­sion, charged through to sec­ond, rev­el­ling in a per­for­mance ad­van­tage of almost two seconds per lap over smash-and- grab vic­tor Daniel Ric­cia­rdo. Nico’s sat­is­fac­tion at hav­ing ex­tended his cham­pi­onship lead over Hamil­ton to 29 points will, how­ever, have been tem­pered (should that be ill-tem­pered?) by the fall-out from his clumsy-at-best shot for the lead. Co-team boss Toto Wolff’s ire at the loss of what should have been a team one-two was such that he strug­gled to ar­tic­u­late his anger in post-flag­fall in­ter­views. A lit­tle later, and a de­gree cooler, he was forced to con­cede that team or­ders would now be in­evitable for the re­main­der of the sea­son. He stopped short of spec­i­fy­ing their na­ture, but was ex­plicit in the need for a change in Sil­ver Ar­rows’ rac­ing phi­los­o­phy. Lauda, too, was over­heard by F1 Rac­ing bark­ing into his mo­bile phone: “Wir mussen ein team or­der machen” [We’ll have to do team or­ders]. Ros­berg left Spa look­ing like the naughty school­boy who’d got off lightly with a de­ten­tion after trip­ping over a fel­low pre­fect on sportsday. But Hamil­ton seemed bereft, con­fused. Though he spoke calmly of the heated ex­changes that had taken place post-race be­tween him, Ros­berg, Wolff and Lowe in the clois­tered pri­vacy of a mo­torhome meet­ing room, quickly came the re­al­i­sa­tion: “We’ve only got seven races to go and those 29 points are go­ing to be hard to get back.” “Can you trust Nico now?” he was asked. “How might you feel go­ing into the rst chi­cane at Monza, one-two ahead of Nico?” A pause. A sur­pris­ing smile. “I’ll just have to make sure I’m far enough ahead.” There are echoes of 1986 here as a dom­i­nant team (Wil­liams) with two com­bat­ive aces (Nel­son Pi­quet, Nigel Mansell) man­age to blow a driv­ers’ ti­tle as a gifted, though un­fan­cied ri­val pow­ers through to seize the crown in an un­der­pow­ered, bril­liantly op­er­ated car. For 1986 champ Alain Prost we might, of course, read shiny new su­per­star Ric­cia­rdo, who pulled off an against-the-odds win to ri­val any in mem­ory. Un­sul­lied by in­tra-team fric­tion (he’s too far out of Seb’s reach), con­fi­dent, gra­cious and breath­tak­ingly fast, Dan has emerged as the feel-good sleeper hit of 2014. There is no way Red Bull should have been on the podium at Spa, with an en­gine still an es­ti­mated 70bhp down on the Merc power units plumbed into the works team chas­sis and the cus­tomer FW36. Yet fully trimmed out and look­ing sketchy as hell up the hill out of Eau Rouge, the RB10 was ab­so­lutely com­pet­i­tive. Ros­berg headed the race speed sheet on 195.17mph; Ric­cia­rdo came next on 194.12mph, then Seb on 194.05mph. “We won at Canada and Spa, two tracks we’d iden­ti­fied as non-pos­si­bil­i­ties,” grinned Christian Horner af­ter­wards. “Let’s see what we can man­age at Sin­ga­pore and Suzuka – which should suit us much bet­ter.” The fat lady has barely cleared her throat.

Bel­gian Grand Prix

24.08.2014 / Spa-Fran­cor­champs

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