Hamilton: fever or diva?
The world champion fulminates after Mercedes refuse to sanction an alternative strategy at Interlagos
The question being asked on Sunday night in Brazil was whether Nico Rosberg had raised his game, or if Lewis Hamilton’s form had dropped? For this was Rosberg’s second straight win from his fth consecutive pole position. As for Hamilton, since he wrapped up the title in Austin he has twice been bested by his team-mate.
Just before the race weekend, Hamilton had been involved in a road-trafc accident in the early hours of Tuesday morning close to his home in Monaco, and he’d delayed his arrival in South America on account of suffering from a “fever”. But whatever the reason for the current competitive order, Rosberg had the advantage in qualifying and maintained his position on race day. One suggestion was that a change to the car, or in particular the mandatory increase in tyre pressures post-Monza, might have had an effect on Hamilton’s performance.
Rosberg, the winner of the Brazilian GP, didn’t agree: “I’ve just raised my game, that’s it,” he insisted, soon after taking the chequered ag. In contrast Hamilton replied: “Well, from Singapore onwards there has been a change to the car…”
And when Merc technical boss Paddy Lowe was asked whether Lewis was still determined to ght for victories this season, his answer was emphatic: “He really wanted to win here.”
The duel Rosberg and Hamilton began in qualifying carried over into the 71 laps on Sunday afternoon, once Rosberg held the lead from pole position. Though they ran close, he had enough of a margin over Hamilton so that when they pitted to switch from softs to medium tyres on laps 13 and 14 respectively, Rosberg remained ahead – even though the team had to hold him fractionally longer in the pitlane as Sebastian Vettel passed by on the way to his own box.
When they resumed their ght, Hamilton was
just 0.9s behind and took advantage of having DRS available to him on both the start/nish straight and the run down to Turn 4. On lap 17 he posted a blistering 1m 16.237s lap (compared to Rosberg’s 1m 16.692s on the same tour), to bring the gap down to 0.5s, at which point Rosberg’s engineer Tony Ross radioed to Nico to report the obvious: “Lewis is trying quite hard…”
Rosberg held his nerve and Hamilton could nd no way past. After ten laps in his teammate’s wake, Hamilton found his tyres beginning to suffer, and he set about lobbying the team to switch to a strategy that might enable him to
get ahead. However, Mercedes’ policy is to give priority to their lead driver and ensure fairness by giving both of them the same compound tyres during the same period of the race.
“It’s a shame,” said Hamilton later, “because it’s a great track, but you just can’t get close enough to race unless you have a huge advantage over the guy in front. I was asking the team if there was another strategy, whether we could take a risk. And they said: ‘look after the tyres.’ My response was: ‘No, I’m racing.’”
Hamilton dropped his pace to sit three seconds behind Rosberg. Then Ferrari pitted Sebastian Vettel, putting him on soft tyres again, and as soon as that happened, Mercedes realised he was on a three-stop strategy, so they covered that move the following lap, by pitting Rosberg and then Hamilton – thwarting the latter’s option to do something different. Not that the team were interested in doing that anyway.
“Between the two of them it was getting intense,” said Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff. “It was about making the right call between a two- and a three-stop strategy. With Lewis pushing hard behind Nico it was clear that his tyres wouldn’t last. At that stage his race was compromised. Then it changed in our favour when Ferrari changed to a three-stop. We then changed to a three-stop ourselves, and then strategy-wise it was a cruise.
“We have our principles in the team on strategies since 2013 and it’s worked well, and we will not change that. In the car you don’t have the full picture. That strategy [that Hamilton was asking for] would have been ten seconds down so it would have risked P2 to Sebastian [Vettel] – so it would have been out of the question.
“That a driver is being emotional in the car is understandable, but if the driver in the car wants to start calling the strategy then he is going to lose every single race because it’s instinct driven – he doesn’t have the full set of data.
“As a fan I can understand the frustration, but we don’t run a number-one and a number-two, and it’s sometimes difcult for us to manage the two ghting with each other. But the team comes rst and we are not going to change things.”
Vettel and Kimi Räikkönen – the latter on a two-, rather than a three-stop strategy – remained a potential threat rather than close challengers as they ran out to third and fourth. Valtteri Bottas nished fth for Williams, ahead of Nico Hülkenberg who conrmed Force India’s fth spot, earning them their best-ever place under Vijay Mallya’s ownership.
Seventh was Daniil Kvyat (Red Bull), ahead of local hero Felipe Massa, who late on Sunday evening was excluded from eighth place. When his right-rear tyre was measured on the grid, its temperature was recorded at 137°C – 27°C more than the 110°C limit.
Williams’ Rob Smedley said after the race that they had independent measurements that recorded readings below 110°C, and initially planned to appeal the exclusion. It was perhaps expedient that the decision to exclude Massa was made after the passionate locals had made their way from the Interlagos circuit.
Indeed, after such a long season, late into November, most of the paddock had ed home in the hour after the race.