“Was Rosberg distracted for a millisecond?”
The question is... why? Why was Nico Rosberg in the wrong engine mode at the start of the Spanish GP, forcing him to make what appeared to be an adjustment as he exited the high-speed Turn 3, having felt his power unit go into ‘harvest mode’?
As MN left the Circuit de Catalunya, Mercedes had no answer to this question, and were conducting a technical investigation to try to find one. But what is known is this: Nico, from P2, once again got the better of the start over poleman Hamilton and passed Lewis around the outside of Turn 1, making the move stick through T2 and into T3.
Then came trouble. Rosberg’s engine was “down on K power” according to Mercedes, leaving him about 160bhp short of the full quota as he exited T3. The power loss resulted in a speed differential of approximately 16km/h (10mph) between Rosberg and a closing Hamilton. Lewis, alert to an imminent passing opportunity, was further encouraged by the flashing of the red rear light on Rosberg’s W07 Hybrid – an external indication of his PU having entered ‘harvest mode’. This was happening in the heat of a first-lap battle, at around 150mph, in split seconds on the approach to Turn 4.
Hamilton, seeing Rosberg’s car had a problem, moved to the right to line up an inside pass on Nico. As his Merc began to pass Rosberg’s, Nico was making adjustments with his left hand to a steering wheel control. He initially stated that he was “pressing the overtaking button on the top left of the steering wheel”. “I know where it is without looking,” he said. “It wasn’t a distraction.”
But a differing analysis came from Anthony Davidson, who is employed as a Mercedes simulator driver and who is therefore intimately acquainted with the car’s cockpit controls. He suggested to MN that Rosberg was in fact attempting to switch engine modes, to release it from a ‘harvest’ setting and was doing this at the very moment he came under attack from Hamilton. Rosberg later hinted this was correct.
Could he therefore have been distracted for a millisecond, just when he needed to defend himself from Hamilton at a corner not regularly used for overtaking?
“There was no surprise,” Rosberg insisted. “It was a normal battle. I was well aware where Lewis was. I moved over as early as possible in a very clear strong manner, to make sure that he didn’t go up the inside.”
By this time, however, it was too late. Sensing a gap, Lewis followed his racer’s instinct and went for it. But Nico’s defence edged Hamilton onto the trackside grass and beyond the point of no return. Lewis spun out of control and into Rosberg, eliminating both cars from a race they were likely to have dominated.
A stewards’ enquiry followed but no action was taken against either driver – the shunt having been deemed a “racing incident”.
That may close the matter as far as the FIA is concerned, but at Mercedes, an already simmering intra-team battle just got turned up to 11.