Thursday 12 June 2014

Latest thoughts on Nico vs. Lewis

After all of the whirlwind of the Monaco Grand Prix weekend, come the Montreal gathering a fortnight later suddenly the anticipated rancorous Lewis Hamilton vs. Nico Rosberg battle for supremacy was called off. Not the battle, rather the rancorous part. The two had kissed and made up between times apparently, and there was nothing in their actions and body language witnessed in Canada to suggest that the claim was disingenuous.

Relations between the two Mercedes drivers was
much more harmonious in Montreal
Photo: Octane Photography
But still after the Canadian race a little look around internet comments suggested that some of Lewis's fans weren't quite as keen on hatchet burying.

Much of the ire centred on what happened at the end of lap 25 of Sunday's proceedings, when Nico, under some pressure from Lewis, locked a wheel and straight-lined the final chicane. And he proceeded over the finish line on the following straight pretty much at full pelt to set a 1m 18.616, which just so happened to be the fastest lap of the race at the point (before the mark mysteriously disappeared from the timing screens) as well as half a second under anything Nico had set up until then.

Possibly it was the latter bit that most grated with Lewis acolytes; after all seeing people skip chicanes via the now-tarmac run-off areas ain't new, and it was seen repeatedly around the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve last weekend. I suspect that if Nico had done a more conspicuous of feathering out of the throttle on the next straight so to allow the gap to return to roughly what it was, not even with letting Lewis by, rather than eat it up at top speed few would have felt  they had many grounds to complain.

Perhaps Nico was concerned about giving Lewis an opportunity to ambush him. He claimed too subsequently that he in fact did his slowing at turns one and two, but if he did he somehow only ceded one tenth of a second to Lewis on that lap, as well as set a time for the tour that wasn't all that dissimilar to those that he'd been setting anyway.

Nico Rosberg now has a clear lead on Lewis Hamilton
Photo: Octane Photography
Following on too from Monaco quali and all that perhaps it suffered from bad timing too as far as the put-upon Lewis followers were concerned. But still sight should not be lost that any F1 driver worth a light - including Lewis - would have done not much differently to Nico in the same situation. Not one of them would have ceded the place without compulsion.

But equally Nico was a little fortunate to escape sanction. To adapt a football phrase, he gave the stewards a decision to make. If he had got, say, a five second penalty to add to his next pit stop I don't think he could have grumbled about it a great deal.

One can understand the broader frustration though among those minded to see Lewis prevail, as after all of the two Mercedes pilots Lewis has had a virtual monopoly on the foul luck thus far in 2014. While there's rarely been a chasm between the two on speed Lewis has set the pace in quali and the races for the lion's share of the time, and yet - thanks in large part to two mechanical DNFs - he trails in the drivers' table by 22 points. That's almost an entire race win, and if we assume that without non-finishes or other maladies the Mercs are going to fill the top two places everywhere, Lewis even if he goes on an another uninterrupted winning run still will not top the pile at the point that we descend upon the Hungaroring for the final get-together before the summer break.

And while it's tempting to believe that such ill luck will even itself out over the campaign, perhaps in a few technical breakdowns to come for Rosberg, it would also be fallacious. Unrelated events cannot be related, despite regular claims to the contrary. There is no necessary reason that Lewis's W05 will conk out fewer times at vital moment than will Nico's in the rounds that remain. It'll instead be dictated merely by dumb luck, as it has up until now.

Rosberg dealt with Hamilton rather ruthlessly at turn one
Photo: Octane Photography
Lewis remains the title favourite, as can be seen in the Formula 1 betting odds at William Hill, which is related no doubt to his pace advantage witnessed already (we still have a double points race to come, lest we forget). But all in and around his camp would be forgiven for starting to feel nervous. And the matter has swung from a situation wherein it was near-impossible to find anyone predicting other than a second title for Lewis this year to where we are now in a mere two weeks. Even in a year of single team domination, F1 rarely is all that predictable.

And as for Nico, following his resolute reaction to the Monaco fuss as well as his rather ruthless rebuffing of Lewis in Canada (including at the first turn too) he's displaying a stoic, imperturbable, perhaps even slightly devilish, side that not everyone thought was there. Suddenly, the former 'Britney' moniker could scarcely be less appropriate. Lewis if he didn't appreciate this already will fully appreciate it now.

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