Wednesday, 25 June 2014

What could it be, it's a mirage. You're scheming on a thing, that's sabotage

Another Grand Prix weekend; another plot-thickening in the Nico vs. Lewis show; another strike for Nico; another round of (mainly online) recrimination in response. Hey ho.

In Austria Lewis Hamilton once again ceded points to
Nico Rosberg
Photo: Octane Photography
This time the malcontents were taking their cue from the Beastie Boys by telling y'all it's a sabotage. Of Lewis Hamilton by the Mercedes team in the aid of Nico Rosberg. And it was via the pit stops. Lewis's first stop in the Austrian race was nine tenths slower and his other a full second slower than the respective halts of his team mate. Someone noticed that this 1.9 seconds lost was exactly the same as Lewis's deficit to the victorious Nico at the race's conclusion, and thus the matter boiled up, largely on social media.

As Edd Straw pointed out for Autosport such a time comparison is rather crude. Furthermore it's hard to tell whether in either case matching Nico's stop time would have been sufficient for Lewis to jump his rival in itself, what evidence there is suggests not quite. But still it denied him an opportunity to get right on his team mate's tail. Then the fun would have started.

Similar to what was noted on this site after the Canadian round the frustration of Lewis fans right now though not in this particular form justifiable is at least understandable, given in the last few weeks we've been in one of those periodic spells wherein just about everything it seems has fallen Rosberg's way, and not Hamilton's. More broadly in a season wherein it's hard to pinpoint too many occasions wherein Nico has had the edge on Lewis on raw pace somehow eight races in it's totalled up to a 29 point advantage for Rosberg in the drivers' table.

What's more for all of the plaudits that Nico's been getting for being metronomic and for avoiding error, in the last three rounds wherein there has been a 32 point swing to Nico if anything the German has erred the more frequently - see his disappearing down an escape road in Monaco quali, missing the final chicane in the Montreal race, and running off the road at turn one on Austria's race day also. Yet thanks in large part to chance (and generous tarmac run-off areas) in none of those cases has Nico had a glove landed on him as a result. Indeed in the first of the three it proved to be to his benefit...

Lewis had to follow Nico for much of the way
Photo: Octane Photography
Lewis meanwhile has had his mistakes punished ruthlessly. While in regard to his spin at the crucial part of the Spielberg qualifying hour - Lewis losing it on a bump under braking - I was intrigued to read a Mercedes engineer note that they'd 'hesitate to call it a mistake, it was just a really unfortunate combination of circumstances.'

Yet as Damon Hill pointed out on TV when the brickbats started to fly regarding supposed sabotage, it's important that to make such claims that one has evidence. And there is none here, beyond the fact that Lewis's pit stops took longer than Nico's which in itself isn't sufficient as evidence of foul play as what is crucial in the accusation is intent, not simply that the slower stops occurred. Often we forget that even in this most precise of sports - wherein everything is sought to be controlled, accounted for - some things just happen, and no it's not always fair either. In an F1 season even the total 19 races remains a fairly small base size that can produce volatile outcomes. A group of three races certainly is.

The sabotage claim also for me rather fails the credibility test. OK, F1 reminds us frequently to put little past its participants on matters of skulduggery (see Singapore 2008). But still suggesting that after Mercedes had gone to considerable lengths to acquire one of the drivers of the age in Lewis Hamilton, and parted with tens of millions of dollars in so doing, it then would deliberately scupper his chances as soon as he gets his opportunity of winning the world championship there - presumably a lot of the reason it went to such lengths to hire him in the first place - is rather a lot to suggest. Those minded of conspiracy may be saying at this point 'yeah but Nico's German' and Mercedes is a German manufacturer, I've even heard the odd wild claim related to Lewis's demographics also, but we can assume additionally that neither of these facts eluded the Three-Pointed Star when it wooed Lewis in late 2012 either. And while we're playing the nationality game, although the F1 team competes under a German flag it remains British-based and overwhelmingly British-staffed.

Mark Webber seemed to suspect Lewis Hamilton's overshoot
Photo: Octane Photography
Thankfully though Mercedes removed a lot of the froth from this by going into rapid rebuttal mode, pointing out not long after the Austrian chequered flag that both losses of time in the stops were explainable; Lewis overshot his marks in the first stop while in the second there was some damage to the wheel 'cake tin'. More mirage than sabotage in other words.

Indeed on the first stop it was a cause of delay that the man himself judging by his words suspected in advance of Merc's confirmation: 'They (the stops) didn't feel fast but it could have been my positioning' he noted afterwards. Mark Webber, going by the content of one of questions to Lewis in their podium interview, asking 'are you happy with your positioning?', suspected it too seemingly.

And in among all of this it should be noted additionally that for all the finger pointing done supposedly on his behalf, Lewis himself in the last two rounds has been unfailingly gracious in the face of his ill fortune, in public at the very least. Perhaps some of his acolytes should try to learn from him on this one.

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