Might Lewis Hamilton’s defiance of his Mercedes team’s instructions during the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix put him on the back foot going into F1 2017? Charles Bradley thinks we've not heard that last of this...
It’s true there’s no ‘i’ in team, but there are two in Lewis Hamilton’s name.
But to consider Formula 1 as a pure team sport, like football or rugby, is to ignore one of its greatest facets – that the driver behind the wheel is the true star. And when he’s racing against his teammate, especially with a world title on the line, that is going to produce conflict with a team mentality.
That Mercedes expected Hamilton, the epitome of a self-centred racing driver, to toe the company line in Abu Dhabi on Sunday was plain unrealistic. It could expect him not to do anything silly, like attempt to shunt Rosberg off the road, just as it could do likewise from Nico not to nerf Lewis deliberately.
As renowned mischief-maker Gerhard Berger said before the start: “Lewis has to go all-in, and he needs to create some fuss at some point. Because if Nico finishes the race, Hamilton will not be champion. So Lewis has to do bring in a little something.”
What would Senna or Schuey have done?
With five laps remaining – as Lewis was performing his slow, slow, quick, quick, slow routine – a thought crossed my mind: “What would Senna or Schumacher do in this position?”
For a start, I am certain that they would have ignored and defied the instructions coming over the radio to quicken their pace, just like Lewis, and that the team’s best interest would be the last thing on their mind. Might they have even ‘parked’ the car on the apex of a slow corner on the final lap, to try and dislodge Rosberg’s front wing? Yeah, probably!
But that wasn’t Lewis’s style. Instead, he got moody on the radio: “I'm not bothered if I win or lose this race.” Now that was a red rag to a Wolff. How Lowe can you go?
First big flare-up since Barcelona
Following their ‘Barcelonaggedon’ crash, both Mercedes drivers were well and truly read the riot act (repeated after Austria). It’s understood that all sorts of threats were made if it happened again – from both sides – and I thought it was telling that Hamilton did not give a straight “no” to Martin Brundle’s post-race question on Sunday if he’d actually threatened to quit the sport in the aftermath of the Spanish GP incident.
We were back in ‘read my future book’ territory. Plenty of smoke there…
Sadly for Lewis, it was the smoke signals that ended his Malaysian Grand Prix are what truly cost him this world title. But, going back to Sunday night, could his obstinate response to a direct order be seen as almost a contractual breach? Or will the management take into account the extenuating circumstances of the situation?
Of course, the ‘il-Lew-minati’ across Twitter will have you believe that these radio instructions were the final chapter in Mercedes getting the Rosberg title they’d always wanted. I’m still not buying it.
I believe that Nico is a deserving champion given his body of work – 23 Grand Prix wins isn’t too shabby, after all. And I’m sure Sir Stirling Moss will enjoy his ‘most successful driver never to win the title’ tag back!
Well done Nico, savour the glory – you’ve earnt it given the body of work you’ve produced in F1. He’s also come out of this situation quite spotless, unlike Monaco and Spa in 2014. And unlike Hamilton this time around.
There’s plenty of time for Mercedes to dwell on this one. Will it suck up this latest dissension? Or has Hamilton marked his card for real this time, which might come back to haunt him next year?
Might there be a fine coming Hamilton's way from his paymasters? And how about the spectre of a suspension? How would that go down?
I’ve got a feeling we’ve not heard the last of this…