The aftermath of the collision between Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa at Singapore shows no signs of abating. Immediately after the race we had Massa attempting to confront the Englishman, who rebuffed him in front of the TV cameras at the track.
Then there came the suggestion that the F1 drivers want to meet with FIA Race Director Charlie Whiting in Suzuka this weekend to discuss Hamilton’s overly aggressive driving. Then at the weekend F1.com ran a race edit featuring a radio clip of Massa’s race engineer Rob Smedley urging his driver to,”Hold Hamilton as much as we can. Destroy his race as much as we can, c’mon boy!” The Daily Mail has worked that up into a story and many others have piled in behind them.
It was Smedley who delivered the infamous words to Massa last season in Germany, “Fernando is faster than you, do you understand?” – possibly the most demotivating words Massa has ever heard via radio during a race, as they were a code for him to move over.
What is most interesting about Smedley’s choice of words in the latest incident is that he feels that the best way to motivate Massa is to get him to see that “destroying” Hamilton’s race is a positive thing to do. It’s a very aggressive attitude, but it speaks to that part of Massa’s psyche which has not forgiven nor forgotten the loss of the 2008 world championship to Hamilton, largely due to the pit lane debacle during the safety car in Singapore, which was triggered by Nelson Piquet’s deliberate accident. Massa has called for that race result to be annulled and described that incident as a “robbery”.
Massa and Hamilton have tangled in the past and although there wasn’t anything in it championship-wise for either man in Singapore, Smedley is clearly trying hard to get an out of sorts Massa to rediscover his form by appealing to the part of Massa that really dislikes his rival.
The famous Horse Whisperer – Ferrari’s “bloggy” way of saying controversial things without them appearing as official Ferrari statements – described the Daily Mail’s story as “a polemical mountain made out of the molehill that was the phrase delivered by Rob Smedley during the Singapore Grand Prix.”
It goes on, “It’s true that Felipe Massa’s race engineer was caught up in the heat of the moment and chose to use the verb “destroy” at some point. It might not have been the most politically correct choice of word, but it definitely carried no malicious intent, especially when you take into account that Rob is a Middlesbrough lad, born and bred!
“It is also true that this exhortation to Felipe came at the exit to Turn 5 on lap 11 of the race, at the end of which both the Ferrari man and Hamilton were due to come in to the pits together. In other words, it had nothing to do with the collision between Felipe and Lewis that happened on the following lap.”
Massa himself has written today in his blog on the Ferrari website, “I don’t recall what Rob said. I don’t think there’s any value in stirring up trouble now and trying to link this with the subsequent contact with
Hamilton: they are two separate moments and they have nothing to do with each other. I’m sure that Lewis and I will find a way to clear this up and put a lid on this story, as is only correct between two drivers. What happens on the track should remain on the track.”
Ferrari clearly wants to cool things down a little and who can blame them? On the face of it Smedley’s words can be construed as unsporting and an extreme interpretation of the rules might see scope for some sanction against the team.
But this issue collides with the ongoing debate about Hamilton’s driving among his competitors. Let’s not forget Hamilton was the one penalised with a drive through in Singapore for tapping Massa’s wheel and puncturing his tyre, which actually did destroy Massa’s race.
Whiting meets the drivers at 5pm on Fridays at every race, so there will be a meeting. But whether any of the drivers will pipe up and say anything, time will tell. It’s never a good idea for drivers to be singled out by other drivers for discussion, as has been proposed with the drivers’ meeting about Hamilton in Suzuka. It sets a precedent which none of the drivers really needs and which could come back to haunt any of them.
This story redresses the balance a little by making Hamilton look like a victim and no doubt that was part of the motivation for this being blown up into something. That and the fact that the title race is pretty much over..