“It is tough for the championship but I’m a man of my word,” said Lewis Hamilton after finishing fourth in the Hungarian Grand Prix, giving up three points in the process to his championship rival Sebastian Vettel, who won the race.
I find the contrast between the way Ferrari and Mercedes go racing really fascinating and I wish, for the sake of the F1 ‘story’ that they were more open about it.
One for all
Under Toto Wolff, Mercedes goes racing with emotion, but also has a clear “team-first” policy, where they will act in the team’s interests, not the individual driver’s.
They are used to it now after three years of Rosberg and Hamilton and both current Mercedes drivers have a chance still in the championship, so they ensured that a deal proposed to Valtteri Bottas during the race by Hamilton, was honoured.
After being without team radio during a crucial phase of the race, Hamilton asked for the chance to be let through by his team mate to challenge Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen. He said he would give the place back if he was unsuccessful.
But after agreeing, Bottas then struggled on the soft tyres and with lapping backmarkers and fell a long way behind when the end of the race came. Worse still Max Verstappen, on much fresher tyres, was closing fast on Bottas, so there was some real risk to trying the switch at the end.
The basic deal proposed is something Mercedes has done before and it is the correct way to handle situations like this, it’s how you avoid conflicts like Force India had in Canada, for example.
Toto Wolff accepted after the race that they could look naive at the end of the season if Hamilton loses the title by three points, but his view is that the values behind the decision and the deal, were the same values that has won them the last three world titles, so today was the flipside.
However in this situation, there may have been another way to approach it.
With Bottas clearly struggling for pace, and Hamilton now 14 points behind Vettel, rather than 11, one wonders whether there should have been a condition applied for Bottas that he had to stay within a certain number of seconds of Hamilton to get the place back.
It was in the team’s interests to let their faster driver on the day have a crack at Ferrari. On soft tyres today, that was clearly Hamilton.
All for one
At Ferrari, things are different. They are all about winning the drivers’ championship.
Today, they knew about the Mercedes deal, so that meant that from their point of view they just needed to tough it out with Raikkonen in second place, blocking Hamilton and protecting Vettel, who was nursing a handing problem on the lead car. Hamilton would give Vettel a bonus three points at the end as a bonus. And as the Mercedes long wheel base is likely to be stronger in Spa, as it was at Silverstone, it was important to bag the points.
“We have the best car,” said Vettel after the race. ‘We have done the biggest jump of all the teams and a lot of teams are playing copycat.”
He had the steering pulling down to the left from the start of the race and was told to keep the car off the kerbs, which is not the fastest way at Hungaroring. It was a brilliant drive by Vettel under the circumstances, but without Raikkonen as a tail gunner he would have been stuffed.
As we have seen several times, Ferrari priorises the lead guy and his quest for the drivers’ championship; today was perhaps the most graphic example for some time. But they are less explicit about it than Mercedes are about prioritising the team’s outcome.
In this situation today, they did the right thing. They had made their plan; it was a brave call to hold station as Hamilton closed up. The risk was if Raikkonen made a mistake, then Hamilton would have got past and then attacked Vettel and the win would have been very vulnerable.
It was also noticeable today again that the Ferrari is more easily able to follow the car in front without overheating the tyres and engine, than its rivals. This will be useful for them at other races to come in the second part of the season.
Raikkonen knows the Ferrari way and accepts his role, which is a bit of a shame for a great racing driver and a world champion. But he collects the cheque and gets the company car and knows the rules.
In all likelihood he will sign on for another year of this, while Ferrari prepares Charles Leclerc to replace him.
And if Vettel wins the title this season it will have been worth it. Even though that is still a big “if”.
What did you think of the way both Mercedes and Ferrari went racing today? Leave your comments below