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In last night’s race review podcast, we discussed the reaction of Mercedes to the incident at the Belgian Grand Prix. In fact, both Mark and I gave the Donkey Award to the team for their handling of the situation.

It’s all well and good when you can get a driver to speak their mind on an issue and Lewis Hamilton did just that although some feel it was more like slander, he was convinced that teammate Ncio Rosberg “basically” did it on purpose. Fair enough, that’s the kind of frank, blunt talking that many fans feel has been missing from the corporate, sterilized world F1 has become.

The team’s reaction, however, is where you would expect some balance and calm in the face of a storm and that’s the exact opposite of what Mercedes offered their drivers and the situation.

Immediately after the race, Mercedes bosses Toto Wolff and Niki Lauda took to the press heaping scorn on Rosberg and actually apologizing to Lewis. They hadn’t even been afforded the view of both drivers and some time to assess the situation. For a company as large as Mercedes, it was a amateur move to be sure.

You don’t have to take my word for it, what do I know? I don’t run an F1 team but Eric Boullier does and he that it was a junior league move as well telling AUTOSPORT:

“It depends on how much coverage you want after in the press,” he said. “If you start to blame the drivers then obviously it is a policy that I will not recommend.

“It is better to clear the air outside of the track, but I am happy to not have that problem to manage. In the end you tend to think you are shooting yourself – but this is part of racing as well.”

The guy who just signed a 3-year contract extension is now getting punished for what race stewards saw as a “racing incident” and perhaps a hamfisted move—which it was. The comments from Hamilton were already pregnant with accusation, innuendos and incendiary words and while that’s a driver’s point of view and something I have no issue with, the team’s heaping scorn on Rosberg and pandering to Hamilton who was a victim of a hamfisted passing attempt is just wrong.

The history of F1 is littered with these exact moves and passing attempts that haven’t worked the way the challenging driver had hoped. For Mercedes to castigate their own driver for a racing incident only emboldens Lewis’s actions and commentary which is the thing you’re suppose to be trying to get a handle on.

When Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber came together in Turkey a few years ago, the team didn’t give Vettel a public dressing down, they managed the situation and had compassion for Mark while suggesting that the move may have not been the best but it’s racing.
Mercedes could learn from Eric Boullier and McLaren who have managed their own stable of alpha males in the past with Prost and Senna and while the team has made mistakes in the past—Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso comes to mind—they’ve learned how not to react after an incident. Something Mercedes needs to consider.

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An F1 fan since 1972, NC has spent over 25 years in the technology industry and as a CTO, he focuses on technology integration in commercial workspace design, AV systems integration, digital media strategies, technology planning, consulting, speaking, presenting, sales, content strategy, marketing and brand building.
  • Rapierman

    Let’s also add that it was a Machiavellian move on Hamilton’s part, not that it lessens the impact of Merc’s managerial skills (or lack thereof).

  • MIE

    The team seems to be missing Ross Brawn.

    • Andreas

      Amen to that. It doesn’t have to be Ross specifically, but for all Mercedes’ top-heaviness, they don’t seem to have an overall boss who calls the shots. They have a Director/business (Toto Wolff), a non-executive chairman (Niki Lauda) and a Director/technical (Paddy) – but who has the role of sporting director? The situation that arose at Spa was neither technical nor business, but a pure sporting issue. And from the outside, it seems that role is being handled by committee.

      During the Spa race, BBC reported that Toto and Niki left the pit wall on at least one occasion, for a little talk in the back of the garage. So there was some discussions going on, that could well have been about deciding how to handle the situation. It’s possible that Paddy kept out of it because someone also needed to keep track of the ongoing race and decide what do do with Hamilton’s damaged car, which left the other considerations to Toto and Niki. If it works, the committee system has the benefit of the leadership being able to multi-task. But then the team and drivers all need to show complete faith in the committee as a unit, something that doesn’t quite seem to be there. For instance, in one of the post-race interviews, Nico Rosberg had this to say:

      “We have a very strong leadership with Toto and Paddy, foremost, and then with Niki, who’s helping out.”

      If the faith isn’t there for the committee as a whole, it would probably be better to have a single boss calling the shots. I know that’s the role Ross wanted but wasn’t offered, and time will tell if Mercedes’ decision to spread the leadership load will pay off.

  • Doug Hill

    I think calling it a “racing incident” is incorrect and doesn’t speak to what happened. The situation wasn’t a 50/50 out-braking maneuver into the corner where either party could have lifted. Hamilton clearly had the racing line and was well in front of Rosberg. As you guys said in the podcast it was Rosberg’s job to back out and try again later. If he was faster as he claimed then surely the next corner or next lap would have worked. He chose to “prove his point” at the wrong time and made a costly _mistake_ that ruined the day of an innocent by stander; unfortunately for the team it was his teammate. In my dictionary a racing incident requires two active participants – this one doesn’t qualify.

    I see no problem with Wolfe or Lauda expressing their displeasure at Rosberg’s costly mistake. His mistake cost the team a 1-2 finish and 18 constructors points and was totally unnecessary. End of story.

    • AntioBob

      I agree. Not sure what’s so hard about seeing that Nico brought this on and people reacted honestly. I don’t care if there’s controversy. It’s not like owners and managers in other sports don;t call out their players (I’m a Yankees fan… it’s part of the culture).

  • Dave

    One element that could be missing from your analysis is attitude and intent. If Wolfe and Lauda sensed prior to the race that Nico was harboring anger from before the break (as has been reported), then his ‘clumsy’ action takes on a different tone, and one that is completely disrespectful of the work of all the mechanics, engineers, strategists, etc.

    This could be why they were so fast to criticize him.

    In my opinion, if he actually admitted that he could have avoided the shunt but did not do so, They should sit his entitled little arse down for one race and see if Mr DiResta can get the car on the podium. Then, after a public apology, they could restore his drive, with the provision that any further action to sabotage the team would lead to the voiding of his current and future contract.

    And those penalties would apply to Lewis, if he did the same thing.

    I used to like Nico. Now I see him as a much better driver and a much worse person than formerly.

    • Benalf

      I think its too much to condemn Nico from making a point when more than once, early on the season, Hamilton closed to door quite aggressively, forcing him to move part of his car out of track. From a racer state of mind, making a point during a race is let the “other guy” know that from now on I am not gonna to back off – or give you the racing line- like I did in the past. The way Lewis took the entry of the chicane, following the normal raceline when no one is beside you, let no room at all to Nico -as it should have been-. Lewis might have thought that Nico has two options: back off or hit my rear left and brake the wing; good outcome for him. Unfortunately, that wing also gave him a flat tire and in the end, Merc lost a 1-2.

      Sometimes this “extreme” racing decision will make the “other guy” to think it twice before repeating the closing door move. At this point on the season, Merc is so dominant that both Nico and Lewis know that this is likely a “one in a lifetime” chance the win the championship so, obviously blood must be drawn. I think we are not talking here about “good” and “bad” guys and by just making labeling these two guys with the “hero” or “victim” tag is just nonsense.

    • Avonn

      Ditto

  • Benalf

    It all started when Hamilton’s spark plug cap failed down under. Since then, the one called to dominate the season RBR-style has been chasing the lead and playing the PR game to get to and stay on the top….that’s something we know about him since ’07. The big surprise this season -besides the huge performance leap of Merc and the mishap of Renault- has been the champion-like figure of Nico. I think Merc Hired Hamilton to lead the way for DWC’s but now they’re having an BIG alpha-male problem on its own and no one on the team was prepared for that. So far, Nico is leading the DWC and he has some sort of “game” advantage over Lewis. To make things more Senna-Prost like, these guys are the only two drivers who can challenge for the DWC. Sadly another F1 soup-opera….

    • Lauda got Lewis into the team as basically the number 1 and to lead it (and probably considerable expense). As Benalf pointed out Nico is leading and certainly is at least a close match to Lewis on speed and probably has the “game plan” better worked out. So actually Nico is somewhat embarrassing the Merc bosses. The other interesting aside is Lewis always seems to have issues with his team mate, cannot remember any issues Nico has had with his past team mates?

  • “I see no problem with Wolfe or Lauda expressing their displeasure at Rosberg’s costly mistake. His mistake cost the team a 1-2 finish and 18 constructors points and was totally unnecessary. End of story.”

    In Hungary Lewis but not obeying direct instructions on three occasions and cost the team points and as possible victory, then by your logic the bosses should have expressed displeasure at Lewis then. And what about Lewis’ fabrication of the Spa post race meeting ….. acceptable? This was a private meeting behind closed doors – it is outrageous behaviour. Lewis was found cheating to get a competitor disqualified previously by the FIA and he was trying to do it to his team mate again. Lewis is interested in Lewis and not the team end of story.

  • Benalf

    I agree. They certainly are not handling the situation with the least amount of PR impact, or maybe that’s what they’re trying to do. I am referring to Marko and Lauda comments. Taking position regarding a team racing incident increases the in-team friction and makes things worse….next time will be pay-time sort of thing. Expect Lewis going into aggression mode in Monza….I would do the same if I were the “victim” on the last race and the team backs me up. On the other hand, this is BIG time for Nico; he’s got almost a race point advantage and his team mate wants blood. He should capitalize that with mind games, all-out for pole and then cautious racing when Hamilton is around. He might even get +25 points more of a gap if Lewis Flunks Monza…..

  • Lionprince

    I am a Ham fan and have new found respect for Ros for stepping up his game with the Mercedes. With an open mind I do feel Nico is as fast as Ham in the same car but only because these modern day f1 cars are far too easy to drive. ( based on drivers and team owners comments not mine :)
    I do believe the difference between them is during actual battle or making the necessary pass to further progress. We saw how Ham can hold of Ros but can Ros do the same? We saw Ham carve through the field more than once this year and through this career, can Nico do the same?
    A straight fight is the difference between the two and it was a shame for them coming together because it would have cleared up some of these questions on Nico and make him much more ( arguably ) deserving of such a big lead.
    Fair play for Ros is that with his super driving talents he has stayed out of harms way and has run up front to be leading the world championship.
    The way he ran the car red hunting down Ric in spa was truly amazing! I thought the car was just going to blow up!

  • Rapierman

    Not all “racing incidents” are 50-50.

  • I’m a spam fan.

    By the way, did Eric Bouljah! long ago not blame Nick Heidfeld for not driving the renault very good?