MONACO DISASTER WAS THE PITS FOR CHAMP AND TEAM, WRITES F1 VETERAN DAVID COULTHARD
The next time Mercedes come over the radio and tell Lewis Hamilton to come into the pits, expect him to be a little more than wary in his response. And rightly so.
The decision which cost him the Monaco Grand Prix — one which, even with plenty of reflection, I cannot see any sense in — will dent his confidence in the team. How could it not?
It will be extremely tricky to manage. An instruction from the team does not necessarily have to be obeyed, but if as a driver you start doubting every call then the fundamentals of how Formula One works start to break down.
I was exasperated when watching it live and still cannot see any logic to it. I presumed he must have a puncture or some mechanical issue. The only rationale could have been there was a problem and this was damage limitation. But it was just an extraordinary piece of over-caution; a very costly error of judgment.
The team and Lewis were already in a very comfortable situation. This is not the same as a safety-car restart near the end of the race in Monza. It is Monte Carlo, a track where it is almost impossible to overtake.
I experienced my own share of strategic mishaps, if not anything quite as blatant as Sunday, and it is hard not to let it affect your trust in the team. The Canadian Grand Prix in 1997 springs to mind. I was leading comfortably, but had a small, manageable blister on one of the rear tyres.
After plenty of back-and-forth with the pit wall, I saw no need to come in, but Ron Dennis, the McLaren team principal, wanted to take the safe option. It was a slow stop, and while I was in the pits Olivier Panis crashed, breaking both his legs.
As a result, the race was stopped and I ended up falling down the field. What should have been an easy victory ended with me seventh more than half a minute down.
I was bitterly disappointed because you put so much effort into winning. It was the same here for Lewis. He was utterly dominant all weekend.
It is hard to imagine him dealing with such a bitter defeat so well just a few years ago. When he stopped at Portier on the slow-down lap, my instant reaction was that he was about to do what Ayrton Senna did in 1988: walk back to his apartment and not be seen for several days.
The Lewis of 2011, for example, would in all probability have lashed out at the team. But here was a professional sportsman, who is paid a lot of money, being the absolute professional. Even after what could almost be described as a tragedy — as Nico Rosberg pretty much acknowledged, the wrong man won — Lewis showed how much he has matured.
In a strange way, I take a lot of solace in the scale of the shock at this defeat. The reason we are all so stunned is not because a driver has had a technical problem, it is because a seemingly easy victory has been taken away because of human error. That is what makes sport. It humanises Formula One and reminds us that the crux of this sport is not technology. It is people. In the end, it does not matter whether we are running diesel engines, turbos, V12s, V10s. It is the fastest form of racing with man and machine fighting to beat the rest. That’s what we want to be entertained by. There is actually a lot to take heart from.
The stance of Mercedes adds to the story. They immediately held up their hands — it was such an obvious mistake — but we are not used to that level of honesty in Formula One. I do not think Niki Lauda, the team’s chairman, is physically capable of not saying what he thinks.
It all means that, astonishingly, Nico is just 10 points behind in the championship even though he has been comprehensively outgunned so far this year. His father won the 1982 title with just one grand prix victory that season, so maybe we should not be surprised.
Lewis will come back in Canada knowing that he has the speed, but it will take time to heal the wounds and rebuild his total trust in the team.
■David Coulthard drove F1 from 1994-2008 for Williams, McLaren and Red Bull. He was runner-up in the 2001 F1 drivers’ championship, driving for McLaren. Telegraph