F1: Rosberg loses race and credibility
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Nico Rosberg pushed the limits of credulity with as much force as he speared into the side of Lewis Hamilton’s car while trying unsuccessfully to defend the lead from his team-mate on the final lap of the Austrian Grand Prix.
With that desperate manoeuvre and his fantastical explanation of it, his credibility was damaged, his standing diminished, and his championship chances took a hammer blow.
Hamilton is many things. He can be self-contradictory and ride the emotional wave in a style reminiscent of the worst of Nigel Mansell. But it is to his overwhelming credit that, unlike even his greatest hero, Ayrton Senna, he is not a driver who deliberately forces a competitor off the road or, worse, ploughs directly into him with intent.
Firm, absolutely, but broadly fair. The evidence is piling up that the same cannot be said of Rosberg.The stewards’ verdict after Hamilton had survived the coming-together to seal victory - sadly their punishment was toothless - and, more importantly, the on-board footage, were damning of Rosberg.
Particularly damning given his version of events seemed largely at odds with reality.
Lewis Hamilton on his way to winning the Austrian Grand Prix on Sunday. Picture/AP
The honest answer - that in this fiercest of championship duels, he cannot afford to give Hamilton an inch, and may have pushed the limit too far here - would have sufficed.In the end it was his refusal to concede as he and Hamilton approached turn two at around 200mph which cost him.
Badly too. As the pair crossed the line at the start of the final lap, Rosberg’s lead in the drivers’ championship was 31 points. By the time he had limped home fourth with a mangled front wing, it was down to 11.
The consequences of this latest collision, their third in just five races, less than two months on from Barcelona when neither made it further than four corners, could be far-reaching.
Think of the PR disaster if Hamilton is told by Toto Wolff, the Mercedes boss to hold station behind Rosberg in front of 140,000 British fans at Silverstone next week.
Longer-term, the viability of this driver pairing has come into question. Hamilton might have the odd nice chat with Rosberg by the pool near to their respective apartments in Monaco, yet this means nothing once they are racing.
Lewis Hamilton celebrates his Austrian Grand Prix victory with second-placed Max Verstapen. Picture/AP
According to one team principal who has dealt with all this before, Red Bull’s Christian Horner, the partnership may be untenable in the future (for now, Mercedes insist Rosberg’s contract negotiations continue as normal).Neither trusts each other to race fairly wheel to wheel.
Hamilton did not reveal whether he thought Rosberg had acted deliberately, but reading between the lines it was fairly obvious how he felt.
“Today, I drove as wide as possible, I left a lot of space, three cars could have come on the inside of me there,” the three-time champion said.
“I was just thinking I want to overtake this guy with my every breath. I’m smiling now because I did everything I could in the right way.”
Even the boos aimed at Hamilton on the podium - caused largely by the Austrian circuit commentator blaming the Briton - did not take the shine off a remarkable drive.
But, if anything, all this will have bigger ramifications for Rosberg’s reputation in the sport. In practical terms, the stewards’ decision amounted to little more than a slap on the wrist. The German received a 10-second penalty but he was plenty clear of Daniel Ricciardo in fifth. He was given two penalty points, yet in the course of the season that is almost meaningless.
Rosberg’s words afterwards had meaning but most in the paddock thought: “Surely, he didn’t mean to blame Hamilton for the collision?” He did.Rosberg crossed the line to commence the final lap less than one second ahead of his team-mate. He clipped the kerb on the inside of turn one, allowing Hamilton to close the gap on the long drag up the hill.
Rosberg defended the -inside line, Hamilton took the outside, marginally but decisively ahead as they braked for turn two.The reigning world champion drove as far to the edge of the track as he could, nearly to the white line. Footage showed Rosberg beginning to apply full lock - or much steering at all - only after he ploughed into the side of Hamilton, ruining his front wing.
The Englishman took evasive action before easily passing his crippled team-mate as turn three approached.
Rosberg’s explanation of what happened was hard to swallow. “I had the inside position, a strong position, and went a bit deep into the corner, but that’s fine because I dictate, but l was very surprised that Lewis turned in and that caused a collision.”
The stewards firmly disagreed. “Car Six [Rosberg] did not allow Car 44 [Hamilton] racing room. The driver of Car 44 could have clearly made the turn on the track, if not for the resultant collision.”
Former drivers lined up to criticise Rosberg. The German was unmoved.It was a remarkable conclusion to an already wonderful race.
Hamilton led off the line well from Jenson Button, enjoying the heady heights of second place.It did not last long but Button still finished a well-deserved sixth.
Rosberg, himself starting sixth on the grid, made good progress. So much so that when Mercedes left Hamilton out for 21 laps on the softest rubber, he emerged from the pits behind his team-mate.
Ferrari gambled for another six laps beyond that, paying the price with a spectacular tyre blowout for Sebastian Vettel on the pit straight.
The resulting safety car should have helped Hamilton, but Mercedes aborted their original plan to stop the world champion once, putting him behind Rosberg again.With Max Verstappen, who finished second, a sitting duck in the lead, Rosberg and Hamilton had 15 laps to fight it out to the chequered flag.
They made their way past Verstappen before Hamilton closed to within striking range on the final lap.
The rest is history, which will not smile favourably on Rosberg.
The Daily Telegraph