I have read mammoth piles of horseshit regarding the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and the way in which Mercedes handled the race. I just don’t see why anyone is upset. At the end of the race a rather dim German stomped past me in the press room, mumbling something obtuse about how Lewis was a “dirty” driver.
Clearly, the man in question understands nothing about the rules of the sport. As Lewis Hamilton pointed out after the race, “we were fighting for the championship. I was in the lead, I control the pace. That’s the rules.”
Lewis is right. Dim Deutsche should go and report on something else.
The way I see it, Lewis did a quite brilliant job. He didn’t need to block. He just slowed the pace and Nico could do nothing but sweat. Even he described Lewis’s tactical driving as “perfect”. It was one of the most remarkable drives I have seen in my 500 Grands Prix. Lewis wanted to win in the right way, but as the laps ticked by, it became clear that the only choice he had left was to back Nico up, into the drivers behind. If he did that, perhaps, there would be a bingle and Nico would be knocked out, or overtaken by both Sebastian Verstappen and Max Verstappen, which would have given Lewis the title. It’s not the best way to win a title, but points are points. And while Lewis did a masterful job, Nico held it together, took the pressure and did nothing stupid. He delivered the goods and so it is fair to say that he too did a masterful job. You could see at the end of the race that Nico was drained. The team got a bit nervous because, in theory at least, Vettel might have passed both of its drivers and won the race. Frankly, when you have won 18 of the 20 races and the Constructors’ title it really make no difference. In fact, another win would cost Mercedes more money becauze every point means that the price of the entry fee goes up. Getting more points is utterly irrelevant when are already champion. The payout does not change. So, it would perhaps have been better for Mercedes to have said nothing at all, or even smarter to have said: “Just go racing boys.” That would have been the best strategy of them all… That way, people wwould not be saying that the team favoured Nico this year.
Anyway, the argument that Lewis did something wrong is for journalists versed in golf. The team finished 1-2. An that was that… To try to turn this into a story that Lewis is going to quit the team is as dim as the stomping German. Rule number one in Formula 1 is that you never give up a competitive car. If you think that there is a more competitive car, that’s fine. It’s a risk, but to lose a drive that wins races without a damned good reason is just stupidity, or ego with wings.
To be fair to Mercedes, the team has always been very fair to the drivers.
“We could have told them who should win, as many teams have done in the past,” said team boss Toto Wolff. “But we don’t do that and we have coped quite well with the situation in the last few years.”
This is the genius of the Mercedes strategy. It’s sporting. Just as Williams was sporting back in 1986 when it let its two drivers fight and McLaren’s Alain Prost nicked the world title. That really didn’t matter, because teams don’t get paid on the result of the Drivers’ title. The money comes from the Constructors’title. McLaren was just as sporting in numerous seasons when it allowed its drivers to fight. OK, it is not 100 efficiency, but it is sport and clever people realise the value of the difference.
The very first fight I had with Jean Todt (and there have been a few) was at a splendid place called Gao, on the banks of the Niger River in Niger. Monsieur T decided that to make sure that one of his drivers won the Paris-Dakar Rally, he would stop them competing by tossing a coin. I believe he still has the coin, transformed into a key ring.
I don’t think I called Jean any names on that occasion, but I am pretty sure that I told him that he was not a sportsman. I understand why he did what he did, but the pursuit of efficiency is not always the right answer. This is what I wrote at the time: “The race still had six days to run but Peugeot’s marketing policies were considered more important than the sport. The yes-men with the briefcases and corporate pie charts won the Paris-Dakar Rally. The adventurers were overshadowed by the pale bureaucrats in Paris. Out in the desert, Jacky Ickx and Ari Vatanen had been fighting each other hard to gain an upper hand. Vatanen had rolled his Peugeot 405 before Gao. For Todt and his organisation, a truce had to be called between his racing star and his rallying ace. And so Todt tossed a 10 franc piece into the air: heads would mean victory for Vatanen; tails would give the win to Ickx.
“Vatanen has won,” said Todt, playing God.
“C’est la vie,” shrugged Ickx, playing the professional
“I didn’t want to settle it in that way,” said Vatanen, not wanting to play the game.
It was, in all ways, an unsatisfactory way to settle the outcome of the last true motor sporting adventure. Both drivers would have preferred to fight it out, away in the desert, without external dictates. Being professionals, they said nothing, but the hurt shone from each. These are not politicians, they are sportsmen and their great adventure had been tarnished; sacrificed on the altar of commercialism. It left a bitter taste in the mouth, far removed from the enthusiasm of which both Ickx and Vatanen had spoken in the days leading up to Gao.”
So let’s not knock Mercedes. Let us praise them. Winning 19 of 21 races is mighty. McLaren did 15 out of 16 in 1988. Ferrari’s best (under Monsieur Efficiency) in the Schumacher era was 15 out of 18 in 2004 and 15 our of 17 in 2002. Red Bull didn’t even get into the ballpark (so, don’t lecture about team orders, Christian). Ferrari dictated who won. Red Bull too. Mercedes, McLaren and Williams never did. They were sportsmen.
And that is why this season was fab. Because you didn’t know who was going to win…
Neither driver in Abu Dhabi expressed anything that suggested that he felt that there was anything unfair, although some media were trying to stir up a storm. Nico was drained by the end. It was, he said, the most intense race he had ever had. But you know what? He walked through the fire. You could not fault either driver – unless you don’t understand motor racing. When all is said and done, both drivers did everything they could to win. They did it fairly. They fought like giants and after it was all done, they showed respect for one another. Nico took the pressure and won the title. His steely determination and his absolute refusal to accept defeat was, to borrow his favourite word “Awesome!” Lewis knocked him down and he got up again.
So when you boil it all down. Appreciate what we have, because what we have right now is great.
Bravo Nico. Bravo Lewis. Bravo Mercedes. And bravo F1…