Formula One is considered to be a bubble; a bunch of privileged individuals cloistered together, with little to no exposure to wider culture at large.
But in reality, there is little to separate the Formula One bubble from any other micro-community, it’s just that the travelling F1 circus spends more time vibrating in airborne tin cans – which might explain the school-yard mentality sometimes served up in the paddock and the media centre. Cabin fever will do that to you.
But just like any micro-community, it doesn’t take long to develop pre-conceived notions about how your co-habitants will react given a certain situation. What might seem acceptable behaviour to you might appear uncharacteristic coming from someone else. The same is true inside a race team.
Last Sunday’s second lap incident between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg might have been the work of a moment, but the foundations had been laid months – if not years – earlier. It reminded me of a discussion that took place a few weeks ago inside a race team which had just had both of its cars written off during a first-corner incident between team-mates. After a long and stony silence during the car drive back from the track to the hotel, the driver at the centre of the incident fired the first post-accident gambit…
Driver: “What the hell was he thinking going around the outside of me??”
Engineer: “But you pulled the exact same move yesterday”
Driver: “Yes, but that was me.”
Make no mistake. I’ve never met a decent driver who didn’t have a healthy ego, but to believe track etiquette is a birthright is dangerous territory. It’s a trait I’ve seen too many times in club motorsport. You learn which drivers you can trust – and not trust. Likewise, drivers with wide elbows quickly learn who they can intimidate. The trouble is when the browbeaten decide to bite back the sky tends to fall in, much like it did in the Mercedes garage on Sunday afternoon.
Hamilton alleged that Rosberg conceded during their post-race debrief that he chose not to prevent an avoidable accident in the interests of “proving a point”. It was Bahrain Part Two, where Hamilton’s slice-and-dice defensive manoeuvres obliged Nico to abort a pass in the interests of the team. Surely Rosberg’s altruism that day would’ve banked him some social currency in the Mercedes body politic.
Yes, Rosberg, could’ve avoided a ‘Maldonado moment’ by not dialling in a few more angles of steering input, but likewise, Lewis could have taken less road in executing his pass on his team-mate. Maybe he would have if it had been Fernando Alonso or even Daniel Ricciardo positioned a foot from his port side. Perhaps Hamilton’s blinkered approach to hand-to-hand combat with Rosberg lit a fuse he was unprepared for. If that’s the case, the best course of action for all involved would be to accept there’s a new set of rules in place and move on.
It’s the best piece of advice Mercedes can give both their drivers and probably the direction Lewis needs going forward – as opposed to engaging in street credentials reserved for ’90s Brit-Pop class squabbles.
Despite what the hordes at Spa will have you think, there’s no heroes or villains in this piece, just two guys going through some growing pains. Ricciardo meanwhile is coming into his own, a fact predicted by this publication in October last year. At the time that opinion was derided in the F1 school-yard. That’s what pre-conceived notions will do for you.
Images courtesy of Octane Photographic.