Déjà Vu

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Let me share a few statistics with you. Since racing began in earnest way back in March, I have written a post about Lewis Hamilton or Nico Rosberg, or both, a total of thirteen times, which by my calculations is something like 14,000 words (but who’s counting?) that I have already dedicated to these two drivers. This is not too surprising due to the fact that they are the lead candidates for this year’s WDC, not to mention they are on the same team and are piloting the exact same all-conquering W05 chassis.

I am not complaining, mind you, I am fully committed to writing yet more words dedicated to these two, but after the lap two incident in Belgium where these two Mercedes teammates came together, resulting in a deflating tire for Hamilton and a compromised front wing end plate for Rosberg, which in the end allowed Daniel Ricciardo to claim his third race win this year and second in a row, I quickly realized it would be many more words than I could have ever imagined and so here I go with post number fourteen.

This will not be a post about who was wrong or right. It won’t be a post about what Rosberg actually said to Hamilton in the post-race debrief or what he has admitted to. Nor will it be a post about Hamilton rightly or wrongly going to the press to vilify his teammate. Many other journos and bloggers have already weighed in on these topics and I am in agreement with most of these writer’s observations.

What interests me most in the aftermath of Belgium is my extreme sense of déjà vu. Doesn’t anybody else get the feeling that we have seen this scenario before? And by that I mean to say, this ‘exact’ scenario play out between two teammates that were in the same team and in the same position to win the title?

I’m not talking about the Ayrton Senna/Alain Prost rivalry which has already been mentioned at length by the press as a comparison to the Merc duo and no again, I am not talking about Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel either, when the two were virtually neck and neck for the 2010 season which also produced plenty of drama between the two Red Bull drivers right up to the last race in Abu Dhabi. Please note that in both of the preceding cases, one of the warring drivers actually did win the championship, so the rivalry did not have any negative consequences in the end.

Ah, now you are starting to see my point perhaps. I am referring to the 2007 season when Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton were teammates driving the silver and red cars for McLaren and Ron Dennis was still a fixture on the pit wall.

In case the 2007 details are a little fuzzy in your memory, here are some highlights.

2007
Australian Grand Prix
 In his first ever Grand Prix at Melbourne, Lewis Hamilton overtook Alonso around the outside of the first corner. The move squeezed Alonso who later retook the position thanks to a more preferable fuel strategy. (I barely knew who Lewis was at this point but that was all about to change.)

Monaco Grand Prix 
Alonso claimed victory at the Monaco GP ahead of Lewis Hamilton, but the young Brit was publicly upset with the result and felt the team had deliberately stopped him from winning by making him pit earlier than required. Lewis grumpily told reporters “it is something I have to live with. I’ve number two on my car and I am the number two driver.’ The FIA investigated the possibility that McLaren had instigated illegal team orders but later cleared them of any wrongdoing. (What about Malaysia 2013 Lewis, talk about irony?)

Canadian Grand Prix
 Hamilton took his first pole position in Montreal and emerged as a genuine championship contender. Alonso, feeling the pressure from his rookie teammate, ran off the road at the first corner whilst trying a desperate maneuver to overtake Hamilton. (We haven’t seen that anywhere this year, have we now?)

United States Grand Prix
Both McLaren drivers were at the top of their game in Indianapolis and engaged in a close fight for the race lead. Hamilton firmly defended his position against Alonso whilst heading towards turn one, leaving Fernando to swerve at the McLaren pit wall a lap later in disgust. (Teams will never be able to completely appease two drivers, not then, not now.)

Hungarian Grand Prix
 During qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix, Hamilton does not pull over and let Alonso by as planned for a predetermined fuel burn prior to Fernando’s hot lap. This possibly explains why Fernando Alonso later parked his McLaren in the team’s pit garage whilst Hamilton was trying to make a stop for tires. Lewis was left waiting in the pit lane until Alonso moved, and the subsequent delay prevented him from completing his final qualifying lap. McLaren and Alonso claimed the hold up resulted from a delayed radio conversation, but the FIA did not agree and punished them both. Hamilton didn’t emerge unscathed from the incident either, having conducted a fiery exchange with Ron Dennis over the radio. (I can remember this day with astonishing clarity, I’m pretty sure so do Ron Dennis, Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso. It seemed to be the point at which the feud started running the team rather than a strategy.)

Belgian Grand Prix 
Both McLaren drivers arrived at the first corner of the Grand Prix side by side. Alonso had the inside line but swung wide from the apex and pushed Lewis off the circuit. Hamilton used the tarmac run off area to his advantage but Alonso had made his point and held the position. (It would seem Rosberg has read from this script word for word.)

Chinese Grand Prix
 Alonso became so enraged with the speed of Lewis Hamilton’s last minute qualifying lap that he broke a door in McLaren’s motorhome during a tantrum. (One can easily imagine Lewis acting in the same manner post-Belgium). By now Fernando was convinced the British team was tampering with his efforts to win the championship, possibly even favoring the Briton over the Spaniard due to nationalism. (Lewis, now being the non-German on the German team, has made some references to German nationalism himself. I guess he learned something from the 2007 script as well.)

Brazilian Grand Prix (2007 World Championship Finale) 
Although McLaren had the speed and the talent, missed points throughout the season meant that neither driver had clinched the championship heading into the last race. Lewis was slightly ahead but either would need a good finish to claim the WDC. In the first lap, Alonso passed Lewis and then while defending his position forced Lewis off the road onto the curbing. Ultimately a gearbox issue put Hamilton back in 18th place, possibly a result of the first lap curb driving. Hamilton finishes in 7th, Alonso finishes 3rd, and Kimi Raikkonen, who had not led the championship at any point in the season, finishes first and claims the WDC. (This is where I picture Ron Dennis sobbing behind closed doors.)

I think everyone in Formula One, including both drivers and Ron Dennis, is pretty clear that the driver feuding throughout the season cost McLaren and one of their drivers the championship.

Could this happen in 2014? Oh no, you say, the Mercedes drivers are miles ahead, no one is near them. Everyone (including this blogger) says that the championship is a done deal for either Lewis or Nico. I recall quite clearly those same conversations being had in 2007 with the names Lewis and Alonso. Literally no one in 2007 would have imagined Kimi Raikkonen, behind Hamilton almost 20 points at the half way mark of the season, would end up with the driver’s trophy. And yet he did. Could a similar astonishing result occur this year? Let’s go to the numbers and look at the driver’s scores in 2007 and 2014, just past the season midpoint, which is where we are right now.

2007:
Lewis Hamilton 84
Fernando Alonso 79
Kimi Raikkonen 68
This is when the points for 1st thru 8th were 10, 8, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. So let’s just say that Kimi is one win, plus 7 points (at least a 2nd place) away from the WDC, if Hamilton also had two races where he scored 0 points, and the drivers were otherwise equivalent.

2014:
Nico Rosberg 220
Lewis Hamilton 191
Daniel Ricciardo 156
The points in 2014 for 1st thru 8th are 25, 18, 15, 12, 10, 8, 6, 4, and all will be DOUBLED for the final race. So one could say that Daniel is one win (in Abu Dhabi) and 15 points (at least a 3rd place in any other race) away from the WDC, if Nico had a couple races with zero points. Say, if he got run off the road by, or in an accident with, his teammate.

Not such a stretch, is it? Especially since Ricciardo has won the last TWO races. Daniel Ricciardo has not missed any opportunity Mercedes has thrown his way this year. He is driving for the most part at an extremely high level, has not buckled under the pressure of Mega Team Red Bull, or the guy on the other side of his garage who happens to be a four times champion and for that matter no one else on the grid in front or behind. It might sound a little ludicrous but
Now looking at history we can see how things could easily change dramatically for Rosberg and Hamilton if they continue to be hotheaded about this feud, not to mention Toto, Paddy, and Niki.

By the way, if Ricciardo does win the title wouldn’t that just make Sebastian Vettel go completely bookers? But that is another post altogether and don’t you worry, if that should happen my fingers will be typing so fast there might be burnout marks on the home keys.

Back to the point at hand. One week on, Rosberg says it was an error in judgment. Lewis for his part has admitted they have both made mistakes (not so sure what mistake he is talking about – at least in regards to racing on the track). I am slightly ambivalent to all the apologizing and no more finger pointing and good will on both sides of this issue. Part of me thinks this is exactly what needed to happen so the team and its drivers can get back to winning a championship for Mercedes and/or each other, and part of me thinks it is all window dressing and the schism between Hamilton and Rosberg is even greater now with the team principals sinking in the middle.

Monza is up in just under a week’s time. This is the highest average speed circuit on the F1 calendar so presumably it will be a track where the Mercedes cars will be out in front and the ones piloted by Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg will be leading the pack. All eyes will be on the driver that starts in front, but more importantly on he who starts behind, whoever it is that has to make the pass for position. How hard will these drivers race each other and to what degree will one try to force the issue?

Eddie Jordan has called the Mercedes bosses rudderless. We are about to see if that is really the case and while Jordan tends to use hyperbolae to get across his points, there might be some truth to his statement. Right now only Rosberg and Hamilton can answer the question whether all has been put to bed and I’m not referring to the answer given when the press asks the question. Nope, the question will be asked by the track at Monza and the answer will be given when the last of the red lights go out and the racing begins. Are they ready, are you ready, is F1 ready for their answer? I sure hope so…

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