What’s Bad For Lewis & Nico Is Great For Formula 1

Let’s play a game. It will be similar to that old seventies game show, “Name That Tune”, but instead of a tune let’s use a quote. So, “Name That Quote”. Ready? Here we go.

“I don’t know if [Ayrton] Senna and [Alain] Prost talked about it, but I quite liked the way Senna dealt with that so I’ll take a page out of his book.”

Whose quote is that? Or how about this one,

“I had a very good pace. I drove with all my heart and gave it all I could, fairly, and I feel like I drove fairly all weekend. ”

Your answer is? Lastly, for double points,

“We are not friends, we are colleagues.”

If you answered “Lewis Hamilton” for any or all of those quotes, you would be right.

Of course I am referring to the schism between teammates Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg and in particular the events that preceded the Grand Prix of Monaco. For those of you who did not get a chance to see Saturday’s qualifying session, or for that matter the race on Sunday (because apparently you’re not a crazed-out psycho F1 fan like yours truly although I can’t really imagine why), a mistake on the part of Rosberg during the final stage of the all important Q3 session forced teammate Hamilton to abort his lap and thus have no chance at pole position on the one track where it is the most important.

The fallout was typical F1 style, chock full of conspiracy theories, finger pointing, threats, and all that goes along with feelings that are hurt and the feeling of betrayal. As the above quotes suggest, Hamilton was not at all happy and clearly felt that there was something sinister going on.

I want to say right now for the record that in no way, shape or form do I think Rosberg could or would do something so inappropriate. I have been watching this driver for a long time and I cannot remember any instance of this son of a former world champ acting in any way but with honesty and integrity. Can you?

But of course try telling that to Hamilton who believes he has been done an injustice. On second thought, don’t, I am not sure it will go down that well, LOL. There were several other quotes over the race weekend and post-race. No need to go into them as well but suffice to say the rift is genuine and now the question becomes, where do these two drivers go from here?

While I would be more than happy to examine this and rattle off quips in my usual sarcastic fashion, that is not the point of this post as tempting as it is. Instead I want to remind everyone that this season is not the most exciting as far as multiple cars and drivers challenging for poles, race wins and two big trophies come the end of the year. And although there is always plenty to dissect and discuss in F1, sometimes the sport needs that little bit extra.

So I want to thank the F1 Gods for causing Rosberg to break a mere eight meters late on that second run entering Mirabeau in Q3 and setting in motion what F1 needs to save the season. Some DRAMA, something that we can sink our teeth into, someone we can root for or lobby against or commonly both.

As much as you don’t want to admit it, you know I’m right, with six grand prix contested and all six having been won by a Mercedes Silver Arrow and a pattern that looks to continue, even the most diehard F1 fan might become a little disinterested in the racing. Although truth be known that could never really happen, but you know what I mean.

F1 is many things, the cars, the strategy, the on-track racing which is hopefully wheel to wheel, but it is equally the inter-team battles, the politics and the occasional controversy. And F1 is no stranger to controversy. In fact F1 without controversy is like watching early James Bond movies without cool gadgets.

So here is my thesis, while it is quite enough for Hamilton and Rosberg to continue on as they have so far this season, racing only each other and winning everything in sight while everyone else races for third, fourth, fifth, all the way to tenth, what we have now is not just a battle between teammates to see who will come out on top every other Saturday and Sunday. We now have a war of words that will play out as well (never mind that it would appear that both drivers have cleared the air and made up, it will take only the slightest of incidents for that truce to go right out the window), and most importantly we now have a psychological battle, and it is in this battle that the championship will take on a new meaning.

Would it be boring for me to rattle off some of F1’s most intense and heated driver battles? I feel compelled to do it anyway. A quick search online and we find that rivalry has been part of the sport for a very long time, whether it is friendly or a grudge match between teammates or drivers on different teams. Here are just a few significant rivalries in no particular order.

Gilles Villeneuve vs. Didier Pironi (I have to confess to not knowing about this one).
Alan Jones vs. Carlos Reutemann (read about this somewhere “Yeah. In your f*****g back, mate”)
Damon Hill vs. Michael Schumacher (this one I know, still can’t believe Michael crashed into Damon)
James Hunt vs. Niki Lauda (how could one not know about this one, thank you very much Ron Howard)
Jacques Villeneuve vs. Michael Schumacher (know this one too, still can’t believe Michael crashed into Jacques)
Fernando Alonso vs. Lewis Hamilton (oh yeah, I know all about this one…)
Mark Webber vs. Sebastian Vettel (I definitely know about this one, and have written many posts on it as well ;-)
And the mother of rivalries, inter-team or not, Ayrton Senna vs. Alain Prost (and yes I have seen the movie Senna, about 20 times)

There are many more but here is the point: what is sport without rivalry, without intense, in your face, down to the nitty gritty, take off the gloves competition? Boring, if you ask me.

The Miami Heat recently won the their division against the only team that has beat them on a regular basis, the Indiana Pacers. During that series Lance Stephenson talked some smack about getting into the head of LeBron James of the Heat. What happened in the next meeting was a complete smack-down by the Heat especially by James. It was great basketball and made winning the game and the series much more interesting.

If this drama had happened five years ago, I would have been up in arms about Hamilton’s accusations. I would have thought Hamilton was a spoiled brat, immature and sorely lacking any kind of decorum. Look no further than the comments section of the race reports and op-eds on this blog right after the Monaco Grand Prix and you will see what I am referring to. In fact, that was exactly what I thought during the whole Alonso – Hamilton affair while both were at McLaren. Good thing I was not blogging back then, although I have written quite a few lines about it now so I am sure you can guess whose side I am on.

But now, I don’t think that at all. Now I do not see Hamilton or his words or his actions as that easily definable. It is not an issue of reducing a man down to a simple denominator such as mature or intelligent, hotheaded or childlike. In truth it is all of these characteristics that make us compelling, make us human, and make F1 interesting.

Last year, when Alonso got in all kinds of trouble from Luca di Montezemolo regarding his comments to the press about being displeased with Ferrari for yet again ruining his chances at a world title (fourth year in a row btw), I was pleased that the Spaniard was not toeing that bulls**t line that I have been hearing over and over again, like some robot had taken the place of the two-time world champion. I am over the scripts that every driver has to read from. If you ask me, Alonso didn’t say enough.

Earlier in the year when Sebastian Vettel squeezed by Mark Webber in Malaysia while disobeying the multi-21 team order and the whole world fell down on Vettel’s shoulders, with fans and pundits alike socking it to the three time champ (including me) I was secretly thinking “Hell, yeah! Vettel is his own person.” “Big balls”, to coin a James Hunt phase. And this was good for F1.

Senna could at times be the most ruthless of drivers and it could be argued that he put his life and the lives of others at great risk in the pursuit of his own ambitions, but he was also a very spiritual and kind individual when not in the car, or so I am led to believe by many of his peers. But it was the ruthless side that played out not only with Senna’s teammates but with all the drivers on the grid and that made the man such lasting icon of the sport. Yes, it was good for F1.

This is why a little drama and maybe some ill will might not be that great for Hamilton, Rosberg, Toto Wolf, or Niki Lauda but it is always a good thing for Formula 1. We expected there to be fireworks between Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkenon but an uncompetitive car all but tossed cold water on that affair. Over at Red Bull, because Sebastian Vettel is so inept at driving a car with no rear down force, what would have been a great battle to witness between himself and the young Aussie Daniel Ricciardo has yet to even start, although I have hope. Don’t even mention McLaren because as far as I am concerned the rookie is outdriving the veteran in that particular rivalry, no contest.

We are left then with only the Mercedes boys and I for one am tired of picking Hamilton to come out on top week in and week out. It’s been looking like Nico was going to get lost somewhere behind Lewis’s gearbox. That might still happen, but at the very least another storyline has a chance to emerge for this 2014 F1 season.

Not the regular “I must beat the guy on the other side of the garage” rivalry but a new and vital one, the kind that makes each driver dig just a little bit more for the incredible lap to win pole position, for that impossible pass for position or for that perfectly driven race and win. Time will tell if it turns into a nasty one, the kind that Hamilton has already been a participant in, or whether it will be the type from Formula 1’s yesteryear – a more friendly rivalry, the kind Jim Clark, Graham Hill and Jackie Stewart enjoyed.

Canada should by all accounts be a race that Hamilton wins, he has already stood on the top step of this venue three times, so it is either a special track for the Briton or he just excels at it or both. As I alluded to, the rift or fallout seems to have been put to rest. Lauda said he was going to calm Hamilton down, not to mention it is not quite the type of PR that Stuttgart is interested in. Lauda also said in regards to the statement Hamilton made post-race, that to win in F1 you have to be a bastard. So which is it Niki? Part of me is hoping for the latter.

Lewis tweeted that all is cool #noproblem, but I wonder if this is just some window dressing. Maybe all is ok and the two silver arrow drivers that have known and raced against each other literally since day one have well and truly moved on for what more than likely was a small mistake with large consequences, and that would be just fine with me. If Hamilton and Nico go back to all fun and games with some wins thrown in for each and this becomes a nice, tame, no-drama rivalry, great. But a rivalry with some smack-talking, disobedient drivers, a conspiracy or two, and a little bit of back-stabbing, all while watching great driving and close finishes, will be so much more fun.

You know it will. And it is what F1 needs…

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