The Big Debate: Mercedes Collide in Spain

Today could’ve been Lewis Hamilton’s first win of 2016. It could’ve been Nico Rosberg’s 8th win in a row. Instead, the two cars were stranded in the gravel trap on Lap 1.

It has been bubbling for three years and today it finally happened in spectacular fashion. Belgium 2014, the last race which Red Bull won before today, saw Nico clip Lewis’ tyre, giving him a puncture. They both managed to finish that race.

Today was a different story entirely.

After Nico Rosberg, starting 2nd, had a better start than Lewis Hamilton, starting 1st, Rosberg overtook his team-mate heading into Turn 1 on the first lap. Lewis was on his gear-box through the next turn as he got a better exit and, as they got to the small straight, Nico made his move to the right. Lewis followed but, due to how far Nico moved to the right, was forced on to the grass. Hamilton lost control of the car while on the grass, smashing into the side of his team-mate, losing his tyre and spinning Rosberg in the process. The pair ended up in the gravel trap. Lewis sat in the car for a while before launching his steering wheel from the car. The two returned to the paddock, separately, on motorbikes. They quickly made their way to the Mercedes motorhome, again separately, both with their helmets still on. Then everyone who is anyone within the Mercedes team ventured up the stairs into the motorhome to find out what happened and, more than likely, help to diffuse the situation. In the immediate aftermath, Toto Wolff refused to blame either driver while Niki Lauda immediately blamed Lewis Hamilton, saying that the risk was unnecessary.

So what happened?

Quite simply, the speed difference was the issue. It seems clear that Hamilton got a better exit from the chicane than Nico Rosberg leading to a big change in speed between the two cars. Here are the main arguments about what went wrong from there on in:

  • Lewis should’ve gone to the left, not the right.
  • Nico shouldn’t have defended so harshly, Lewis was obviously faster.

In our poll on Twitter, 60% of you have apportioned blame to the German driver.

What did the stewards decide?

There was no penalty awarded to either driver. The stewards decided that it was a racing incident. Nico Rosberg was in the wrong engine setting from the start of the race. Lewis was in maximum power mode, Nico wasn’t. Nico was changing the setting on his steering wheel when the crash happened. It’s arguable that the German wasn’t paying enough attention to what Lewis was doing- something which Rosberg strongly denies. It’s also arguable that Lewis should have taken the other line. Either way, the drivers, the team and the sport will move on.

What did the drivers say?

Lewis Hamilton:

I got a good start. He [Rosberg] slipstreamed me into turn one, I was on the inside so not great grip there. I was coming through turn three and then he had a D-rate, basically he made a mistake and started in the wrong engine settings. Before the start we have to decide what engine setting we’re going to start in and there’s only one that’s maximum power. He hadn’t gone to that, he was in a Safety Car mode or something. He D-rated at that point so it meant he lost like 180bhp. I was catching him and as I was catching he wasn’t on the racing line but he was just one step to the right. The gap to the left was much smaller than the one on the right so I went to the right. There’s a gap there and as a racing driver when you’re going 17kph faster you go for the gap which I did. I got my wheel and my wing alongside but I had to avoid a collision. I’m not going to get into it. When I stopped my heart just sank because there’s 1,300 people in our team who worked so hard for us to be here and this amazing car, this great opportunity. To not deliver for them, it’s honestly undescribable how gutted I was.”

Nico Rosberg:

“The stewards have said it is a racing incident which we have to accept. The stewards’ decision is the stewards’ decision, we leave it at that. That’s the verdict. I was aware of the situation and saw Lewis coming closer, so I went for the usual racing driver action of closing the inside line and closing the door as early as I could. I made it very clear I wasn’t going to leave any space on the inside and I was very surprised he went for the gap anyway. Overall I’m just extremely gutted, it was our race to win, all of us, and I’m also gutted for my colleagues. I’m aware of all the work everyone has put into these two cars and for us to end in the sand like that, that’s as bad as it gets.”

What does it mean for the future?

We shouldn’t jump to any immediate conclusions about what happened today. The team is likely to win the championship this year, this incident will not change that. One of their drivers will likely be the 2016 World Champion too, this doesn’t change that either, although Raikkonen has overtaken Hamilton in the standings.

But for 2017, today has the small possibility of changing things significantly. While two drivers in a top team colliding with each other isn’t anything new (Prost and Senna 1989 anyone? Vettel and Webber 2010?), it will undoubtedly place a strain on relations between the team-mates, who are already known to not be the best of friends. So today could prove to be the day which blew the 2017 driver market wide open.

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Rumours of Lewis taking a sabbatical were shot down earlier this weekend by the man himself as he asked what the people who wrote such stories were smoking. There were more rumours also this weekend about Hamilton making a move to Ferrari- but is it realistic to think that Ferrari would unsettle Sebastian Vettel by bringing in someone who would want equal status to their number 1 driver? Similarly, Rosberg is unlikely to leave unless he is forced to. Nico would find it hard to find a seat that is competitive in any other team – not because of his level of talent but rather because of Mercedes’ recent dominance. Furthermore, Mercedes know that Rosberg is a highly capable driver and they are unlikely to find anyone better to fill his place and if they do there is no guarantee that the new driver will avoid incidents with their team-mate.

If handled correctly, there isn’t really any reason why the two can’t stay at the team. They’ve raced wheel to wheel in the same team for pretty much 3 seasons and 4 races without a major incident which caused a retirement. It’s purely inevitable that they’d collide at some point… isn’t it?

While it may not change the future of the Mercedes team significantly, it could change the complexion of the 2016 Season entirely. Red Bull will be a threat to Mercedes in Monaco. Max Verstappen is massively impressive. Ferrari could be about to bounce back.

Was this the defining moment of Formula One 2016?

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