In my youth there was a strange notion about among non-motorsport fans that the chequered flag started a motor race rather than ended it. No idea why, it never was that way so as far as I know (in the age before starting lights the national flag was used). Therefore as a fledgling F1 know-it-all I made it my business to correct them. But on the sole basis of today’s Chinese Grand Prix they in fact might have had a point.
Lewis Lords it
Why so? Well, the race itself struggled to be called one. It was rather a replication of the season-opener in Australia – Lewis Hamilton winning with the minimum of fuss, appearing to have his second-placed team mate Nico Rosberg well under control, there not always being much going on behind them either. Indeed this time Lewis’ win felt inevitable almost from the start of practice. Furthermore while Ferrari was fairly close on race day, unlike in Malaysia last time out it couldn’t get beyond being a vague irritant.
But rather than the chequered flag signalling guns falling silent, this time it heralded merely the beginning of the conflict.
And mainly from the afore-mentioned Nico. Who claimed both during and after the race that Lewis had ‘backed him up’ into the chasing Sebastian Vettel, that it was a “fact” that this compromised his race and in effect accused Lewis of deliberately looking out for himself at the expense of the team.
Yet there seemed little to see; if nothing else Nico rarely got near Lewis. It’s not clear either how Machiavellian Lewis was being if at all, as even if the worst of what Nico was claiming is true it’s difficult to claim that the Englishman wasn’t acting within his rights. As the inimitable Niki Lauda noted later, “everyone drives selfish”. Also, some said, Nico could have resolved matters the old-fashioned way by getting ahead, either in qualifying or via an overtake. Sympathy for Nico afterwards was hard to find.
The bigger questions are however of Nico. To quote Morrissey, “where do his intentions lay? Or does he even have any?” Was it all simple sounding off? An emotional consequence of being beaten repeatedly? Or is there a game here? Martin Brundle for one claimed on television that it is “categorical” that Nico’s been told to drop the nice guy stuff, and that it’s the job of one in his position to “create as much smell as he can”. Has Nico therefore calculated after his succession of defeats that he needs to try to shake matters up somehow?
Whatever is the case, just like last season the intra-Merc truce didn’t survive long in the glare of a title battle; it appears what fight there is will be an embittered one. But in a crucial way it threatens to be very unlike then. As if Nico can’t get on terms with Lewis where it really matters, on the track, and soon then all of his points raised will be moot.
F1 Circuit Guide: Chinese Grand Prix 2015