Really the logic was irrefutable. As was said by Red Bull boss Christian Horner of the debutant Baku City Circuit hosting the European Grand Prix, “if ever there could be a circuit built for Mercedes, it’s this one”. But, many thought, there could be spanners in the works. Sebastian Vettel could get the lead off the line. Plus it could be a destruction derby as both GP2 races were, with frequent safety cars, and those races suggested too that the leader could be a sitting duck at re-starts. But neither of these spanners were released into the cogs. Seb’s start was mediocre and the F1 pilots behaved impeccably throughout. And with his Merc stable mate Lewis Hamilton starting low after a qualifying prang, pole man Nico Rosberg won as he liked.
It was an outcome in doubt for a matter of a few corners. As mentioned Vettel didn’t get one of his lightning launches, and Nico with his lead intact scampered off. “Being realistic they [Mercedes] were very strong” said a resigned Seb later. After 15 laps Nico was 17 seconds clear, his lead remaining of that order after 51 laps when the chequered flag fell. Seb was next up with the excellent Sergio Perez completing the podium, his second top three in two races. Yet not much happened between times.
Well not much other than Lewis’s latest case of having drama attract to him. And with it F1 finding somehow a yet more unlikely matter to froth over. Switches on a steering wheel. Really.
Most in advance thought that with Merc’s pace advantage Lewis would be able to rise to a runner-up finish, but his progress was slow; his imperious pace from Friday running not all there. But that’s not what got the attention. After his sole pit stop he then lost the energy deployment from his hybrid engine, and it was followed by a frantic radio conversation with his engineer, where it became clear that it was related to Lewis being in the wrong engine ‘mode’, that this could be resolved by changing a switch on his wheel, but thanks to radio restrictions brought in this year his engineer couldn’t tell him what the change was. F1 not for the first time goes Wacky Races.
Not all That it Seemed
After the race Niki Lauda revealed that Nico had the same problem and resolved it quickly, and about as quickly many concluded that this was another case of Lewis not doing his homework. But it wasn’t that simple, as while with Nico’s case he had previously changed the dial himself, thus giving him an inkling that’s what needed changing back, in Lewis’s case it was pre-set by the team. His challenge, as Mercedes deliciously phrased it, was asking him to do a crossword without giving him any clues.
The issue was resolved before the end but by then Lewis’s goose was cooked; the next car ahead too far away to attack. His lot was fifth place; after recent progress his points deficit to Nico is now back out to 24. It also was the latest instance of Nico bouncing right back to potency just when at the back of minds some thoughts crept towards writing him off.
For Nico it was near enough the perfect day. Not just with the points swing, nor with his dominance, but afterwards too he gushed about having one of those rarest of races where the car was utterly underneath him; that there wasn’t the slightest possibility of even a small error. It looked that way.