Features - Straight Talk
MAY 31, 2016
Peace in our time
BY LUIS VASCONCELOS
The Monaco Grand Prix gave Lewis Hamilton a much deserved first victory of the year, after five character building Grand Prix, but to achieve his win number 44 the triple World Champion benefited from two events that were out of his control: Nico Rosberg accepting to let him through at the start of lap 16 and Red Bull's terrible pit stop blunder on lap 32, robbing the Australian of a victory that was fully deserved, as he basically dominated the weekend right from the start.
Of course after each of those events Hamilton drove a sublime race, racing on the limit without making any costly mistakes and having suffered with mechanical issues in the previous five Grand Prix of the year it's fair to say he deserved a bit of luck - just a shame that it had to come at Daniel Ricciardo's expense, two weeks after the Red Bull driver also lost the Spanish Grand Prix through no fault of his own.
A win in Monaco is always the highlight of the year for any driver or team, but if on a normal day Mercedes wouldn't be entirely happy with its second car finishing a race in 7th place after Rosberg was off the pace right from the start, the circumstances the team was living in until 2pm last Sunday and the way the race turned out couldn't have been more to the German's liking.
During the Monaco Grand Prix weekend it transpired that Lewis Hamilton's reaction, within the team, to the crash with Rosberg at the start of the Spanish Grand Prix and Mercedes' option not to blame any of its drivers was quite different to the one he presented to the media, when he faced all of us for nearly ten minutes, before leaving the Circuit de Catalunya. According to sources close to the team, quite a few toys were thrown out of his pram and it's believed that Pascal Wehrlein's last minute call to replace Esteban Ocon in the final day of testing, after Mercedes decided it needed an experienced Grand Prix driver to conclude its program, was not the result of Hamilton's unavailability but simply because he refused to fly back to Barcelona to reunite with the team.
If that was the case or not, it was clear when Hamilton arrived in the paddock on Wednesday afternoon that he was still unhappy with everything that had happened to him since the start of the season. What the fuel system issue that affected his car in Q3 did for his mood was visible as soon as he came out of the car, so if the Brit's relationship with his team was strained before the start of the weekend, was even tenser on Saturday afternoon.
By asking Nico Rosberg, clearly off the pace and unable to get the brakes and tyres of his W07 up to temperature, to let Hamilton through, Mercedes didn't only give its driver a crack at fighting for victory with Daniel Ricciardo, it also sent a powerful message to the English driver: "we value you and we're behind you". Hamilton's jump of joy into the arms of his mechanics as soon as he got off the car showed he knew who to thank for the win and any thoughts he may have had, even in the back of his mind, of leaving at the end of the year - to do something else in life or race for another team - have surely vanished by now.
For Nico Rosberg, in spite of the lost victory, Monaco also served one of his purposes. Of course the German wouldn't have minded winning his home race again, and collecting 19 more points than he did and extend his championship lead, but he's also in the middle of intense contractual negotiations to extend his stay at Mercedes. From the rumour mill it has come out that Mercedes is offering Rosberg a one year deal, plus another one with a option on the team's side, with a modest salary increase compared to what he earns now, while the Championship leader is said to be willing to sign a new three-years deal with a salary that will put him in the same league as Hamilton, Alonso and Vettel.
By quickly following the team's instructions, Rosberg "told" Mercedes he's a good team player and will do whatever it takes to help the German manufacturer win Grand Prix and championships. The message that got through was also that in spite of the accident in Barcelona, there's no unhealthy tension between the two drivers, so they continue to work together for years to come.
At the end of the race both Lewis Hamilton and Toto Wolff were full of praise for Rosberg, calling him a gentleman and a team player. It wouldn't be at all surprising to find out, in a couple of weeks, the German actually earned a new long-term deal with Mercedes by accepting to let Hamilton through in a race he knew he couldn't win.
Two weeks after the Barcelona disaster, Mercedes looks again like a happy family, so the difficult Monaco weekend may have suited Toto Wolff and Niki Lauda's needs like a glove.