A storm in a teacup or storm clouds gathering? Kate Walker analyses the spat between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg following the Chinese Grand Prix
Any hope of team harmony at Mercedes in 2015 disappeared over the course of the short post-race press conference at the Shanghai International Circuit, when Nico Rosberg – with a face like thunder – interpreted team-mate Lewis Hamilton’s description of his Chinese Grand Prix as a sign of selfish intent.
Asked whether he was aware that his pace at the head of the pack was causing Rosberg to fall into the clutches of an advancing Sebastian Vettel, the defending champion admitted that he was concentrating only on his own job on Sunday afternoon.
“I wasn’t controlling his race,” Hamilton said. “I was controlling my own race but, great race, I’m really happy. Definitely going into the race we thought it would be a lot closer and we knew the Ferraris were very, very good with their long run pace and also looking after their tyres. So, today the real goal was to manage the tyres. And, as I said, my goal was to look after my car.
“I had no real threat from Nico through the whole race. So, I just managed it and got to really enjoy it, to be honest. A few of the real good fun laps were the laps before the pitstop, which I really enjoyed. Ultimately it was a much smoother weekend than we had in the last race where we got the whole, full practice sessions, on my side of the garage at least. And it made a real big difference to the balance of the car for the race. So really happy, and yeah, kinda excited.”
It was the remark that Rosberg had not been a threat on Sunday afternoon that caused thunderclouds to roll across the German’s normally amiable visage, and prompted a tense reply.
“It’s just now interesting to hear from you, Lewis, that you were just thinking about yourself with the pace in front, and necessarily that was compromising my race,” Rosberg said. “Driving slower than was maybe necessary at the beginning of stints meant that Sebastian was very close to me and that opened up the opportunity for Sebastian to try that early pitstop to try and jump me. And then I had to cover him.
“So, first of all it was unnecessarily close with Sebastian as a result, and also it cost me a lot of race time as a result because I had to cover him and then my tyres died at the end of the race because my stint was just so much longer. So I’m unhappy about that, of course, today. Other than that, not much to say.”
Asked to respond to his teammate’s remarks, Hamilton said as little as possible but still managed to land a blow.
“My job is not to… it’s not my job to look after Nico’s race,” he retorted. “My job’s to manage the car and bring the car home as healthy and as fast as possible – and that’s what I did. I didn’t do anything intentionally to slow any of the cars up. I just was focussing on myself. If Nico wanted to get by he could have tried but he didn’t.”
Coming after a weekend of speculation that Rosberg will be forced into a de facto No.2 role due to the championship threat posed by Sebastian Vettel in a resurgent Ferrari, Hamilton’s remarks stung. The implication was that his team-mate lacked the stones to attempt a serious attack, a comment that echoed Niki Lauda’s recent remark that Rosberg was lagging behind Hamilton, which the Austrian attributed to the German driver’s personal demons.
Inside the press room, the exchange between the pair prompted calls of ‘cat fight!’, and ‘handbags at dawn, ladies!’. Both Monaco residents can surely afford a Birkin or six with which to batter their rival…
Felipe Massa says Williams had no chance of matching Ferrari’s race pace in China and conceded the team has dropped to third in the pecking order … for the time being.
Massa and team-mate Valtteri Bottas split Sebastian Vettel and Raikkonen in qualifying but the 2007 world champion got past both men on the opening lap. From that point on it was an uneventful race for Massa and Bottas as they finished behind the Ferrari drivers.
When asked if he had thought Williams could challenge Ferrari before the race, Massa said: “Yeah, we always thought but if you see the pace it was impossible. We’ll see in Bahrain how they’re going to be but if they use the tyres well here and they used the tyres well in Malaysia, for sure they’re going to be fine in Bahrain anyway.”
The Brazilian thinks Williams has to be happy with the points it did manage to secure.
“To be honest we finished where we are, for the moment … We are the third team for the moment. We finished fifth and sixth. Definitely it would be nicer to finish in front of Ferrari but maybe also close to Mercedes, we’re always looking forward, but it’s not the case. We need to push to improve but we can say it’s not so completely negative because we are third in the championship and are building good points compared to the guys behind. But we need to work and make the car better to catch these guys in front, which is not easy.”
Massa lost two positions, to Bottas and Raikkonen, through the first corner but was pleased with how he recovered.
Assessing his own race, Massa said: “I think it was fantastic; very good weekend, perfect lap in qualifying, very good race. Unfortunately the start was not great, at corner one I had to brake because I was so close to Sebastian [Vettel]. Then I lost two positions. Fortunately Kimi tried to pass Valtteri through Turn 6 [when Massa got by his team-mate] and then after that it was a very, very good race. I was able to manage good pace, using the tyres in the right way, having the right balance, building a gap to my team-mate – I think it was a very good weekend in terms of everything I did.”
Fernando Alonso said it was “not the best feeling at all” to be lapped by the Ferraris in China but insists McLaren’s days of languishing outside the points will not last much longer.
Alonso completed his first race distance since returning to McLaren in Shanghai, finishing ahead of team-mate Jenson Button in 12th. In the closing stages he was lapped by Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen as Ferrari once again showed the huge strides it has made towards Mercedes.
The Spaniard left Ferrari last year after five years without a championship and he admits it was a bad feeling to be lapped not only by both red cars but the top teams fighting for points.
“Obviously, it’s not the best feeling, at all, but we know that it’s the way it is at the moment and we think that it’s not going to be for too long,” Alonso said. “It’s just for a few races now at the beginning.”
Honda has turned its engine down at the opening races of 2015 to preserve the team’s engines and minimise the threat of penalties later in the season. China was the first time both McLaren-Honda cars finished and Alonso was happy to look at the positives.
“I’m sure we learnt many things. We are still a little bit blind with the car; we still need to get a lot of information to extract from the package. Today, finishing both cars was a lot of useful information for us and trying to understand the car better. My longest run in winter testing was 12 laps, in Malaysia I did 22 laps, today I completed the race, so it was very useful for me as well. We had a small issue in the middle stint with the aerodynamics of the car, we have some extra oversteer we need to control. We are not so fast and also we have some problems and were even slower!”
Alonso says everyone at McLaren is happy with the rate of progress being made.
“I think we are all very satisfied, we are all very happy with progress in all areas. The car is improving a lot every weekend. Power unit, aerodynamic, reliability, everything is getting better and better. The starting point was too low, that’s the only thing, so the first couple of races are a test for us but we want to come back in a competitive basis very soon.”
Maurice Hamilton has sympathy for drivers struggling under braking this year after buying a hybrid car of his own…
I had a lot of sympathy with drivers missing their braking points during free practice in Shanghai. I mean, I had the same trouble myself the other day on a rural road in Surrey.
Having recently taken delivery of a hybrid SUV, this business of regenerating engine energy has been a revelation – assuming you know how to use it. There’s five settings available at the flick of a paddle thingy, ‘1’ being next to nothing and ‘5’ being maximum force for the regenerative braking. Broadly speaking, you need ‘1’ for motorway work and ‘5’ for when you’re not flat out and pootling around B-class roads – which sums up my run from home to office. The trick is, however, to remember to select ‘5’ at the start of the journey instead setting off on the default ‘1’.
It’s amazing how quickly you become accustomed to the powerful effect of ‘5’; simply lift off the throttle and it’s as though someone has furtively applied the handbrake. So – okay, I was a bit slow after a heavy night – I forgot my regular start-up routine and came close to dumping the lot into the first hedge when I lifted off and sod all happened. That aside, it really is amazing technology when handled correctly.
I thought of that a lot when watching F1 drivers struggle to get the balance right in the heavy braking areas at Shanghai. There’s very little comparison, of course, between the hugely complex power unit in the back of a F1 car and the humble 2-litre four-cylinder inspired box of tricks in the front of my heavy SUV. And yet…
The technology we’re watching this weekend in China will end up under your right foot sooner rather than later thanks to the white heat of F1 competition. Why, then, is F1 not shouting about this from the top of the lavish grandstands? Where’s the chest thumping over a 30% improvement in fuel efficiency? Thirty! That’s the sort of percentage figure that makes Bernie Ecclestone come over all weak when sticking CVC’s arm up the backside of the next government-inspired cash cow of a racing facility with no spectators.
The answer, of course, is because F1 teams have no interest in their collective future. Mercedes and Renault had informal talks at the end of 2013 over advising the world at large about F1’s positive work but, as ever, the idea got lost in translation. Added to which, Mr. Ecclestone then chose to rubbish the new formula. Now he’s banging on once more about returning to a V8 formula. Move on, Mr E. Move on.
Speaking of which, it’s interesting to note that Kenny Handkammer, the respected former chief mechanic at Red Bull, has moved to the USA to work for Tesla Motors and lend his unique F1 organisational experience to the production of high performance electric cars. Tesla are at the cutting edge of battery technology, so much so that plans have been laid for the so-called Tesla Gigafactory in Nevada. I know they like to do things big in America but a 10 million sq. ft. facility in Nevada – purely for making batteries in association with Panasonic – is redefining commitment.
It’s also marking the automotive future and I can’t help but think that Handkammer has made the right move – and not just because of the mess Red Bull find themselves in as one of their cars comes to a halt with the rear brakes ablaze. I really felt for Kvyat on Friday. Know how it is Dani, mate, when you pull the wrong number on the paddle thingy. Been there; done that.
Sebastian Vettel admits Mercedes was just too quick on the medium tyres at the end of the Chinese Grand Prix for Ferrari to finish any higher than third.
Vettel continued his superb start to life at Maranello with another podium and managed to keep in touch with the Mercedes pair through the first two stints. He pitted early for medium tyres in the hope of undercutting Nico Rosberg in second but it was unsuccessful, with Mercedes able to comfortably ease away in the final portion of the race.
The four-time world champion hoped to put pressure on Rosberg with his final stop but concedes the tactic did not work.
“I think it was a good race all-in-all,” Vettel said. “We were closer on the softer compound of tyres and we able to put some pressure on them. We tried to put some extra pressure on them by stopping fairly early for the last set of tyres but I think on the harder tyres they were just that bit too quick, so they were able to pull away. From there onwards we just tried to control the race and bring the podium back home which is a great success for us, I’m very happy. Thanks to the team and to the factory back in Maranello.”
Though unable to replicate his Malaysia victory Vettel says he is delighted with how his Ferrari career has started.
“Good, it’s been three out of three [podiums] so far! Big change over the winter, a lot of things have changed, it’s nice, I feel really happy in the team. The guys are great, I really enjoy the work and hopefully we can get a bit closer to these guys [Mercedes].”
Jenson Button put his late collision with Pastor Maldonado down to a “misjudgement” on his own part.
Button had another race way out of the points in the McLaren and finished the race behind team-mate Fernando Alonso in 13th after making contact with Maldonado through Turn 1 on lap 49. He had been dicing with the Lotus driver in the laps previously but it appeared the 2009 world champion was over-eager going into the corner, something he admitted before he had seen the stewards.
“I thought there was room on the inside, I can’t really say anything else,” Button said. “It’s an incident you never want to happen … A misjudgement I guess. I think I need to speak to the stewards about it first before I say too much about it. I need to see it on TV because it’s always different on the screen from the cockpit.”
The stewards agreed the Brit was at fault, handing him a five-second penalty – which dropped him from 13th to 14th – and adding two penalty points to his super licence.
Maldonado, who later retired from the race, agreed the McLaren driver caused the crash, saying: “I was not expecting to have the contact. We were fighting at the time, it’s always good to fight with Jenson or Fernando [Alonso], but then I think he lost completely the braking point. I think he made a mistake.”
Away from the Maldonado battle, Button also diced with the Red Bulls and a Force India during the race and says he feels good about the progress made once again by McLaren.
“The option runs weren’t too bad, our pace wasn’t too bad at all,” Button said. “Prime was a bit trickier but a lot of it was just traffic, I think the temperatures of the tyres were dropping quite a bit with the blue flags we were having, so it wasn’t easy. Not too bad in terms of where the car is, we’re still right at the back, but we’re progressing and the team’s done a great job this weekend.
“We’re still right at the back, for people to be amongst us they need to make mistakes in the race but it still makes our racing fun. We are making progress; both cars were on different strategies in the race which made it quite interesting as well. I had some fun out there, obviously it’s never nice to have an incident out there and it doesn’t happen very often so we’ll look at the data and footage.”