Not all team-mates are created equal as Mercedes proved in Russia.
F1 is an unusual hybrid sport which is primarily a straight race of individuals against each other. The fastest wins. But it is also occasionally a kind of team sport, even though it is a team of only two. And even then a team not of equals. So not really like a team at all. This leads to situations such as on Sunday where one of the team must give way to the other, in order to try and make sure that driver wins the championship.
This is the very worst thing about F1. I’m sure everyone totally understands the justification for it in Moscow, with Mercedes worried about the condition of Lewis Hamilton’s tyres, with Sebastian Vettel on his tail, but very few can be happy with it because the fact is, it is a negation of the competition and the trurh is, absolutely no-one is happy about it, not even Lewis.
Yes it was a very specific set of circumstances which led to Mercedes requesting Valtteri Bottas to let Lewis Hamilton by him at half distance to protect against Vettel, and yes Hamilton still drove an excellent race in order to win it, but surely the whole point of F1 racing is…well…racing. But this sort of move was a kind of anti-racing and that was reflected by Hamilton himself when crossing the line, saying, over the radio on the slowing down lap: “That doesn’t feel great.” And if it doesn’t feel great for Lewis, how should it make us feel? Also, surely it is factors such as potentially dodgy tyres that are the variables that need to be gambled on or fought against in order for a winner to be called a winner. That must be one of the reasons why Hamilton didn’t feel great.
Most of us just want the fastest car and best driver to win don’t we? If team tactics are to come into play in such a serious and profound way, then why not have it play a part in all races? Why not have the lesser driver of each team dedicated to blocking rivals to the number one driver, blocking or forcing them off the track? Such bullish behaviour is not allowed, but it remains little different in consequence to what we saw in Moscow. It is using one of the team to help the other and you can’t sell that as honest man v man racing. It isn’t.
Some might even call it a sort of licenced cheating. Hamilton may have won the race anyway, but neither he nor we will ever know, and that it is unfair to everyone, unfair even to Hamilton because, in essence, he’s won a race that he has good reason to suspect he may not have won without Bottas’ help. Bottas was not happy, saying over the radio that he had been preparing a move on Verstappen on the next lap. He was driving a great race and was asked to drive a less great race purely to help Hamilton, despite Hamilton’s big points lead. You can see why that would rankle with him.
There are perhaps some parallels with cycle racing where teams of four will work in tandem to get one of their number into the lead and keep them there. But that is a far more complex and planned out operation, over a much greater length of time. It isn’t just a matter of slowing up and letting the one you want to win through, it is far more tactical than that and is far harder to pull off.
In this F1 situation it is more like pulling a horse that is in the lead of the Grand National in order to let another horse from the same stable win instead. That wouldn’t happen and nor should it in motor racing. It exposed the flaw at the core of this so-called team sport. When the person who benefited most from it feels bad about it, perhaps it is time for such instructions to be outlawed and for all races to be proper races, car against car, driver against driver, without interference from anyone else. Then neither fans, nor drivers would be left with such a hollow feeling at the end of the race.
John Nicholson @ JohnnyTheNic