On the evening of November 27th in Yas Marina, when we tot up the totals and figure out who has become the 2016 drivers’ champion, how dearly will Nico Rosberg’s decision to let his team mate past in Monaco have cost him?
Formula One Management did not broadcast any of the radio discussions between Mercedes and their drivers as the position swap was orchestrated. According to Lewis Hamilton he did not ask to be let past even as race leader Daniel Ricciardo pulled away at over two seconds per lap.
Rosberg was struggling to get his wet weather tyres into the correct operating window in a problem the team’s executive director for technical Paddy Lowe believed was “related to brake temperatures”.
“It came to the point where we told Nico he would either need to pick up the pace or let Lewis past,” Lowe explained. “One lap later, he hadn’t managed to find that extra pace, so we asked him to move aside – which he did immediately.”
While Lowe applauded Rosberg for “his team ethic and playing for the overall team result”, it begs the question whether Hamilton would have done the same in identical circumstances. Or, more to the point, whether Hamilton would have ended up in the same situation to begin with.
At the time the exchange of positions potentially cost Rosberg just three points. But by the time the chequered flag fell – as a still-struggling Rosberg lost sixth place within sight of it – the result was a 19-point swing. That has brought Hamilton back within striking distance of his team mate in the championship.
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The call from the Mercedes pit wall to swap positions was the first of two cards which fell in Hamilton’s favour on Sunday. The second, of course, was Red Bull’s shambolic pit stop for Ricciardo. But this was a mistake Red Bull made under pressure applied by Mercedes and Hamilton.
Twelve months earlier Hamilton had suffered a defeat in Monaco so galling the team had to cajole him into attending the post-race podium ceremony. Hamilton had a hand in the fateful decision to make an extra pit stop during a Safety Car period which cost him the victory.
But this time Hamilton urged his team not to bring him into the pits, eager to run as long as he could on the wet weather tyres early in the race to bring him into contention with Ricciardo.
“Fortunately I was quick enough in the wet as I usually am here,” Hamilton explained afterwards.
“I think with the strategy it was really just about that the track was drying so quick, but unevenly across the lap, so the first and middle sector were drying up really quick and the last sector was going quite slowly. So it was really kind gauging that and I noticed other people when they came out – Nico I heard had pitted and Sebastian and they weren’t lapping much faster than me, if at all.”
“My tyres weren’t really degrading, so I was like ‘I got to stay out’. The team were saying we should move but I knew I would drop behind Daniel, so I eked it out as far as I could and luckily right at the end… I switched just at the right time.”
Hamilton managed his wet weather tyres to perfection and ran a savvy final stint on ultra-softs as well. When the rain returned in the final two laps he drew over three seconds clear of Ricciardo.
All had seemed lost for Hamilton the day before when another Mercedes power unit problem in qualifying cost him the chance to get in a vital banker lap during Q3. “I don’t really expect too much from tomorrow,” said a glum Hamilton on Saturday.
But he put himself in a position to win and took full advantage. From here the teams head to one of his strongest venues. Hamilton has already won four times at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve and another victory there would be proof his bid for a fourth world championship title is back on track.