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Attention all Hamilton-Rosberg conspiracy theorists: It’s much ado about nothing

Mercedes Formula One driver Nico Rosberg of Germany (R) stands next to teammate Mercedes Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain after Rosberg took pole position in the qualifying session of the Monaco F1 Grand Prix in Monaco May 24, 2014.

MAX ROSSI/REUTERS

On tap this week:

  • There’s no anti-Hamilton conspiracy
  • Hinchcliffe finally gets podium
  • Bernie’s $100-million deal
  • Dixon’s betters his career numbers
  • Quote of the Week: Rahal tells dad to zip it
  • Wickens robbed of win

Conspiracy theorists contend that Mercedes AMG may be tilting the field in favour of Nico Rosberg, its German driver, over teammate Lewis Hamilton.

Whenever Hamilton runs into trouble with his machinery, it doesn't take long for message boards and Twitter to fill with complaints that Mercedes is somehow sabotaging the Briton's progress.

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The reality is probably less sensational: Getting the new 1.6-litre turbocharged motor and its energy-recovery system to work perfectly is no easy feat, and having it fail is an unfortunate by-product of a brand-new engine formula.

"It's a huge step on lots of different technology fronts," said Andy Cowell, managing director of Mercedes AMG high performance powertrains. "The engine is completely different, there's the addition of the turbocharger, extra electric machinery, and a more complicated hybrid energy recovery system – so it was a very large project indeed."

It is clear that Hamilton has borne the brunt of Mercedes setbacks with two mechanical failures – a dropped cylinder in the season opener in Australia and an overheating brake disc during the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal. Additionally, Hamilton was knocked out of qualifying a couple of times due to mechanical issues.

Rosberg has only retired once due to a problem, when he dropped out of the British Grand Prix while leading. He also had a brake overheating issue in Montreal, but managed it well enough to salvage a second place finish.

Essentially, the new regulations mandated teams to create a power unit that's capable of creating more useful energy from a fixed amount of fuel. And it has been a challenge to do it perfectly.

Getting more power out of a small V-6 with a limit of 100 kilograms means the battle is about having the best conversion efficiency in the combustion chamber and optimizing the recovery of energy from the braking and exhaust systems.

When it comes to useful thermal energy from the fuel, F1 engines have now hit about 40 per cent, up from the estimated 30 per cent they achieved with the old normally aspirated V-8 motors used in 2013, something Cowell called a "monstrous step" for a formula to take from one year to the next.

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But disruptive change can also bring reliability issues, something that has plagued all of the engine makers this year, not just Mercedes.

"The lower revolutions per minute, higher cylinder pressure and the reduced number of cylinders – so six big bangs going into the crankshaft as opposed to eight smaller bangs going in – creates different problems to be solved on the dynamic side and the structural side," Cowell said.

Random Thoughts: With a third-place finish in the IndyCar race at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on Sunday, James Hinchcliffe scored his first podium in 15 starts, spanning two seasons. You have to go back to the second race in Houston last October to find the Andretti Autosport driver in the top three.

The podium was a long time coming for the Oakville, Ont., driver who had terrible luck race after race, despite putting in solid performances. So, after Hinchcliffe got caught out by rain and red flags in Saturday qualifying at Mid-Ohio and ended up 17th on the grid, it seemed like his frustration might continue.

It looked to be even more of the same in Sunday's race when a first-lap incident had cars playing pinball in Turn 4, with Hinchcliffe screaming in from the back of the pack. That he miraculously made it through unscathed might be taken as a sign from the racing gods that his luck has changed.

"That start was pretty crazy," he said. "Going down into Turn 4 there, it was like the seas parted in front of me. I felt bad for the guys that got involved in that wreck, but it allowed us to get up there a little bit."

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Avoiding trouble in Mid-Ohio prevented Hinchcliffe from adding to the list of misfortune that has befallen him in 2014. It's a long, strange list that it almost defies logic.

He was hit in the visor by another car's front wing end-plate on the road course race at Indianapolis and suffered a concussion; he was taken out by his teammate in the closing laps on the streets of Long Beach, Calif., while challenging for a win; he had electrical issued derail his season opener; there was a faulty fuel nozzle at Barber Motorsport Park in Alabama; and there were two inopportune yellows in Detroit and Houston that ruined his strategy and cost him a pair of possible wins.

Added up, it puts Hinchcliffe 12th overall in points and last among the Andretti team. Perhaps his change of luck will help him dig out of that hole in the final three races of 2014.

Technically Speaking: It appears F1 ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone will be no worse for the wear after it was revealed that German prosecutors in his bribery trial had agreed to an out-of-court settlement. Ecclestone will pay Germany $100-million (U.S.) in return for having the charges against him dropped.

Ecclestone was accused of paying a bribe to a German bank official eight years ago as a way to ensure that his employer's stake in F1 would be sold to a firm that would keep the Briton at the helm. He denied the charges and said he was blackmailed by the banker over tax issues related to his family's trusts.

With no trial or possible conviction hanging over his head, there's no reason to believe that the 83-year-old won't slide back onto F1's board of directors and continue as if nothing happened. Technically, that's exactly what this deal means.

The problem is that F1 can't seem to attract younger fans and it continues to see its television numbers plummet. Unfortunately, the cynical under-25 crowd F1 desperately needs to court may not want to cozy up to a sport run by a guy who they see as having bought a get-out-of-jail-free card. And Ecclestone doesn't see the value in YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other social media because there's no direct revenue stream to F1's coffers.

Settlement or not, the German court case offered F1 an opportunity to take the sport in directions that would appeal not only to a young Internet-savvy audience but also to those who walked away from the sport because of its self-serving, insular attitude.

F1 seems destined to again prove Albert Einstein's definition of insanity by doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results.

By the Numbers: Sunday's race at Mid-Ohio was the scene of several career milestones for a couple of IndyCar drivers.

Scott Dixon's triumph moved him into a tie for sixth overall in career wins with Al Unser Jr. at 34. Dixon also leads all active drivers in victories. The New Zealander extended his streak of scoring at least one win per season to 10.

In addition, Sunday's win extended Dixon's total to a record five at Mid-Ohio Sport Car Course, two better than the next best IndyCar performer there, Emerson Fittipaldi who scored three victories in the old Championship Auto Racing Teams Series.

Not to be outdone, Sebastian Bourdais' pole in Mid-Ohio marked the 33rd time he's started at the front of an IndyCar field, tying him with four-time champion Dario Franchitti for seventh all-time.

Quote of the Week: "Dad, please, just let me drive the car. Thank you."

– Graham Rahal responding to his father, three-time IndyCar champion and Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Rahal, who offered his son some advice on braking in Turn 2 during Sunday's IndyCar race at the Mid-Ohio Sportscar course.

The Last Word: You can't blame Robert Wickens for being angry after a terrible call by race control stole a win from the Mercedes driver in Austria on Sunday.

Wickens started from pole in the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters stop at the Red Bull Ring and looked to be headed from his second victory of 2014 when the stewards made a decision that is difficult to understand.

It happened after Wickens came into the pits leading a six-car train and got out just ahead of rival Timo Glock. While close, the Canadian got away in time and pulled ahead of Glock to stay at the front of the pack. Most were baffled when race control announced it was investigating the incident and more heads were scratched a few laps later when Wickens was assessed a drive-thru penalty for unsafe release.

"As the rules stand and in my own personal view, it was clearly not an unsafe release," Wickens said. "The penalty ruined my race and cost me a potential win."

Had Wickens' team not released the car when it did, it's likely that he would not only have had to let Glock past but also the other four cars that pitted at the same time. Safety is a concern, but the pitlane is still part of the racetrack and it's silly to expect a driver to sit stationary in his pitbox and wait as the five cars he's fighting on track cruise past.

Even more puzzling, race control didn't investigate when another Mercedes driver behind Wickens in the queue, Pascal Wehrlein, left his pitbox and careened into the path of eventual winner Marco Wittmann and rammed the side of the BMW.

Mercedes argued the call, thinking that DTM mistook Wehrlein's car for Wickens, but to no avail. And then, because Wickens stayed out and kept leading the race as Mercedes argued the point, he was disqualified for not serving his penalty within three laps of it being applied.

Even after the race, No one at Mercedes understood why the penalty to Wickens was applied and none was assessed against Wehrlein. DTM did not respond to questions about the penalties.

"That was a really disappointing afternoon for me," said Wickens later.

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About the Author
Motorsports columnist

There's an old saying about timing being everything in racing and Jeff Pappone's career as a motorsport correspondent shows that it also applies to journalists covering the sport too. More

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