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Why Lewis Hamilton wouldn't let F1 teammate Nico Rosberg pass

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain is sprayed with champagne after placing third in the Hungarian Formula One Grand Prix in Budapest, Hungary, Sunday, July 27, 2014.

Petr David Josek/AP

On tap this week:

  • Did Hamilton, Rosberg feud cost Mercedes a win?
  • F1’s worst investment
  • Human rights not F1 team’s concern
  • Brake trouble for Brembo
  • Quote of the Week: Gordon on five at the Brickyard
  • How not to engage fans

The feud between Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg is back on following Sunday's Hungarian Grand Prix after the former disobeyed orders and cost his teammate a possible win.

It happened late in the chaotic race that ended in controversy when Hamilton refused to let Rosberg pass with 20 laps to go – despite being told to do so several times by the team. Rosberg finished fourth, with Hamilton on the podium in third. Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo took his second win of 2014 while Fernando Alonso of Ferrari was second.

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The stage for the showdown was set eight laps into the race, when Rosberg got caught out by a safety car, which was deployed following an accident just after he passed the pit entrance. That meant he had to stop for slicks on a drying track a lap after most of the field, which cost him the lead.

In response, the team switched him to a three pit-stop strategy which it thought would put him in a position to win. Judging from his late-race speed on new boots, it was a strategy that might have worked had Hamilton not had other ideas when the three-stopping Rosberg cruised up behind him.

With Rosberg needing to get past quickly before pitting a final time for tires, Hamilton refused to yield when the order to pull aside was given.

"Just because he had one more stop than me doesn't mean I wasn't in the same race as him," said Hamilton, who narrowed Rosberg's championship lead to 11 points. Drivers get 25 for a win.

"And naturally, if I'd have let him past, he would have had the opportunity to pull away and when he does pit, he's going to come back and overtake me, so I was very, very shocked that the team would ask me to do that, to be able to better his position."

Instead, Hamilton held his Mercedes teammate behind for 10 laps before Rosberg finally pitted for a scrubbed set of tires with 13 laps to go. Although some of the blame can be placed at Mercedes strategists for leaving Rosberg sitting in his teammate's wake too long before bringing him in for tires, it didn't matter in the end. By the time he did pit, it was too little, too late.

"The team informed that he was going to let me through but I don't know what happened," Rosberg said. "I'm still leading the championship, which is a positive thing, and I'll be ready to attack again after the summer break."

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Rosberg emerged from his stop in seventh 23 seconds behind his teammate and began putting up lap times that were more than three seconds quicker than the three cars that ended the race on the podium. He caught the three-car train with two laps to go but could not get past Hamilton the second time, either.

It's hard to blame Hamilton for not wanting to let Rosberg by and hand him a win. On the other hand, F1 is a team sport and Hamilton deciding that his personal glory is more important than a victory likely won't go down well at Mercedes headquarters in Stuttgart. It's doubtful that the car manufacturer is spending several hundred million dollars annually on F1 to watch one of its drivers decide that third should be the best it can do on a particular race day.

"Obviously, we need to sit down, discuss and analyze the moment when Lewis was asked to let Nico pass – but, like always, we will do this calmly and work our way through any confusion or misunderstanding," said Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff. "There were so many things influencing the decisions we made and we must still determine whether we were right or not. We are not satisfied with third and fourth today."

By the Numbers: It is thought that Romain Grosjean's backer, French oil company Total, poured $30-million (all figures U.S.) into Lotus to secure his F1 seat, while Pastor Maldonado brought somewhere around $40-million from Petróleos de Venezuela S.A. (PDVSA) to the team. Combined, the two oil giants may have made the worst investment in the history of Formula One.

So far in 2014, the $70-million poured into the Lotus squad has brought a best finish of eighth place. After 11 races the Lotus pair has scored a meagre total of eight markers, which works out to $8.75-million per point. The team sits in eighth place of the 11 F1 teams in the constructor's standings.

To be fair to Total, all of the points earned by Lotus this season were delivered by Grosjean, who finished eighth in Spain and Monaco. On the other hand, PDVSA hasn't seen Maldonado score a point ar with the Venezuelan putting up a best result of 12th.

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Along the way, the pair has suffered nine mechanical failures in 11 starts, while Maldonado has also watched three qualifying sessions end without him completing a lap due to some kind of problem.

Random Thoughts: As the world tries to come to grips with the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over Ukraine, and the Russian Grand Prix looming in October, questions are being raised in the Formula One paddock about the wisdom of visiting countries with dodgy foreign policies and spotty human rights records.

In addition to the questionable decision to go to Russia considering its role in several conflicts around the world as well as draconian stands on issues like gay rights, F1 announced last week that it would be heading to Azerbaijan in 2016, a country which Bild Sport reporter Ralf Bach pointed out at the Friday FIA press conference in Hungary is ranked 160th out of 180 countries on the 2014 World Press Freedom Index.

Then again, Azerbaijan will have lots of company near the bottom of the index with a couple of other stops on F1's calendar ranking poorly: Bahrain (163), China (175) and Russia (148).

Unfortunately, Formula One's team bosses were eager to wash their hands of any responsibility for race venues when asked.

Force India boss Vijay Mallya said that the teams "race where they stage the events. It's as simple as that."

Red Bull boss Christian Horner – the man many think will take over when F1 ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone departs – insisted that questions of human rights was "focusing on the negatives" and it was "pretty boring" to answer them.

"When we sign up for that championship, we put our faith and trust in the promoter and the FIA (the sport's governing Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile) and we will attend those races unless they deem it unnecessary for us to be there," he said.

"I think it's wrong to make Formula One a political statement or subject when we are a sport."

To make matters worse, reports out of Hungary indicated that at least one team official asked the FIA to strip Bach of his F1 media credential seemingly in a move to make sure he won't be around again to ask any more pesky questions about human rights.

Technically Speaking: Mercedes and brake maker Brembo issued a joint statement ahead of the Hungarian Grand Prix concerning the mechanical issues that derailed Lewis Hamilton's qualifying in Germany a week ago.

Hamilton didn't make it out in the opening qualifying session at the German Grand Prix after a right front brake failed and caused him to spin into an Armco barrier. Since the incident, Brembo and Mercedes say they have been analyzing the failed parts to try to identify the cause of Hamilton's troubles. So far, they haven't found anything concrete.

"There is currently no clear evidence of a single cause of failure and our continuing rigorous analysis will take into account multiple factors which could have contributed to the incident," a joint release said.

The release ended with a statement that the two outfits remain committed to a close working relationship, something which may point to some tension between the team and the brake manufacturer.

Apparently, there was a similar failure in a test earlier this season, which did not sit well with the team.

In addition, Nico Rosberg uses Carbon Industries brakes because he likes their feel better than the Brembos normally used by Hamilton. Both drivers used the Carbon Industries brakes in German Grand Prix following Hamilton's accident.

Quote of the Week: "I was trying so hard with 10 [laps] to go not to focus on the crowd. Every once in a while I'd glance up there and I could see the reaction. I was trying not to let it get to me and not think about it too much. And yet you can't help it. It's such a big place and such an important victory and a crucial moment in the season and the championship and those emotions take over."

– Four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jeff Gordon on what he was thinking on his way to winning a fifth Brickyard 400 and tying Michael Schumacher's record of five wins at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS). Schumacher won five of the eight U.S. Grands Prix held on the IMS road course between 2000 and 2007.

The Last Word: With television viewership falling and grandstand seats going empty, F1 needs to work on fan engagement.

So, who would be best person to head a raise F1's popularity working group? How about a guy kicked out of the sport in 2009 for asking a driver to crash deliberately so his team's other car would win?

Going into the "you cannot make this stuff up" file is the appointment of former Renault boss Flavio Briatore to run an F1 committee designed to come up with ideas to make the sport more appealing, especially to a younger audience. The 64-year-old Italian was hand-picked to run the working group by F1 commercial boss Bernie Ecclestone.

Reaction to the news was swift and negative, with Twitter abuzz with snarky comments about the recommendations that might come from a working group headed by the disgraced former team boss. As expected, most had something to do with deliberate crashes or cheating.

Although it remains to be seen whether Briatore can come up with a scheme or two to attract young fans to the sport, it seems clear that the fans it already has might turn away if he keeps his new job.

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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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