8pm – Graz Airport Sunday 3rd July 2016
Graz isn’t the biggest airport in the world and the bar is currently struggling to cope with the sudden influx of a group of thirsty Formula 1® journalists, mechanics and engineers, all eager for a beer after a hard weekend at the track.
There are smiles on the faces of the McLaren and Red Bull parties this evening, after superb drives from Jenson Button and Max Verstappen. Contrast that with the Force India team for whom this afternoon promised much and delivered, ultimately, nothing. Renault are sat elsewhere reflecting on a fairly good day at the track, no points but they finished higher than they started with both cars. Whilst the journalists hurriedly finish off writing their copy or in my case, this blog, before they get home.
Ferrari definitely win the award for best team travel kit, Blazers for the boys, very smart. And Mercedes, fitting for the team who won the race today, take the trophy for best departure strategy. They’re on an earlier flight to the rest of us and are waiting on the plane already, some calm maybe after the storm of the previous few hours.
So what happened on the final lap at the Red Bull Ring and how do Mercedes move on from here? Or do they need to move on, after all, aren’t they giving the fans exactly what we all want by letting their drivers race each other and by not imposing team orders?
Firstly, what happened on that last lap and who was at fault? Well, the Stewards have blamed Nico for the accident, so shall we accept their decision? I know Nico doesn’t agree and his fans also take a different view. But after watching the incident again and again, I take the same view as Anthony Davidson did, in that Nico, whether he had brake problems or not, didn’t make much of an effort to turn his car right. The steering angle wasn’t exactly in a position to avoid contact.
As for Nico’s brake problems, it was his front brakes by the way, I want to go back to my last blog from Baku on this and once again state that the current restrictions on what teams can and cannot tell their driver, really aren’t helping here. The pit wall could see there was an issue but they weren’t in a position to help their driver and warn him. Lewis was too close behind and any mistake by the team in breaking these regulations could have resulted in a 5 or 10 second time penalty, taking away the win from their driver through no fault of his own. For me, if a team is allowed to warn of an issue that could potentially become a major problem that’s not driver coaching, nor is it the pit wall dictating how a driver performs, so why a bit of common sense can’t be applied here, I really don’t know. And Mercedes weren’t the only team in that quandary in Austria either.
So are we likely to see Nico and Lewis colliding again in the future? Undoubtedly, and let’s hope that the racing is close enough in the future for the two drivers to be attempting overtaking moves on each other. What I wonder though is whether both drivers could accept losing out in an incident such as Turn 2 in Austria, or whether they’d rather both lose out, rather than backing out and one or the other emerging as the victor?
Both know they are fighting, not just for race wins, but more than likely, the title once again. So the stakes are high and from the outside at least, it appears that neither are prepared to back down, lose the fight and live to fight another day. It’s this mindset that the team are finding unacceptable.
Which is why when it comes to moving on, Toto Wolff has raised the possibility of imposing Team Orders. I spoke to Toto as we were leaving the track, and it was clear that it isn’t what he really wants to see. He might be the Head of Mercedes Benz Motorsport and have a responsibility to the company, but he’s also a racer at heart and the last thing he wants to do is to stop the racing. But if his two drivers can’t give each other room and respect when they’re duelling on the track, he might not be left with much option. The fans wouldn’t like it and they would be right not to. But for the sake of the team, it’s a very real possibility, especially as this collision has come only four races after they both took each other out of the Spanish GP.
Would the drivers be happy with that scenario either? I seriously doubt it, so maybe to avoid team orders it’s up to them. What happens between now and the British Grand Prix weekend behind closed doors at Mercedes will be of major interest for the rest of the season to come.
Meanwhile about 40 miles from Graz the pack up continues and the exodus to Silverstone begins. The crews from each team got busy disassembling the garages, race trucks and motor homes as soon as the chequered flag fell, knowing that this would be the toughest few days of the season from a logistics point of view.
Take McLaren for instance and their motor home, the Brand Centre. A three story temporary building that required 20 trucks to move it about from race to race. Each section of the structure requires it’s own truck with the kitchen unit always the first to be put in place, but also the last to leave. To build everything up is normally a three day job, but this week, the team haven’t got three days.
So this is how it should go. The pack up is already underway and the trucks should have all left by early Monday morning. Some lorries then head to Zeebrugge, a mere 730 miles away in time to catch a Ferry on Monday night. The others go to Hook of Holland which is about the same distance, for a different Ferry. If all goes according to plan then by Tuesday evening the build can start in the Silverstone paddock and fingers crossed everything will be ready by Thursday lunchtime. The team will be putting up a detailed photo story on mclaren.com at some stage this week to show you how they did it as the F1® circus rolls into town for what is always the best week of the season.