It was Sunday night in Sao Paolo and I was queuing at check in with some of the Force India team members. We were deep in conversation when a young Dutch lad was escorted passed us by an airport official and straight up to one of the check in desks. Yes there was a comment about how it wasn’t the first time that day that he’d been caught pushing in front of someone from that particular team and yes, he did take it with a smile and grin.
Interestingly for those that feel a spot of community service on behalf of the FIA is in no way a punishment for what happened with Max and Esteban after the race, the one thing he wasn’t smiling about was that particular punishment. I put it to him that he could have been hit with something far worse, “grid penalties for the next race, penalty points on his licence pushing him close to a potential race ban for instance” but Max was adamant that that would have been more preferable than whatever the FIA have got in store for him when he gives up his two days for the governing body.
We didn’t talk about the incident, no point, but I have been asked for my opinion on what happened on lap 44 of the race by quite a few of you on social media and also by the Force India team boss Otmar Szafnauer, who joined us live on Sky F1 shortly after the collision. Otmar was providing a robust defence of his driver and told me to go and have a look at the incident again and then come and see him, which I will do in Abu Dhabi, but until then, here’s my view.
Esteban had every right to unlap himself. Max was going through a stage of tyre management and not pushing particularly hard, Esteban was making up for lost time at his pit stop and on the faster, Supersoft tyres. His speed all the way along the main straight was such that he was going to arrive into Turn 1 with the opportunity to overtake the Red Bull and make up that lap deficit.
Now at that moment, and I’m sure that in the years to come he’ll react differently, Max should really have let the Force India go. He wasn’t racing Esteban and it would make no difference whatsoever to his race result if he waved the Frenchman on. But at this stage in his career, Max, like others with similar experience in the past, thought that it was better to fight back.
By the time the two cars got to Turn 2, Max was back ahead, this really is where Esteban should have backed off and conceded the corner. He would be able to get the Red Bull into Turn 4 instead, he had the pace to make that move and not risk an unnecessary collision, which sadly he did, costing both drivers dearly. Max was going to leave him little or no space to get through the corner, Esteban should have known this, Max is hardly a stranger to him after all their years of close, and sometimes too close, racing in the junior formula. But he put himself in the wrong place and came off worse, just as he did on the opening lap in Baku this year when he squeezed Kimi Raikonnen and ended up against the barrier.
Lewis Hamilton hit the nail on the head when he told Max in the cool down room that ‘he had more to lose than Esteban, so maybe he should have let him go’ Hamilton will remember a time in 2012 when he tangled with Pastor Maldonado after defending vigorously on worn tyres against the Williams driver, at roughly the same stage in his F1 career as Max is now.
Either way, it was a huge shame for Max and for Red Bull who were nailed on for the win at the time. Hamilton, as Toto Wolff revealed after the race, had problems with his power unit that emerged on lap 28, were no totally resolved, and threatened to force an imminent retirement. Temperatures were controlled to an extent and Hamilton had to reduce his pace accordingly to allow that, but it was real heart in mouth stuff – the engine suffering the equivalent damage of running a qualifying lap for 43 laps – for the Mercedes boss who wanted desperately to celebrate a 5th constructor’s title in style.
He got his wish and was still in something of a state of shock some two hours after the race as he revealed that FIA boss Jean Todt had phoned him to offer congratulations and welcome him into a very special club. Todd had masterminded Ferrari’s dominance of the sport in the early 2000’s and knew full well what a supreme effort it’s been from Mercedes since 2014. Before Sunday only Todt’s Ferrari had managed to win 5 successive Constructors Championships, it’s a special club of two and Mercedes are rightly odds on favourites to make it six in a row next year.
Congratulations to every single one of those at both Brackley and Brixworth for their achievements. If losing can become a habit then so can winning and they have risen to the challenge thrown down by their rivals this year. Mercedes haven’t always had the fastest car but they’ve made bloody good use of it and made less errors during the races.
Mercedes have also had the benefit of the services of the best driver of this generation. Let’s put aside arguments about where he stands in the all time list until he retires from the sport but the fact is that in this Turbo Hybrid Era – the era that began at the start of 2014 – Lewis has now won 50 of the 99 races. That is a staggering domination and whilst hands down he’s been in the best car of this generation, he’s still had to go out there and beat his team mate, and the other 18 drivers on the grid.
At the very worst, by the end of this season Lewis will have won 50% of all races run since the start of 2014, an outstanding achievement.