By Bob Constanduros
I’ve just read a so-called news story on BBC’s website about Tour de France commentators’ desk collapsing. Must be a slow news day; only Chilcott and no political leaders. Blimey, shock horror, non-news story alert!
It does put my end-of- Austrian GP story right up there though. Just before the start of the last lap, our screens went black. Maybe the shilling in the meter had run out but we had nothing, just as this race was reaching its fascinating denouement. Our producers directed us to a faraway screen across the track at the back of a grandstand and we commentated the turn two debacle off that, called them across the finishing line and wondered what the heck had happened.
I don’t know if the screen ever came back, as I had to disappear and announce the podium but I still haven’t seen that last lap, so I’m scarcely in a position to comment. If the stewards have come down against Rosberg, so be it. He must be to blame and I’m happy to accept that. But I am also aware that he was one of the several drivers, including his teammate, who were in brake troubles at the end of that race and therefore it was highly unlikely that the collision was intentional.
It could have gone either way, of course. I don’t recall Hamilton mentioning brake problems but perhaps he did and he said he did know that his teammate was in trouble. Indeed, he didn’t come down heavily on his teammate. My experienced and reliable co-commentator was held responsible by at least two British journalists for the podium booing by blaming Hamilton for the collision, but I find that highly unlikely, particularly as we hadn’t really seen it.
But the fall-out continues. Niki Lauda is even being dragged into the dirt for some story about Lewis trashing his room in Baku. Perhaps the most straight-talking person in the paddock has since said he was misunderstood and misquoted; that’s how bad it is for Mercedes at the moment.
But they won the race, salvaged a fourth place and still lead the World Championship as we come up to the halfway point in the season. Toto Wolff says he’s fed up with analysing his drivers’ races but I wonder how many team principals would happily be in his position. Anyway, he’d better get used to it; I can’t see this rivalry going away any time soon and I’m not sure I can see how it can be controlled.
Lauda is the non-executive chairman of Mercedes AMG Petronas and raced for McLaren of course. So he will remember when the then boss, Teddy Mayer, actually used to promote rivalry between the team’s two drivers to get the best out of them. You think these two are at one another’s throats; imagine, say, Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher in the same team – or make up your own ideal pairing, both going for wins.
The thing about this pair is that they both have pretty strong morals. Lewis is a Christian, a churchgoer, with a high moral compass and high ideals. Nico is a family man with a strong family background who knows about racing and has lived it for many years. Neither is suddenly going to grow bigger horns than they already have – and those aren’t too big at this stage.
And so we go to the British Grand Prix at Silverstone. It is home ground for Hamilton, but while there are many who utterly believe in him, there are also those who don’t. Opinion and following is divided, perhaps more so than in the past in spite of his remarkable talent and success. His public persona is suffering slightly – but then journalists talk of his wise and uplifting character and you can’t help but admire him. He could be like marmite – love him or hate him – but then he’ll make you change your mind with a devastatingly charming and reasoned argument. For some, he’s a bit like Brexit! (No, I won’t get started on that).
Like our other most recent circuits, Silverstone has its very own character: a fast circuit, fast corners, flat, affected by wind and weather, very often cool, considerable effort through the tyres etc. The average speed is around 200kph so it is quick but there are big run-off areas – to the chagrin of photographers.
Drivers love it – they always love fast corners – and it is a real test of chassis and engine plus the tyres as well. Interestingly, Pirelli have had to go soft with their third tyre choice. For the past three years, it is has been orange hard and white medium, but adding a third tyre means a soft option. Sauber have gone for nine sets of these, Force India only six sets. When it comes to the harder tyre, several teams have gone for just one set of hards – including both Mercedes – whereas Force India have gone for three sets. You can see a one-stop strategy coming up here, whereas most others will be on two-stops.
It is a spectacular circuit to watch from even if there is little elevation. Take Copse Corner for instance, a sudden change of direction to the right and followed by the massive Maggotts/Becketts/Chapel combination, the driver and his insides being thrown from one side to the other through this combination.
The only factor not pushed hard is the brakes, although they are for a couple of corners but that’s all. So none of the dramas that occurred last weekend, in theory. But a well-balanced chassis with be worth a lot and will be most revealing as to which teams has the ideal chassis for future high speed races such as Spa.
The one time to watch current Formula One cars around this circuit will be qualifying when the fuel loads are light and the cars are at their most nimble. Watching those changes of direction will be tremendous and give the spectator a real insight to performance. But starting from pole position isn’t necessarily a passport to the podium. Curiously, polemen don’t always win here but Hamilton and Alonso are the exceptions to that rule. Another interesting stat is that there are more ‘normal’ overtakes than DRS overtakes here – for whatever reason.
Sunday’s a big sporting day in Europe: there’s the Grand Prix, the Wimbledon final and the European Cup final, plus the continuation of the Tour de France. But the prospect of the continued civil war at Mercedes must surely be a major attraction. We await it eagerly.