Volcano…

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Three races to go and just about one race win separates this year’s main contenders. Lewis Hamilton kept his title challenge alive by dominating the USGP. However Mexico is this weekend, and in a race that Nico Rosberg thoroughly stamped his name on last year by virtue of taking the pole, the win and the fastest lap, the points leader goes into this weekend most definitely with the confidence that he can get the J…O…B… DONE.

As we approach the end of the season and what will surely be a title decider in Abu Dhabi, all has been a bit too quiet on the subject of Lewis vs. Nico. There does not seem to be any visible tension between the two, it almost seems too quiet. Does anyone else have this feeling? If you do, you and I, we are not alone. Toto Wolff also feels a bit of apprehension of late. Here is what he said to Sky F1 recently:

 “It’s interesting because we are not having any games anymore. There is no psychological warfare like we have seen in the past years.”

 “They are both in a good mood, but I’m always skeptical. I kind of wait if this is a volcano to erupt or not, so let’s wait and see.”

I think we all feel the same way as Toto. A volcano waiting to erupt is a good metaphor. However, in using that metaphor, part of me feels this is more about Lewis Hamilton than Nico Rosberg. Just think back to Monaco when Hamilton’s hot lap was yellow flagged due to Nico taking an escape road at St. Devote at precisely the same time Ham was on a hot lap that was looking like pole?  What about the coming together at Spa and all the talk about taking a page from the Senna vs. Prost play book and I’m not talking about the Prost version either.

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2014, Monaco and Nico took pole and the race, but controversy was in the air. While Lewis as on a hot lap for pole Nico ran off at St. Devote and Lewis’s lap was ruined. The look on the Britons face says it all. Was it on purpose or a genuine mistake?

Hamilton’s frustration can also be directed at the team as well. Does anyone have a count of how many times Hamilton has called the team out due to a judgment call for tires or when to box? Yes, it is true the team has got it wrong a few times, most notably at Monaco a few years back but that was put right this year with the right call to stay out on the wets. What ever happened to win together, lose together?

I get the feeling that in referring to the eruption Toto and company are looking out to make sure nothing causes Hamilton to fly off the handle and proclaim again that someone does not want him to win the title this year. Or wondering out loud why it is that only the engines slated for car #44 are the ones expiring at such a rapid rate when no one else’s have. This of course has a knock-on effect with #TeamHamilton fans which has a knock-on effect via social media, which has a knock-on effect in the form of a worldwide PR disaster for Mercedes Benz. No one wants to see the golden goose move to another team, that I am quite sure of…

Yep, the possibility of a full blown eruption is always right around the corner taking into account the history of the Merc drivers. What makes this more probable is the fact that Rosberg has shown a bit more of an appetite to take the fight to his teammate, or at the very least not yield when being challenged by Hamilton as he has done in the past.

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Spa last year and the inner team rivalry is at a fever pitch after the Merc drivers come together. Lewis would later claim Nico said in the debrief he hit him on purpose. I can’t recall if that was actually verified by the team, but what was quite clear Lewis and Nico relationship was at an all time low..

James Allen, after both drivers took each other out in Spain early this year made a very specific point about Rosberg that day. According to Allen, Rosberg learned what all great drivers come to realize, you never give anything away. This is what made Senna Senna and Schumacher Schumacher. It is what Fernando Alonso has in spades, what Sebastian Vettel showed us with Multi 22, and what surely Hamilton from his very first year at McLaren realized. It is not good enough to just drive the car fast and be fast, you must take what is not yours and act extremely selfish and you Never, Never give anything away…

So although as of right now there have not been any dust ups in the last few months between Lewis and Nico, my guess is that could change on a dime and depending what happens in the next race or two there could be one or two very cranky Mercedes AMG Petronas drivers. Right about now I think I should deliver my obligatory wrap up line: “With three races is to go it looks like Rosberg is in the catbird seat and all things being equal will take his first WDC.” However, I just don’t think it is that straightforward. It rarely is in F1, we all know this and Nico and especially Lewis know this as well.

For one thing, Hamilton, after a drought of several races, could be peaking at just the right time; his win in Austin was comprehensive. Two, Hamilton seems to drive with more of a sense of purpose when he is doing the chasing and the combination of these very specific aspects of this title fight suits him quite well, and this style of driving could cause either or both drivers to take that one chance, that one little chance too many, block just a bit too much, or go for a gap that is a bit too small and there you have it ERUPTION….

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Spain this year and this photo tell almost the whole story. Yes one can see the Merc boy are crashing each other out, but what you can’t see is Nico was not about to let Lewis by for the umpteenth time and on this day said enough is enough…

Personally I would love to see a bit more of the tension and high drama between Hamilton and Rosberg, and for that matter the pit wall, going into the final races of the season but that is just the kind of fan I am. I like things on the edge and the stakes high. I live for those moments in sports, and especially in F1, that become seared into one’s memory and burnished in the lure of the sport.

But what I am most hopeful for is that our two protagonists and the two best cars on the grid are evenly matched over these next three races. I could do without the mind games, the crashes, and the reliability issues, these will only dilute what most F1 fans live for: The thrill of wheel to wheel racing while taking the fight to your opponent. Go Rosberg, Go Hamilton, Go Mercedes and finally Go Formula 1…

-j (and I forgot to say GO ALONSO)P-

 

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