After securing a front-row lock out in qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix, the Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS drivers committed the cardinal sin of motorsport, with the team seeing their drivers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg collide on the second lap of the race that compromised both of their races.
Hamilton had jumped into the lead at the start, while pole sitter Rosberg had to re-pass the Red Bull Racing machine of Sebastian Vettel to sit on his team-mates tail.
Heading down the Kemmel straight, Rosberg got a good run on his British team-mate, but could not make the move stick around the outside of the following Les Combes corner, and the German’s front wing clipped Hamilton’s rear tyre. The clash damaged the front wing of Rosberg while Hamilton was forced to pit with a puncture.
Rosberg fell down the order but was able to claim second place to increase his championship lead to 29 points over Hamilton, but was disappointed with what happened on track with his team-mate, calling the incident a racing incident.
“That was a tough race,” said Rosberg. “We had the pace to win today but the incident cost us a top result, so I’m really disappointed because for the team it was a bad day. As drivers, we are here to entertain and to show the fans a good time, so our duels are always on the limit.
“I regret that Lewis and myself touched, but I see it as a racing incident – just as the stewards did. I was quicker down the straight and went to the outside as the inside line was blocked. I gave it a go and, after we touched, I realized that my front wing was damaged and thought that was it. In the next second I saw that Lewis also had a problem, which was very unfortunate for him and for the team. We sat down quickly after the race but there will be some more meetings to be held in to avoid races like today.”
Unfortunately for Hamilton, the puncture received from the clash with Rosberg resulted in the floor of his Mercedes being damaged (due to the Briton driving too fast back to the pits), and from there on in, he was never in contention for points and ultimately dropped out of the race with a handful of laps remaining. He admitted to having to look again at the incident to see what happened, and rued the fact the team should have secured a strong one-two finish in Belgium.
“I’m gutted with the result – not just for my own Championship hopes but for the team, as we really should have had a one-two today,” said Hamilton. “It’s been a tough year for everyone and the whole team has been working so hard – every time we’ve been knocked down they’ve never given up. I didn’t fully understand what had happened until I saw the replay just now, but I gave him plenty of space, took the corner like I usually do and suddenly felt a big hit from behind. There was nothing I could do about it and that was effectively my race over.
“I wanted to retire the car early – not because I was giving up, but because I couldn’t catch the people in front of me and even with a safety car I don’t think I would have been able to pass them. The car was quite badly damaged and my thoughts were to preserve the engine after the last one was destroyed in Hungary.
“What happens next is not my call – that’s one for the bosses to make. But I’m now almost 30 points behind in the Championship so that’s the main thing on my mind. It’s a big gap and it will be hard to recover from here. That’s tough to swallow – but ultimately it’s just been one of those days.”
Head of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport Toto Wolff called the incident between his two drivers ‘unacceptable’ and insisted that the situation between Hamilton and Rosberg will not happen the same way in the future. He praised Rosberg for his recovery from having to change his front wing to come close to the race win, but was disappointed that Hamilton could not recover into the points due to the floor damage to his car.
“Today we saw our worst case scenario when the drivers made contact on lap two – and that ultimately cost us a one-two finish today, because we saw that our car had that kind of performance in it,” said Wolff. “It has been our clear policy to let the drivers race this year but rule number one is: don’t hit each other. To see that kind of contact, so early in the race, is an unacceptable level of risk to be taking out on track. It cannot – and will not – happen again.
“After the collision, Nico drove the first stint with a significantly damaged front wing, changed it, then had to make an additional stop after flat-spotting his left front tyre to the point where it was dangerous. He then charged back through the field and was impressively close to taking the win in spite of a dramatic race.
“As for Lewis, he was fighting with one hand tied behind his back after the puncture, which damaged the floor and cost him a significant amount of performance. We left him out there in case the Safety Car came out, bunched up the field and allow us to gain some places, but it became clear that he had lost too much performance and was continuing to do so, so we retired the car before the finish.
“Overall, not a good day for the team – and it is clear that we need to strengthen our focus on securing the Constructors’ Championship by delivering the potential of both cars in the next races. Now we need to regroup and come back stronger in Monza.”
Executive Director Paddy Lowe was also dissatisfied with the result in Belgium, and was especially sad for the incident between the two drivers. He admitted they kept Hamilton on track in case he could take advantage of a safety car should it be introduced, but retired the Briton when it was clear it was not forthcoming. He also felt that Rosberg’s race was compromised by a flat spot on his second set of tyres that Lowe ultimately believes cost him the chance of retaking the lead away from the eventual winner of the race Daniel Ricciardo of Red Bull Racing.
“We got off to a strong start, with Lewis taking the lead and Nico eventually recovering second place from Sebastian [Vettel],” said Lowe. “One lap later, however, the incident between the two at turn five effectively ruined our afternoon. It’s a great shame, as the car had looked strong all weekend and we were in an excellent position to potentially score a one-two finish.
“We opted to continue the race with Lewis in case of a safety car scenario, which may have given him an opportunity to recover the lost ground. But in the end this never came and, with his floor heavily damaged by tyre debris on the second lap, the condition of the car deteriorated further as the race continued.
“For Nico it was a case of damage limitation. Our calculations confirmed that we would have to change his nose to have any chance of a podium – but of course that cost time. As it was, although he was closing in rapidly at the end, a lockup and resultant flat spot on the second set of tyres ultimately cost him that opportunity.
“Overall, massive disappointment after all the hard work put in by the team to come away with a result not matching our potential this weekend.”