Formula 1

Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton leave Mercedes in impossible position

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Could this moment mark a key turning point in the championship battle? (©GettyImages)
Could this moment mark a key turning point in the championship battle? (©GettyImages).

So it finally happened. The battle for the 2014 world championship altered by a collision between Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.

On Sunday at the Belgian Grand Prix, the two men were fighting for the lead at the start of the race when, on the approach to Les Combes, Rosberg went for a move around the outside of his team-mate heading into the chicane.

What resulted was the two men holding their lines through the first right before Rosberg just clipped the left-rear of Lewis Hamilton's Mercedes turning for the left-hander causing a puncture which would ultimately lead to a third retirement of the year for the Briton.

Prove a point

While Hamilton's race was ruined by the incident, Rosberg's was also hampered by the damaged front wing as Daniel Ricciardo was once again the man there to pick up the pieces from Mercedes' dysfunction to claim a third win of the year and potentially drag himself into the championship hunt.

Rosberg would finish second with a good recovery but was left the pantomime villain on the podium as the crowd booed the German every time he was mentioned.

This was before even more fuel was added to the fire later in the evening when Hamilton revealed Rosberg had allowed the crash to happen as he wanted to "prove a point".

Deliberate or not?

In his comments Hamilton, who now lies 29 points behind his title rival, insinuated Rosberg's words in the post-race debrief telling reporters: "He basically said he did it on purpose."

However, the way team boss Toto Wolff believes it should be read, is Rosberg put Hamilton in a scenario where it was up to him to decide if the pair collided or not, but he himself believes that decision by Rosberg was wrong.

"Nico felt he needed to hold his line. He needed to make a point, and for Lewis, it was clearly not him who needed to be aware of Nico," Wolff told Autosport.

"[Rosberg] didn't give in. He thought it was for Lewis to leave him space, and that Lewis didn't leave him space.

"So they agreed to disagree in a very heated discussion amongst ourselves, but it wasn't deliberately crashing. That is nonsense."

Who's to blame?

Certainly watching the incident back and in slow-motion there are a number of ways it can be interpreted.

Although moves around the outside are not the usual approach, at Les Combes they are far more common as the driver on the outside has the grip on the racing line. So while Rosberg was indeed off the line having turned in later to the corner, Hamilton should have been more aware an attack was coming.

Also having seen the slow-motion on-board Hamilton was drifting inside on the approach to the second apex leaving Rosberg with nowhere to go.

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At the same time, as the car behind, it should have been Rosberg's prerogative to know when to back out of the move.

His Mercedes was only around three-quarters of the way alongside that of Hamilton's on the outside of the corner and, knowing how aggressive Hamilton can be defensively, should have backed out sooner.

It isn't like Rosberg doesn't know Hamilton races, the pair have had great wheel-to-wheel battles throughout the year plus the Briton even showed his intention to stay ahead by weaving to the inside to block of Rosberg's slipstream on the Kemmel straight just before the pair made contact.

Watching it live, I was surprised the stewards didn't investigate the incident, indeed after the race Charlie Whiting revealed they had considered it before deeming there to be no "deliberate act" of causing the collision, and watching it back I have to now agree that while there is maybe slightly more apportion of blame towards Rosberg it was a racing incident.

What happens next?

With this post-race reaction and insinuation of a 'deliberate' incident caused by Rosberg, the question has to be now where the Mercedes battle goes from here.

Forever the businessman, Toto Wolff now believes a change of approach could be needed with a stricter enforcement of guidelines, however, following the events at Spa, I can see no way the two drivers can now ever be managed in a way that team orders of any kind can be imposed.

This is now a straight out war, as most are declaring it, and this is where the inexperience of Wolff, Paddy Lowe and Niki Lauda as team bosses could show.

There is the idea that harsher internal penalties could be imposed for a breach of team instructions but when you are fighting for a world championship this is the last thing on a drivers mind, particularly when battling a team-mate.

Ricciardo impact

Of course the major worry now on Mercedes' bosses minds is an all-out escalation of tensions could allow Daniel Ricciardo to come on the outside and steal the championship from both of their drivers.

Also in the Constructors', Red Bull took another 17 points out of Mercedes' giant lead and though they are easily favourite to wrap up that title, there is even concern an out-of-control rivalry could allow the four-time straight champions back in the hunt there too.

This is why there is this feeling, particularly with Wolff, to want to somehow control the drivers in their quest for a championship.

But as I have said with such friction in the camp on likely quite a few levels, the team is left in an impossible position heading to Monza and beyond where only the two men behind the wheel will now control their own and their team's championship fate. 

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