Friday, August 11, 2017

Lewis vs Bottas: the hidden war

During the Hungarian grand prix Lewis Hamilton yielded 3rd place back to Valtteri Bottas after promising to do so if he could not make up positions. Bottas was running in 3rd but Lewis closed on him and seemed faster and asked to be let by. The way we see it, it was unprofessional from the Mercedes team to make him have to give back the position. Even if he promised. He is the team points leader and the team owes him one for the headrest snafu in Azerbaijan.

Their cars can no longer finish a race 20 to 30 seconds ahead of the pack. They're no longer fighting each other for the title. Ferrari is in the mix, and at the right tracks like Hungary so is Red Bull. If the team really believes it's giving each driver an equal chance at the championship it's instead forcing them to fight with one arm tied behind their back. Compared to Vettel who has his whole team and teammate pledged to support his title bid Mercedes simply looks amateurish.

Had Verstappen overtaken Lewis Hamilton while Bottas was going by, it would have been a major embarrassment.

There are a few telling reasons why Lewis himself was compelled to cede the position back besides his inability to pass Raikkonen. He was probably well scolded behind closed door after last year's final race, Valterri Bottas' longtime billionaire supporter Antti Aarnio-Wihuri might really be splurging on the team and might have an equality clause for his sponsored driver. You have probably noticed the "Wihuri" patch that used to adorn the Williams uniforms is now proudly but inconspicuously displayed on the right arm of the Mercedes uniforms and both drivers' helmets. Bottas is an F1 team's prototypical driver: Fast, and connected in high places. Lewis' last teammate with similar circumstances was Fernando Alonso. Bottas is also Lewis' boss' personal project. If Bottas makes it, Toto Wolf will also be regarded as someone with an eye for great talent.

Just as Lewis was Ron Dennis' find, and made sure to give him equal footing against Alonso, Lewis shouldn't be surprised if in the second half of the season, Toto develops a penchant for Bottas.

From the team's point of view, now that Bottas is used to the car he can be a threat to Ferrari. But the true wisdom is that if Bottas was truly a better driver than Hamilton we would have seen it in the first 5 races. Pre season testing should have been plenty for him to adapt to the car.

What's the indication of who truly is the better driver when a new driver moves to a new team?

When Lewis moved to Mercedes in 2013, against Nico Rosberg who had been there for 3 years before him, it was clear who the new team leader was. Lewis outclassed Rosberg, even when he got borred midway through the season.

When Vettel moved to ferrari he had his way with Raikkonen. When Alonso went to Ferrari he had Massa in check. Pretty much no matter who is already in a team, so long as the incoming driver has had preaseason testing, he will get the hang of the car if he is the better driver.

It's not at the midway point that the team should start changing strategy to allow the secondary driver to fight for the title because he has worked himself into the hunt.

So barring catastrophic failures, in the first 4 to 5 races the better driver in the team is usually the leader in points. In Mercedes' case Lewis is the de facto and de jure #1. He is the proven winner.