At last, the 2019 Bathurst 1000 has been run and won, with so much hype and anticipation for the great race now cooling down into reflection back on another incredible 161-laps.
Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo took his second career victory in the Hungarian Grand Prix on Sunday.
A turbulent race saw the Australian grab the lead early, benefiting from a fortunately timed safety car release that allowed him to pit ahead of the front-runners.
Fresher tyres and some customary Aussie grit saw him chase down both Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso to snatch victory in the final laps.
The win was overshadowed by further turmoil at Mercedes however, where team orders proved to be the latest wave in a sea of controversy.
After his car caught fire during qualifying, Hamilton started the race from the back of the grid. In a repeat of his heroics from Germany two weeks ago he managed to fight his way onto the podium and salvage something from his weekend in Budapest.
Despite putting his car on pole and building a gap in the early stages, Nico Rosberg was caught wrong-footed when the safety car was released, just as he and the other front-runners had passed the pit-lane entry point. It was enough to turn his sure-thing into a maybe not, as he struggled to get himself back into podium contention.
With 25 laps and a final pit-stop remaining, Rosberg caught up to Hamilton, who was looking to finish the race without stopping again. Mercedes’ team radio instructed Hamilton to allow Rosberg past without holding him up, however at the time he was still hunting the Red Bull and Ferrari ahead and wasn’t going to slow down and make things easy for his main championship contender.
Presumably Mercedes expected Rosberg to catch Hamilton and pass him without breaking a sweat (really, it’s hard to believe Rosberg would ever break a sweat), but Hamilton’s turbulent air and an unfavourable Hungarian track left the German unable to challenge.
Speaking to the press following the race Rosberg was visibly perturbed, fending off questions until the matter had been discussed internally. Mercedes executive director Toto Wolff hinted that more than just his broken arm was bent out of shape, questioning the team’s decision to allow the drivers to race each other without team interference.
“We need to admit that we saw the limits of what we had decided at the beginning of the season and maybe that needs to be adapted,” Wolff said.
Hamilton admitted he was shocked by the team orders, but gained support from Mercedes executive and human pressure release valve Niki Lauda.
“The call was unnecessary in hindsight, but it was made,” said Lauda.
“Lewis ignored it and finished third, so looking backwards, when everything calms down, nothing is wrong.”
With hindsight we can only wonder what Rosberg could have done had Hamilton let him through as instructed. Ricciardo showed that clearing traffic was difficult, but once you reached some clear air the pace of the track was there. Although sympathies are flowing toward Hamilton, I feel for the man who put his car on pole and did nothing wrong yet missed out on a trophy.
With the constructors’ championship all but won and only two drivers in contention for the drivers’ championship, it would be unwise for Mercedes to rock the boat too violently.
Hamilton has had more than his fair share of mechanical failures this year, but his decision in this race not to yield to his teammate was a My Kitchen Rules moment – a strategy designed to keep himself in the game.
With it Hamilton takes valuable momentum into the summer break. Luckily for Formula One audiences the equation tightens up even further, and Nico Rosberg is a thoughtful enough driver to brush the incident off and enjoy the break before lighting things up again in Spa next month.