Hamilton's victory in Brazil shows F1 is an uneven playing field

The Mercedes driver had sufficient penalties to start five places off the back of the grid and still won at Interlagos by 10 seconds

Grand Prix racing sets up camp in Qatar Wednesday drenched in bad blood.

And while the world is leaping up and down in jubilation at Lewis Hamilton’s ‘dramatic’ victory in Brazil I just want to weep for my sport.

Largely because completely share the view of double world champion Fernando Alonso that F1 is a sole-destroyingly uneven playing field.

It may appear an odd time to be talking about the quality of the racing after Hamilton has just beaten such seemingly unsurmountable odds at Interlagos.

But Hamilton didn’t win because of his over-arching talent or some brilliant strategy gamble. He just had a far, far, faster car than the rest.

The three other champions in the field were all on the fringes of the top 10 because they did not have competitive machinery.

I don’t have anything against Mercedes’ world champion per se. Hamilton is not the easiest man to get along with, it is true and I, personally, hold his father Anthony in far higher esteem.

But his talent at bending a speeding amalgam of metal, Kevlar, and carbon fibre to his will is awe-inspiring.

I wouldn’t say he is the greatest of all time but many do – and the statistics are there to have the argument.

No, what frustrates me is the manner of his victory.

He had sufficient penalties to start five places off the back of the grid and still won by 10 seconds.

That’s not racing. That’s a massacre.

Mercedes had an advantage approaching a full second a lap over their nearest rival. Hamilton’s passing speed on Max Verstappen was, Red Bull boss Christian Horner insisted, around 30kph higher.

That’s not the same ballpark, it’s not even the same state.

But Hamilton does deserve credit for his clever move on Verstappen into the Senna esses that opened the way to take the lead at the next bend. Now that was inspired.

Maybe it’s a memorable result because it has saved Mercedes’ season, but lauding Hamilton for a memorable performance is laughable.

You might as well let someone on a motorbike contest the Tour de France and then shower them with glory when they win.

Alonso says this: “As a driver, it’s like playing basketball and there’s one basket for you and one for the others. They [Mercedes] score their points with a bigger basket and you have to score yours with a smaller one. So you always lose.”

Neither Hamilton, nor Mercedes are to blame, of course, and the hope is that the remoulded rules for 2022 will finally make the sport more equal.

But F1 has had many such false dawns and Alonso, for one, is not holding his breath.

Verstappen deserved as much credit as Hamilton on that day for keeping such a superior machine at bay for over 10 laps.

And why were Mercedes at the back of the grid to start with? Because their rear wing was found to be illegal. But the reaction wasn’t to be contrite and apologetic but truculent and defensive as if they were the ones being wronged.

The rivalry for the championship plunged new depths late Tuesday when Mercedes demanded their right of review over Verstappen’s defensive actions while scrapping for the lead on Lap 48.

I can’t remember the last time a winner protested the loser!

Such is the attitude at Mercedes - seven times a double champion remember and the most garlanded team of recent years, drowning in trophies - that winning the Sprint, winning the Grand Prix and setting pole wasn’t enough.

Now they want Red Bull punished as well. Our ball, our game.

Mercedes used to be the personification of sportsmanship. They won in style and lost with a smile (maybe covering gritted teeth) but then, it didn’t happen often.

This season, though the defeats have come thick and fast, the pressure has built, the mistakes increased and the character changed as the championship threatens to slip away.

After all it’s easy to behave like a king when you have a kingdom.

To quote civil rights activist, Martin Luther King: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

The world is waiting to see how Qatar pans out but I wonder if as many will be rooting for Mercedes as there were at the start of the season?

Updated: November 17th 2021, 4:21 AM
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