Murto: Mercedes’ F1 team in turmoil

There’s trouble brewing at the Mercedes Formula One team following the Belgium Grand Prix at Spa.

Daniel Ricciardo scored his third victory of the season for Red Bull Racing, beating Mercedes driver and point leader Nico Rosberg and third-place driver Valtteri Bottas in a Williams. But it’s not the way the race finished that has the Mercedes team in turmoil.

On the second lap of the race, Rosberg made an aggressive move to try to pass teammate and then race leader Lewis Hamilton. The result of the move was Hamilton cutting across Rosberg’s right front nose, breaking the nose and cutting Hamilton’s tire. Hamilton never recovered and retired from the event.

The incident looked aggressive on Rosberg’s part, but appeared to be a racing incident. Rosberg could have backed out a bit, but Hamilton could have left more room. Race stewards didn’t see any reason to issue any penalties, as they do too often in F1 these days.

But reports after the race indicated that the team blamed Rosberg for the incident. What could have been a Mercedes one-two finish was spoiled because Rosberg was racing like it was the last lap. Team bosses Niki Lauda and Toto Wolff both called Rosberg’s aggression “unacceptable.”

Following a team meeting, Hamilton announced to the media that Rosberg admitted that he hit Hamilton purposefully “to prove a point.” Exactly what point that would be, or if the comment truly was made is unclear.

Two things, however, are clear. First of all, the higher-ups at Mercedes are unhappy with Nico Rosberg, at least publicly. The one thing you don’t do in F1 is wreck your teammate (unless you’re Sabastian Vettel and that teammate is Mark Webber). The other thing is that Rosberg has gotten into Hamilton’s head.

Rosberg is leading the drivers’ championship. It could be that Mercedes publicly exaggerates its displeasure as a means of trying to calm Hamilton. Regardless, Rosberg is going to have to play nice with his teammate in the foreseeable future to keep his position on the Mercedes team secure.

Hamilton needs to calm down. Unfortunately his focus seems to be more on beating Rosberg than on winning each race. If he focused on his own race rather than his growing rivalry with his teammate, the points will take care of themselves.

The Mercedes teammates’ rivalry is making for a dramatic season. Unfortunately, unnecessary gimmickry may spoil what would otherwise be an F1 season for the ages.

In a move you’d expect from NASCAR these days, F1 decided to make the season finale in Abu Dhabi worth double points.

All this move does is open the door for a stampede of unending questions. Is F1 that insecure about its product that they felt ending the season with a gimmick was necessary? For the past decade F1 races have appeared to be for sale to the highest bidder; did Abu Dhabi pay extra to enjoy the attention and coverage this “enhancement” is sure to bring?

Is auto racing the only sport that throws its traditions away? There are still F1 fans keeping records of what the points would look like with the old system when only six cars received points, rather than the 10 cars it is today. If the 2014 World Driving Championship results are determined because of a double-point race to end the season, will that driver’s title always be accompanied with an asterisk in the record books?

NASCAR has its Chase, which now ends as a four-car single-race roll of the dice. The NHRA has its Countdown. But never would anyone have guessed before this season that F1 — the pinnacle of auto racing worldwide — would feel the need to cheapen the sport with a gimmick thrown into the points system. It’s bad enough that they turn their backs on traditional European circuits and sell races to principalities with money to burn.

At least we don’t have to burn much money to see racing locally or regionally. Hagerstown Speedway features Late Models, Late Model Sportsman and a Small Car Nationals qualifier on Saturday. Winchester Speedway features Super Late Models in a 35-lap battle for $3,500. South Boston Speedway features twin 75-lap features for the NASCAR Late Models, and Langley Speedway features the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour.

A huge crowd attended Colonial Downs to see flat track motorcycle racer Bryan Smith win the Expert main, and J.R. Addison make a last-lap pass to take the Pro Singles race. Don’t expect the same crowd, but you can see motorcycles race all day Saturday at Shenandoah Speedway’s motocross track.

Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.