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F1: glum faces and lack of celebration mark Mercedes 1-2 in Sochi

Bryan Edwards

F1 is a team sport and that means that, sometimes, hard decisions produce results that prejudice one or other side of the garage. Team orders are both a necessary evil and a despicable trick. Gamblers hate team orders (serves them right for trying to fly in the face of the nature of the sport then whining when it goes against them), fans of pure racing hate them (but those who are fans of the sport, per se, acknowledge their importance) and casual watchers don't understand them. Yes, they interfere with the spectacle and yes, they leave a bad taste in the mouth. And the 2018 Russian Grand Prix in Sochi left a taste that even the victory champagne could not wash away for either the man who came in second nor, importantly, the winner. And that's sad for the events eclipsed a truly great race, but that's not this story.

The hard decision was whether, assuming that Bottas was next after Hamilton, whether to swap them back just before the line, so giving Bottas the win he thoroughly deserved and the credit for being a solid team member. That decision, then, was not about the race, not about the constructor's championship but a simple, brutal truth: the security of Hamilton's title bid might rest on the seven points that marks the difference between first and second.

As the race progressed and it was clear that Bottas was not only keeping Vettel at bay but marking time behind Hamilton, it became increasingly obvious that the team now had a serious dilemma. Yes, Bottas is the number two and under an obligation (which may or may not be contractual, such is the opacity of F1 deals) to support Hamilton's title bid where he, Bottas, is not in contention for that title. But this year, far more than in the Hamilton-Rosberg years, Mercedes does not have a favourite. The team genuinely would like both their drivers to win races and the Championship but, obviously, that is not possible. Nikki Lauda, often regarded as less than enthusiastic about Hamilton, was nowhere to be seen. Wolff sat, his head in his hands, massaging his temples. Hamilton seemed to be waiting for Bottas. It was left to James Allison to tell Bottas to hold station between Hamilton when the Finn asked when they would swap back. Twice the radio message was sent to the driver "we'll talk about this later." As he parked his car, Bottas was in tears behind his visor and he kept his helmet on for privacy as intrusive cameramen shoved lenses in his face. He examined Hamilton's tyres to see if the excuse he had been given in the first place was justified (footage at the time showed that Hamilton's tyres were out of sorts).

Hamilton drove to Parc Firmé slowly, arriving long after Bottas but it was not because he had been out doing doughnuts or other celebratory excesses. He parked and sat in the car and, when he got out, he climbed out, no standing on the front jumping up and down, no salutes. No celebration at all. Helmet on and head down he walked slowly to his crew and gave them a peremptory hug, dodging cameramen. Then, still wearing his helmet, he went to Bottas. The body language of both men said it all: this isn't going to upset our friendship or respect for each other but it's shit. In the post-race, pit-lane, interview, Hamilton was unequivocal: his win came at the expense of his friend and colleague who deserved it more than he did but they both did as they were told by the team.

In the Green Room, Vladimir Putin queened it over the room, going where no other politician goes after a race, oblivious to the offence across Malaysia of seeing a Petronas sponsored driver shaking hands with the man who, many believe, was at least instrumental in the shooting down of a Malaysian airliner, flight MH17. Hamilton tried to be upbeat but failed. On the podium, Hamilton took his trophy and made a half-hearted lift, barely to shoulder height. Later, he offered his trophy to Bottas who smiled wryly and shook his head, perhaps mindful that the last time a driver who had been handed a win under team orders put his team-mate on the top step and gave him the trophy, the authorities fined the winner for - bizarrely - unsportsmanlike conduct. The spraying of the champagne was formalised, totally lacking in joy: James Allison, having a miserable time, was doused but it was routine for the cameras. Both drivers clearly saw him as at least a significant contributor to the situation.

The team acted properly in the circumstances: it's a rare example of where the correct action had hugely undesirable consequences. But with, now, 125 points available for five wins, there is no doubt that Vettel's season is not dead. Ferrari have had dramatic resurgences in fortune before. There are two tracks - Brazil and Abu Dhabi, where a Ferrari 1-2 is not out of the question and a Ferrari win is easily within the bounds of possibility at Austin (where the power of the Italian stallion can pay dividends especially up the long hill) and Mexico is a bit of a lottery with car set up being especially tricky given both the complex nature of the track and the thin air at altitude. In Japan next week, the Mercedes should do well but there's a wild-card - Red Bull have taken their engine penalties this weekend because Suzuka suits them best of all - and from Hamilton's point of view, while a Vettel win is awful news, anyone else being ahead of him is bad news. The pace of the Red Bulls from the back of the grid in Sochi means one thing: in Japan, neither Mercedes or Hamilton can take even a top four place for granted.

And that, hard as it is for Bottas, is why he had to sit behind Hamilton and not take the win he deserved today. It's to be hoped that Mercedes give Bottas the prize money he should have earned. One suspects that if there is anything Hamilton can do or say to address the injustice, he's prepared to do it. At the post-race press conference, the emotion from both Hamilton and Bottas was palpable. "It's not how I want to win a race," said Hamilton.



F1 points system:

Points are awarded as follows:
1st place 25 points
2nd place 18 points
3rd place 15 points
4th place 12 points
5th place 10 points
6th place 8 points
7th place 6 points
8th place 4 points
9th place 2 points
10th place 1 point

For the Constructors' Championship, the team is awarded the combined points of their two drivers in the race.
No points are awarded for qualifying position nor for fastest lap or "driver of the day."

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