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Formula 1

Our verdict on Hamilton’s ‘gamesmanship’ and crowd boos

by Josh Suttill
7 min read

Lewis Hamilton and his Mercedes team’s tactics in qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix were branded as “gamesmanship” by their chief Formula 1 title rivals Red Bull.

There were audible boos for the crowd when Hamilton was interviewed after securing his 101st career pole and Mercedes’ first front-row lockout since Portimao in April.

But was Hamilton slowing Max Verstappen down in Q3 really gamesmanship, and were the crowd at all justified in booing him?

Unseen factors made it look like something it wasn’t

Mark Hughes

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Hungarian Grand Prix Qualifying Day Budapest, Hungary

In a tight championship battle, Hamilton and Mercedes are going to take any opportunity they can to thwart Verstappen and Red Bull. Its response to getting both cars out just ahead of the Red Bulls looked planned. But what unfolded next looked more extreme than it was – because the cameras were focussed only upon the two title contenders leaving the pits at the same time, Hamilton ahead of Verstappen but behind Bottas.

There was something happening up ahead that was influencing that. What the Mercs guys were driving to was the gap ahead of Bottas to Ocon – and that group Ocon was in was also lapping extremely slowly.

It seemed to have been triggered by Leclerc dropping back a lot from Gasly. Bottas-Hamilton-Verstappen-Perez were at the end of the train but neither Bottas nor Hamilton was dictating the pace of that train. But because they needed big gaps between each carriage of it so as not to find the dirty air of the car ahead on their flying lap, the effect was as we saw.

That said, of course, the Merc drivers – having gone 1-2 on the first Q3 runs – knew they could afford to compromise their own tyre prep lap like this, in the certain knowledge that it was also compromising Verstappen. As Verstappen said, “yeah it affected us but even without that it wasn’t going to find us the four tenths we needed”.

As for booing, it depends upon context. If it’s pantomime booing – like we often see at Interlagos, for example – actually good-natured and just adding to the carnival, joining in the game of painting the good guy and the bad guy in the popular narrative, it’s fine.

Doubtless, there was some of that in Budapest. But if it’s genuine antagonism or worse, it’s not fine at all. And given some of the appalling responses to Hamilton after the Silverstone incident, it’s a particularly bad time to be fanning the flames of hate. Not that there’s ever a good time.

One is a non-issue, the other is ugly

Scott Mitchell

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Hungarian Grand Prix Qualifying Day Budapest, Hungary

Of the two talking points from qualifying, one is a non-issue and the other is an ugly side of sport that seems to happen so rarely in F1 it leaves a particularly sour taste in the mouth when it does.

There was no “gamesmanship” that I could see in Q3. It’s pretty simple that track position is key, finding space is key, not overdoing the tyres is key. If Red Bull really had a problem with it they would have said, or better yet would have taken steps to avoid it by sending the cars out sooner.

But the booing was wrong. Some see it as part of the theatrics of sport, and like casting people in the role of pantomime villains. I just find it needlessly tribal. Or worse. It’s anonymous – in a crowd of thousands how do you identify a dissenting voice? And anonymity breeds malice.

Booing never feels legitimate. But if there is such a thing as ‘honest’ booing – people who are just Verstappen fans and nothing more, engaging in some theatrics – how do you distinguish that from someone spying a chance of simply expressing dislike (or worse) for someone for more sinister reasons?

I’m not saying everyone who booed was directing it at Hamilton and that it was racially motivated. I can’t say that with any certainty. But in the context of the abuse he got after the British GP, this sits really uncomfortably with me.

Consequence of the title fight ramping up

Edd Straw

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Hungarian Grand Prix Qualifying Day Budapest, Hungary

The talk of gamesmanship after qualifying tells you everything you need to know about how intense this world championship fight has become. Given the events at Silverstone, everything has ramped up a notch and created a situation where even something that’s standard procedure in F1 – the traffic jam when preparing to launch a qualifying lap – is stoked up by one side or the other.

Red Bull is the team that has stoked it today, with references to gamesmanship. Ironically, that comment in itself is part of the gamesmanship that is going on in this brilliantly closely-fought title battle.

Despite many decades as a fan of various sports, I’ve never enjoyed or really understood those participating being booed. Perhaps that’s a consequence of following sport more because of the endless fascination of competition over and above the desire for a particular outcome – perhaps as a football fan who is genuinely neutral, you could argue I don’t fully understand the partisanship that drives so many enthusiastic sports fans!

But it is, as Hamilton pointed out, a part of the wider pantomime of sport. So from that perspective, it simply has to be accepted that the same passion that brings so many fans also comes with the flip side of the coin, so if some want to boo and hiss, so be it.

I just hope that those doing it don’t miss out on the chance to enjoy a stunning battle between two great teams and drivers as a consequence.

… It’s just the track, not the title fight

Gary Anderson
Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Hungarian Grand Prix Qualifying Day Budapest, Hungary

As the saying goes, all’s fair in love and war – oh and F1. God knows I have put forward many suggestions to reduce the risk of this happening and the possible safety issues that could very easily come out of it, but currently, the rules allowed drivers to go at the pace the Mercedes drivers did to prep their tyres and lap as they choose.

I don’t think this was anything to do with the aftermath of the Silverstone adventures, it was simply what you need to do in Hungary. This has always been a difficult circuit on tyres and for a qualifying lap getting the fronts working for the first two corners and the rears to last for the last two corners has always been a challenge.

Way back in 2002 with Giancarlo Fisichella in the Jordan on Bridgestones, we actually did our second run in qualifying with used front tyres and new rears. The fronts had done the first qualifying lap, so were scrubbed and ready to go and the rears, which came in immediately, lasted through the lap – and we qualified fifth, which was well ahead of where we should have qualified.

Those days of doing something different have long gone, but with the upgrade Mercedes brought to Silverstone I don’t think Mercedes will need to try anything too off the wall to be battling with Red Bull for the rest of the season. Those developments brought them in line with the development direction the other teams had taken to overcome the problems of the new aero regulations for 2021.

As for the booing, well, I don’t agree with it. Everyone supports one driver or another but cheering for your own driver should be enough.

Better respect among rivals than after British GP clash

Josh Suttill

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Hungarian Grand Prix Qualifying Day Budapest, Hungary

The fallout from the British GP clash was ugly, with Hamilton receiving racist abuse, in part fuelled by the nasty war of words between the title-challenging teams.

There’s a fine line that was arguably crossed at Silverstone, but there was refreshingly no such issue after qualifying today.

Sure, Horner told Sky Hamilton’s tactics were “gamesmanship” but he also said it was “no major issue” and that Hamilton has the “right to do that”.

It would have been easy for him to lambast Hamilton and Mercedes and put further fuel on an already burning fire – something evidenced by the reaction from the crowd.

Even calling for an investigation or penalty wouldn’t have been hyperbolic by recent standards.

Fortunately, common sense prevailed and with minimal fanning of the flames, this will no doubt be a quickly forgotten minor twist in an otherwise unforgettable title duel. It’s just a shame that the majority of the watching crowd couldn’t show the same level of respect, albeit it’s something that Red Bull has to take some responsibility for following its British GP comments.

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