Not convinced Lewis was backing Nico up in Hungary

It’s perfectly normal that each race weekend there will be a talking point that the fans, teams, drivers or media get lodged on and this week it was the qualifying incident which was rolled along by Lewis Hamilton’s continual mentioning and calls for clarification and even dog-whistling the danger and safety aspect. It was the performance in the race that actually is worthy discussing as the qualifying was a non-incident.

During the race, Lewis Hamilton seemed to slow down in his middle stint and it allowed Nico Rosberg to close within a second of him but as is Formula 1, you can’t follow too closely lest you chew your tires up and this allowed Nico to come under pressure from Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo.

While NBCSN’s Will Buxton and others suggested that Hamilton was purposely backing Nico up into the clutches of Red Bull, I wasn’t totally convinced although one could see how it could be possible for sure. This is no indictment of Will’s thoughts but I tend to think Lewis was doing something completely different in Hungary on Sunday.

One of the things about Lewis—and this will shock #TeamLH who continually accuse me of being biased against Lewis—is that he’s become a very savvy driver in terms of tire management and car sympathy. When he was younger, this wasn’t always the case but he knows he has very limited mileage on the remaining power units he has left and while winning would put him in the championship lead, an engine change will ruin his race and there are still 11 races to go. Team boss Toto Wolff may feel that he was managing tires but I tend think think it is the entire package he’s trying to nurse home to a title win which included the tires for the race in 124 degree asphalt conditions. Toto said:

“I don’t think he was backing him up at all. I’m sure he didn’t want to back him up.

“The whole weekend we discussed with them the need to be very cautious on the tyres. When you hear the constant messaging ‘the tyres might not last’, you want to manage them.

“They managed them very well in the first stint on the super-softs, and then we bolted on the softs and we didn’t have any experience on those tyres.

“He [Hamilton] over-managed it probably. He had everything under control, he knew Nico was behind and didn’t realise the train was approaching fast.

“There was a different strategy behind him, so I guess he didn’t have the complete picture. For him it looked OK, that’s why he just took it easy.

“He was really cautious in looking after the tyres, and this is what he said.”

Surely the team have been talking about his need to save engines, manage gearboxes and look after the entire hybrid ecosystem as well as the tires in this race. I think Lewis knows he’s in trouble with engine penalties and he’s trying to manage it.

I could be completely wrong and perhaps Lewis is as nefarious as those who say he was backing Nico up. He is cunning and ruthless when it comes to racing so if it did surface that he was trying to get Nico into a tussle with Ricciardo, I wouldn’t be stunned but it seems to me there’s a bigger issue at hand and that’s the lack of engine changes he has left and the penalties he will surely take before the end of the season which could spell disaster for his title bid.