Lewis Hamilton baffled by technology as Rosberg wins in Baku
New rules preventing engineers from advising drivers ruin driver's chances of a podium finish at the European Grand Prix
Formula 1's Byzantine new rules governing radio conversations between engineers and drivers were centre stage at a European Grand Prix east of Istanbul when Nico Rosberg reasserted his authority in the drivers' championship with a victory in Baku that left his Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton flummoxed by his car's engine settings.
Engineers can no longer give drivers instructions over the radio so when Hamilton encountered power problems there was nothing his team could do, during a race that defied expectations of crashes galore to deliver a dull procession.
It was supposed to be a "prang-fest", says Paul Weaver of The Guardian, "with wrecked cars, bruised bodies, multiple safety cars and damaged medieval walls on this tightly cornered street circuit."
But in the end it was the modern technology rather than the ancient architecture that provided the storyline as Hamilton was left shouting 'Mayday' like a "screaming radio ham" as he fumbled "with a steering wheel that has 45 individual controls, and thousands of possible options overall".
The British star was reduced to the status of "passenger in a high-speed robot that threw the sort of glitch familiar to millions of computer users the world over", says Kevin Eason of The Times. "The trouble was that Hamilton was seeking his personal control, alt, delete at almost 230mph on an unforgiving new racetrack."
At least it was something to talk about, says Eason. "The only entertainment at a Grand Prix that promised firecrackers and delivered damp squibs came from Hamilton’s increasingly angry radio messages to Pete Bonnington, his phlegmatic race engineer under instruction not to give the technological game away."
Hamilton had started from tenth on the grid after crashing in qualifying and had to be content with a fifth placed finish as Rosberg expanded his lead to 24 points, having seen it eaten away by Hamilton's back-to-back victories in the previous two races.
There was another element of intrigue when it emerged that Rosberg had encountered a similar problem to Hamilton, but had figured out how to correct it himself. "So was Rosberg, who is known to be the superior engineer among the Mercedes drivers, merely a bit cleverer?" asks Weaver of The Guardian.
Toto Wolff of Mercedes poured cold water on the suggestion as he explained that Rosberg had already changed some settings when he had the problem and simply changed them back.
"Ultimately Hamilton, who had been the dominant driver in all three practice sessions, paid for a poor performance on Saturday," said Weaver. "It was one of his worst in qualifying, for his crash in Q3 was merely the culmination of a series of errors. Rosberg did nothing wrong on Sunday."