Lewis Hamilton's 2014 Belgian GP Retirement: Common Sense or Lack of Heart?

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Lewis Hamilton's 2014 Belgian GP Retirement: Common Sense or Lack of Heart?
Mark Thompson/Getty Images

This had been coming.

Since the third race of the 2014 Formula One season, the Bahrain Grand Prix, it has been a question of when, not if, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg would come to blows.

Only millimetres separated the two Mercedes cars in the Sakhir desert, with Rosberg and Hamilton racing in close proximity in Spain, Monaco, Austria and Hungary.

Mark Thompson/Getty Images

It was clear that, one day, their Silver Arrows would get far too close for comfort.

That day arrived on race day at the Belgian Grand Prix.

It took only two laps into the second half of the campaign for the Mercedes drivers to tangle as Rosberg sniffed around the outside of Hamilton's car at Spa's Les Combes corner.

The German, attempting an overtaking manouevre bereft of conviction, paid for his clumsiness with the partial loss of his front wing, while Hamilton was left with a puncture.

With a broken front wing much easier to manage than a flat tyre, Rosberg recovered to finish second—in a race he perhaps should have won despite the funny business—while Hamilton continued to circulate before retiring on the 38th of 44 laps, according to the official Formula One website.

If the choice had been his, however, the 2008 world champion would have parked the car and got out of there as early as Lap 20 when he was recorded by the official FIA television broadcast as encouraging his colleagues, via team radio, to retire in order to conserve his car ahead of the remaining seven grands prix.

It was completely out of character for Hamilton, whose boyish enthusiasm to go racing has in the past—most notably in the Korean Grand Prix of 2010 (heard at the 10:30-mark here)—seen him urge F1 officials to call in the safety car in dangerously wet conditions.

Hamilton, perhaps more than any other driver on the grid, is smitten with the idea of driving a racing car.

He has an exclusive relationship with the sense of speed, flattered by a yearning for competition.

Yet here he was effectively volunteering—not just willing—to withdraw from the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa, the most thrilling venue of them all from a drivers' perspective, before the halfway stage.

Mark Thompson/Getty Images

At first glance, it appeared that Hamilton was giving up.

It was strangely understandable, with the sinking feeling of almost instantly dropping from the lead of the race to the rear of the field too much to bear for a man who has spent his entire career fighting, often with success, for major honours.

But the idea of exiting the race without a fight, especially against the backdrop of the world championship tug of war, would have been pitiful for a driver who in the previous two races, the German and Hungarian Grands Prix, had recorded excellent comeback drives.

As Hamilton's team radio requests to retire became ever more frequent and as laps ticked by with the No. 44 car making no progress, it became evident that this was no loss of heart, but a sense of frustration.

Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

The 29-year-old would go on to tell ESPN F1:

It's not a giving up thing. I lost at least 40-50 points of downforce, which is a lot. I couldn't even take Eau Rouge flat, for example. I could do nothing. I was driving the a--e off the car and the thing was all over the place.

I couldn't even catch Romain Grosjean. It didn't even matter if the safety car came out, I wouldn't have been able to pass. [Adrian] Sutil was pulling away from me. I burnt up an engine in the last race. I already have one less engine than Nico.

Reliability has played a large role in Hamilton's season and is arguably the main reason why he trails Rosberg in the drivers' standings despite having one extra win to his name.

While Rosberg has only suffered one major technical problem—a race-ending gearbox issue at Silverstone last month—Hamilton has retired from races in Australia and Canada with car-related troubles, which have also hindered his progress in the last three qualifying sessions.

Michael Probst/Associated Press

With reliability becoming an issue for Mercedes as the season progresses, in contrast to Renault and Ferrari-powered teams who got their failures out of the way early on, it is plausible that the title race could come down to who finishes the most races rather than who wins the most.

According to the FIA's component information, Hamilton has used three of each of the six power unit elements, with penalties set to be handed out to drivers who use more than five of any single component, according to the official F1 website.

Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

With the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, the next round of the calendar, historically stressful on engines, and with the modern power trains playing a larger role in slowing the car than ever before—which will be particularly useful on tracks such as the Singapore street circuit—it is imperative that teams and drivers take advantage of every opportunity to soothe their cars. 

And with Hamilton understandably paranoid over the reliability of his W05 after recent races, it was common sense for Mercedes to retire the car—and put their driver out of his misery.

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