Were F1 Fans Right to Boo Nico Rosberg on the 2014 Belgian Grand Prix Podium?

Oliver HardenFeatured ColumnistAugust 25, 2014

SPA, BELGIUM - AUGUST 24:  Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP waves to the crowd as he walks on to the podium after finsihing second in the Belgian Grand Prix at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on August 24, 2014 in Spa, Belgium.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

For the second season in succession, the podium ceremony of a Belgian Grand Prix was greeted with boos.

But this year it was Nico Rosberg, not Sebastian Vettel (for once), on the receiving end after the Mercedes driver collided with his teammate, Lewis Hamilton, on the second lap of the race.

And unlike in 2013, there was no Greenpeace protest to lighten the mood.

It is a pity that a venue as iconic, scenic and glorious as the legendary Spa Francorchamps circuit should be overcome with so much hostility.

When Formula One visits a track such as Spa, Monza and Silverstone—to name just three which have stood the test of time in the era of so-called "Tilke-dromes"—you feel as if the grand prix weekends should be celebrations of all that is good about the sport.

The drone of V6 turbo engines powering around the Ardennes Forest should have been the defining sound of the Belgian Grand Prix—not the wearying murmur of contempt.

SPA, BELGIUM - AUGUST 24:  Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP drives during the Belgian Grand Prix at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on August 24, 2014 in Spa, Belgium.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
Clive Mason/Getty Images

The boo-boys, however, were not to be hushed despite the best efforts of Eddie Jordan, the podium interviewer, whose admirable pleas to the more disgruntled members of the crowd to hush actually seemed to augment rather than calm, the situation.

F1, since Vettel was noticeably denounced for the first time at the Canadian Grand Prix of 2013, has had a real problem with its handling of booing.

There are those who believe it has no place in Formula One when the drivers are supposedly risking their lives—always a popular argument of those in denial of F1's flaws—for the sake of our entertainment.

And there are those who argue that booing is now commonplace in modern sport and that fans, who pay a vast sum of money to gain access to an event, are within their rights to express their feelings.

In football, for example, a match never passes by without someone—be it a player, a manager or a referee—being booed.

BURNLEY, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 26: Burnley fans chant abuse towards Joey Barton of QPR during the Sky Bet Championship match between Burnley and Queens Park Rangers at Turf Moor on October 26, 2013 in Burnley, England. (Photo by Paul Thomas/Getty Images)
Paul Thomas/Getty Images

Booing has even worked its way into cricket, the self-appointed "gentleman's game", with India batsman Ravindra Jadeja taking stick at Lord's, the spiritual home of the sport, during the Test series against England earlier this summer.

The link with cricket is particularly significant, with F1 holding a similarly elitist stance to the game of leather and willow.

The joy of Formula One, like cricket, is not necessarily found in the result but the spectacle, the quality on show and the nature of the competition.

And this lack of tribalism in contrast to other sports means that F1 drivers, unlike their footballing equivalents, are not conditioned to deal with being booed and are as such treated with sympathy when it does occur.

MONZA, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 08:  Race winner Sebastian Vettel (L) of Germany and Infiniti Red Bull Racing, second placed Fernando Alonso (C) of Spain and Ferrari and third placed Mark Webber (R) of Australia and Infiniti Red Bull Racing celebrate on the podi
Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Sympathy, however, is likely to be in short supply for Rosberg after Hamilton claimed on Sunday evening that Rosberg—who had earlier told BBC Sport's Andrew Benson that the collision was merely a "racing incident"—had informed him that the crash was intentional.

The 2008 world champion told reporters, as per Crash.net:

It looked quite clear to me but we just had a meeting about it and he basically said he did it on purpose. He said he did it on purpose, he said he could have avoided it. He said, "I did it to prove a point", he basically said, "I did it to prove a point." And you don't have to just rely on me, go and ask Toto [Wolff, Mercedes' business executive director], Paddy [Lowe, the team's technical executive director] and all those guys who are not happy with him as well.

With those comments, which according to the BBC's Jennie Gow were verified by the Mercedes team, Hamilton has done a tremendous job of using the boo-boys to his full advantage.

This wasn't just the revealing of details from a post-race debrief—it was issuing propaganda, inviting fans to take sides, plant their flags and set up camp for the remaining seven races and beyond.

A vote for Hamilton is a vote for clean, spirited racing; a vote for Rosberg is a vote for unashamed deviance.

Rosberg and Hamilton were always known to have alternative styles of racing—but this development almost made it, regardless of what the former said, become a case of differing principles.

Formula One, like most sports, is at its best when its competitors are evenly-matched, fighting head-to-head for victory at the very top.

The sheer dominance of the Mercedes team over the rest of the field means the inter-team battle between Rosberg and Hamilton, the two title protagonists, has been the only thing for fans to cling on to in 2014 in terms of true, intense competition.

SAKHIR, BAHRAIN - APRIL 06:  Nico Rosberg (R) of Germany and Mercedes GP and team mate  Lewis Hamilton (L) of Great Britain and Mercedes GP battle for the lead during Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix at the Bahrain International Circuit on April 6, 2014 in
Mark Thompson/Getty Images

And at the very moment that Rosberg's clumsily-placed front wing deflated Hamilton's rear-left tyre at Les Combes, that sense of competition—and the prospect of a repeat of the mouthwatering battles which defined April's Bahrain Grand Prix—was lost. 

From that perspective, Rosberg deserved to be booed on Sunday afternoon—and after Hamilton's unhelpful claims, it's something he'll have to very quickly get used to.