Formula 1's Summer Break Has Taken Edge off 2014 Title Battle

Oliver Harden@@OllieHardenFeatured ColumnistAugust 19, 2014

Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg, front, of Germany followed by Mercedes Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain steers his car to clock the fastest time during the qualification at the German Formula One Grand Prix in Hockenheim, Germany, Saturday, July 19, 2014. The German Grand Prix will be held on Sunday, July 20, 2014. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer)
Jens Meyer/Associated Press

In the excitement of the unfolding title battle between Mercedes' Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton—not to mention the action behind the championship-leading pair—it is all too easy to innocently disregard just how relentless the first half of the 2014 Formula One season has been.

Members of the paddock—ranging from the stars of the show, to team officials, to mechanics, to truckies—will have traveled to a minimum of 11 countries across four continents in the five months between the beginning of March and the end of July.

Here, there and everywhere. Up and down. Doing this, doing that. Doing that, doing this. 

The same smells, the same noises. The same cars, the same colours, the same people.

The same protocol, the same procedure.

Every paddock of every circuit is different, yet, fundamentally, they are all identical.

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - JULY 25:  A Hungarian national flag flaps in the wind as people walk through the paddock during practice ahead of the Hungarian Formula One Grand Prix at Hungaroring on July 25, 2014 in Budapest, Hungary.  (Photo by Drew Gibson/Getty I
Drew Gibson/Getty Images
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For some, this is the dream. The prospect of their families becoming a set of unfamiliar faces is the necessary sacrifice to fulfill a childhood ambition.

For others, undoubtedly, it is a struggle—though they might never admit it.

Their home grand prix, wherever that may be, becomes a luxury. By the halfway point of the campaign, they are counting down the days.

The midsummer air represents escapism, respite from the draining schedule and over-familiarity. 

From that perspective, the now-traditional summer break is arguably the most important part of the F1 calendar, guarding the sport's community against physical, psychological and emotional exhaustion. 

HOCKENHEIM, GERMANY - JULY 20:  A general view of the grid before the start of the German Grand Prix at Hockenheimring on July 20, 2014 in Hockenheim, Germany.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
Dan Istitene/Getty Images

From the point of view of "the show", however—the angle that F1 so often likes to adopt—it is nothing short of disastrous.

The four-week gap between the Hungarian Grand Prix in Budapest and the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa Francorchamps is not so much the equivalent of the half-time whistle of a football match as it is an interval at the theatre. 

Even with the mandatory two-week factory shutdown, it is less about taking a breather and more about self-assessment, changing tactics and, if needs be, going back to basics for teams and drivers alike.

Would Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull Racing, for instance, have embarked on that devastating run of nine consecutive wins in the second half of last season had the gap between the races at the Hungaroring and Spa been as little as, say, two weeks?

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - NOVEMBER 24:  Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Infiniti Red Bull Racing celebrates on the podium after winning the Brazilian Formula One Grand Prix at Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace on November 24, 2013 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.  (Photo by Cliv
Clive Mason/Getty Images

It would have been possible, of course—but when you consider that Hamilton's surprise victory in Hungary seemed for all the world like a turning point in the 2013 title race at the time, the odds of Vettel responding instantly, within seven days or a fortnight, would have been considerably longer.

The lengthy postponement of battle means all that has occurred prior to the Belgian Grand Prix weekend will almost count for nothing when the 22 cars zoom up the hill of Eau Rouge.

SPA, BELGIUM - AUGUST 23:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP drives thru Eau Rouge during practice for the Belgian Grand Prix at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on August 23, 2013 in Spa, Belgium.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
Clive Mason/Getty Images

For teams and drivers such as Vettel, Ferrari, Kimi Raikkonen, Lotus and Sauber—to name just a few—that is no bad thing.

But against the backdrop of the fight for the world championship, do we really want to start from scratch?

The true beauty of the scrap between Hamilton and Rosberg, after all, is how the momentum has changed hands on an almost weekly basis all season long.

And the most recent boiling point in a campaign of twists and turns, ups and downs, came, you might recall, at the Hungaroring last month, when Hamilton ignored the instructions of his team—let's refrain from calling them team orders, shall we?—to let Rosberg, who was on a different tyre strategy, through unchallenged.

You know the story: Hamilton refused repeatedly, with the 2008 world champion ultimately finishing third, one place above his Mercedes teammate.

Immediately after the race, Rosberg, with a face the colour of beetroot, kept it simple and played any questions about the incident with the straightest possible bat.

He was quoted by Sky Sports' Pete Gill as stating:

The team informed that he was going to let me through but I don't know what happened. We need to discuss internally. But I am still in the lead of the World Championship and I'll come back from the summer break on full attack mode.

Ever the thinker, Rosberg, only minutes out of the car, recognised the summer break as an opportunity to restore tranquility and would not allow himself—no matter how much his reddening complexion punctured his armour—to be dragged into a heat-of-the-moment tirade.

And those four weeks away from the heat of battle came at the ideal time, protecting Rosberg from encountering the same situation which faced Hamilton post-qualifying in Monaco: The perceived feeling of being wronged by your teammate.

Just how would Rosberg, F1 2014's great pragmatist, have dealt with the predicament had the Spa weekend imminently followed Hungary? 

Would he, like Hamilton in Monaco, Canada and Austria, have been blinded by the need to get revenge and end up over-driving the car to his own detriment?

Luca Bruno/Associated Press

Or would he have been the same old Nico, accepting what happened had happened and continued to drive with the championship standings in mind?

We will, unfortunately, never know the answer to a question that would have revealed so much more about the German's world-title credentials.

As Rosberg's Twitter feed has proven, there is no cure to being—in his view—mistreated by your teammate quite like a pizza in Naples, Italy.

There is little doubt that F1's summer break, in its current form since 2009, has had a positive impact, adding a welcome humane element to a sport that is so often accused of being painfully robotic.

But an unwanted consequence of a month away is the possible distortion of the world-championship landscape, especially in a season as finely poised as 2014, with the tiniest advantage—on or off-track—set to count for so much in the long run.

With that in mind, the events of the last four weeks could prove to be more decisive in the title race than you might otherwise think.


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