The European Grand Prix in Baku was going to be a prang-fest, it was said, with wrecked cars, bruised bodies, multiple safety cars and damaged medieval walls on this tightly cornered street circuit.
However, the only talking point after Nico Rosberg had won on Sunday for the fifth time this season, to extend his lead over his Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton to 24 points, concerned radio messages between teams and drivers.
Hamilton looked like a helpless, “Mayday, mayday, mayday” screaming radio ham as he struggled to get any information from his pitwall. He was seen fumbling with a steering wheel that has 45 individual controls, and thousands of possible options overall. Hamilton started back in 10th place on the grid but still had realistic hopes of coming second after making quick gains in the opening laps; he finished fifth, taking only 10 points to Rosberg’s 25. Hamilton lost power in the second half of the race and by the time the problem had been solved only 12 laps remained and Hamilton’s hopes of a podium finish were long gone. It ruined a run of form in which he had won the previous two races, in Monaco and Montreal to cut Rosberg’s lead from 43 to nine points. But now the pressure is on the world champion to come back once more, in the next race in Austria in a fortnight.
After the Baku race, however, it emerged that both Mercedes cars had suffered energy recovery issues and that Rosberg had been more adept, or perhaps a little luckier, in fixing his.
Toto Wolff, the Mercedes head of motorsport, said: “We had a problem on both cars. It was the configuration of some switches. Lewis’s problem came a bit earlier, Nico’s a couple of laps later. There was a way of changing the switches on the dashboard, but by regulations, we are not allowed to communicate with the drivers. And this caused a bit of confusion and it took a while on Lewis’s car to reset.”
A Mercedes spokesman said later: “It was a configuration not working properly, not the driver’s fault. But the radio rules complicated things drastically: without this, it would have been solved immediately.”
Perhaps the rule-makers have tweaked things a little too far. The double world champion Fernando Alonso appeared to think so when he said: “They give us a spaceship to drive, with the technology we have, and now we have no information available. Sometimes it’s difficult to know what’s happening with the car and what solution to do.”
Ultimately Hamilton, who had been the dominant driver in all three practice sessions, paid for a poor performance on Saturday. 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. But the driver of the day was surely Sergio Pérez.
On Saturday, he had been the second quickest but was hit with a five-place grid penalty for crashing in Friday Practice 3. He deserved his third place in his Force India behind Sebastian Vettel. He passed Kimi Raikkonen in the closing stages .