WHAT IS A WINGMAN?

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The 2018 Formula One season is on a break after the Hungarian Grand Prix gave us yet another blockbuster of a race at the Hungaroring as Lewis Hamilton took his fifth victory of the season and extended his championship lead after comfortably leading from start to finish with Vettel taking second despite taking a hit from Bottas when the Mercedes driver locked up after being passed for second with five laps to go. Kimi Raikkonen took the final podium position while Bottas further slumped to fifth as he ‘assaulted’ (in Christian Horner’s words) Daniel Ricciardo in a collision with the Red Bull driver. In a circuit in which team Red Bull believed had its best chance of a victory since Austria, Max Verstappen retired after 5 laps due to a power unit issue. Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly, Haas’ Kevin Magnussen, McLaren’s Fernando Alonso, Renault’s Carlos Sainz and Haas’ Romain Grosjean rounded up the points in descending order.

But the talking point this weekend wasn’t about a racing incident. Rather, it was a post-race comment from a team boss about his own driver. After fending off the Ferraris for most of the race (preventing Vettel from giving fans the nail-biting finish they hoped to see) as his teammate drove into the sunset, Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff said of driver Valtteri Bottas’ effort: “It feels a bit bittersweet, I don’t know why, because Valtteri would have deserved a podium because he was such a sensational wingman.”

Definition of Wingman

Merriam-Webster Dictionary

  • a pilot who flies behind and outside the leader of a flying formation
  • informal : a male friend or partner who accompanies and supports a man in some activity

The Finn was least impressed, telling TV reporters: “First of all, wingman hurts. Second of all I don’t see any positives for me. We thought we should have been able to do that one-stop…” When further asked about his wingman status, Bottas replied: “I think we need to speak after this race. We are over half way of the year. The points gap is big so I’m sure the team will decide at some point.”

After the German Grand Prix, Bottas denied suggestions that he will be forced to support Lewis Hamilton’s title bid against Sebastian Vettel after team orders to stand down behind the Brit at Hockenheimring. Mercedes used team orders at last season’s Hungarian Grand Prix. In that case, Bottas let Hamilton through so he could attack the leading Ferraris but was required to give back the position, which he did after being unable to make an overtake.

Though Bottas denies he is isn’t in the know of him being used to hold back the Ferraris, it is difficult to agree. Some sections of fans believe Valtteri was hurt because his boss had publicly and ‘officially’ called him Driver No. 2. The Finn, who hasn’t won a race since Abu Dhabi last season, said each situation will be decided on a ”case by case” basis, and he reaffirmed that he has equal treatment within the team. Probably the team had decided in this case that he be used this way. If only Vettel had made a clean pitstop…

Toto Wolff later clarified the wingman comments, saying his wingman statement was not in championship terms. He also insisted that the team has no number 1 and number 2 driver and this Bottas’ best race so far with the Brackley-based team. Bottas subsequently back-tracked on his own remarks, posting a message of support for Wolff and Mercedes on social media. Hamilton later thanked and praised his teammate on social media for his efforts which helped extend his lead over Vettel to 24 points. “Without his great drive, the team may not have won today, would have been very tight at the end. But, thanks to his fight, he helped enable us to come away with three more points as a team than Ferrari.”

Both Mercedes drivers recently had extended their contracts with the team. We don’t want to see Valtteri become a Kimi, not in 2018, not in 2019. It would do the F1 world much good if Valtteri becomes a Rosberg, going head-to-head his more illustrious teammate but not risking valuable constructor points in the process. Constructors tend to unofficially have a number 1 driver based on their team orders and strategies for their drivers as a season enters its business end. Scuderia Ferrari has not officially announced that Kimi is Driver No. 2 but based on team orders and strategy, it’s very obvious his position in the team and he’s doing a pretty good job with a lot of odds against him most times. Aston Martin Red Bull Racing allows its drivers to race each other, hence the occasional clash between Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen and the defying of team orders. Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport don’t want to see a 2016 Spanish and Austrian GP repeat again.

As Valtteri Bottas goes on break with the rest of his fellow drivers, fans expect him to return with fire in his belly, giving Lewis Hamilton a Rosberg-like challenge, also giving Toto Wolff and Niki Lauda no chance of seemingly suppressing his efforts with orders. It’s unfair to say that a fifth-place finish is the best race of a driver for a team in which he has won three races and finished on the podium eighteen times!

One thing is certain, fans already can’t wait for Spa.

By Ekwonye Osy Ernesto

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