IN THE DRIVER'S SEAT
RACING drivers have nerves of steel and battle wheel-to-wheel at 320kmh without batting an eyelid, right?
Well, yes and no. And no race this year highlighted better than the British Grand Prix just how finely poised the mental edge can sometimes be in the heat of battle.
As Lewis Hamilton sped to his fifth victory of the year and reduced a 29-point deficit to only four after Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg finally hit trouble and did not finish, Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso waged a brilliant duel.
Their memorable tussle saw them almost touch wheels several times while they swopped places frequently. If you read their PR-sanitised comments afterwards, both drivers seemed nonchalant about it but their radio commentaries told a very different tale.
Between Laps 37 and 47, they thrilled a 120,000-strong crowd with their fight, which was Grand Prix racing at its finest.
But the men in the cockpits were most definitely not happy with one another.
Alonso had truly been mighty as he worked up from 13th to fifth by Lap 34, his move on Daniel Ricciardo in the Vale corner on Lap 6 drawing huge applause. And later, for lap after lap, he gave Vettel a masterful lesson in defensive driving without ever overstepping the line.
"He can't do that, I would have crashed into him," Vettel raged to his crew on one occasion, when Alonso had the temerity to withstand his challenge.
"He didn't leave me the space. I could easily have given him a puncture," he screamed on another.
Alonso in turn complained bitterly that Vettel was exceeding track limits, and later alleged that he had finally overtaken his Ferrari by using his DRS for too long.
Not quite nerves of steel and stoic silence, then.
What a fabulous insight.
Meanwhile, Rosberg had discussed the mental edge after taking a surprise pole position right from under an aghast Hamilton's nose on a damp Saturday.
"I've never talked about trying to get a psychological edge," he countered.
"What I've been saying is that the momentum seems to be on my side and I just need to make the most of it. I have a period now when it's going my way and need to make sure I get as many points as possible on Lewis. And it's working out at the moment."
But this is the first time that Rosberg has not finished this season and it changes the dynamic.
Hamilton now believes that a line has been drawn beneath the first nine races.
"Yesterday (Saturday), I went away feeling terrible for the fans because I let them down," he admitted.
"It was a kick in the b***s and I had to pick myself up.
To turn that emptiness and negativity into a positive today was my main priority.
"Now, I believe that I can focus on the remaining 10 races and really start to capitalise on my pace and avoid making mistakes."
The pendulum is swinging back in his favour and, now, it is Rosberg's turn to fret.
This article was first published on July 8, 2014.
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