Af­ter Monaco it’s devil take the hind­most...

F1 Racing - - INSIDER -

Es­ca­lat­ing ten­sions be­tween Ros­berg and Hamil­ton preMonaco are re­vealed, while Mercedes in­sist they have the sit­u­a­tion un­der con­trol

It was only a mat­ter of time be­fore the in­creas­ingly in­tense ti­tle fight be­tween Mercedes team-mates Lewis Hamil­ton and Nico Ros­berg reached a flash point. It fi­nally hap­pened in Monaco, the sixth race of the sea­son.

The trig­ger was Ros­berg’s trip down the es­cape road at Mirabeau on his fi­nal run in qual­i­fy­ing, which pre­vented Hamil­ton, be­hind him on the track, from com­plet­ing his own last lap and po­ten­tially beat­ing his team-mate to pole.

Hamil­ton felt the “mis­take” was any­thing but, and he was not alone. The stew­ards’ de­ci­sion to clear Ros­berg mol­li­fied Hamil­ton not one bit.

Mercedes non-ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Niki Lauda ad­mit­ted the two had “ar­gued about whether Nico did it de­lib­er­ately” that af­ter­noon, and Hamil­ton was still seething af­ter be­ing beaten into sec­ond place in the race.

His mood was not im­proved by the fact that he had glimpsed a chance to pass Ros­berg when the Safety Car came out for the sec­ond time fol­low­ing a crash by Sauber’s Adrian Su­til. How­ever, the team waited un­til the Safety Car was ac­tu­ally de­ployed to call the two in at the same time – af­ter they had passed the pits for the first time fol­low­ing the shunt.

That call pre­served Ros­berg’s lead, and was in line with the rule that the first driver on the track gets pri­or­ity on pit­stop strat­egy.

But Hamil­ton knew that had he pit­ted as soon as Su­til crashed, be­fore the team made the call, he would have passed Ros­berg. Hamil­ton did not, in­stead ex­press­ing his frus­tra­tion over the ra­dio, say­ing he knew both that he should have come in, and that the team would not call him in.

So why didn’t he come in? Did he not want to up­set in­tra-team har­mony any fur­ther? Did he want to re­tain the moral high ground by look­ing as if he was do­ing the right thing, with so many people be­liev­ing Ros­berg had not?

Hamil­ton did not dis­guise the fact that he felt Ros­berg had acted de­lib­er­ately. “We’ve sat down and cleared what­ever air needed to be cleared,” he told F1 Rac­ing af­ter the race. “We’ve been through the data and seen what needed to be seen. I wish you guys could see it.”

A few days later, Hamil­ton did his best to calm the sit­u­a­tion, tak­ing to Twit­ter to an­nounce: “We’ve been friends a long time and as friends we have had our ups and downs. To­day we spoke, and we’re cool, still friends.”

The sit­u­a­tion in Monaco led to other de­tails com­ing to light, which made it clear that while Monaco was the cat­a­lyst, ten­sion had been brew­ing for some time. It emerged that Hamil­ton, on his way to vic­tory in Spain, had used an en­gine-boost mode the team had banned the driv­ers from em­ploy­ing in races. Pre­sented with this ac­cu­sa­tion in the post-race news con­fer­ence in Monaco, Hamil­ton re­torted: “Nico did it in Bahrain” – this was the same race at which Ros­berg had ra­dioed the team to com­plain of a ‘chop’ from Hamil­ton at Turn 2, de­mand­ing they “warn him that was not on”. And in the run-up to Monaco, Hamil­ton had given an in­ter­view to the of­fi­cial For­mula 1 web­site, in which he com­pared his and Ros­berg’s lev­els of de­sire to win the ti­tle, say­ing: “I come from a not-great place in Steve­nage and lived on a couch in my dad’s apart­ment. Nico grew up in Monaco with jets and ho­tels and boats and all these kind of things, so the hunger is dif­fer­ent.”

Ros­berg, mean­while, said af­ter the Monaco weekend how im­por­tant it had been to halt his team-mate’s run of four straight vic­to­ries: “Lewis had the re­sult mo­men­tum and I had to try to bring that to an end. I did that to­day but it’s go­ing to be close to the end.”

Hamil­ton’s be­lief that Ros­berg was pre­pared to re­sort to foul play to do so will per­haps have given him a dif­fer­ent view of his “friend”s level of hunger. What the pair ac­tu­ally mean when they re­fer to be­ing “friends” is un­clear. Even be­fore Monaco, each had ad­mit­ted that they may be friendly, but they are not best friends.

Af­ter Monaco, Hamil­ton said: “It’s never go­ing to be per­fect be­cause we’re fierce com­peti­tors, so you can never ex­pect us to be best friends. But we will re­main re­spect­ful I think. Or I will try to re­main re­spect­ful.”

It adds depth to an al­ready fas­ci­nat­ing bat­tle be­tween two very dif­fer­ent driv­ers. Mercedes non-ex­ec­u­tive chair­man, Niki Lauda, summed it up like this: “One thing is clear. Lewis from my point of view has a 0.1-0.2secs ad­van­tage on Nico be­cause he can get the laps in qual­i­fy­ing in or­der. Nico is work­ing hard – my type – with the me­chan­ics, with the en­gi­neers, with the tyres, how many laps, for­wards and back­wards.

“So we have one nat­u­ral talent, very emo­tional, and we have an­other guy who is do­ing the same job in an­other way. So we are in a very com­fort­able sit­u­a­tion to have two dif­fer­ent driv­ers, but in the end they do the same speed, or the same re­sult. So, for me, it is a very good sit­u­a­tion.”

How long it will be pos­si­ble to de­scribe the sit­u­a­tion as ‘good’ re­mains to be seen.

Ros­berg’s con­tro­ver­sial pole al­lowed him to lead Hamil­ton over the line in Monaco

Ros­berg’s sec­ond win of 2014 – takes him marginally ahead of Hamil­ton again in the points

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