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