The Irish Mail on Sunday


Rosberg forces Lewis to abort his f inal lap in qualifying

- Jonathan McEvoy From Jonathan McEvoy

TAMARA Ecclestone totters past the yachts on her high-heeled Jimmy Choo’s to air-kiss Naomi Campbell. The heiress to a £5billion fortune meets the supermodel. In the minutes before today’s Monaco Grand Prix this thin thread of tarmac next to the Med will be the world’s most exclusive catwalk. A horde of photograph­ers will scramble to capture this gaudy parade of sashaying stars. Tamara and her husband, Jay Rutland (far left), pop brat Justin Bieber (below) and British singer Pixie Lott (left) will be clicked furiously. The weekend is dotted with glamorous social engagement­s. At Friday’s annual fashion show, Tamara sat next to Prince Albert. The Prince last night hosted perhaps the most exclusive of all events – the cocktail party in the Grimaldi Palace overlookin­g the harbour. Two hundred or so of the great and the good are invited.

The Prince will host the traditiona­l gala dinner tonight. This is still black tie. The race winner sits next to the Prince and Princess Charlene.

If you look closely at Monte Carlo you can see some frayed edges: ugly buildings and face lifts that have fallen flat. As Somerset Maugham observed, it can be ‘a sunny place for shady people’.

But, still, this is the only venue on the calendar which pays Tamara’s father Bernie Ecclestone no money for the privilege of staging a grand prix. ‘Monaco does more for us than we do for it,’ conceded Ecclestone. Who can argue? THE veil of friendship has been wrenched from the Formula One World Championsh­ip in sunlit Monaco after Lewis Hamilton appeared to threaten to drive Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg off the track as revenge for the manner in which the German took pole position yesterday.

The drama started as Rosberg, who already held the fastest time, pushed hard in his final qualifying lap. Braking from 160mph into the Mirabeau, he lost control. Rather than taking the corner, he steered his car unscathed into a small runoff area.

Behind him, Hamilton was on target to snatch pole position from Rosberg. But as he arrived at Mirabeau, Rosberg was reversing on to the track. Yellow caution flags were waved and Hamilton had to abort his attempt.

The question was whether Rosberg had deliberate­ly gone off to ensure pole. Had he done what Michael Schumacher did at the Rascasse corner in 2006, when he blocked Fernando Alonso’s last lap? For that act of cheating, Schumacher was sent to the back of the grid, his reputation tarnished.

Hamilton’s body language suggested he thought his team-mate had erred, even though the stewards ultimately ruled he had not. His face told of sullen indignatio­n as he posed unwillingl­y for the post-qualifying pictures of the top three. For the record, Daniel Ricciardo was third.

When asked if he would discuss the matter with Rosberg. Hamilton said: ‘I don’t know if [Ayrton] Senna and [Alain] Prost talked about it, but I quite liked the way Senna dealt with that, so I’ll take a page out of his book.’

He could have been referring to several incidents, or the poisonous atmosphere between the great rivals, but most observers thought he was referring to Senna turning his car into Prost at the start of the 1990 Japanese Grand Prix.

A night’s sleep will probably have encouraged him to abandon such notions, but the dynamics of this title fight have changed irrevocabl­y. The mateyness has not lasted into the sixth race of the 19-round season, and we observers can say hurrah for that. The disintegra­tion began in earnest when Hamilton suggested this week he was hun- grier than Rosberg because his childhood was poorer.

Hamilton was almost mnosyllabi­c in the aftermath of yesterday’s controvers­y. Asked what he thought about hearing over the radio that the yellow flags had been waved, he said: ‘Not much really.’

Asked to elaborate, he replied: ‘Not really much. I didn’t really think of anything. The lap was done and that was that.’ Asked if he thought Rosberg had stopped on purpose, he said: ‘Potentiall­y.’

The paddock were split. Damon Hill, the 1996 champion, exonerated Rosberg. Johnny Herbert, a former team-mate of Schumacher, raised doubts. Jackie Stewart, the triple world champion, said he Rosberg had not strayed from sportsmans­hip.

Rosberg’s father Keke, world champion in 1982, stood outside the Mercedes motorhome. He, we recall, had criticised Schumacher as ‘a cheap cheat’ for the Rascasse disgrace.

Three-and-a-quarter hours after qualifying ended, the stewards cleared ‘the driver of car six’ after ‘examining video and telemetry data from the team and FIA’.

What next? Prost said only a few days ago: ‘One little problem… and then the feuding could start really very quickly.’

The best hope of Hamilton passing Rosberg is presented at the first corner – if he resists any urge to drive him off. Otherwise, the thin track will work to Rosberg’s advantage.

That is but one reason why yesterday was balm to the German. He had been outperform­ed in most critical moments of the opening races and needed to arrest the slump. In doing so, he has also possibly damaged Hamilton’s sometimes brittle psyche. How he will recover today will be intriguing and instructiv­e.

Stewart said: ‘I spent my life as a profession­al driver trying to take emotion out of it. You cannot afford to be happy or angry. I am surprised Lewis reacted the way he did.’

But how will Hamilton react at the first corner today?

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