Feud: Hamilton, Rosberg not talkingComment on this story
Monaco - Lewis Hamilton could not even bring himself to look at Nico Rosberg, the winner of the Monaco Grand Prix.
Neither put his arm around the other’s shoulder for the podium pictures. They then travelled back to the paddock press conference in separate minibuses. They sat on the dais side by side without so much as a glance at each other.
The two World Championship contenders are not talking in private or public.
Rosberg winked at his manager, Georg Nolte. A smile constantly played across his lips. Hamilton, by contrast, glowered from under the long, straight brim of his Mercedes cap. He answered enquiries in a downbeat manner.
The source of the tension was Rosberg’s final lap in qualifying on Saturday, when he missed the Mirabeau turn and drove into an escape road. This brought out yellow caution flags, meaning that Hamilton had to abort his attempt to take pole position.
The stewards investigated the incident and exonerated Rosberg. The driver steward was Derek Warwick, a veteran of 146 grands prix and a man noted for probity and fairness.
THE PERFECT CRIME?
That, however, did not satisfy Hamilton. He believed Rosberg had deliberately thwarted him. If he did, it was the perfect crime.
So tense are relations that the two men did not share a room for their post-qualifying debrief. Hamilton said, slightly implausibly: “I went to the toilet and Nico did his debrief before I got there, which is unusual.”
Yesterday morning the froideur persisted. Hamilton rejected Rosberg’s apology and proffered hand. Niki Lauda, the Mercedes chairman, said: “This thing we have with Lewis accusing the other of doing something stupid, I tried to fix it this morning with Lewis but I couldn’t. If they hit each other at the first corner, then they have a problem with me.”
Rosberg was away cleanly so there was no chance of a collision and the race progressed as a predictable procession on Monaco’s narrow streets. Rosberg led from lights out to chequered flag to take a four-point lead over second-placed Hamilton in the standings. Daniel Ricciardo, of Red Bull, was third to go ahead of his world champion team-mate Sebastian Vettel, who retired with a faulty engine.
Hamilton, again, showed his petulant side in the cockpit. During the second of two safety car periods, after Adrian Sutil crashed his Sauber, both Mercedes came in, Rosberg first with Hamilton arriving at the pit box just as his team-mate was vacating it.
Hamilton was tetchy. “I can’t believe we just had to pit,” he said over the radio. “Can you just inform me of what options I have? We should have pitted on that lap before but I knew you wouldn’t call me in, guys.”
Later, when he had something in his eye and was told how close Ricciardo was getting to him, he said: “I don’t care about Ricciardo. I want to know what the gap is to Nico.”
Afterwards, Hamilton returned to the subject of qualifying and again argued the case against Rosberg by innuendo, saying: “I wish you could have seen the data. I’m sure you did see on TV. If you haven’t seen what was on TV then you should go and watch it. I saw something late on last night, and all I could do was smile.”
Pressed on the nature of the data he saw, Hamilton said: “I’m not going to tell you. I just wish you could see it. Then you could see for yourself.”
A straw poll of informed paddock observers returned a verdict split pretty much down the middle on Rosberg’s intentions.
There is a background to Saturday’s events. Sources within Mercedes have revealed Hamilton pressed the overtaking mode button on his steering wheel in the closing stages of the Spanish Grand Prix a fortnight ago despite being told by his engineers not to. The extra power enabled him to hold off Rosberg. Hamilton was admonished, Rosberg mentally noted the incident for future reference.
So it may be there was a tit-for-tat element to Rosberg’s actions as the clock ran down in qualifying: if you play dirty, I’ll play dirty.
Hamilton said last week he is hungrier for success because he comes from a Stevenage council estate rather than brought up in Monaco as Rosberg was (though Hamilton was lavishly funded by McLaren: a salary, a private tutor and a Mercedes). But both are tough and resilient.
As Lauda said: “You have to be a b****** if you want to win in Formula One. Tell me one nice guy out there. Do we start with Fernando Alonso? This is a breed of people who are 100 percent focused. They use every trick to blow the other one off. And in the same team it’s harder. Here it’s very tense.”
Hamilton, who at times wallows in his distress and wears it indulgently, was somewhat more sanguine after the official press conferences when speaking to a smaller group of journalists in the garage. “What doesn’t break you will make you stronger,” he said.
It is rare for an internal team rivalry to erupt so spectacularly as early as the sixth race of the season. Lauda is there to manage it. He is close to both drivers and speaks from experience as a three-time world champion.
“You can’t stop the rivalry,” he said. “One thing is clear, that Lewis, from my point of view, has a one or two tenths advantage over Nico. He can get the laps in qualifying.
“And Nico is working hard - my type - with the mechanics and engineers with the tyres. So we have one natural talent, very emotional. And we have another guy who is doing the same job in another way.
“We have two different drivers, but in the end they get the same results. So for me it’s a very good situation.”
Down the field, Marussia scored their first points in five years in the sport through Jules Bianchi’s ninth place, a contrast with fellow back-markers Caterham, whose owner Tony Fernandes has put them up for sale just as he is celebrating his football team, QPR, winning promotion to the Barclays Premier League.
Jenson Button was another notable achiever, moving from 12th on the grid to finish sixth for McLaren.
Thoughts turn to the next race in Montreal a fortnight hence and the next instalment of the Hamilton-Rosberg feud.
Will they have hugged and made up by then? “It will be a while,” said Hamilton.