File picture: Reuters.

London - Toto Wolff contemplates the enmity during three years of Mercedes’ unbroken domination. Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg were at each other’s throats, but which of them was the true schemer?

"The one who is no longer here," revealed Wolff, the team principal. "The vicious one. Nico just tried to use all the weapons he had."

Rosberg retired five days after winning last year’s world title, a sudden departure that threw Mercedes into a scramble for a replacement - the hard-working, phlegmatic Finn Valtteri Bottas, a selection that brought a calm where there had been tangles on and off track.

Despite Rosberg walking out on him, Wolff says he does not want to castigate his reigning world champion gratuitously. But he says: "There were all the psycho games that you can play to destabilise your rival.

"With Nico and Lewis there may be factors we do not even know about," referring to their rivalry going back to karting days as well as the social gulf between them, Rosberg being raised in Monaco with a silver spoon and Hamilton being a Stevenage council estate boy-done-good. "They came from very different environments and raced each other as they grew up. It’s not going to be all plain sailing when two team-mates have a car good enough to win the championship.

"Add in the luggage of the past and the games that are played. Each year there was a biggie (row) that had a major impact on their relationship. When you operate at that high level as a sportsman you are certainly sensitive. Both were. It affected them both."

I ask him if Rosberg’s gamesmanship extended to his deliberately crashing in Monaco during qualifying in 2014 to ruin Hamilton’s shot at pole. "I have an answer but I am thinking how you would write it," said Wolff, getting as close as he dare to suggesting Rosberg acted calculatingly - the overwhelming view of the paddock.

"It caused friction in the relationship. That was a big one." Rosberg knew he had to find clever ways to beat Hamilton, the naturally superior driver. He could not sustain the effort indefinitely and that appears to be part of the reason he walked out on his £18 million-a-year (R295m) contract.

But what has been the effect of that speedy getaway on Hamilton, whose victory in Canada last weekend left him 12 points off Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel but 36 ahead of Bottas? Is he still striving as hard now as when Rosberg was helping to create their competitive traction?

"Lewis is very gifted and talented, of course," said Wolff (above), an articulate 45-year-old Austrian. "He is a three-time world champion and he wouldn’t be that if he was not diligent and responsible with his homework.

"He does not do his work in a way that is so obvious. Some people would sit in a meeting for hours. He does his work quietly at home or on the aeroplane. He has found a way to relax his mind to get away from F1, and then come back concentrated.

"I remember I flew back from Shanghai some years ago with Mika Hakkinen after a race Vettel had won. Seb was sitting there, writing in a notebook, on and on. I said to Mika, 'The guy has won and he is still working so hard.'

"Mika, a double world champion with all that experience, said if he had done it the Vettel way he would have lost his natural ability to tackle a situation in the car. He didn’t want to dissect it into a million pieces. He wanted to feel the car naturally. This is true for Lewis. You just have to find your own way to operate. He puts in a lot of effort."

For all Hamilton projects through social media the jet-set part of his life, he carries a notebook around with him in the paddock, jotting down his thoughts.

Wolff is in close dialogue with Formula One’s new owner, Liberty Media, which seems largely to be speaking in platitudes as it plans a way forward for a sport to which the company is new.

He is alive to the danger of F1 becoming bland in its post-Bernie Ecclestone incarnation, saying: "I said to Liberty that the controversy Bernie caused by dropping hand grenades was what kept us in the news. It needs personalities to go against each other - drivers and team principals having the odd row.

"I’m not holding back. I want to be authentic. There are certain topics I can’t touch because I am representing Mercedes not Toto Wolff, but I will say what I think where I can and if somebody doesn’t like it, so be it."

It remains to be seen if "vicious" Rosberg takes Wolff’s description of him as a compliment or a curse.

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