Former F1 driver Nico Rosberg has ruffled some feathers. Photo: Aly Song/Reuters

MONZA  Retired world champion Nico Rosberg has moved to defuse a Formula One spat after his former Mercedes team mate Lewis Hamilton suggested the German had become "irrelevant".

Rosberg, who hung up his helmet days after winning the 2016 title, told followers of his YouTube blog that he would "try and change my tone a little bit" when he discussed his former rivals.

Hamilton, heading for his sixth title this season, made his comments after Red Bull's Max Verstappen hit back at criticism from Rosberg, who is now a Sky Sports television pundit and YouTube blogger.

The Dutch 21-year-old suggested Rosberg was just being controversial to attract viewers, and said the son of 1982 champion Keke should have stayed in Formula One if he needed the money.

He also compared him to 1997 world champion Jacques Villeneuve, known for forthright and often controversial opinions about the sport.

Hamilton then published on Instagram a snapshot of a website story quoting Verstappen's response, with a clapping emoji and the comment "this had me in stitches!".

Asked after Italian Grand Prix qualifying about his post, and what he thought of Rosberg's comments, Hamilton made a further dig at his former team mate while siding with Verstappen.

"I think Max is generally a really funny guy so I was cracking up when I saw it," he said.

"Unfortunately, drivers become irrelevant when they retire and ultimately have to hang on to utilise other people’s light to keep them in the light and so...but that’s the way of sport, I guess," he said.

Rosberg, who was close to Hamilton in their go-karting days and in junior series before the relationship grew increasingly frosty when they were Formula One team mates, said he could understand where Hamilton and Verstappen were coming from.

"When I was still active one of the things I hated most was ex-drivers or journalists telling me about comments that ex-drivers made about me, which came across in a critical way," he said.

"In my case it was often David Coulthard. It would drive me nuts, seriously it was horrible.

"So now we have the situation that journalists have been relaying some of my stuff, or some comments I said that were negative, to Lewis or even Max...you can imagine journalists must have annoyed him pretty much if he Insta stories about me.

"So I need to make a little bit of a change there because I don't want (to upset) those guys, my ex-colleagues, whom I respect a lot." 

Reuters