This Sunday the Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg will go head to had once again in the Canadian Grand Prix and over the weekend Hamilton took steps to tone down the bitter atmosphere, which had sprung up between them in Monaco.
He posted a tweet with a photo of the pair as kids saying, “We’ve been friends a long time & as friends we have our ups & downs. Today we spoke & we’re cool, still friends #noproblem”
This is worth a moment’s examination.
First it is clear that Hamilton does not – at this stage at least – want this to escalate into a full blown feud, like Mansell and Piquet or Prost and Senna from the past. Both of these were triggered by a breakdown in trust, as was the start of the Hamilton/Rosberg tension.
The build up to Monaco featured both drivers illicitly using a maximum engine mode (Rosberg in Bahrain and Hamilton in Spain) against team wishes. That has been stamped out. But then the affair blew up in Monaco, with Hamilton clearly miffed that Rosberg had deliberately blocked his final run in qualifying to take pole and set himself up for the win. He left no-one in any doubt about that and on Saturday even murmured about taking a leaf from Senna’s book. Post race he was asked about that and said that he hadn’t done that, clearly; in other words he hadn’t taken Rosberg out at the first corner.
Hamilton wanted to turn Monaco to his advantage, but instead he did the opposite: he came across as a bad loser, upset many of his own fans with the way he carried himself, he attracted criticism from some leading lights such as John Surtees, Mika Hakkinen and even FIA steward Derek Warwick. And, of course, the stewards found no proof that Rosberg had done it deliberately.
Hamilton has reflected on these reactions and this has clearly informed his decision to patch things up with Rosberg.
Another important aspect, which he will have realised, is that Montreal is likely to favour him, as he has a fantastic record around there, with three wins and three poles. Along with Hungary it has always been a circuit which suits him more than any other driver out there. Mercedes will have a significant car advantage there and he wants a nice clean weekend, focussed on the job of getting pole, the win and the championship lead back; no distractions.
He does not want to have to fend off media questions about Monaco, Rosberg and all the rest of it. Monaco showed that Rosberg can play that game better. Hamilton’s best approach is to try to beat Rosberg on the track and keep his powder dry on their rivalry.
It is true that they have been friends for many years and that this counts for something. It certainly differentiates them from the other high profile team mate feuds of the past.
On the one hand it shows sensible management of the situation, but it comes only after his instinctive handling of the situation in Monaco backfired. Not for the first time, he has had to change position.
Although it makes a more compelling narrative for the media and encourages the fans to tune in to watch, emotion needs to be kept out of his title campaign.
It is there for the taking; but mastering himself is as important as mastering Rosberg.