[Updated] “Strike one to Lewis,” said Hamilton’s former team mate Jenson Button, after the Malaysian Grand Prix, where the Briton beat his current team mate Nico Rosberg by almost 20 seconds.
It was an important psychological blow for Hamilton, but Rosberg seemed calm, knowing that he had extended his lead in the world championship.
“I can’t remember the last time in my career I had a gap like that, with a team mate, in the same car,” said Hamilton to a small group of reporters after the race. According to some quotes in the British newspapers, Hamilton claims he “blew him away”, meaning Rosberg.
In fact his quote was “I was pulling away” – it was misquoted from an audio recording which has been heard by this website.
“Lewis was out of my reach,” admitted Rosberg after the race. “I was just trying to chase him but he was a bit too quick today. It was a bit difficult out there because the track was really poor, it seemed, sliding so much, and just struggling with the rear tyres especially. That made it a bit difficult.”
There is no question that the in-house battle between the two old friends, Hamilton and Rosberg, is going to provide great entertainment and interest this season, with both knowing that they have a car capable of making them world champion, but only one of them able to take it.
For all Rosberg’s pace in practice and in qualifying, Hamilton has taken pole twice this season when it’s mattered; the Malaysia one being particularly impressive given the wet conditions. Rosberg had the edge on intermediate tyres early in the session, Hamilton was faster on full wets in the deluge.
Hamilton had a significant edge in the race and was able to enhance his reputation for managing these complex new cars with ERS and fuel management to be considered as well as tyre management.
But it was noticeable that Rosberg’s handling issues, which had not shown up in practice and appeared from nowhere in the race were a concern for the team, taking a little of the shine off the first Mercedes 1-2 of the modern era.
In the back-stabby world of F1 paddock gossip, senior figures in rival teams are convinced that Mercedes would like the German (Rosberg) to win the championship, in the same way as the received wisdom in 2009/10 was that Red Bull’s bosses wanted their own graduate Vettel to be champion rather than the “outsider” driver Mark Webber.
There is no sense of that at close quarters from Mercedes. They know Hamilton is the greater talent, which is why he is paid the big bucks, but they also have huge respect for Rosberg and see no limit to what he can achieve. It doesn’t feel pre-ordained from a close study of the operation.
Next stop Bahrain: Hamilton has never had pole or a win there, but has scored podiums. Rosberg was on pole last year and it is a track which suits his style, so the competition between them will be intense once more.