If Saturday’s cold body language between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg – following the qualifying incident in which Rosberg claimed pole – suggested that the pair’s relationship had reached wintry levels, the icy words that followed Rosberg’s win ahead of Hamilton confirmed that things have now become positively arctic.
Although comparisons with the toxic team-mate relationship between Senna and Prost are premature, the basis of that was a breakdown of trust, which the team could not repair.
There has been a breakdown of trust between Hamilton and Rosberg in the last few races, with illicit use of engine modes and now the qualifying incident in Monaco.
Niki Lauda has pledged to reconcile the pair, but Hamilton looks like he’s gone into siege mentality – is he minded to play his part in a reconciliation?
It will be interesting to see whether Lauda’s efforts put an elastoplast over the situation, or a proper long-term fix.
Hamilton went on the offensive straight away following Rosberg’s win saying during the podium interviews that he felt he [Hamilton] had had great pace in the race and in an apparent reference to the previous day’s qualifying session that “fortunately we didn’t make any mistakes”.
His next broadside came in the FIA press conference where Hamilton again referred to fairness in the battle between the drivers.
“I had very good pace. I drove with all my heart and gave it all I could, fairly, and I feel like I drove fairly all weekend,” he said pointedly. “So I leave today quite happy and I can go into the next race with even more energy and determination.”
The Briton went to cast more of his own suspicions on Rosberg’s actions on Saturday. Asked if he had been in the room while Rosberg’s post-session debrief had taken place Hamilton said: “I was in there. I went to the toilet and Nico did his big debrief before I got there, which is unusual. Usually, we do it when we’re both in the same room but as I came up I did mine and fortunately the engineers had written down what Nico had said so I read it.”
What Hamilton was getting at was unclear, but Rosberg, for his part, toed a careful PR line when questioned about the growing animosity between the two drivers.
Asked if he and his team-mate would “sit down, have pizza and work it out”, the German insisted there was no conflict.
“It’s fine. We’ve had discussions and the benefit we have is that we’ve known each other for so long. We always sit down and discuss it and then move on and that’s what we’re doing this weekend also,” he said.
Rosberg did, however, use the occasion of the press conference to wage a small slice of psychological warfare on his team-mate, saying twice that the Monaco victory had broken Hamilton’s recent momentum.
“It’s a special win, definitely, because Lewis has had the momentum with the results and everything and I really needed to try to break that momentum and I managed to do that this weekend. Of course taking the leading again in the world championship and winning here in Monaco, yeah, all in all really, really cool.”
Rosberg also denied that he had told a German newspaper that Hamilton was prone to cracking under pressure.
“That is definitely very, very far from anything that I’ve ever said and ever would say,” he said. “Definitely not, and I’ve known Lewis for many, many years and he’s always been strong, among other things mentally, so I’m definitely not expecting him to crack any time soon, that’s for sure. It’s going to be a tough battle, which is going to be ongoing, but I would never say something like that.”
Hamilton was clearly frustrated during the race. When brought into the pits in the wake of the Safety Car’s emergence following Adrian Sutil’s crash a third of the way into the race, Hamilton repeatedly questioned the timing of the stop and the strategy behind it.
Later in asking for details of the gaps in the race and being informed of his advantage to Ricciardo, the Briton snapped that he didn’t care about that gap but wanted to know the deficit to Rosberg.
Quizzed about this attitude to the pit stop following the race, Hamilton was evasive.
“I don’t remember to be honest. I don’t,” he said. “I think they saw a crash and normally under the crash we could have come in and I really should have come in but the team didn’t call us in. We really should have pitted that lap.”
He was also evasive when asked about his comment of Saturday when he said he would handle the situation of Rosberg’s pole position “like Senna”. Asked to explain the comment Hamilton said: “I don’t know. I can’t really remember to be honest. I think it was just a joke. Obviously I didn’t.”
Asked if the gloves were now off in his battle with Rosberg, Hamilton said: “There is a fierce battle between me and Nico and it will continue that way to I’m sure quite late in the season. Nico’s not had a single hiccup through the season so far. Obviously I had a car that didn’t finish in Melbourne but otherwise it’s still quite close, so I’m just going to keep my head up, keep pushing.”
The final nail in the coffin of the duo’s friendship, which stretches back to their karting days, came, however, when Hamilton spoke to broadcasters after the press conference. Speaking about the relationship with Rosberg, Hamilton bluntly stated: “We are not friends. We are colleagues.”
Rosberg, too, cooled in the wake of the conference. “I don’t want to comment about Lewis in any way,” he told German television. “‘Friends’ is a big word. We work well together.”
It’s clear the battle lines between the two side of the Mercedes garage are being drawn deeper and deeper and it seems that the feud will only become more bitter as the season progresses.
Hamilton’s good fortune is that he has a chance to bounce back next week on one of his favourite tracks, Montreal, where he has won three times and had three pole positions.