Hamilton wary of enemy within as Bottas begins to flex his muscles
Lewis Hamilton has smoothed out many of his rougher edges as a five-time world champion, but he still retains a weakness as a conspiracy theorist.
Pressed on the prospect of a fearsome challenge this season from a team-mate, with fellow Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas one point clear in the World Championship ahead of tomorrow's Spanish Grand Prix, he could not resist rekindling the fires of his infamous 2016 duel with Nico Rosberg, which he lost at the final race.
"Things happened that you guys just don't know about," Hamilton said, cryptically. What types of things? An enigmatic smile. Does he ever intend to divulge them? "Maybe one day, when I write a book, when I retire."
Where Hamilton's relationship with Rosberg was piquant to the point of explosive, his dynamic with the Finn has been more vanilla in flavour.
They do not share the same history as karting rivals and, crucially, Bottas has so far posed scant threat to the reigning champion, recording zero wins in 2018 to Hamilton's 11.
This is how Mercedes like it: the team principal Toto Wolff has little desire to re-enact the role of a marriage counsellor, keeping team-mates from each other's throats. Bottas has performed well enough to keep his seat, but not too well to cause ructions. Although that serenity could soon be shattered.
For Bottas has attacked his past four races in the manner of a man desperate to outsmart his detractors. "To those it may concern, f*** you," he said over the in-car radio, after taking victory in Melbourne. A subsequent win in Baku, taking him clear of Hamilton in the standings, proved that his resurgent Australian display was no aberration.
It is highly debatable whether Bottas can live with Hamilton's brilliance over the course of a nine-month campaign.
If he is worried by Bottas's sudden turn of pace - his team-mate was fastest again in second practice yesterday - then he is yet to show it.
Had he noticed any difference in Bottas as an adversary in 2019?
"Not much," Hamilton shrugged. "Apart from the beard. He seems a bit more focused, perhaps."
That much is self-evident: Bottas spent his winter in a mood of deep introspection, releasing his frustrations through vodka sessions and an appearance in the Arctic Lapland Rally.
For now, the impression of bonhomie is intact. But should Bottas take another win in Barcelona this weekend, Hamilton might not be so inclined to continue the happy-families act.
© Daily Telegraph, London
- Spanish Grand Prix Qualifying, Live, Sky Sports, 2.0