Friday 15 December 2017

Rosberg fumes at 'selfish' Hamilton as tensions return despite one-two finish

Race Winner Lewis Hamilton celebrates with the trophy following the Formula One Grand Prix of China at Shanghai International Circuit
Race Winner Lewis Hamilton celebrates with the trophy following the Formula One Grand Prix of China at Shanghai International Circuit

Daniel Johnson

Has there ever been a more definitive case study in how quickly a humbling defeat can prompt hostility and rancour towards the victor?

Nico Rosberg, chastened again, saw Lewis Hamilton to his left, on the top step of the podium, and concluded a dirty tricks operation had sabotaged his chances in this Shanghai skirmish.

Amazingly, given it was such a drab, processional affair, the complex psychodrama which has become the lifeblood of Formula One has its latest chapter. On Rosberg's side there was acrimony, on Hamilton's there was utter bewilderment at what all the fuss was about.

A furious Rosberg, who finished second, alleged that Hamilton had deliberately scuppered his chances by driving slower than was needed, pushing him into the clutches of Ferrari; an assertion the Briton vehemently denied. Rosberg's contention was that his rival had driven selfishly, compromising both his and the team's position.

The Mercedes duo sat right next to each other as the German lobbed a few verbal grenades in his team-mate's direction in a feisty post-race press conference.

Hamilton, perhaps revelling in his foe's psychological self-destruction, smiled as he delivered his riposte.

"It's not my job to manage Nico's race," he said. Once the two were separated and in the TV pen, Hamilton added: "I'm not really quite sure what his problem is."

It gives the team another unwelcome headache, trying to mend already frosty relations between the pair, after they clashed on numerous occasions last year. Niki Lauda, the Mercedes F1 chairman, was typically forthright. It was all a load of "b*****", the three-time champion said.

A fired up Rosberg, 29, delivered his argument at length.

"It's now interesting to hear from you Lewis that you were just thinking about yourself with the pace at the front," he said. "Unnecessarily, that was compromising my race, because driving slower than was maybe necessary at the beginning of stints meant Sebastian (Vettel, who finished third) was very close to me. It didn't compromise the team result but put unnecessary risk to the one-two and we went through that scenario before the race, which is frustrating."

From the start, angling his car towards Rosberg's on the grid, Hamilton was determined not to yield. He could not have been more bemused as to why his opponent was in such a fraught mood.

"My job is to manage the car and bring the car home as healthy and fast as possible," the Briton said. "That is what I did. I didn't do anything intentionally to slow any of the cars up. I just focused on myself. If Nico wanted to get by he could try, but he didn't. I'm not really quite sure what his problem is. We came here to get one-two and we did. There shouldn't be too much aggro really."

So did Rosberg have a case? Hamilton drove conservatively, managing his tyres, particularly in the first half of the race. But the memory of Ferrari's triumph in Malaysia was fresh in the mind. His fear - and the team's - was that their rubber would give up earlier than Ferrari, allowing Vettel a chance to steal victory. This seems a reasonable argument.

A combination of Rosberg's own inability to mount a credible challenge on Hamilton and some unfortunate circumstances concocted a potent cocktail of frustration and bitterness. In truth, Rosberg had been in lousy mood all weekend. He cursed the team after missing out on pole by 0.04sec and his anger turned to Hamilton once the race was done.

When he finally appeared to speak to the written press more than two hours after the race, Toto Wolff, the Mercedes boss, seemed slightly muddled, but he acquitted Hamilton. As per a pre-race meeting in the morning, Hamilton had followed their instructions, the Austrian confirmed.

Lauda's solution to their predicament was rather more straightforward. "I don't care if there is a quarrel, as long as Vettel is third," he said. "There is only one week until the next race so the talk and b******* will stop quickly when they start driving again on Friday in Bahrain.

"True, he (Lewis) will drive selfish. These guys are egocentric b******* and it is the only way to win the championship. Nico is the same if s*** hits the fan. Lewis was better this weekend. Lewis bites. He has the talent to bite. But Nico is nasty if he sees the chance. Don't worry. There is no friendship out there. When you race you have to fight. That's it."

The long and short of it all is Hamilton leads the drivers' championship by 13 points from Vettel, who took the final podium slot, with Rosberg two points further back. The reignition of their row was about all there was to see here, other than some impressive overtaking by 17-year-old Max Verstappen, and another dire afternoon for Red Bull and McLaren. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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