Nico Rosberg's obvious frustration with his situation at Mercedes, in relation to his teammate, spilled over once again today, somewhat marring a bravura performance by the German team.
Bouncing back from its shock defeat by Ferrari in Malaysia two weeks ago, the Brackley-based outfit should have been basking in the glory of its success following a weekend which it has totally dominated. Instead it found itself fending off questions from a media eager for a good old-fashioned in-team dog fight.
It is understood that behind the scenes team bosses, in the run up to this weekend, had called on Rosberg to raise his game having failed to take the fight to his teammate in the opening two races. Yesterday, missing out on pole by 0.042s his frustration boiled over. "Oh come on guys," he shouted over the radio, later revealing his anger at having missed out by so slender a margin. "When it's four hundredths, it's very frustrating," he snapped at the post-qualifying press conference. "Of course I wanted to be on pole today."
During today's race, Hamilton having nipped his challenge in the bud, long before the first corner, Rosberg's frustration became apparent yet again. Under threat from Sebastian Vettel, the German called on his team to urge Hamilton to speed up, claiming that the lack of pace from the Briton was pushing him into the clutches of the Ferrari driver. Rosberg claimed that Hamilton's pace was having an adverse affect on his tyres at which point the team gave the world champion a gee-up. It clearly worked, the Briton banging in a string of fast laps.
Speaking in the moments after the race the German was clearly unhappy, but it was at the post-race press conference that his emotions spilled over.
Asked about the gee-up call from the team and Rosberg's claim he was being backed up to Vettel, Hamilton said: "I wasn't controlling his race, I was controlling my own race but, great race, I'm really happy.
"My goal was to look after my car," he continued. "I had no real threat from Nico through the whole race. So, I just managed it and got to really enjoy it, to be honest. A few of the real good fun laps were the laps before the pitstop, which I really enjoyed. Ultimately it was a much smoother weekend than we had in the last race where we got the whole, full practice sessions, on my side of the garage at least. And it made a real big difference to the balance of the car for the race. So really happy, and yeah, kinda excited."
"It's just now interesting to hear from you, Lewis, that you were just thinking about yourself with the pace in front, and necessarily that was compromising my race," said Rosberg. "Driving slower than was maybe necessary at the beginning of stints meant that Sebastian was very close to me and that opened up the opportunity for Sebastian to try that early pitstop to try and jump me. And then I had to cover him. So, first of all it was unnecessarily close with Sebastian as a result, and also it cost me a lot of race time as a result because I had to cover him and then my tyres died at the end of the race because my stint was just so much longer. So I'm unhappy about that, of course, today."
Asked if he wished to respond, Hamilton replied: "Not really!" before adding. "My job is not to... it's not my job to look after Nico's race. My job's to manage the car and bring the car home as healthy and as fast as possible - and that's what I did. I didn't do anything intentionally to slow any of the cars up. I just was focussing on myself. If Nico wanted to get by he could have tried but he didn't."
Speaking in the wake of the row, Mercedes non-executive chairman, Niki Lauda, himself a three-time world champion, was under no illusions as to Hamilton's stance.
"Sure, everyone drives selfish," said the Austrian. "What do you think these guys are here to do? I call them egocentric bastards. That is the only way to win and the only way to win the championship.
"Nico will calm himself down," he added. "For sure, when you are being beaten by your team-mate it hurts. When I was being beaten by Prost all the time I was not happy. On the other hand Nico is a guy who comes back quickly, so thank God there is only one week to the next race so all this talk will stop quickly when they start driving again on Friday.
"Of course, Lewis bites, he has the talent to bite, but Nico is as nasty if he sees the chance."
Following a tense debrief, which was no doubt far more exciting than anything witnessed on track today, Toto Wollf did his best to play down talk of "war" between his two drivers.
"It was a good debrief because it was a positive debrief," he said. "There wasn't any animosity.
"There wasn't any intention from Lewis to slow Nico down in order to make him finish third or worse, one-hundred percent," he added. "He didn't know the gaps behind Nico. What he knew was that he had to take that tyre longer than we had ever run it the whole weekend. This is why he decided to slow down in the way he did."
The team then took to Twitter to push home the message that all was well with a series of positive tweets, including: "They've talked through the race in the debrief and after. Both guys are clear what did and didn't happen", "We have two number one drivers - and they're passionate and committed. The rivalry drives us forward, we embrace it!", "They are born competitors - they used to race at eating cornflakes, for goodness sake!", "You give both equal opportunities to succeed and let them race. Which is what we do, within limits.", "We can understand both perspectives, yes. It's good to have emotion and free speaking in sport." and "People watch sport for emotions, authenticity and rivalry. We let our guys speak their minds and think it's right."
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