Behind the smiles

15/05/2017
NEWS STORY

While it was all smiles and mutual appreciation on the podium, it's clear that title tensions are rising.

Ahead of the grid interviews that followed Saturday's qualifying session and once again on the podium after the race, Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel carried on the pretence of a mutual admiration society that we have grown used to.

However, as the season continues and the stakes grow ever higher the real tension between the two is rising closer and closer to the surface.

"I'm here to race," said Vettel in the pen following the official press conference, "that's what I enjoy.

"Obviously, off-track I don't see a reason why you can't have a generally good time," he continued. "We're not best friends," he said of Hamilton. "I think we're different, but I think we have a very strong connection, we both love racing, we all do sitting on the grid, that's what should connect us.

"But on track, sure, I didn't want him to win today, I wanted to be on top, it didn't work, rest assured I'm not happy with that, but at the same time you have to respect that if other people do a good job... he drove a good race and managed to come back at the end and pass me on the track, so nothing to moan about."

And that's it in a nutshell; these two men are competing for the same prize, each stands in the others way, and despite the bonhomie of the paddock and podium the fact is that as the champion fight builds the thin veneer will slowly fall away revealing two men at war.

Just moments after the grins on the podium, at the official press conference the smiles quickly faded as the two recalled the events of the previous ninety minutes.

Asked if he would go into more detail of his use of the word "dangerous" when describing the move that saw the Briton run wide as he attempted to pass Vettel following the German's pit stop, Hamilton replied: Not really.

"In the heat of the moment it feels... when I run out of road and particularly where we went off at the exit of Turn One, I had... I tried to stay straight but I came over the kerb so I lost all steering and he was just ahead of me. Could have been close, could have been some real good contact but fortunately I avoided it.

"I didn't say anything bad, just 'be careful, that was very, very, very close', but I enjoyed it and I'm glad that afterwards I was able to have a battle and didn't damage anything and there's nothing lost between us.

"The respect stays the same," he insisted, even though he did use the word "dangerous". "I think he was tough and hard just to the edge and no more. I think if he'd hit me that would have been a bit different.

"I think it was the rawest fight I can remember having for some real time, which I loved" he added. "This is what the sport needs to be every single race for sure. This is why I race and this is what got me into racing in the beginning.

"To have that close battle with him, with a four-time champ, is awesome. The first stint I was able to manage the tyres and stay relatively close. The second stint was a little bit difficult to keep up the pace with him with the medium tyre. At the end came out so close together, very, very close into Turn One. I gave you space, otherwise we would have touched..."

"I thought I gave you space too..." interjected Vettel.

"Not really!" said Hamilton. "Definitely didn't give me much space! It was close; it was cool..."

"We're still here so..." smiled the German.

"Yeah, just!" Hamilton replied.

Towards the end of the press conference, Daniel Ricciardo, a man who is unlikely to be giving the warring duo any sleepless nights any time soon, dug deep to find the perfect way to stir the mildly toxic mix.

As the pair discussed track signage and the Heineken warnings about alcohol around the circuit, Vettel asked Hamilton: "Did you notice that they painted the kerbs blue in sector one?

"Yes, I noticed that. At turn three," replied the Briton.

"Only because you were on them when you pushed him there," grinned Ricciardo.

"And four," smiled the German.

It begins.

Check out our Sunday gallery from Barcelona, here.

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Published: 15/05/2017
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