The friction between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg had been simmering since the start of the Formula 1 season and on Sunday at the Belgian Grand Prix it finally boiled over.
There had been accusations this season of Rosberg deliberately crashing during qualifying to hamper Hamilton’s chances of a pole and disobedience of team orders by Hamilton to prevent Rosberg getting past, but this was the first time that the two drivers had come together.
Rosberg’s attempt to pass Hamilton on the second lap at Spa resulted in Rosberg’s front wing clipping Hamilton’s rear wheel and a puncture from which Hamilton never recovered. Rosberg’s advantage in the Drivers’ Championship over Hamilton stands at 29 points with seven races remaining.
The rivalries that have most captivated sporting audiences through the years, be it Alain Prost v Aryton Senna, Bjorn Borg v John McEnroe or Carl Lewis v Ben Jonson, have offered not only two sporting rivals at their peak but also fascinating natural personality clashes that have sucked the public into identifying with one or other of the protagonists.
Romantics naturally gravitated to Senna’s swashbuckling style while those raging against society’s perceived injustices adored McEnroe’s tantrums and loathing of authority. Hamilton v Rosberg is the latest rivalry to offer two individuals competing for their sport’s top prize from radically different backgrounds.
Lewis Hamilton was born into a terraced council house in Stevenage in England, his father an immigrant from Grenada and holding down three jobs at one time to make ends meet. Nico Rosberg was born in Wiesbaden in Germany, the son of a former Formula 1 Champion.
While Hamilton was attending John Henry Academy in Stevenage, Rosberg was being privately educated in Monte Carlo. Rosberg turned down the opportunity to study aeronautics at Imperial College London to pursue his driving career – Hamilton never looked beyond a place at McLaren’s young driver programme. Rosberg married his interior designer girlfriend at a low key family ceremony last month, while Hamilton’s significant other is Nicole Scherzinger, a former Pussycat Doll.
Hamilton and Rosberg had been friends since meeting each other as teens on the junior karting circuit but the relationship has strained to a point where they are no longer on speaking terms as they have both been striving for the Drivers’ Championship this season as teammates at Mercedes.
The pair had one win a piece when Hamilton accused Rosberg of using an unauthorised engine mode in his attempt to overtake him in the third Grand Prix of the season in Bahrain. Hamilton returned the favour two races later in Spain, pulling the same manoeuvre. Mercedes responded by removing control of their engine settings from both drivers. The team’s attempt to put a lid on the growing rivalry was futile.
In the build up to the next race in the calendar, Formula 1’s marquee event at Monaco, Hamilton claimed he had a different type of hunger for success than Rosberg due to his upbringing. With Rosberg on provisional pole, Hamilton began his fast lap in qualifying and last attempt to capture pole from Rosberg – a position more crucial at Monaco than at any other circuit given the nature of the track’s cramped street layout – however, as Hamilton built up speed, Rosberg still on the qualifying circuit, went off, bringing the stewards out and with them, yellow flags to slow Hamilton.
Rosberg maintained his innocence, claiming his crash was accidental and pure coincidence, however, Hamilton was furious and subsequently ignored Rosberg on the podium as he celebrated victory on Sunday and Hamilton was resigned to second place. In the aftermath, Hamilton spoke of the end of their friendship.
On to Hungary at the end of July and lap 48 of 70, with Hamilton running in third place on deteriorating tyres and Rosberg running in fourth and charging through the field, Peter Bonnington, Hamilton’s engineer, told him to move aside to allow his faster teammate through – three times he asked, three times Hamilton refused. The positions stayed the same until the end of the race, to the ire of Rosberg. Hamilton was unrepentant.
“I did not cost Nico a win. I was racing against him. Why would I be concerned for him?”
Formula 1’s summer break offered an opportunity to reduce the building tension between the two and on Thursday as the Mercedes team gathered ahead of the Belgian Grand Prix, face to face talks were organised. Hamilton and Rosberg had not spoken to each other during the previous month but Mercedes were satisfied after the clear the air talks that an understanding had been reached between the pair.
That notion was exploded within five minutes of the beginning of the Grand Prix at Spa.
Toto Wolff, Mercedes’ executive director, described the situation as “unbelievable”, adding “we have one rule…you don’t crash into each other!”
Following a hastily arranged post race team meeting, Hamilton emerged claiming that Rosberg had admitted to clipping Hamilton’s tyre on purpose, feeling that he had to prove a point by not giving up his racing line.
In the aftermath of Ayrton Senna’s death, Alain Prost recalled that Senna had telephoned him numerous times at his home in France shortly into the season following Prost’s retirement. He was shocked to receive the calls – the pair had spent the previous decade battling for dominance in Formula 1 and had been intense enemies. Prost recalled that Senna had begged him to return to Formula 1 – despite the enmity between the two, Senna told Prost that he wasn’t motivated against the other drivers the same way he had been with Prost as his benchmark.
The greatest rivalries end up with separate entities being defined as part of a pair – Real Madrid and Barcelona, Federer and Nadal, Liverpool and Manchester United. With Hamilton versus Rosberg, we may be watching the birth of the latest greatest sporting rivalry.
David Sheehan, Pundit Arena.
Featured Image By Smo1997 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.