Yesterday should have been a scene of celebration for the Mercedes-GP drivers in Monte Carlo.
Nico Rosberg’s success ahead of teammate Lewis Hamilton gave the German marque their fifth successive one-two finish, and they became the first team since McLaren in 1988 to win the first six races of a Formula One season.
Yet rather than joy, the ambience on the podium was one of awkwardness, with no handshakes and little acknowledgement of each other.
The bad feelings began on Saturday after Rosberg, who had the fastest time in qualifying, had run wide down an escape road, bringing out the yellow caution flags and preventing Hamilton from having one final go at beating his teammate’s time.
While race stewards cleared the German of doing it deliberately, Hamilton was not convinced and his coy comments and body language underscored his evident feelings that his teammate had committed foul play at a track where starting position is crucial.
Though mounting attention in their rivalry created a tense atmosphere, Rosberg delivered a flawless demonstration of speed and racecraft to claim a second successive triumph at Monaco.
The victory enabled him to regain momentum in the title race and, significantly after a difficult weekend, left Hamilton in his wake, despite having won the past four races.
But rather than enjoying the feeling of regaining the lead in the championship from Hamilton, two weeks after he had lost it in Spain, the German was instead forced to address the team mood ahead of the next round of the season in Canada on June 8.
“We’ve had discussions and we have known each other for so long, we always sit down and discuss it and move on, and that is what we will do,” said Rosberg, who leads the championship race by four points.
Asked about smoothing over the bad feelings with Rosberg, Hamilton said: “I don’t have an answer for you.”
Reminded of his suggestion on Saturday that he might copy Ayrton Senna’s actions – the Brazilian deliberately crashed into a rival at the start of a race in 1990 – to take revenge after Rosberg’s off-circuit excursion in qualifying, Hamilton replied, “it was just a joke”.
Tensions were high over the weekend after Hamilton said in an interview that he had a harder upbringing than his teammate, which made him hungrier to be champion. Rosberg, doing his best impression of a politician, played down those comments.
“I didn’t hear Lewis say that, so I am not going to comment,” Rosberg said. “It is easy for you to just invent something.
“Even if something like that was written ... so much can turn around, so it’s better I don’t say anything and I know that Lewis wouldn’t say something like that, especially not to the press. Maybe to me if he feels like it, but not to the press.”
Rosberg started on the pole and led from start to finish yesterday, holding off Hamilton in the first corner. The Briton stayed within two seconds of the German for much of the race, though he was never close enough to try to overtake at a circuit notorious for its lack of passing options.
Hamilton dropped back in the latter stages after claiming he had dirt in his eye, impairing his vision, and had to hold off late pressure from Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo to finish second.
It was Rosberg’s second win of the year, having triumphed in the season opener in March in Australia, and he felt it was vital to break up Hamilton’s run of four victories in a row.
“It is a special win, definitely, because Lewis had the momentum, the results and everything and I needed to try to break that momentum and I managed to do that this weekend,” he said.
“Lewis drove well and pushed me massively hard. The pressure was on, but I kept it cool and pulled a bit of a gap at the end because of the refreshed tyres.”
Hamilton said road debris in his left eye caused issues at the wrong time.
“I was driving with one eye, which is virtually impossible to do,” he said. “Through low-speed corners, I had to close an eye, which made it worse, but five laps to go, it cleared.”
Hamilton was highly critical of his Mercedes team during the race over the pit radio for not allowing him to pit immediately after Adrian Sutil crashed coming out of the tunnel on Lap 24.
The Briton had, rightly as it turned out, believed a safety-car period was inevitable, but his team kept both the drivers out and the track was under full caution, before bringing them both in on the next lap for their sole pit stops of the race.
“It is irrelevant now, but we got the exact same start and there are only two opportunities in the race – the pit stop is the other one,” said Hamilton, the 2008 world champion.
“So the safety car came out at a perfect time for him and I didn’t have a chance there.”
Fernando Alonso finished a distant fourth behind the Hamilton and Ricciardo scrap, the double world champion hurt by electrical problems in his Ferrari, which slowed his pace.
Nico Hulkenberg matched his best result of the season with fifth in his Force India, ahead of Jenson Button’s McLaren-Mercedes, while the decision not to pit during either safety car window paid off for Williams driver Felipe Massa as he finished seventh, having started down in 16th in qualifying after he had been the innocent victim in a collision with Caterham’s Marcus Ericsson.
Romain Grosjean finished eighth for the second successive race in his Lotus.
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Published: May 25, 2014 04:00 AM