Nico Rosberg yesterday took pole position for today’s Monaco Grand Prix ahead of Lewis Hamilton after making a late error that left his Mercedes-GP teammate visibly irate at missing out on a shot at qualifying in first place.
With Rosberg holding the best time, the Mercedes pair went out for one final qualifying lap with less than a minute remaining in the session, but the German lost control coming out of the Mirabeau turn, sliding down an escape road.
After Rosberg backed out onto the circuit, a yellow flag came up, which meant the session was over and Hamilton could not improve on his time.
It was an incident that fuelled the growing rivalry between the two runaway leaders in the overall standings, with Hamilton insinuating afterwards that he would get some sort of retribution.
“I have apologised to Lewis for having hindered the opportunity for him to improve his lap time,” Rosberg said. “I locked up the rears (tyres) and then the fronts at the bumpy downhill part of the track before turn 5.”
Stewards cleared Rosberg of any wrongdoing after studying video and telemetry evidence of his driving in the incident.
A statement read: “The stewards examined video and telemetry data from the team and the FIA and could find no evidence of any offence related to the turn five [Mirabeau] incident.”
It is the second pole of the season for Rosberg after he had also taken top spot in Bahrain last month. Hamilton – who leads Rosberg by just three points in the overall standings – has the other four.
Given that nine out of the past 10 races in Monaco have all been won from pole, Rosberg has a great chance to triumph and reclaim the overall lead from Hamilton.
He won the race from first on the grid last year, one of his two victories in 2013, and will be confident if he gets to the first corner in front he will be very difficult to beat.
Tension has been building over the past few days, with Hamilton, the winner of the past four races, even publicly questioning in an interview whether his teammate has enough desire.
Although reluctant to discuss the incident in the post-qualifying news conference, Hamilton was later asked if the situation within Mercedes now compares to the internal rift between the late Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost, who had an extremely tense relationship racing against each other for McLaren in the late 1980s.
Hamilton responded “essentially” before he added: “I don’t know if Senna and Prost sat down and talked it out.
“I quite like the way Senna dealt with it, so I’m going to take a page out of his book.”
In 1989 Prost took out Senna late in the Japanese Grand Prix to win the title. At the same circuit a year after, Senna did the same to Prost, then with Ferrari, on the first turn to clinch the championship, with the Brazilian later admitting he had deliberately driven into his rival
In response to a question from the BBC: ‘Did he [Rosberg] screw you over?’, Hamilton replied: “Potentially.”
Asked a similar question on Sky Sports, Hamilton said: “I’m not saying no.”
Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff played down yesterday’s incident.
“I don’t think anybody does that deliberately. He missed his braking and he took the exit. That’s it,” Wolff said. “There is no difficulty in managing this situation of the drivers. We have spoken to them in the debrief and it was all OK.”
Earlier, Mercedes chairman Dieter Zetsche sounded almost prophetic when he said “fierce fighting for the No. 1 position” between Hamilton and Rosberg can only be good for the sport.
Hamilton, the 2008 F1 champion, recently questioned his teammate’s hunger to win at the highest level and referred to what he considered Rosberg’s easier upbringing as the son of an F1 driver.
“I come from a not-great place in Stevenage and lived on a couch in my dad’s apartment, and Nico grew up in Monaco with jets and hotels and boats and all these kind of things,” Hamilton said on Thursday.
“If I were to come here believing that Nico is hungrier than me then I might as well go home.”
While Rosberg was smiling at the post-qualifying conference, a stern-faced Hamilton gave short answers when asked what he thought about the incident, he said “not really much” and “I was on target, yeah”.
Rosberg tried to soothe the situation. “Of course I’m sorry for Lewis, I didn’t know where he was,” he said.
Asked to respond to Rosberg’s apology, Hamilton shrugged his shoulders and mumbled: “I don’t have an answer to it.”
Told that it was ironic that Rosberg’s mistake had led to the yellow flag and stopped the British driver from completing his final lap, Hamilton flatly responded “yeah, it’s ironic”.
Neither driver commented publicly further on the incident once the stewards had confirmed that Rosberg had been cleared of any wrong doing.
Behind the Mercedes pair, the second row is an all Red Bull Racing affair, with Daniel Ricciardo again out-qualifying his world champion teammate Sebastian Vettel.
Fernando Alonso, who has won twice in Monaco, starts fifth, one spot ahead of his Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen, with Toro Rosso’s Jean-Eric Vergne and the McLaren-Mercedes of Kevin Magnussen completing the top eight.
Published: May 24, 2014 04:00 AM