Rosberg pledges to stay on despite rivalry with Hamilton

German driver extends contract for two more years even as teammates makes controversial remarks.

Lewis Hamilton leads the drivers’ title race. Valdrin Xhemaj / EPA
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MONACO // Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, whose friendship, rivalry and differing backgrounds have been at the centre of much attention this week, will remain teammates for at least two more years, their Mercedes team indicated on Friday.

As the Formula One circuit took its traditional “day of rest” at the Monaco Grand Prix, a Mercedes spokesman confirmed that the sport’s leading pairing, who are first and second in this year’s drivers’ championship, will remain together until the end of 2016.

“We have long-term relationships with both our drivers,” the spokesman said. No official statement was made by Mercedes.

The news came among speculation that the competition between the drivers has intensified.

Hamilton, it was reported on Thursday, had made much of the difference in their backgrounds by allegedly claiming Rosberg had a privileged upbringing while his was disadvantaged. He said he was “hungrier” for success because he came from a “broken home” on a council estate in Stevenage.

Just a few hours later, Hamilton was being photographed, with his former pop singer girlfriend Nicole Scherzinger, at a major social event associated with the nearby Cannes Film Festival.

Rosberg, who was brought up in Monte Carlo, was not at the event where his English-born teammate, dressed in a crimson dinner jacket, enjoyed much attention. Rosberg kept a lower profile.

News of Rosberg’s deal followed comments earlier in the week during a visit to a factory in Spain by Dieter Zetsche, chairman of Mercedes-Benz Cars, that two-time champion Spaniard Fernando Alonso was “maybe the best driver in F1”.

His remarks sparked another minor controversy, which, after Alonso had questioned how much he is appreciated, led to Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo issuing a statement on Thursday in which he praised Alonso and his value to the team.

After four wins, Hamilton leads Rosberg by three points ahead of Sunday’s 78-lap race on the Mediterranean street circuit.

It is, as he has recognised, a fragile advantage, which is why some believe he referred to their differences to endorse his view that he is hungrier.

“I come from a not-great place, in Stevenage, and lived on a couch in my dad’s apartment,” Hamilton said. “Nico grew up in Monaco with jets and boats and all these kind of things.

“So the hunger is different. I want to be the hungriest guy in the cockpit from all 22 of us – even if every driver has to believe that he’s the hungriest – because if I were to come here believing that Nico is hungrier than me then I might as well go home.”

Rosberg, who has known and raced against Hamilton for 15 years since they were teenagers in international karting, won last year’s Monaco race.

Meanwhile, Alain Prost, who had famous duels with his McLaren teammate Ayrton Senna in 1988 and 1989, said Hamilton and Rosberg will struggle to remain friendly this season and it may not take much for the relationship to sour.

While reluctant to make too many comparisons with his own past, and his famous title duels with McLaren team mate Ayrton Senna in 1988 and 1989, the Frenchman could see some similarities.

Both pairings were dominant, both fighting team mates for the crown.

“It is difficult,” Prost said in Monaco when asked how hard it was to stay on good terms with a team mate in such a battle. “One little problem inside the team, or a little bit outside, and then the feuding could start really very quickly.

“It is very rare that you have a full friendship until the end. Especially if you are really fighting very hard. It looks like the team know how to approach it, but we’ll see. It also depends on the characters of the drivers.

“But it’s different because it’s Mercedes. It’s also 20 years later, and they are all talking about that so they know they are very aware of how it could turn out.”

Prost indicated he had given Mercedes, who have the retired triple champion Niki Lauda as non-executive chairman, the benefit of his advice.

“I still have some people asking me what would I do,” he said. “Which is very interesting because they ask me if I was in their position what could be the recommendation. I don’t want to tell you what I said.”

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