Lewis Hamilton says he no longer knows whether to trust Mercedes team mate Nico Rosberg on the track after they collided at Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix but has ruled out retaliation.
The incident, with Rosberg’s front wing making contact with Hamilton’s rear tyre and causing a puncture on the second lap of the race, was an avoidable one that wrecked the Briton’s afternoon.
Hamilton eventually retired after struggling with a damaged car while Rosberg, now 29 points clear in the Formula One standings with seven races remaining, finished second.
With the Spa paddock swept by the controversy, Hamilton fuelled the flames by telling reporters Rosberg had said in a post-race meeting he did it on purpose to ‘prove a point’.
“When you’re out there you have to trust people to think with their heads and not do things deliberately. But after that meeting I don’t really know how to approach the next race,” Hamilton said.
“I’ll have to make sure we’re not wheel-to-wheel,” he added when asked whether he would trust Rosberg in similar circumstances going into the chicane at Monza next week.
“Whatever the case I will always put the team first and I won’t take anything into my own hands.”
In a potentially lethal sport where drivers go wheel-to-wheel at speeds in excess of 300kph, trust is essential. Racers need to be sure that others will be firm but fair, not weaving more than allowed or closing the door entirely.
Deliberately driving into a rival to gain an advantage or out of revenge is a no-no, even if several examples from the times of Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher come to mind.
The Mercedes pairing have banged wheels before this season, without consequences, but Sunday’s incident moved their rivalry on to another level.
An accident waiting to happen for some, although not in Hamilton’s book, it was the first time they had collided and done serious damage to the prospects of a team that had started one-two and expected to finish that way.
“He basically said he did it on purpose,” Hamilton had said on Sunday. “He said he could have avoided it. He said ‘I did it to prove a point’.”
Mercedes motorsport head Toto Wolff later attempted to clarify that, explaining that “Nico felt he needed to hold his line. He needed to make a point. It wasn’t deliberately crashing. That is nonsense.
“If he could turn back time, Nico would probably not do it again in the way he did.”
Wolff indicated there would be more talks before Italy but Hamilton recognised there were no easy answers.
“I can’t imagine what the team would do now,” he said.
Spa came after a controversy in Hungary at the end of July where Hamilton did not slow to let Rosberg past, in response to a team instruction not to hold him up, and finished ahead of the German after starting last.
The team backed Hamilton and Rosberg seethed.
Asked whether Sunday was a consequence of Budapest, and a subsequent meeting at Spa, Hamilton kept an open mind.
“It’s interesting because we had that meeting on Thursday and Nico expressed how angry he was,” he said. “I was thinking ‘It’s been three weeks and you’ve been lingering (on it)?!’
“He expressed how angry he was, he literally sat there and said how angry he was at Toto and Paddy (Lowe). But I thought we should be good after that and then this result…it’s interesting.”