Championship leader Nico Rosberg and Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton appeared at odds again, if not poles apart, on Thursday before renewing their Formula One title battle in Belgium. Returning to work after the long August break, both drivers were asked about a “team orders” controversy that erupted at the previous race in Hungary.
Rosberg indicated they had discussed the situation and moved on. Hamilton said there had been no talks between the two and saw no need for any. “I gather it was a bit of a mess afterwards, after Hungary, so it’s best I don’t add too much, I think, and I continue to not give too many details,” Rosberg told a news conference without Hamilton present.
“In general, of course, we discussed it after the race – just because it’s important to review a situation like that and know how to move forward. Now we’re moving forward but, of course, I have also learned various things from that race which I will try to adapt for the future,” added the German, relaxed after a vacation on the Italian islands of Capri and Ischia.
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Rosberg is 11 points ahead of Hamilton after 11 of 19 races, despite the Briton having won five times to his four for the sport’s dominant team.
In Hungary, Hamilton had started in the pitlane and last while Rosberg was on pole and seemingly headed for a comfortable victory. By the chequered flag in a race twice interrupted by the safety car, Hamilton was third and Rosberg fourth – with the German complaining that his teammate had not let him through when the team had asked him to.
Hamilton, with some justification, pointed out that Rosberg had never been close enough and he was not about to slow down and scupper his own chances. The team subsequently supported his actions. “There wasn’t (a discussion). I don’t know what Nico has said but we haven’t all sat down together as yet,” Hamilton told reporters when asked about Rosberg’s Thursday comments.
“I’m not particularly sure it needs to happen,” added the 2008 world champion. “I’ve come here quite clear on what is to be done and needs to be done, and I feel quite comfortable with how the team has reacted and the decision they have made. It’s very clear for me. I’m not sure it’s the same for the other side.”
Hamilton is adamant he can mount a successful title charge after overcoming significant setbacks so far this season. “I feel if I keep my head down like a bull, nothing can really stand in the way of a bull,” Hamilton said. “I hope that will be me on Sunday. But there is my teammate and I am sure he wants to be the wall that gets in the way.”
Although both have tried to play down the tensions, Hamilton acknowledged that the rivalry has given the sport a much-needed boost after Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel’s crushing dominance last year. “I can understand that the fans like it. It’s an interesting scenario to watch,” he said. “I sure don’t want to finish second and be known as a nice guy. I want to win.”
Hamilton has coped remarkably well with technical problems blighting his Mercedes in qualifying. He finished third after starting from 22nd on the grid in Hungary; third from 20th at the German GP; second from ninth in Austria and won the British GP starting from sixth. “Nico has had a kind of smoother road, while I’ve had a bumpier road,” Hamilton said. “I am in shooting distance even though I had all those issues.”
Rosberg set the fastest time in opening Belgian Grand Prix practice on Friday. Rosberg set a best time of one minute 51.577 seconds around the classic Ardennes circuit. Hamilton was a mere 0.097 slower on a cloudy but bright morning at the longest track on the calendar which is renowned for fickle weather conditions. Hamilton turned the tables after lunch with a substantially quicker effort. The time of one minute 49.189 on soft tyres was 0.604 better than Rosberg’s.
The one-two was their fifth in succession in practice. Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso was third fastest with McLaren’s Jenson Button fourth.