Open warfare imminent
Did you notice it? I guess one couldn’t really miss it…
The post-race, pre-podium green room is undoubtedly one of the best two minutes of Formula 1 TV time during a grand prix weekend. The world gets to see close-up and in the raw how drivers, fresh from the heat of battle, do – or, more interestingly, don’t – get on.
Last Sunday’s Spanish edition was the best and certainly most revealing of the season so far. Hardly a word spoken between the Mercedes pair – they both know the fight is on.
The honeymoon is over, Formula 1’s most endearing ‘friendship’ is in the skip, Nico and Lewis are buddies no more.
It was always coming: two hard-charging and determined race car drivers, both certain in the knowledge that one of them would end the year as world champion, were never going to keep up the ‘best buddies’ charade that has so fooled media both within and without the sport.
Playing a clever game of psychological warfare, Hamilton is backing up his scintillating on-track pace with a newly found cerebral approach. Despite his qualifying brilliance and race-winning pace, Lewis plays it all down, insisting to both TV and print media that there’s more speed to come. Nico will hear and read it all. This two-fronted attack has Rosberg on the ropes and the German is seemingly unable to throw any punches of his own.
Four wins on the bounce, on top of the title chase, a smile on his face, girlfriend on side, dogs happy at home, the boy from Hertfordshire is – finally – focusing on the job at hand. It’s great to see the Englishman learn from his myriad mistakes of the past few years and as a result reap the rewards on Sunday afternoons.
Having adapted his driving style to suit the new formula, Hamilton’s speed, fuel and tyre efficiency is not only securing race wins but having the added effect of forcing Rosberg to drive that little bit harder to stay in touch. Increased fuel and tyre inefficiency are the results.
Sure, Rosberg can make the oft-repeated and totally vacuous excuse of “one more lap and I would have had him” but the best racers run their race to the amount of laps scheduled and no more.
Of course all these hollow words are part of Nico trying to remain upbeat post-disappointment come qualifying or race day. He keeps repeating in a cheery tone how he's not that happy to be second to Lewis but it'll be different next time out... Promises, promises! It’s time to put up or shut up.
If silver arrow number 44 continues to finish ahead of Nico's number 6 the German’s mood will surely darken. There are already some tell-tale signs he's getting fed up. The impatient and ever so slightly petulant post-race comments off-air in Spain’s TV interview studio gave a clue – to those present – of his true feelings...
The turning point came at race three in Bahrain. Hamilton's stunning display of awesome racecraft, coupled with a grim determination and an utter refusal to surrender the lead, really put the 2008 world champion in the Mercedes team driving seat. Lewis’s Sakhir circuit triumph was all the more impressive given that Rosberg's W05 was the faster car. And Rosberg knew it.
The Spanish Grand Prix was surely an important race in the Mercedes intra-team battle. Nico needed to regain a winning momentum and retain his championship lead. He failed.
Next up it’s the jewel in the crown, the one they all want to win. Monaco, Formula 1’s blue-riband race. Rosberg, of course, triumphed impressively on the Principality’s streets last year – Lewis had a shocker – and he’d better make damned sure he repeats the win this time around, because two weeks after that we’re in Montreal and Hamilton will be uncatchable there.
Many who follow the sport are comparing 2014 with the titanic championship battle of 1988. Hamilton is certainly no Ayrton Senna and Rosberg is a way short of being Alain Prost but the similarities both on and off-track are there for all to see.
It could be a classic…