A couple of hours after the end of the Chinese Grand Prix Lewis Hamilton delivered the words that threaten to disfigure the reputation of his Mercedes team-mate, Nico Rosberg. “Nico didn’t try.” He repeated his shattering assault, as if for emphasis. “Nico didn’t try.”
He might as well have delivered a sabre-slash across Rosberg’s cheeks because Hamilton’s assessment will leave considerable scar tissue.
Following Sunday’s race, in which Rosberg finished second to Hamilton – the British driver’s 35th victory and one that extended his lead in the Formula One world championship – the German accused Hamilton of driving too slowly at the front of the race. That leads to an obvious question: So why did he not attempt to pass him?
Mercedes have always insisted their drivers are free to race and a few feisty duels, most memorably in Bahrain a year ago, have lent substance to their integrity. But have they changed their minds following an unexpected threat to their hegemony from Ferrari?
It would be disappointing if this were the case because, as it stands, Mercedes still have the superior car, which has more downforce and horsepower than its Italian rival. There were clear signs before the race in China that Mercedes had been spooked by Ferrari’s victory at the previous grand prix in Malaysia. There was even talk of them splitting their race strategies to ensure they beat a team who had displayed greater tyre preservation two weeks before.
Hamilton said: “I just said to the [Mercedes] guys, if I was in second and I had the pace that I had today, I would have been pushing to be as close as possible and passing. That’s racing. They said maybe he [Rosberg] was just comfortable with second and I said well that’s the difference between us.
“I want to win, always. And I would have done everything to get past. Or at least pushed for three laps. He wasn’t quick enough.
This is Formula One. I grew up watching the sport. You want to see overtaking. You want to see a battle. And now I’m in the sport you don’t want it to be too controlled. You don’t want to back off to save the tyre.
“I want the guy to be up my arse if he’s got the pace, up my arse and putting pressure on me. And if I can’t defend it, you lose it. Like in Bahrain, I wasn’t quick enough and I did everything I could to stay ahead. And that was the greatest race ever. Whether we could have had that today, I don’t think so. I want to race.”
Hamilton’s simplistic desire to race disguises the fact he has become a formidable all-round driver, one who can control a race from the front. “I honestly felt great after the race because we went in the right direction the whole weekend,” he said. “We got a one-two, which was the ultimate goal. I didn’t make any mistakes and brought the team home. And it’s the greatest feeling.”
Rosberg is arguably the most intelligent driver in the paddock, along with perhaps Sebastian Vettel, but for all that he knows deep down he cannot beat Hamilton and that his entire career as a driver has been defined by the Englishman’s superiority, evident since their karting days of boyhood.
Over the weekend in Shanghai he looked a broken man and now a scarred one too.
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