The Briton comfortably beat Rosberg in Shanghai, managing his tyres and the gap with aplomb, after which the German accused him of selfishness, arguing that Hamilton had deliberately backed off the pace to compromise his Mercedes team-mate’s strategy.
Rosberg said in China that Hamilton was “just thinking about yourself with the pace in front when that was compromising my race”. Asked in Bahrain whether his comments will have actually given Hamilton an edge, he said: “Maybe, because I am standing here and answering all these questions.” He then admitted that the conversation would have better been confined to the team’s motorhome. “I would do it again because I felt the need to discuss things after that race,” he added. “I would not do anything different, apart from discussing it with you.”
Rosberg has done his best here to play it down while Hamilton was also eager to move on from the incident. “There’s no issue between me and Nico,” he said. “We saw each other this morning and everything is good. There are going to be times when people are unhappy about some things but we’re grown-ups and we move past it.”
Yet this is a stance far easier for the British driver to hold as the pair prepare to go wheel to wheel at a track where last year they duelled in thrilling proximity over the closing laps, from which a bullish Hamilton emerged victorious. Rosberg led the championship at that stage but it is his team-mate who now has the whip-hand. Hamilton has finished ahead of Rosberg in nine of the last 10 races, winning eight of them, and this season has out-qualified him in all three rounds.
Where Rosberg appears to some extent to have hit a wall, unable to match Hamilton on a single lap or in race pace, the Briton appears serene and untroubled in a car performing exactly to his requirements. For a driver this is already a psychological advantage and the key issue in China, that Hamilton was backing Rosberg up in to the clutches of Sebastian Vettel in third, is likely to play more on the German’s mind in Bahrain, on a track that will favour Ferrari, as it did in Malaysia, where Vettel won.
The threat from Ferrari was acknowledged this week by Toto Wolff when the Mercedes principal admitted some form of team orders may be adopted. “It may be if we are risking a win against Ferrari we would make an unpopular call, not to freeze everything, but manage them more,” he said. This was a view echoed by Rosberg here. “The situation is the same as it always has been. We have agreed it and whenever the team’s one-two is at risk, there are measures that will be used to ensure that,” he said. But for those measures to benefit Rosberg truly, he really needs to be ahead of Hamilton, who was clearly happy not to enter the debate. “I just do my talking on the track, that’s how it’s always been since I was eight years old,” he said.
Hamilton also defused the minor furore that had arisen after pictures on the podium at China showed him spraying Liu Siying, a 22-year-old graduate of the Shanghai Institute of Visual Art, with champagne. Liu had already largely dismissed the condemnation and told the Shanghai Daily: “It lasted for only one or two seconds, and I didn’t think too much about it. I think some foreign media are more sensitive about the topic than local media. I was just told by my employer to stand on the podium, and that’s what I did.”
Hamilton said he was relieved to hear Liu’s comments, and that it was a “fun thing” in celebrating a win. “I would never intend to disrespect someone or try to embarrass someone like that,” he added. “It’s nice to know that the lady wrote in – if it had been the other way and she’d wrote in and she was really unhappy, then perhaps there would be more concern.”
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