x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Mercedes bends: Hamilton and Rosberg clash on track again

An upset Lewis Hamilton has claimed that his Mercedes-GP teammate Nico Rosberg told him after the race Sunday that he had caused their second-lap crash at the Belgian Grand Prix on “purpose”.

Lewis Hamilton, left, and his Mercedes GP teammate Nico Rosberg have a driver's meeting during the Belgium Grand Prix at the Spa-Francorchamps on August 24, 2014. The latest on-track clash had Hamilton fail to finish the race and saying Rosberg said he intentionally ran into the Briton. Srdjan Suki / EPA
Lewis Hamilton, left, and his Mercedes GP teammate Nico Rosberg have a driver's meeting during the Belgium Grand Prix at the Spa-Francorchamps on August 24, 2014. The latest on-track clash had Hamilton fail to finish the race and saying Rosberg said he intentionally ran into the Briton. Srdjan Suki / EPA

An upset Lewis Hamilton has claimed that his Mercedes-GP teammate Nico Rosberg told him that he had caused their second-lap crash at the Belgian Grand Prix on Sunday on “purpose”.

The race at Spa-Francorchamps ended sourly with the huge tensions inside Mercedes overshadowing Daniel Ricciardo’s impressive win for the resurgent Red Bull Racing team.

Rosberg effectively ended Hamilton’s chances of victory on the second lap after an overtaking attempt that saw him clip and puncture the Briton’s left tyre, dropping the 2008 world champion to the rear of the field, and he would only get up as high as 16th place before retiring six laps from the end.

Rosberg needed to have his front wing, damaged in the incident, changed at the first of his three pit stops, but he recovered to finish second behind Ricciardo, stretching his lead to 29 points over Hamilton in the drivers’ standings with seven races of the season remaining.

“We just had a meeting about it, and he basically said he did it on purpose,” Hamilton said. “He said he did it on purpose. He said he could have avoided it. He said ‘I did it to prove a point’.

“I was gobsmacked when I was listening to the meeting. You need to ask him what point he was trying to make. He just came in there and said ‘It was all my fault.’ Just came in there ...”

Toto Wolff, the team’s executive director, tried to play down Hamilton’s claims that Rosberg had caused the accident deliberately, though he did confirm the meeting had been acrimonious.

“Nico felt he needed to hold his line,” he said.

“He needed to make a point, but for Lewis [from his perspective], it was clearly not him who needed to be aware of Nico.

“He [Rosberg] didn’t give in. He thought it was for Lewis to leave him space, and that Lewis didn’t leave him space. So they agreed to disagree in a very heated discussion amongst ourselves, but it wasn’t deliberately crashing. That is nonsense.

“It was deliberately taking into account that if Lewis moves or would open up, then it could end up in a crash.”

As to the team’s view of the incident, Wolff added: “The incident, as I see it, is not acceptable for us.

“What we saw there was that Nico was not prepared to take the exit, and that caused the collision. That is not something we want to happen.”

Both of the Mercedes cars were damaged in the incident, but not as much as their relationship appears to be going forward.

“I heard someone say that it was inevitable we were going to crash one day, but I don’t feel that today was that inevitability,” Hamilton added. “It’s not your job to go massively out of your way to leave extra, extra room.”

Their friendship, cemented in their junior days racing karts against each other, now appears in freefall.

“It’s damaging this weekend for me, I don’t know how I’m going to get back 30 points,” Hamilton said, before aiming a thinly-veiled swipe at Rosberg ahead of the Italian Grand Prix in two weeks’ time.

“We’ll have to make sure we’re not wheel to wheel [in Monza],” he said, stern-faced.

Both drivers spoke shortly after the team meeting, with Rosberg trying to downplay the incident. “The stewards judged it’s a racing incident. That’s the best way to describe that,” he said. “I didn’t see any risk in trying to overtake so why should I not try? Inside was not possible so I tried round the outside. The opportunity was there.”

Rosberg, unlike Hamilton, refused to reveal what was said at the team meeting.

“That wouldn’t be the right thing to do,” he said.

“I don’t want to go into details as to who apologised.”

The drama in Belgium is not the first time in 2014 that the pair have fallen out during a race weekend.

At last month’s Hungarian Grand Prix, Hamilton refused team orders to let Rosberg past when the pair were on different race strategies.

At Monaco in May, Hamilton was incensed when Rosberg surprisingly crashed late in qualifying when under no pressure, leading to caution flags coming out and squandering Hamilton’s chances of securing pole position.

Wolff added the team’s biggest fear is losing out on winning the drivers’ and constructors’ championships, despite being the dominant force this season, having won nine races and taken 11 pole positions in the 12 races to date.

Rosberg and Hamilton continue to be first and second in the drivers’ standings, but Ricciardo is now just 64 points behind Rosberg, while Red Bull cut Mercedes’s lead to 157 points yesterday.

“We’re all fans and we owe it to ourselves and everybody out there to let them race,” he said.

“Today that philosophy has ended in Mercedes losing many valuable points and we don’t want to end up in Abu Dhabi, with a season where we lost the championship, be it constructors’ or drivers’, because we’re too much race fans.

“We’ve probably not hit the self-destruct button yet but there is a lot at stake, and if you don’t manage this properly now it could end up at that point.

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