There have been many terrific rivalries in Formula One over the years, but the best have been between team-mates. The current battle between the Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg has been gently simmering since the Silver Arrow became the dominant constructor in 2014. While they clashed in Spa in 2014 and had an awkward team-order situation in Hungary last season there was never a sense of animosity or aggression between the pair – until now.
Hamilton’s early season mechanical problems gave Rosberg a strong lead in the championship. Their collision and crash in Spain spoke to the pressure Hamilton felt to get back into the championship race and how keen Rosberg was to do whatever it took to get his first Drivers Championship. Tempers were quickly cooled by team boss Toto Wolff and Niki Lauda but the two couldn’t avoid each other as they again came together on the final lap of the Austrian Grand Prix and cost the team a 1-2 finish.
Where before there was at least a public veneer of friendship and respect there is now outright animosity, which is only going to increase as we get down to the nitty-gritty of the championship. Hamilton’s win in Hungary yesterday knocked Rosberg off the top of the Drivers standings for the first time this season and his recent run of form – taking 5 wins from the last 6 races. This season has echoes of 2014, when Hamilton had a rough start to the season but quickly caught and past Rosberg for the title. Hamilton’s superiority over Rosberg in their 3 plus seasons together has been clear, and while Rosberg is determined to win a first Drivers title he just doesn’t seem to have the consistent pace to top Hamilton when both have a fully functioning car for the weekend.
The current rivalry between the Mercedes drivers has been getting comparisons to the magnificent and bitter rivalry between Aryton Senna and Alain Prost in the McLaren of the late 80’s, but I see this as far more like the Red Bull rivalry between Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber a few years ago, with one dominant driver and another who can occasionally take a win when all is square, but not consistently.
While Senna’s one lap pace in qualifying was unparalleled Prost’s race-craft narrowed the gap on sundays. Rosberg is typically off the pace of Hamilton on both days of the weekend, just like Webber was of Vettel.
The Senna-Prost rivalry burnt hot and fast for 3 seasons before it was broken up, while Webber & Vettel were together for 5 years it was only really one season at the top of the standings where the two fought. Here we are in year 4 of the Hamilton-Rosberg rivalry and we have perhaps the closest Championship fight between the two we have seen so far, but only due to a string of mechanical problems from Hamilton that saw him slow off the line and then qualify low down early in the season.
Rosberg recently signed up for two more years with Mercedes which is understand as Mercedes still represent Rosberg’s best chance of a Drivers championship, however Hamilton will still be across the garage from him. It is just as difficult to see Rosberg overcoming Hamilton across a full season on an even playing field -as it was with Webber at Red Bull. For this Mercedes rivalry to be worthy of the comparison to Senna & Prost Rosberg must respond at his home Grand Prix this weekend, if he allows Hamilton to go into the summer break with a lead in the championship then it will be a long, uphill battle for Rosberg and he will start to look more and more like Mark Webber than Alain Prost.