LEWIS Hamilton has been exonerated of any blame en route to winning his fourth Chinese Grand Prix despite being on the receiving end of Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg’s ire.
Rosberg effectively accused Hamilton of selfishness in the post-race press conference at the Shanghai International Circuit after finishing second to the 30-year-old for the sixth time in the last ten races.
Rosberg suggested Hamilton was at times slow, so potentially drawing him into the clutches of a chasing Sebastian Vettel in his Ferrari.
At one stage, with the gap between Hamilton and Rosberg 2.3 seconds and Vettel close behind, the German took to the radio to inform the team that “Hamilton is driving very slowly. Tell him to speed up”.
It appeared a strange message as Rosberg was not close enough to pass, but seconds later, via way of explanation, he said: “If I go closer I destroy my tyres, like the first set. That’s the problem.”
That prompted an immediate message to Hamilton as he was told: “Okay Lewis, pick the pace up a little bit.”
Asked about the message, Hamilton replied: “I wasn’t controlling his race, I was controlling my own race. My goal was to look after my car. I had no real threat from Nico throughout the whole race.”
The last remark, in particular, was a dig in the ribs for Rosberg, who then responded in kind.
A clearly fuming Rosberg said: “It’s just now interesting to hear from you, Lewis. You were just thinking about yourself with the pace in front when that was compromising my race.
“Driving slower than was maybe necessary in the beginning of the stint meant Sebastian was close to me, and it opened up the opportunity for him to try an early pit stop to try and jump me and then I had to cover him.
“It was unnecessarily close with Sebastian as a result, and also it cost me a lot of race time because I had to cover him.
“Then my tyres died at the end of the race because my stint was just so much longer, so I’m unhappy about that.”
Asked to respond, Hamilton defended himself as he said: “It’s not my job to look after Nico’s race, it’s my job to manage the car and bring the car home as healthy and as fast as possible.
“That’s what I did. I didn’t do anything intentionally to slow any of the cars up. I was just focused on myself.
“If Nico wanted to get by, he could have tried, but he didn’t.” There was the rub, that Rosberg was more concerned about finishing second than gunning for Hamilton and the win.
After numerous incidents between the pair last season, notably in Belgium where the duo collided resulting in Rosberg being reprimanded and sanctioned by the team, this latest spat would appear to have reopened old wounds.
Mercedes Motorsport boss Toto Wolff insisted, however, the post-race debrief was “good”, and “there wasn’t any animosity”.
“I know what you want to hear, but, generally, everybody was in good spirits,” said Wolff.
Addressing what unfolded, Wolff added: “It was good for Nico to complain, and good for Lewis to slow down.
“Lewis was the car in the lead, in control of the pace, but, on the other side, Nico was running into trouble because he was bunched up behind Lewis. He couldn’t go near.
“So he asked for a two-second gap to Lewis to protect the tyres, which he did, but, at the same time, Sebastian was increasing the pace behind him.
“But Lewis didn’t do what he did on purpose, and we’ve cleared that now.
“There wasn’t any intention from Lewis to slow Nico down in order to make him finish third or worse – 100 per cent.
“You can’t really blame anybody, Lewis didn’t do anything wrong.”
Non-executive chairman and three-times world champion Niki Lauda was firmly on Hamilton’s side as he said: “We were first and second and I don’t care if there is a quarrel, as long as Vettel is third.
“One thing is clear from my point of view, Lewis had pole position and controlled the race from the beginning to the end. Therefore, there is no need for a quarrel.”
Asked whether a driver has to be selfish to be a winner, Lauda added: “For sure. I call them egocentric b******s, and this is the only way to win a championship.
“There is no friendship out there. When you race, you have to fight, that’s it. When you are upset, you make statements, but, in the end, they will all cool down, go to Bahrain and start all over again – the same fight.”
Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen was fourth ahead of Williams pair Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas, with McLaren’s Fernando Alonso 12th and Jenson Button 14th.
Button had finished 13th, but was handed a five-second post-race penalty for an accident with Lotus’ Pastor Maldonado that ended the Venezuelan’s grand prix.
In his first race with Manor, after missing the first two due to issues, Will Stevens was 15th, finishing ahead of team-mate Roberto Merhi.
SCOTSMAN TABLET AND MOBILE APPS