Lewis Hamilton has drawn first blood in this season’s psychological battle with Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg after the latter’s bid to upstage the Briton backfired. The duo endured an often tense fight last year as they went head to head for the Formula One world title before their rivalry exploded in Belgium when Rosberg ran into Hamilton.
It earned Rosberg a stern dressing-down from his bosses and, in turn, also fired up Hamilton, who went on to dominate the final few races and crucially claim the championship.
With Mercedes again in the ascendancy at the start of this season, it appears the title will more than likely be a two-horse race between the duo, with any edge that can be gained vital.
In qualifying for today’s Malaysian Grand Prix, it appeared Rosberg blocked Hamilton on a flying lap in the final session, run on a damp track as a thunderstorm curtailed Q2. Fortunately for Hamilton, his first lap in that period proved enough, ultimately pipping Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel by 0.074secs to claim his 40th career pole, with an unhappy Rosberg in third.
Post-qualifying, at the individual media sessions for the drivers, Hamilton attempted to take the sting out of the situation when asked about Rosberg’s move. “I did improve on my first sector, it was quickest, but then I just bailed out,” said Hamilton. “I had traffic. I came up on quite a few cars ahead. The sector was looking quite good, but the cars were going to get in the way, so I decided to take a second lap.”
Pressed on whether there was any suggestion he felt Rosberg had held him up, he instantly replied: “No.”
With the session winding down, Rosberg then appeared at the back of the room and resurrected the matter as he said: “Nico Rosberg, Mercedes AMG Petronas. There are a lot of comments on Twitter saying Nico blocked you. Is that true, he blocked you on your second timed lap?”
Hamilton smiled and, in reply, said: “I think you should probably ask him. I think he’ll have a good opinion on that.”
Whilst the assembled media burst into laughter, a clearly unamused Rosberg shook his head and said: “That’s not funny! That’s not funny!”
Rosberg then took his place for questions and was immediately asked as to whether he had blocked Hamilton.
Rosberg said: “You best ask Lewis about that. No, it is not even a relevant discussion because we were both on slow-down laps at that point in time. And that was very, very clear.”
Informed Hamilton had set a personal best in the first sector, Rosberg said: “Yeah, but if you bail out of a lap it turns into a slow-down lap, doesn’t it?”
It was then suggested to Rosberg that Hamilton only slowed as he came upon the German, to which he said: “That is not true. He backed off way before coming up on me.”
Although the next question was on a different subject, Rosberg chose not to let the matter drop and remarked: “How do we make that a fact, that he bailed out before he came across me?”
Red Bull pairing Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat line up fourth and fifth, with 17-year-old Max Verstappen sixth for Toro Rosso, the first teenager to qualify in the top six for 54 years. McLaren duo Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso, meanwhile, start 17th and 18th.