NICO Rosberg has escaped punishment by the Monaco Grand Prix stewards after they could find “no evidence of any offence” during qualifying.
Rosberg was hauled before the stewards for an incident during the closing stages of qualifying that compromised Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton’s final hot lap.
On provisional pole position by just 0.059secs from Hamilton after the opening quick laps, Rosberg locked up on the entry to Mirabeau on his second and final attempt, and was forced to take the escape road.
An attempt to reverse, however, swiftly brought out the yellow flags, and with Hamilton behind and on a quicker lap, the championship leader was forced to abort, denying him top spot on the grid.
Hamilton later implied Rosberg’s actions were deliberate, but after a surprisingly swift hearing, it was determined the 28-year-old German was not guilty.
A statement read: “The stewards examined video and telemetry data from the team and the FIA and could find no evidence of any offence related to the turn five [Mirabeau] incident.”
The situation was reminiscent of the infamous 2006 incident in Monaco when seven-time champion Michael Schumacher was found guilty by the stewards of deliberately crashing his Ferrari at La Rascasse.
Like Rosberg, Schumacher was on provisional pole that day, but behind him championship rival Fernando Alonso in his Renault was quicker and poised to beat the German, and like Hamilton was forced to abort.
It resulted in Schumacher’s times being deleted, and subsequently he was demoted to the back of the grid.
The stewards at Monaco yesterday looked into whether Rosberg’s mistake was deliberate, or if his decision to reverse – as doing so on to what is known as a “hot track” is illegal – was also intentional.
Twice asked if Rosberg had, in effect, scuppered his chances deliberately, Hamilton replied “potentially” and “I’m not saying no”.
Regardless of the decision of the stewards, it is now clear Hamilton and Rosberg’s relationship has become strained to breaking point, to such an extent that Hamilton has also suggested he will follow the example set by his hero Ayrton Senna.
The bitter enmity that existed between Senna and Alain Prost during the late 1980s when the duo were team-mates at McLaren has become legendary.
The current fracas between Hamilton and Rosberg remains far from the extremes of those days, although the former may yet take matters into his own hands.
“I don’t know if Senna and Prost talked about it, but I quite liked the way Senna dealt with that, so I’ll take a page out of his book,” remarked Hamilton.
In 1989 Prost took out Senna late in the Japanese Grand Prix to win the title that year.
One year later, and at the same circuit, the Brazilian returned the favour, running into the Frenchman, who had moved on to Ferrari, at turn one to claim the second of his three championships. As to whether Hamilton is referring to resorting to such tactics is unclear, but clearly he has some sort of revenge in mind.
Mercedes motorsport boss Toto Wolff is now a man under pressure, but is adamant he can continue to manage his drivers.
Defending Rosberg initially, Wolff said: “I don’t think anybody does that deliberately in modern Formula One. He missed his braking, which was in order to beat his team-mate, and he took the exit. That’s it. There is nothing to add.
“I know you guys [the media] need to have some spicy, controversial story...”
When it was suggested Mercedes were providing the story of their own making, Wolff countered: “Yeah, but it’s all bull****.”
When it was suggested that Hamilton was far from happy, Wolff said: “If you are P2 and your team-mate is P1 there is no reason to be happy.
“Of course, we’d like to have two happy drivers, but if you are as competitive as they are in a car capable of winning the world title, every weekend you are going to have one happy and the other unhappy.
“There is no difficulty in managing this situation of the drivers.”
Behind the duo will be the Red Bull pair of Daniel Ricciardo and four-times champion Sebastian Vettel, finishing three tenths of a second and half a second down respectively on Rosberg.
Then come the Ferraris of Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen in fifth and sixth, with the latter as astonishing 1.4secs off the pace, with McLaren’s Jenson Button 12th and Max Chilton 21st for Marussia.
1. Nico Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes - 1:15.989
2. Lewis Hamilton (GBr) Mercedes - 1:16.048
3. Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) RedBull - 1:16.384
4. Sebastian Vettel (Ger) RedBull - 1:16.547
5. Fernando Alonso (Spa) Ferrari - 1:16.686
6. Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Ferrari - 1:17.389
7. Jean-Eric Vergne (Fra) Toro Rosso - 1:17.540
8. Kevin Magnussen (Den) McLaren - 1:17.555
9. Daniil Kvyat (Rus) Toro Rosso - 1:18.090
10. Sergio Perez (Mex) Force India - 1:18.327