The last week or so in Formula 1 has been a funny one. On the grandest of stages – the Monaco Grand Prix – Mercedes looked to be on the brink of civil war as Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg locked horns both on and off track.
However, the two spoke yesterday and cleared the air, with Hamilton tweeting: “We’ve been friends for a long time, and as friends we have our ups and downs. Today we spoke and we’re cool, still friends.” It was a sweet way to defuse the situation and remove the tension.
Of course, the cynical question is “will it last?” Is this ceasefire just for show?
Well, that remains to be seen. The crucial part of this is that a ceasefire has taken place, and that there is no longer this public tension and ‘threat of war’. For all we know, it could still linger internally at Mercedes, but from the outside looking in, the waters have calmed.
And that was the important part of this for the team. Over the years, there have been many explosive intra-team rivalries. Those that have taken place in the public domain – Senna/Prost, Webber/Vettel – have been particularly difficult for the teams dealing with them.
However, we must go back to another case involving Lewis Hamilton to compare it to the ‘Battle of Mercedes’ in 2014: his 2007 tiff with Fernando Alonso.
Alonso arrived at McLaren after winning two straight titles with Renault, whilst Hamilton was promoted from GP2 to make his F1 debut. Alonso clearly thought he was the ‘number one’ driver, and very few expected Lewis to perform as well as he did, least of all Alonso.
The first murmurings of unrest came at the Monaco Grand Prix. Alonso had claimed pole position and led away at the start, but Hamilton was on a one stop strategy. Despite having a heavier fuel load (this was back in the days of refueling, of course), he was somehow keeping the Spaniard in sight. Could he really claim his first win at F1’s glamor event?
No, he couldn’t. McLaren switched him to a two stop strategy to his surprise, but little more was said of it. In Canada and at Indianapolis, Hamilton claimed back-to-back wins despite Alonso calling for him to move aside and let him through. Tensions were at breaking point, but it was still implicit. There were none of the direct comments as we saw in Monaco this year, merely some hand gestures from Alonso along the pit straight at the Brickyard.
It first really became public when Alonso deliberately blocked Hamilton during qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix. After coming in for a fresh set of tires, Alonso sat in his pit box despite being given the call to go out. By waiting, he held up Hamilton, who was stacked behind him, and meant that the Briton could not post another time in the fight for pole.
The stewards demoted Alonso five places on the grid, and Hamilton had the last laugh by claiming his third win of the year. However, the damage was done. The Spaniard left McLaren at the end of the season by mutual consent.
The year was a tough one for McLaren, with the unrelated spygate scandal resulting in a $100m fine and exclusion from the constructors’ championship. Both Hamilton and Alonso missed out on the title by one point, finishing on 109 to Kimi Raikkonen’s 110. Arguably, the tension that was boiling under the surface cost both of them the title.
And that’s what is different at Mercedes. It is quite clear that the German marque will win both titles this season – it’s simply a question of who will come out on top in the drivers’ championship.
We’ve had the release of pressure in Monaco. Ultimately, these two are friends. Lewis and Fernando weren’t.
Perhaps it’s even a ‘brotherly’ relationship at Mercedes. They have spats, they have moments where they shout “I hate you!” and storm up to their room. A few hours later though, they’ll skulk downstairs and mumble that they’re sorry. Before you know it, Lewis and Nico will be out in the yard playing soccer – or, as we saw in the tweet, riding unicycles!
— Lewis Hamilton (@LewisHamilton) May 30, 2014
This current peace at Mercedes will not last. We might see many more spats between the two before the end of the year and when the title is decided. However, they’ll go away, think about it, and then come back. This tension will be temporary.
Mercedes is in a good place right now. Things could change in 2015 if a team does pose a serious challenge to the Silver Arrows, and any kind of intra-team tussle could jeopardize the title bid, as we saw at McLaren in 2007.
For now though, it’s game on between Lewis and Nico. May the best man win.