Amidst the sweltering heat and seemingly endless lockups, offs and crashes from struggling competitors, the intense battle between a particular two stars shone through during qualifying in Barcelona.
Following a triplet of victories, Lewis Hamilton had begun to assert his authority over team mate and close friend Nico Rosberg. The evolution of such a small but significant gulf in class had threatened to alienate the two drivers’ close relationship, thus transforming F1’s travelling circus into a battle ground; an arena for two gladiators to fight, not only physically – but psychologically.
Behind the facade of mutual ingratiation, Hamilton and Rosberg’s true mindsets gradually took prominence. Hamilton’s calm, near-relaxed demeanour was conveyed through his superficial congratulations towards his team ‘mate’ for coming closer to beating him than anyone else. Meanwhile, the smug and apparently comfortable Rosberg who engulfed the media following his victory in Melbourne has quickly disappeared, being replaced instead by a notably frustrated and perhaps vulnerable championship outsider; following his most recent defeat in China, Rosberg’s thin veneer of self-disappointment did little to hide his growing resentment towards his momentum-rich team mate.
It therefore comes as no surprise that Rosberg entered the Spanish Grand Prix weekend hell-bent on halting Hamilton’s attempt at extending his hat trick of superiority. Practice sessions offered Rosberg glimmers of hope as he topped the concluding session a notable eight tenths of a second above Hamilton.
As qualifying commenced, Rosberg appeared to have maintained the edge, and was thus wreaking the benefits of ever-growing confidence. As Rosberg’s laps became smoother and more controlled, Hamilton’s deteriorated. Frustration grew. The Brit – who was heavily favoured for pole – resorted to complaining of foul play; ‘I don’t know how, but we’ve managed to make the car worse.’ Rosberg, meanwhile, remained silent as he topped the final Timesheet for the second qualifying session.
However, once the lights went out for final qualifying, the Hamilton of old returned. Frustration and anger was quickly transformed into raw pace as he wrestled his Mercedes-branded monster ahead of Rosberg by a small but significant margin of two tenths of a second.
‘Lewis is faster than you by 2 tenths right now.’
Refusing to quit, Rosberg summoned every ounce of self belief he could manage, shaving an exceptional eight tenths of a second off of his team mate’s provisional pole position time. Nobody celebrated however – because just a handful of seconds later, Hamilton reclaimed his seemingly rightful place above his team mate by an infuriating margin of one and a half tenths.
Rosberg’s previously mentioned self belief ceases to exist as it is crushed, too, with his hopes of ending Hamilton’s spree.
Unlike previous triumphs, the Mercedes duo did not exchange pleasantries, nor did they make eye contact. Both drivers climbed out of their cars, approached the weighing scale, then stood uniformly for their official FIA photo. Only then did Rosberg tentatively offer his hand to Hamilton’s shoulder in congratulation.
‘Of course I am disappointed. I hate coming second to Lewis’ admitted Rosberg during the post-qualifying press conference. Rather than speaking to his friend and former karting buddy, Hamilton looked past his team mate and instead conversed casually with Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo – who qualified in third, over a second behind Hamilton.
Rosberg can beat Hamilton. Last season he forced the F1 community, and Hamilton himself, to sit up and take notice as he outclassed the 2008 world champion for the majority of the first year of their partnership, and will look to such previous performances in seek of motivation – he will fight back.
As Mercedes’ advantage continues to grow in prominence, the inevitable two way title battle grows in intensity. Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg are intelligent men – they recognise and appreciate the sheer scale of the challenge they are both faced with. Whilst Hamilton appears to have the edge at this moment in time, Rosberg’s relentlessness will not diminish. Tomorrow is a new day in the life of Mercedes’ seesawing battle of two.