For Rosberg, 2 frustrating years chasing Hamilton
MEXICO CITY (AP) — Nico Rosberg patiently took question after question about his Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton.
Each one brought a squint, a bland smile and a preference to not talk much about the childhood friend who has become his arch-rival and beaten him to the Formula One championship the last two years.
Then Rosberg was told Hamilton recently said it must be the “worst thing” to be the champion’s teammate.
“That comment makes it even better for me because I’ll get even more pleasure beating him next time,” Rosberg said ahead of the Mexican Grand Prix.
But that’s the problem for Rosberg: he hasn’t beaten him enough. Even though he’s riding in a dominant Mercedes car, Hamilton has been even more so. Beating Rosberg last week clinched Hamilton’s third championship while Rosberg has none in a 10-year career.
He’s been close. The 30-year-old German led much of the 2014 season in a head-to-head battle with Hamilton, only to falter late in the season. His last hopes for a title achingly disappeared in Abu Dhabi when his car failed him in the last race.
This season wasn’t nearly the same battle. Rosberg has won three times but Hamilton has won 10, including six of last of the last eight races. None more clearly demonstrated Hamilton’s hold over Rosberg than last week at the United States Grand Prix.
Rosberg’s only hope of extending the title chase was to win and he took pole position. But after coyly saying he’d do nothing “crazy” in wet conditions, Hamilton seized the lead with an aggressive move in the first turn that bumped Rosberg’s tires and pushed him wide.
Rosberg fought back to lead with eight laps to go. Then came the mistake that opened Hamilton’s path to victory.
For an instant, Rosberg’s wheels wobbled. He veered left into the grass, and Hamilton zoomed past toward the checkered flag. Afterward, when Hamilton tossed him a sponsor’s cap for the podium ceremony, Rosberg flipped it back, nearly hitting Hamilton in the face.
The brief outburst of petulance was caught on camera and the discord among Mercedes drivers was second only to Hamilton’s championship celebration.
Mercedes team head Toto Wolff tried to downplay the tension.
“A lot was said after the race about the relationship between our drivers and most of it was hot air,” Wolff said. “One of our boys won a world title and one lost it. If a few emotions boil over in that scenario, it’s completely understandable and human.”
Hamilton said Thursday he saw no need for a meeting to sort out Rosberg’s feelings, but acknowledged the drivers will likely talk with Wolff.
“I’m sure we’ll sit down and see what Nico’s feeling, whatever emotions he has, try to dilute them and move on,” Hamilton said.
It wasn’t always this way. Hamilton and Rosberg came up through their junior racing days as friends despite huge differences in background.
Hamilton grew up in a working class family where his father worked multiple jobs. Rosberg is the son of a former Formula One driver and grew up on the wealthy streets of Monaco.
Rosberg didn’t want to talk about his most recent clash with Hamilton. He blamed a gust of wind for sending him off the track in Texas and costing him the win.
“It was a big one. Seriously,” Rosberg said. “Everybody has it so you can’t use it as an excuse. It’s still a mistake. I understand my mistake now. It was a very unusual scenario that happened just once in all those laps.”
Some mistakes have gone Rosberg’s way.
At the Monaco Grand Prix, Hamilton was cruising toward his second victory at Formula One’s marquee event when Mercedes called him in for a late tire change. He emerged from pit row in third place.
Rosberg was the beneficiary, getting the win and becoming just the fourth driver to win at Monte Carlo three straight years.
But everyone knew Hamilton should have one. Rosberg called himself lucky and Wolff even apologized. In a way, Rosberg’s teammate had stolen the joy of his victory by losing.
With three races left on the season, Hamilton is aiming for Sebastian Vettel’s record of 13 victories set in 2013. He said he won’t back off to let Rosberg try to beat Vettel to second place in the driver standings.
“I want to win. Lewis wants to win,” Rosberg said. “I think it’s going to be a battle.”
Rosberg has spent six seasons with Mercedes and is under contract through 2016. Despite losing the title, he’s not ready to start thinking beyond Sunday’s race. He has 11 career victories and 38 podium finishes.