Nico Rosberg accused Lewis Hamilton of putting himself before the team on Sunday as the fragile truce between the feuding Mercedes rivals unravelled spectacularly in China.
World champion Hamilton won from pole for a record fourth victory at Shanghai but Rosberg ripped into the Briton after the race, accusing Hamilton of deliberately holding him up as Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari closed in.
“He compromised my race,” fumed Rosberg, who finished second after demanding over the radio that Hamilton be ordered to speed up. “By driving slower than was necessary at the beginning of stints meant Sebastian was very close to me.”
Hamilton rejected Rosberg’s claims after dominating from start to finish.
“It’s not my job to look after Nico’s race,” he shrugged. “My job is to control my race. I didn’t do anything intentionally to slow any of the cars up. I just focused on myself.”
Rosberg angrily fired back: “It’s now interesting to hear from you, Lewis, that you were just thinking about yourself.”
Niki Lauda, the Mercedes team’s non-executive chairman, did not share Rosberg’s view that Hamilton had driven selfishly.
“These guys are egocentric,” he said. “This is the only way to win — they’re all the same. Lewis was better this weekend.
“Lewis had pole position and controlled the race from the beginning to the end,” he added. “There’s nothing more to say. Therefore, I think there’s no need to quarrel.”
The pair, whose rivalry dates back to karting as teenagers, bickered constantly last season. An ugly public spat boiled over when Rosberg drove into Hamilton in Belgium, for which the German was disciplined by Mercedes.
– ‘It hurts’ –
Signs of friction had already re-emerged this season, with Rosberg forced to deny suggestions he deliberately slowed Hamilton by getting in his way during qualifying in Malaysia two weeks ago.
Asked if he wanted to respond to Rosberg’s charge, Hamilton laughed “not really”, before repeating: “My job is to manage the car and bring the car home as healthy and fast as possible.
“That’s what I did. If Nico wanted to get by he could try, but he didn’t.”
Lauda insisted the latest row would blow over before next weekend’s race in Bahrain, adding that it would be dealt internally by Mercedes.
“They sit down, they have a briefing, they cool down and the whole thing will be stopped quickly,” he said. “Thank God there is only one week to the next race so all the talking will stop quickly.”
Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff put Rosberg’s outburst down to frustration at having watched Hamilton win two of this season’s first three races.
“You need to be very careful half-an-hour after the race to point a finger at anybody,” he said.
“It was a very difficult situation, (Lewis) needed to manage the pace because we didn’t know how long the tyres would last and that put Nico in trouble. Clearly then he’s upset.”
Lauda predicted Rosberg would bounce back.
“Sure, it hurts,” said the Austrian. “When I was beaten by (Alain) Prost all the time in the old days, I was not happy.
“Nico is a guy who comes back quickly.”