Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg's Friendship Can Survive Their Title Fight

Neil James@NeilosJamesFeatured ColumnistApril 9, 2014

The 2014 Formula One season is already shaping up to be a two-horse race. Mercedes have produced a car which is so far ahead of the competition that Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg look set to be the only contenders for the crown.

It won't be the first time they've been involved in a title race.

They met in 1997 and are first recorded by driverdb.com as competing regularly against each other in 1999, in the European Championship ICA Junior karting class.

In 2000 they both moved up to the European Formula A championship. This was the season they became team-mates for the first timeand they finished the year first and second, Hamilton edging out Rosberg.

Fast forward to 2014, and they're together again, looking for all the world like the future champion and runner-up on a far greater stage.

This forthcoming title fight is made all the more interesting because Hamilton and Rosberg are, by F1 standards, friendsand have been since their days in karting.

Hamilton told The Guardian in 2013 about their early years:

We always had great competition, whether on the racetrack or computer games or playing football. We always had that. It was a really good period of time in my career and in my life and I look forward to making some more great memories.

I have never laughed so much than when we were racing together. Nico was kicking everyone's butt at that time. We had some great races together and built a great relationship.

But there has been a lot of talk, such as in The Mirror, The Telegraph and givemesport.com, suggesting that the relationship cannot survive a title battle.

F1 isn't karting. The stakes are massively higher, the style of racing is totally different and the pressure to come out on top will surely turn this long-standing friendship sour.


It's true that, historically, when a title fight has been between team-mates they haven't usually got on.

Nigel Mansell and Nelson Piquet in the 1980s is a fine example, and it was followed closely by the famous rivalry between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost from 1988 onwards. Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber in 2010 was another which was less than friendly.

We can also count Hamilton's 2007 fight with Fernando Alonso as an ill-tempered affair.

The exceptions to the rule are mostly from the distant past, but there are two relatively recent examples of team-mates who got on well during a title fight.

Niki Lauda and Alain Prost in 1984 had a good-natured battle, and there was no backstabbing and infighting during the 1996 season, when Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve finished a close first and second.

So which way will it go this year?

It's hard to say, and the rivalries of the past aren't much use as a guide because they started from totally different places. Hamilton and Alonso, and Webber and Vettel, didn't really have opinions of each other before they got together.

In the other two cases, a lack of friendliness was already there. Mansell and Piquet didn't like each other even before they were team-mates, while Senna and Prost were by no means buddies before their titanic battle began.

In each case, the most they had for one another was respect. And it was a grudging respect.

With Hamilton and Rosberg, there appears to be genuine warmth. The respect they have for one another is long-standing and sincere, forged as they climbed through the junior ranks and set off on their F1 adventures.

When one has a good race and the other struggles, the "loser" will usually admit his team-mate did a better job on the day.

Then he'll go away, determined to be on the top step at the next race.

There are also indications that both men place value on their relationships and life away from the circuit. Though totally focused when they're on the track, off it they don't come across as men who sit around obsessing too much about F1.

With other things in your life, it can be easier to worry less about the day job.

There will be no team orders causing resentment and bitterness at Mercedes. The drivers are free to race.

But perhaps the most compelling reason the relationship can survive was seen during and after the Bahrain Grand Prix.

When Rosberg attacked Hamilton early in the race, he was clearly displeased at the way the Brit cut back across him at the exit of the hairpin. On the team radio (heard on live TV and quoted by F1Fanatic), he angrily said, "Warn him, that was not on!"

The two men had an epic battle for the lead, which Hamilton eventually won after repeatedly running the German wide at the exit of Turn 4.

Though to the viewer none of the moves Hamilton did looked at all unfair, F1 drivers are a sensitive bunch when someone steals their piece of tarmac. Many drivers would have been somewhat irked.

But not Rosberg. In parc ferme after the race, he didn't complain at all.

Instead, he playfully rugby-tackled Hamilton and both seemed delighted they'd had the opportunity to have a full-on, proper race. In the waiting room before the podium ceremony, their behaviour was that of friends and sportsmen.

Fantastic, close racing between team-mates and good sportsmanship at the end. Thank you @MercedesAMGF1. #F1 pic.twitter.com/xb7y3RMguq

— wtf1.co.uk (@wtf1couk) April 7, 2014

Hamilton later admitted to Sky Sports F1 he wasn't the faster man on the day, and he added:

It was very close, it felt very closeI don't know how close it was, but it felt very closeand I guess the team will decided how close that was. But Nico drove very well and hopefully I drove safe enough to stay in front. Hopefully we have more races like that in the future.

Rosberg told BBC Sport:

I thought I'd got him about nine times but they didn't work. He always got the run back on me and he did a good job, that's it. Lewis is obviously a great driver and made it work and next time I need to do better.

At no time were we at risk of taking both cars out. There was always the necessary margin. It might not have looked like it on TV but there was. It was good racing.

The impression is that these are two men for whom winning, though massively important, isn't everything. The manner in which they win means just as much as the act itself.

A fighting win is worth multiple easy cruises to the flag. If that fighting win is against a friend with whom they have a long history, it's even better.

Crucially, each has the capacity to accept a defeat and admit their team-mate did better.

At the end of the season, there'll be little resentment when, as seems ever more likely, one driver seizes the title and the other second place.

Of course the loser will be disappointed, and as much as the teams' PR people try to convince us otherwise, F1 drivers are not robots. There'll be envy, sadness and an inevitable harking back to key moments as they wonder what might have been.

But most of allproviding it's a close fighteven the loser will feel the pleasure and satisfaction of having been in a tough, draining battle.

The sort of thing you see on Centre Court after an epic Wimbledon final, or at the end of a hard-fought boxing match. Once the initial rush of despair has passed, the loser of any close duel will nearly always have a smile on his face.

That and a burning need to get even next time out.

It would be foolish to suggest there'll be no minor "glitches" along the way. If the rest of the season is as close as Bahrain, they will almost certainly run into each other at least once, and that might provoke a few angry words.

But don't arguments occur between friends the world over every day of the year?

Barring any major mishapslike a Senna/Prost moment or some Piquet-style verbalsthere's no reason Hamilton and Rosberg cannot end the season as close as they started it.

Not quite best buddies, but as friendly as two F1 drivers are ever likely to get.


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