Did Nico Rosberg Sabotage Lewis Hamilton's Pole Position Bid at 2014 Monaco GP?

Oliver HardenFeatured ColumnistMay 24, 2014

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 24:  Teammates Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP and Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP look on following qualifying ahead of the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 24, 2014 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Julian Finney/Getty Images

We all knew the relationship between Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton, the Mercedes drivers, would turn sour at some point in 2014.

Much had been made of the friendship between the pair, which stretches back to their teenage years as teammates in karting.

Rosberg, in the aftermath of Mercedes' signing of Hamilton in late 2012, told Tom Cary of The Telegraph how he would play practical jokes on his mate as a youngster. 

Hamilton, meanwhile, told Paul Weaver of The Guardian at the beginning of last season how he and Rosberg would spend time riding unicycles when they weren't playing table tennis, football and computer games together.   

Underneath the smiles, the quirky promotional videos and funny anecdotes, however, the tension has gradually simmered this season as it has dawned on both Rosberg and Hamilton that they are now fighting head-to-head for the biggest prize in motorsport.

And when the Formula One World Championship is on the line, any relationship, no matter how long-standing, is impossible to maintain—as Toto Wolff, the boss of both drivers at Mercedes, effectively admitted to Byron Young of the Mirror earlier this season.

The events of the qualifying session for Sunday's Monaco Grand Prix, though, has seen the relationship between Rosberg and Hamilton take a twist that even Wolff could not have expected.

Rosberg held a slight lead over his teammate at the top of the timesheets after the first runs of the third and final segment of qualifying on Saturday before running wide at the Mirabeau corner and taking to the run-off area.

The deployment of yellow flags, forcing drivers to ease their pace as Rosberg made his way back on to the circuit, left Hamilton unable to improve his time, therefore leaving the German's earlier pace-setting time unchallenged.

Hamilton's post-session reaction, failing to acknowledge his friend during the photo-call in parc ferme before biting his lip for the duration of the FIA's press conference, told you all you needed to know regarding the 2008 world champion's view of the incident.

When asked by Pete Gill of Sky Sports whether Rosberg had intentionally denied him pole position, Hamilton said: "Who knows? I'm not saying anything. I was on a pole lap [at the time of the incident], I was up by a couple of tenths."

Rosberg, though, argued that there was no malice behind his off-track excursion, telling BBC Sport's Andrew Benson:

I just locked up. I thought I was going to hit the tyre wall. I knew I had a banker [lap] so I just tried to push that little bit more and went over the edge.

Of course I'm sorry for Lewis. I didn't know exactly where he was but once I was reversing I did see he was coming up. Of course that's not great, but that's the way it is.

Rosberg added that his driving inputs in the lap that he left the track were "very similar" to the lap with which he secured pole position—but a glance at the onboard footage of the No. 6 Mercedes tells a different story.

If you compare Rosberg's steering movements at the Mirabeau corner on the lap of his mistake, above, and his pole lap, below, you will see that the German is much more aggressive in his manipulation of the steering wheel.

Drivers often sweep across the track on the downhill run between Casino Square and Mirabeau to avoid a bump on the racing line, with Rosberg tilting his steering wheel slightly to the right under braking for the tight right-hander, effectively warning the car of his next move before fully committing to the corner.

On the lap of his mistake, however, the German is much more aggressive in his movements, rocking the wheel from right to left, almost as if he was torn between continuing with his own lap and cementing his position by preventing his rivals from completing their own. 

It seemed as though Rosberg, due to his unnatural steering manipulations, had forced the wheel lock-up which made his mind up for him, encouraging the 28-year-old to take the immoral option.

It should, however, be remembered that Monaco is a circuit which rewards the type of flamboyant, aggressive driving style which Rosberg had adopted on his final attempt. The track's tight, twisty nature and its lack of dependence on engine power in contrast to other venues means drivers who drag their car around the principality's streets can make all the difference. 

With provisional pole in his pocket, Rosberg was arguably well within his rights to explore the very limits of the track, his car and his own performance to ensure the front grid spot remained with him.

And just as the unique demands of Monaco played a role in Rosberg's mistake, the track also played a major part in the furore which followed.

After all, this was not the first time, and probably won't be the last, that a Mercedes driver has made a decisive error in qualifying this season.

And when you are in the heat of battle with a teammate who happens to be a long-term friend, with the weight of expectancy of one of the world's largest car companies on your shoulders, it is no surprise that mistakes have been made.

Rosberg, like in Monte Carlo, nursed a slender lead in qualifying and held on for pole after Hamilton locked up and ruined his lap at Turn 1, while the German himself was prevented from challenging his teammate on the Saturday of the Chinese Grand Prix after spinning at the final corner in wet conditions.

Because this occurred at a circuit as confined as Monaco, though—where yellow flags are more frequent and cause more disruption and distraction for drivers than any other track on the calendar—the significance and suspicion surrounding this incident has been heightened.

Luca Bruno/Associated Press

It is evident, following the decision of the FIA stewards, that Rosberg's mistake was just that: an innocent, human error.

Innocent and human? You could no longer use those words to describe his relationship with Hamilton, who, like others, appears to have fallen into the strap of seeing conspiracies which aren't there.

The best of friends have suddenly become the biggest of enemies.