Analysing Evolution of Lewis Hamilton-Nico Rosberg Rivalry After Monaco GP

Oliver HardenFeatured ColumnistMay 27, 2014

Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg of Germany, right, is flanked by his teammate Lewis Hamilton of Britain after the qualifying session at the Monaco racetrack, in Monaco, Saturday, May 24, 2014. At left is his teammate Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain . Nico Rosberg has taken pole position for the Monaco Grand Prix ahead of his Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton and Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo. The Mercedes pair went out for one final qualifying lap with less than a minute remaining and Rosberg lost control coming out of the Mirabeau turn, sliding down an escape road. A yellow flag then came up which meant that Hamilton could not improve on his time. Stewards later said they are investigating Rosberg's maneuver on turn 5.The Monaco Formula One Grand Prix will be held on Sunday. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)
Luca Bruno/Associated Press

So where does the competition between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg stand against the great rivalries of Formula One? 

After a Monaco Grand Prix weekend which saw tensions reach a boiling point, some would have you believe that it already comes close to the bitterness between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost in the late 1980s and early 1990s, which is widely recognised as F1's finest feud.

Even Hamilton himself, who has rarely shied away from comparing himself to the Brazilian three-time world champion, was quoted by Autosport as suggesting to BBC Radio 5 Live that his battle with Rosberg is rapidly approaching that stage.  

Those who seek to claim that the Rosberg-Hamilton rivalry comes within touching distance of Prost-Senna, however, are dealing in the currency of hyperbole.

The modern world and its addiction to PR will prevent this battle from getting spectacularly out of hand on and off-track.

What Murray Walker, the legendary Formula One commentator, described as "fantastic" in 1989 would be translated as a "breach of contract" or an instance of "bringing the sport into disrepute" in 2014.

And besides, the battle between Rosberg and Hamilton—despite being ignited by the former's convenient mistake in qualifying at Monaco—continues to lack the sheer intensity which defined the Senna-Prost era.

It is undeniable, though, that the simmering tensions between the Mercedes drivers carries the core ingredients which could allow it to become the defining rivalry of the current era.

We have the kid from the streets of Stevenage against the boy who grew tall in Monaco. We have the driver who benefited from a helping hand from one of the sport's iconic institutions against the son of a world champion.

We have the world's most marketable athlete, according to SportsPro, with over two million Twitter followers and a topsy-turvy romance with a pop star girlfriend, against the settled husband-to-be with a fraction of the social media fame. 

We have the the aggressive, pure racer against the tactical driver with a profound interest in engineering. We have the established title winner, hungry for more, against the man hoping to add his name to the honours list.

And we have the team's marquee signing against the servant who remained loyal throughout the difficult periods and is now looking for the rewards.

When you examine the differences in background, application and careers paths of Hamilton and Rosberg, it is surprising that their friendship, established in their teenage years, has lasted this long.

MONTMELO, SPAIN - MAY 11:  Race winner Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP celebrates on the podium next to Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP during the Spanish Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Catalunya on May 11, 2014 in Montmelo,
Clive Mason/Getty Images

As Saturday became Sunday over the Monaco weekend, it emerged—as these things so often do—that the origins of the breakdown in relations between Rosberg and Hamilton were to be found not in the dying moments of Q3 when the German ran wide at Mirabeau, but in the previous grands prix.

Niki Lauda, Mercedes' non-executive chairman, confirmed to Sky Sports' television coverage of the Monaco race that Hamilton used a forbidden engine mode during the Spanish Grand Prix to defend his lead from the charging Rosberg. 

Hamilton admitted that this was the case during the post-race FIA press conference in Monaco, but accused Rosberg of pulling a similar trick in the Bahrain Grand Prix—something which Rosberg and Mercedes have neither confirmed nor denied, with Jonathan Noble of Autosport maintaining that the bond between the drivers only began to break after the race at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

Hamilton's conscious decision to ignore the wishes of his team carries alarming parallels to his previous high-profile war with a teammate, reflecting poorly on the 29-year-old in a season when he appeared to have been driving and behaving with more maturity than ever.

In qualifying for the 2007 Hungarian Grand Prix, Hamilton led then-McLaren teammate Fernando Alonso out of the pit lane to begin the fuel burn phase of Q3. The British driver refused to obey the instructions of the team's hierarchy to allow Alonso through, maintaining track position and therefore putting the cars out of sequence for their mid-session tyre changes.

As the clock ticked towards the close of the session, Hamilton found himself stacked behind Alonso in the McLaren pit lane, with the Spaniard purposely delaying his departure from McLaren's pit box to ensure that his teammate would not have enough time to complete his out-lap in time for a final flying lap.


Sure enough, Hamilton crossed the line only seconds after the chequered flag had fallen—denying the rookie a chance to claim pole position ahead of Alonso, with the two-time world champion later handed an ultimately title-deciding five-place grid penalty for impeding his teammate.

Hamilton, despite initiating the chain of events which led to Alonso's reaction, had emerged as the victim, his reputation unharmed and enhanced, with his McLaren ally accused of cheating.

The events of the 2014 Spanish and Monaco grands prix have almost been a mirror image of the events of that August Saturday afternoon in Budapest, with Hamilton provoking his teammate into an act which hindered his chances of success, yet adopting the persona of an innocent victim.

Hamilton's choice to maintain his clear displeasure despite Rosberg, unlike Alonso seven years ago, being cleared of any wrongdoing by the FIA stewards, has only served to inflate the predicament and needlessly increase tensions within the Mercedes team.

The curious similarities between Hungary 2007 and Spain/Monaco 2014 makes you wonder just how much Hamilton has grown up since being thrust into the public spotlight of McLaren seven years ago, before fleeing the nest of his mentors at the end of 2012.

The ability to learn from mistakes was a quality which Senna prioritised above all else, but the Brazilian's self-appointed incarnate has now twice made an error which carries huge consequences for his employers.

It is, perhaps, only right that the last word goes to Toto Wolff, the boss of both Hamilton and Rosberg at Mercedes.

While reflecting on the demands of the Monaco Grand Prix weekend Wolff told ESPN F1, "Sometimes, and I mean this with a positive spin, they are a little bit like teenagers finding out how far they can go."

Rosberg and Hamilton are boys competing in the shadows of men.