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Nico Rosberg's Anger with Lewis Hamilton Shows Why He Won't Become F1 Champion

Oliver Harden@@OllieHardenFeatured ColumnistApril 17, 2015

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton, right, of Britain stands next to teammate Nico Rosberg of Germany after taking pole in the qualifying session for the Chinese Formula One Grand Prix at Shanghai International Circuit in Shanghai, China, Saturday, April 11, 2015. Rosberg finished second for Sunday's race. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
Andy Wong/Associated Press

Do you view Formula One as a team sport? Or one of individuals, who only unite when circumstances dictate they must?

After a Chinese Grand Prix that saw Nico Rosberg throw his biggest tantrum yet, accusing his Mercedes colleague Lewis Hamilton of failing to play the team game, that question is more relevant than ever.

F1, and indeed motor racing, is unlike any other sport when it comes to the issue of team spirit. 

They may smile for the cameras, but F1 team-mates are compelled to beat each other.
They may smile for the cameras, but F1 team-mates are compelled to beat each other.Miguel Morenatti/Associated Press

Rather than working together to grind down the opposition—as, for example, football and cricket outfits would—Formula One team-mates conspire against one another with the principal, if not sole, aim of beating the man on the other side of the garage.

In a sport in which only two people have access to equal machinery at any given time, how a driver performs alongside their team-mate reveals much about their respective qualities, strengths, weaknesses and potential.

It is this basic principle upon which the most ferocious, intense rivalries in the history of sport have been built, from Nigel Mansell and Nelson Piquet's tit-for-tat battle at Williams in 1986 and '87 to the struggle between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost at McLaren-Honda over '88 and '89.

These conflicts, at the height of successful periods for both Williams and McLaren, were by-products of the desire, the need, the urge to be faster and faster, to become better and better

In the short time Mercedes have conquered F1, since the V6 turbo regulations were introduced at the beginning of 2014, comparisons have often been drawn—as they so often are when two drivers wearing the same overalls win many races—between Rosberg-versus-Hamilton and Prost-versus-Senna.

And although some similarities do exist, mostly in terms of the drivers' contrasting approaches—one is a hard-charging, relentless racer, the other relies on his methodical, meticulous capabilities—the Chinese GP, and its fallout, proved why the Hamilton-Rosberg alliance will not be remembered as an all-time great rivalry.

Toru Takahashi/Associated Press

After making their first pit stops of the afternoon, the leaders ran in tandem, with Hamilton in front and Rosberg ahead of the chasing Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel.

Sensing Hamilton was driving deliberately slowly with the aim of backing his team-mate into the clutches of Vettel, Rosberg, as per the FIA television feed, radioed the team, urging Mercedes to encourage Hamilton to increase his pace.

Hamilton soon obliged, speeding up as the second stint progressed—laps of around one minute, 44 seconds at the start of the stint became efforts of mid-1:43s, according to the FIA Race Lap Analysis information—and Mercedes scored their 13th one-two finish in 22 races.

Normally a cause for celebration, the race result only served to reopen the wounds in the Hamilton-Rosberg relationship, those that were thought to be patched up at the end of their 2014 title fight, as the latter told Sky Sports' Pete Gill and Mike Wise:

I didn't feel [he was slowing me down], it was a fact and my race was compromised. It was a scenario we went through in detail before the race—that for the individual in front to have the best possible race for himself was to back the guy in second into Sebastian Vettel.

That was the best race for the guy in front, but not good for the team as it puts the guy in second into an unnecessary risky position. Did Lewis do it on purpose or not? I don’t know. He said in the press conference that he was just thinking about himself. That is an interesting indication, an interesting statement.

That Rosberg saw fault with Hamilton's driving at the start of the second stint, and allowed that to overshadow the result, was deeply alarming, highlighting a lack of understanding of the psyche of elite drivers.

After all, the likes of Vettel, Hamilton and Fernando Alonso—drivers with a total of eight world championships between them—have built their careers upon a certain selfishness, an unwillingness to let anything stand between them, and them alone, from success.

Alonso, for instance, told Sky Sports' Johnny Herbert in 2013 how he would give "one arm" to add to the two drivers' titles he won in 2005 and '06, while last season, Hamilton told the official F1 website how he was hungrier than Rosberg for success.

Although the reasons Hamilton gave for that difference in hunger attracted much criticism—does living "on a couch in my dad’s apartment" really make a racing driver more competitive than someone who "grew up with jets and hotels and boats and all these kind of things"?—it is increasingly evident that the Mercedes drivers are fuelled by different motives.

Nico Rosberg @nico_rosberg

Good team factory visit today. Coming up with a plan to beat the red cars in shanghai! @MercedesAMGF1 @LewisHamilton http://t.co/JfKkprHkdR

While Hamilton, like all great drivers, is out to achieve success for himself, cementing his position among the finest performers of his generation and using the team as a springboard for that success, Rosberg, it seems, is merely a servant of Mercedes.

As every race weekend passes, Rosberg looks more like a classic No. 2 driver, someone who will score points consistently, record podiums whenever the car is capable and fight for wins whenever the lead driver, in this case Hamilton, hits trouble—but never provide a serious, sustainable challenge in his own right.

Mark Schiefelbein/Associated Press

It is fitting that this weekend's Bahrain Grand Prix takes place at the same venue where Rosberg and Hamilton had their tremendous, season-defining, race-long battle last season.

Previously regarded as a modern classic, an event which saw two men competing at the top of their game and fighting head-to-head for victory, subsequent events has seen the 2014 Bahrain GP become symbolic of the differences between the Mercedes drivers.

Kamran Jebreili/Associated Press

Under the floodlights on that serene Sakhir evening, Hamilton fought tooth-and-nail to preserve his lead over Rosberg—risking contact with the sister Mercedes on more than one occasion—as the German, despite the advantage of better tyres, couldn't make a move stick.

It was a race he should have won, a championship lead he should have extended, but a lack of conviction and confidence—an unwillingness to put the Silver Arrows at risk for personal gain—saw it slip away.

A year on, Rosberg remains a team man drowning in a sea of selfishness.


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