Chicago – The club of great intra-team rivalries of Formula 1 have inducted a new pair to their hallowed membership. The Lewis Hamilton – Nico Rosberg battle certainly is the fiercest of this season, topping the duel of Ferraris between Fernando Alonso and Kimi Räikkönen. I remember quite fondly Rosberg’s win last year at Monaco, during which race he and his British teammate worked together to keep the Ferraris and Red Bulls at bay. To follow that, Hamilton wrote a lengthy congratulations to his German teammate following his win. What a difference a year makes!
This past Sunday at Monaco, the two Mercedes drivers hardly moved to congratulate each other post-race. The animosity between the pair has come thus far to dominate this season. What I find most interesting, as a historian, is the fact that Niki Lauda, one of the greatest drivers of the 70s and 80s, is now working with the Mercedes team as its non-executive chairman, in which position, according to the Daily Mail, he took part in the negotiations that brought Hamilton to the team.
Lauda was quoted by Paul Weaver of the Guardian “One thing is clear, that Lewis, from my point of view, has a one or two tenths advantage on Nico. He can get the laps in qualifying. And Nico is working hard – he’s my type – with the mechanics and engineers with the tyres, so we have one natural talent, very emotional. And we have another guy who is doing the same job in another way.”
Another element of this rivalry, as noted by Hamilton last weekend in Monaco, is the vast disparity in childhoods between the Briton and the German. Hamilton grew up in Stevenage in Hertfordshire, one of the less-well-off suburbs of London. Rosberg, the son of retired Finnish Formula 1 driver Keke Rosberg, grew up largely in Monaco having a far more privileged childhood than Hamilton. Today, Hamilton and Rosberg live in the same apartment building in Monaco.
Who knows what this rivalry will do for or against the Mercedes team throughout the rest of the season. The next race in Montréal will be yet another testing ground for the relationship between the two drivers in question. Perhaps they will eliminate each other from the race in Lap 1. Or quite possibly they will keep up the fight to the finish like in Bahrain. Either way, this rivalry, which began in their karting days, has blossomed into one of the great Formula 1 rivalries of this decade.