Over six months since the 2016 Formula 1 World Championship title was decided on a hot November night in Abu Dhabi, Mercedes chief Toto Wolff has revealed the behind-the-scenes shenanigans that took place between Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton, with the German appearing to be the unlikely villain in the piece.
Asked in an interview with the Daily Mail who the real ‘bad guy’ was in the three years of Mercedes’ utter domination which resulted in two titles for Lewis Hamilton (2014 and 2015) and one for Rosberg last year, Wolff revealed, “The one who is no longer here. The vicious one. Nico just tried to use all the weapons he had.”
“There were all the psycho games that you can play to destabilise your rival,” explained the Mercedes team principal, “With Nico and Lewis there may be factors we do not even know about.”
The two drivers were friends and rivals dating back to their karting days, and indeed were mates until Hamilton joined Mercedes in 2013. A year later Mercedes became an unbeatable force, thereafter the rivalry between Rosberg and Hamilton intensified. Friendship was the first thing to go.
Wolff also pointed out that Rosberg the rich-kid was going toe-to-toe with the rags-to-riches Hamilton, “They came from very different environments and raced each other as they grew up. It’s not going to be all plain sailing when two team-mates have a car good enough to win the championship.”
“Add in the luggage of the past and the games that are played. Each year there was a biggie (row) that had a major impact on their relationship. When you operate at that high level as a sportsman you are certainly sensitive. Both were. It affected them both.”
One of the more high profile salvos in the battle between the two was during qualifying for the 2014 Monaco Grand Prix where Rosberg was accused (by most of the F1 paddock) of deliberately botching his final lap to prevent Hamilton having a shot at pole.
Wolff was reminded of the the incident and asked for his opinion, “I have an answer but I am thinking how you would write it. It caused friction in the relationship. That was a big one.”
In 2016 Rosberg pulled out all then stops, used every trick in his arsenal and raised his game to supreme heights to bag his one and only title.
It was a case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – the Vicious Guy versus and Good Guy within – needed to beat Hamilton and claim world title.
Rosberg had to go against his character and instincts to win that battle and claim the title he wanted so badly, but once that was achieved he questioned his own motivation and will to go through another ‘war’ and decided five days after claiming the title to quit the sport.
Now, six months since bagging his title, he sits on his couch at home and watches the grand prix races like most of us do.
Big Question: What evidence is there of a Nico’s vicious streak in his battle with Lewis?