SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS Belgium (Reuters) - Lewis Hamilton accused Mercedes team mate and Formula One championship leader Nico Rosberg of deliberately colliding with him and wrecking his Belgian Grand Prix hopes on Sunday ‘to prove a point’.
The incident on lap two left Hamilton with a puncture and ultimately led to the Briton’s retirement from the race, while title rival Rosberg went on to finish second and extend his lead to 29 points.
Hamilton told reporters that the German, whose car’s front wing clipped Hamilton’s rear tyre in a failed attempt to overtake, had done it on purpose.
”We just had a meeting about it and he basically said he did it on purpose. He said he did it on purpose,“ repeated the Briton with a dazed look. ”He said he could have avoided it. He said ‘I did it to prove a point’.
“You don’t have to just rely on me, go and ask (Mercedes team bosses) Toto (Wolff) and Paddy (Lowe) who are not happy with him as well,” said Hamilton.
“I was gobsmacked when I was listening to the meeting. You need to ask him what point he was trying to make.”
Rosberg, whose relationship with Hamilton has hit the rocks repeatedly this season as their boyhood friendship fragments, told reporters separately that the collision was a racing incident.
“We had a discussion, as is important after such circumstances, because obviously what happened cost the team a lot of points,” said the German, speaking to a media scrum downstairs in the Mercedes hospitality while Hamilton held court on the floor above.
“That is the main focus and the biggest issue with such a happening as today,” added the Mercedes driver, who stepped on to the podium to boos and whistles from the crowd.
“Unfortunately, I’m not going to go into any details, that wouldn’t be the right thing to do. We need to review and discuss how we move forward.”
Wolff later attempted to clarify what had happened in the meeting, explaining that ”Nico felt he needed to hold his line. He needed to make a point.
“He (Rosberg) didn’t give in. He thought it was for Lewis to leave him space, and that Lewis didn’t leave him space,” added the Austrian.
“So they agreed to disagree in a very heated discussion amongst ourselves, but it wasn’t deliberately crashing. That is nonsense.”
Mercedes team bosses, speaking earlier as the dust settled on a race won by Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo, were critical of Rosberg’s driving and indicated he could expect a stern response.
“You don’t try to overtake with the knife between your teeth in lap number two and damage both cars,” declared Wolff, who described the incident as “absolutely unacceptable”.
Retired triple champion and non-executive chairman Niki Lauda, speaking before the meeting with drivers, said Rosberg was at fault because Hamilton was in front.
“We lost the whole race, we could have been first and second...he provoked it, no question,” he said.
“Accidents can happen, and I have foreseen them anyway if two guys are fighting freely all the way to the end, and it is accepted but not on the second lap,” added Lauda.
“Why on the second lap? If he wants to pass him he can pass him on the slipstream easily one lap later without danger and without risk. It was not that he had to do it because it was the last corner.”
The two drivers had arrived in Belgium with the stage already set for sparks after a ‘team orders’ controversy in the previous race in Hungary in July, where Mercedes again backed Hamilton.
Rosberg had been angered after being beaten in that race by his team mate, despite being on pole while the Briton started last and in the pitlane.
Hamilton had been asked on the team radio not to hold up Rosberg in Hungary, with the two on differing strategies, but Hamilton had made clear Rosberg had to be close enough and he was not going to slow for him and damage his own chances.
Their relationship also entered a glacial phase after Monaco, where Hamilton suggested Rosberg might have deliberately gone off late in qualifying to bring out warning flags that denied him a chance to seize pole position.
Mercedes have generally allowed their drivers to race each other freely, wary of damaging the sport and angering fans at a time where they have been dominant on the track and seemingly in a private duel for the title.
Despite Sunday’s setback, the team have still won nine of the 12 races so far.
Editing by Mark Meadows and Pritha Sarkar