MONACO (Reuters) - Nico Rosberg had better brace for the backlash from Lewis Hamilton after ending his Mercedes team mate’s run of four wins in a row and taking the Formula One championship lead.
Jenson Button, who partnered Hamilton at McLaren from 2010 to 2012, was sure from his own experience that his fellow-Briton would come back harder than ever from his Monaco Grand Prix weekend.
Mercedes, winners of all six races so far this season, are in a class of their own and the next race in Canada is one of Hamilton’s old favorites having won there three times in the last six years.
“I always remember with Lewis that when we had a tussle in a race, or there was an issue between us or with the team, he would have a really bad race and be quite outspoken and quite emotional about it,” Button recalled.
“And the next race he would destroy me, he would come there and be stronger than ever.”
Monaco exposed more glaringly than ever just how intense the rivalry has become between Hamilton and Rosberg, how much their relationship has cooled since the start of the season and how much suspicion and intrigue is going on behind the scenes.
The two team mates have finished the last five races one-two and would surely have done so also in the Australian opener had Hamilton not suffered a costly retirement through no fault of his own.
Button said Mercedes were so far ahead of the rest that their drivers would have to ‘wipe each other out’ for anyone else to have a chance of winning.
That fact, with the drivers fighting for every advantage, is turning the championship into a round-by-round bout reminiscent of the duels between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost at McLaren in 1988 and 1989.
Rosberg won the latest battle after he secured a controversial pole position on Saturday, skidding off at a crucial moment in a mistake that forced Hamilton to slow just when he looked like going faster.
Race stewards investigated and found no wrongdoing by the German but Hamilton was clearly suspicious that Rosberg had pulled a fast one, knowing it would be nearly impossible to overtake in the race.
“Whether he (Nico) did it on purpose or not, Lewis is going to think that he did,” Button told Reuters. “And that’s the way it is when you are team mates and pushing that hard and fighting for a championship.
“This has really helped Nico’s championship, breaking Lewis’s (run of) wins but is Lewis strong enough to come back? I really do think he is. You will see an even more determined Lewis at the next race.
“The mind games people play on him will not work. Initially, he is quite an emotional character, initially it might hurt but he will come back stronger than ever,” said the 2009 world champion.
Button recalled how Hamilton had chafed at the Belgian Grand Prix, which Button won in 2012, over running a different downforce level to his team mate.
“It hurt him that weekend but the next race he came back and he won it,” recalled the Briton. “He’s very good at turning it around and coming back because he is a superb driver, he is very fast and he can wrestle a car around a circuit.
“He won’t have any issues going into the next race with Nico, even if there are any games going on – and I don’t think there are.”
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Pritha Sarkar