SHANGHAI: Fierce Mercedes rivals Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg resumed hostilities in China on Saturday after Hamilton snatched pole position by the finest of margins, much to Rosberg’s chagrin.
Hamilton, the Formula One world champion, pipped Rosberg by just four hundredths of a second in Shanghai, the German bristling when reminded he had out-qualified Hamilton in 2014, insisting there was no cause for alarm.
“I think last year he was also three or four up on me in qualifying and I pulled it back afterwards,” Rosberg told reporters after watching Hamilton take pole for the third time in three races this season.
“I just missed out by four hundredths,” he added. “And who cares anyways! It’s points that count.”
Rosberg’s frustration was evident, however, and he rather truculently refused to shake Hamilton’s hand after climbing out of his car, while pointedly offering congratulations to countryman Sebastian Vettel, who took third for Ferrari.
Still seething, Rosberg admitted it stung not to put a dent in Hamilton’s armour after coming so close.
“Yes, it is a particularly pleasurable experience,” he said slowly with a wry smile, referring to the feeling of putting one over on the Briton.
Hamilton, in contrast, took a thinly veiled dig at Rosberg as the feud which boiled over last year when Rosberg drove into him in Belgium, threatened to erupt again.
“I don’t actually mind him having more (poles),” he shrugged.
“He can have the trophy for most poles. As long as I have the trophy for winning — that’s all that matters. Ultimately qualifying is not the end of the world.”
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff, who has taken the bickering rivals to task after their public spat, reiterated that the team preferred not to adopt split strategies and to let the two drivers compete on a level playing field.
But he confessed that after Vettel’s surprise victory in Malaysia two weeks ago, Mercedes could be forced into a rethink to combat the Ferrari threat.
“It could trigger different behaviour from us,” he said. “What we always tried to do last year was to play it fair and square, stay as neutral as possible, so we don’t argue at the end of the race.”
That prompted a sharp intake of breath from Rosberg.
“Definitely I don’t like that,” he said. “Because it’s an artificial addition to our fight. It’s not a fair fight for one or the other.
But we’re racing for Mercedes and in the first instance we need to win for Mercedes.”
Hamilton sniffed: “I haven’t got any worries just yet. Ultimately the car in front gets the best strategy, so I’ve put myself in the best position for that.”