Formula One Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix: Lewis Hamilton thaws frosty relationship with Nico Rosberg
Abu Dhabi: What began as a tense stand-off between a glowering Lewis Hamilton and his fierce rival Nico Rosberg on Thursday, turned into a tender trip down memory lane to the halcyon days of their youth.
The pair have endured a fractious relationship since becoming Mercedes teammates in 2013, with Hamilton getting the edge on the German with championship triumphs in 2014 and 2015. But the three-time world champion is 12 points behind the German, who is chasing his maiden global crown, heading into this weekend’s season-ending Formula One Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
The pair took centre stage at a captivating media session at Yas Marina Circuit on Thursday, prior to which they posed awkwardly for a photo which exemplified the simmering tension between them.
A far cry from their childhood days, then, where they were firm friends in the karting scene.
How has fighting for the championship affected their relationship? “It’s been an interesting one,” replied Hamilton, whose 52nd race victory in Brazil less than two weeks ago made him the second-most successful driver in F1 history behind Michael Schumacher. “We obviously had a very good relationship when we started out as kids. For kids’ karting, you’re out having fun. We had a lot in common — we loved pizza, eating boxes of Kellogg’s Frosties, doing all crazy things like riding around on unicycles. I still do every one of those but Nico has shifted.
“Then we got to Formula 1, which was something we had spoken about as kids. It’s had its ups and downs, but ultimately I think, particularly in the last year at the age we are — which is pretty old (31) considering when we first met — we’ve been able to manage it pretty well. Stepping away from being our competitive selves I’m very proud of him and how he’s driven this year. Generally it’s been a pleasure to have him as a teammate and I’m sure that will continue.”
For all his love of the high life and bling — he was wearing his customary gold chain — and a seemingly cold demeanour at times, Hamilton appears a thoroughly decent and sensitive soul in the flesh.
Deeply saddened by the death of former McLaren team doctor Aki Hintsa last week, Hamilton insists he will draw inspiration from him in the F1 finale. “Coming here this weekend, whilst I have that fighting spirit in my heart from the last races I’ve done, I come here with almost double the power in the sense that I want to win this race, more so for him,” said the Briton, who won his maiden world crown at McLaren in 2008 after beginning his F1 career with the British team a year earlier.
“While it’s an emotional time, I’m here to do him proud, and drive with the belief that he had in me.”
Hamilton is “proud” of his performance in 2016, despite being afflicted by a series of engine failures and occasional poor starts. “It has been a challenging season in terms of ups and downs,” he said.
“But I’ve managed to strengthen in terms of turning the negatives into positives.”
He added that his prime focus heading into the weekend was to take pole position and that he had not contemplated how he would approach the race. However, he said he would not try to “back up” Rosberg to bring rivals such as Red Bull into play.