When Lewis Hamilton got the call with 50 laps of the Hungaroring behind him and 20 to go, he was shocked. The Mercedes pitwall was asking him to move aside so his teammate and rival in the race for the F1 Drivers’ World Championship Nico Rosberg could take a run at Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso and Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo. With Mercedes already sitting on a 147 point lead over Team Red Bull and its two drivers well on their way to top-five finishes at the Hungarian GP, the call struck Hamilton as gratuitous – so he ignored it.
Thanks his third-place finish, Hamilton, who has struggled with mechanical setbacks all season, is now 11 points behind Rosberg with eight races to go. That’s striking distance and with the team competition basically wrapped up, their rivalry is the most compelling story in racing. They’ll continue to wear Daimler’s three-pointed star for the rest of the season, but the Hungarian GP made it clear that they’re no longer teammates in any meaningful way.
And that’s totally fine.
After the race, Rosberg offered no comment on Hamilton’s decision not to cede his position, but NikiLauda, the non-executive chairman of Mercedes AMGPetronas, sided with Hamilton. “Nico never got that close,” the racing legend said. “I do understand that Lewis said, ‘Why? Why should I stop in the middle of the circuit to let my team colleague by?” Either emboldened by Lauda’s apparent support of just peeved, Hamilton was frank about his decision, saying “I was racing or myself, I wasn’t racing for him.”
F1 fans can look forward to more of the same: Hamilton versus Rosberg rather than Hamilton and Rosberg versus the field. It’s all about the rivalry from here on out; two drivers at the top of their game (pending engine trouble) going head to head with Ricciardo, Alonso, and Vettel serving more as obstacles than potential spoilers. The Silver Arrows will likely refrain from using two different frequencies, which will only serve to make the chess match that much harder for the 29-year-old Brit and the 29-year-old German.
What seems clear despite the post-race static is that a bad call from the Mercedes pit has accidentally triggered an internal reckoning at Mercedes. There will be closed-door discussions, but resolution is just a matter of times.
Photos by Hoch Zwei / Corbis