There was little sign of repair to the fractious relations between former Mercedes teammates Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg prior to the latest leg of the F1 championships in Japan.
In a failed attempt to take the drivers' title from Rosberg, Hamilton defied team orders and deliberately slowed at the end of last year’s final race in Abu Dhabi to encourage Sebastian Vettel and Max Verstappen to overtake Rosberg, a move which led to some initial soul-searching from team boss Toto Wolff on the rights and wrongs of the Brit’s actions.
In the event, Rosberg held onto second place, retiring on a “superhigh” as the current Formula One champion.
Wolff has attributed their very different backgrounds - Rosberg hailing from Monaco, whilst Hamilton was raised on a council estate in Stevenage - for a bitter rivalry which may date back as far as qualifying at Monaco in 2014, when Rosberg stood accused of a deliberately crashing in order to sabotage Hamilton’s chances of starting in pole.
“It’s not going to be all plain sailing when two teammates have a car good enough to win the championship,” Wolff told the Daily Mail in June.
“Add in the luggage of the past and the games that are played. Each year there was a biggie (row) that had a major impact on their relationship. When you operate at that high level as a sportsman you are certainly sensitive. Both were. It affected them both.”
Nine months on, and Hamilton was conspicuously absent from those Rosberg exchanged handshakes or bearhugs at Suzuka.
“I haven’t spoken to Lewis for a while,” Rosberg admitted to the Mail on Sunday after exchanging congratulatory greetings with the crowds at Suzuka.
However, he chose to downplay any lingering enmity between him and the Brit, attributing his failure to meet-up with his former teammate to chance rather than deliberate avoidance.
“He’s all over the place,” he said of Hamilton.
And, whatever the precise nature of his feelings towards his former teammate, they certainly do not appear to have clouded his objectivity.
Rating the Brit as one of the two best drivers he had seen in 20 years – the other is current protege Robert Kubica – Rosberg said ahead of yesterday’s race: “Lewis is the strong favourite for the title.
“He is driving very well, the momentum is with him, the car is good.
'You could see today getting pole here meant a lot to him, more than you might think when he has so many of them.”
Hamilton went into yesterday’s race the overwhelming favourite for the Drivers' Championship, leading nearest challenger Sebastian Vettel by 34 points.
And, he took a giant step to securing his fourth world title with his eighth win of the season, stretching his lead at the top to 59 points, with just 100 left to race for, after his rival was forced to retire just four laps in following engine problems.News Now - Sport News