Duel with Hamilton ‘difficult’ for Rosberg as title race intensifies

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain talks to his technicians during the free practice.
Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain talks to his technicians during the free practice.
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Nico Rosberg appreciates his Mercedes bosses have endured a “very difficult” time handling his relationship with Lewis Hamilton this season.

Motorsport boss Toto Wolff, non-executive chairman Niki Lauda and executive technical director Paddy Lowe have been forced to contend with a fair share of issues between Rosberg and Hamilton.

The partnership threatened to explode at one point over the course of the Monaco Grand Prix weekend in late May when Rosberg took pole via a dubious manoeuvre during qualifying that Hamilton believed was deliberate.

A one-two followed, with Rosberg taking the chequered flag ahead of a furious Hamilton, resulting in neither acknowledging the other during a tense podium ceremony.

Wolff and Lauda did well to keep the lid on that particular saga, and while there have been other niggles along the way, for now there is a peace of sorts.

But with the championship a two-horse race as the duo are separated by just 14 points in the title fight, there is plenty of opportunity yet for the battle to become truly explosive.

Asked whether he felt there would have been more fireworks by now, Rosberg was cryptic with his response as he said: “You don’t know, maybe there have been more fireworks. There could have been.”

Pressed on the matter, Rosberg added: “Yeah, but I’ve forgotten!

“It’s always the same, it doesn’t change. It’s neutral, sometimes easier, sometimes with more difficult periods.

“You just work through the difficult ones and that’s it. It hasn’t really changed.”

For those in charge, though, Rosberg said: “It’s difficult, very difficult.

“We need to find a balance because in the first instance we’re racing for Mercedes, representing Mercedes and wanting to do a good job for them.

“We’re also representing the thousand-plus people – my colleagues – at the factory who have families and who depend on us.

“So we need to work as a team, but there comes a point where you want to beat the other guy. It’s a fine line.”

That fine line is becoming a well-worn path that could well become a furrow as the season enters the final stretch and the nerves and tension increase.

In turn, that will apply further pressure on the likes of Wolff and Lauda

“It’s a very, very difficult job,” assessed Rosberg.

“There are difficult periods to manage the whole situation, but we’re very fortunate because we’re set up really well from that point of view.

“The three of them – Niki, Toto, Paddy – more Toto and Paddy who do more of the day-to-day running, I’m grateful for the way they have managed the team and the situations.

“They’ve done a good job, but it will remain a challenge.”

Rosberg’s challenge this season is to score his first career podium at the Hungaroring where Hamilton has won four times in seven years.

Yesterday, Hamilton at least continued his love affair with the track as he finished quickest at the end of both practice sessions.

Quickest in FP1 when the medium-compound tyre was used throughout, Hamlton posted a time of one minute 25.814 seconds, finishing 0.183secs clear of Rosberg.

Come FP2 when the drivers were allowed a run on the soft Pirelli rubber, the faster of the two choices this weekend, Hamilton improved to 1:24.482secs, with Rosberg down by 0.238secs.

The session was not without its difficulties for Mercedes, though, as Hamilton at one stage complained of a loss of braking.

That will likely have sounded a few alarm bells on the pit wall in light of Hamilton’s accident during qualifying last Saturday for the German Grand Prix when he suffered a 30g impact into a tyre wall after a right-front brake disc failure.

As for Rosberg, there were engine concerns just over two thirds of the way through, although neither man seemed overly burdened as long runs were eventually undertaken. For Hamilton, a lack of grip left him particularly unhappy.

“The tyres don’t feel very good here,” he said. “There was very, very poor grip out there. I don’t know if that’s the tyres or the track, but it was pretty bad.

“You’re driving so slow to look after the tyres it feels like you have to slow down too much now to the point it’s a bit boring

“So we have some work to do overnight to ensure we get the best set-up for the weekend as we’re not fully comfortable with the car just yet.”

Reigning four-time champion Sebastian Vettel in his Red Bull and double title-holder in Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso were the only two drivers to finish within a second of Hamilton.

McLaren’s Jenson Button was 1.752secs back in ninth.