THIS STORY APPEARS IN THE MARCH ISSUE OF INSIDE SPORT MAGAZINE. FOR MORE ON INSIDE SPORT, CLICK HERE.
It was the moment that was supposed to be the breaking of Lewis Hamilton. On the second lap of last year’s Belgian Formula One Grand Prix at the venerable Spa-Francorchamps circuit, Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg committed one of motorsport’s cardinal sins – thy shall not crash into thy teammate – when he ran into the back of Hamilton as the pair squabbled over the lead. Rosberg’s front wing damage was minimal; Hamilton’s left rear tyre was shredded. As he limped back to the pits for new rubber, Hamilton’s championship quest looked done. By the end of the race, where Rosberg recovered to finish second behind Daniel Ricciardo while Hamilton sulked into retirement, Rosberg’s championship advantage over Hamilton had blown out to a season-high 29 points, more than a race win. And then Rosberg went for the jugular.
Both drivers were summoned to a post-race meeting with furious Mercedes’ management, Rosberg putting his hand up to take blame for the clash, but using his admission to twist the knife further. Sensing his teammate being sucked into an emotional maelstrom, Rosberg chose to play Hamilton like a puppet. As soon as the meeting finished, Hamilton hurriedly left the Mercedes motorhome, running headlong into a heaving press pack expectant for answers. “He basically said he did it on purpose,” an agitated Hamilton blurted. “He said he could have avoided it, but he didn’t want to. He basically said ‘I did it to prove a point’.”
Long-time Hamilton-watchers braced themselves for the fallout. Emotional and reactionary at the best of times, Rosberg’s words – true or not – had the potential to send Hamilton off the deep end. But a funny thing happened on the way to Hamilton’s implosion. First he got mad – “I’m going to have to turn this up; this means war,” was his comment afterwards. Then he got away, decamping to Sardinia with friends while shutting the world out. And then he got even, winning six of the final seven races of the year after Belgium to leave Rosberg – and the rest of the field – choking on his exhaust fumes as he became Formula One world champion. It was a turn of events that was as impressive as it was unlikely.
FOR MORE OF THIS FEATURE, SEE THE MARCH ISSUE OF INSIDE SPORT.