David Coulthard column: Hamilton v Rosberg is great for F1

By David CoulthardBBC F1 co-commentator and former F1 driver

Mercedes are handling a very tricky situation between their two drivers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg about as well as they possibly could.

There is clearly a big problem between Hamilton and Rosberg and it came to a head at the Monaco Grand Prix at the weekend.

But Mercedes are very openly managing the media's expectations and desires to see something blow up.

The team are saying that they do what they can, which is ask them not to crash into each other, but for the rest the drivers are racers, and so are the team, and they are going to let them go racing.

They know it will cause them problems, but you would much rather face that than trying to make the car go faster. In that sense, it is a good problem to have to manage.

Non-executive chairman Niki Lauda is a no-nonsense sort of guy who has seen it all before - and been there, too, in his own battle with Alain Prost in 1984.

And team bosses Toto Wolff and Paddy Lowe know that they have two choices.

They can either try to micro-manage the situation and tell people the drivers are not doing this or that, when we all know they are.

Or they can hold their hands up and say, look, they're competitive guys, they're paid to race, they have to respect the team and not crash into each other, but for the rest they can go for it.

That is the only sensible way to approach it.

The reality is that a Prost/Senna-type confrontation scenario will do much more for the media value of Mercedes and their partners than just dominating the season and making it boring.

It can only be negative if they lose the world championship as a result of it, but that is not going to happen. One of them is going to win it. We know that already.

Mercedes did, though, have one wake-up call when it comes to managing their drivers over the weekend.

It emerged in Monaco that one of the contributory factors to the dispute was that Hamilton had used a 'boost' mode on his engine during their battle for victory at the previous race in Spain when the drivers had been forbidden from doing so. That appears to have annoyed Rosberg.

Monaco GP highlights: Nico Rosberg beats Lewis Hamilton

But firstly Hamilton said Rosberg himself had done the same thing during their fight in Bahrain, so it was effectively neutralised.

And secondly, having something that can make performance better and asking a driver not to use it is like asking a kid not to lick an ice cream.

You can ask, you can chastise them afterwards, but you knew what was going to happen and you'd actually be disappointed if they did not show the very instincts that children should show.

It's the same with competitive people. You cannot expect a natural born winner not to use every tool at his disposal and every trick in the book to its full potential if it is accessible to him, as long as it is legal.

I'm not surprised it has blown up in this way between Hamilton and Rosberg, although I am a little surprised that it has happened so early.

But that just goes to show how quickly the competitive tensions can build up when you are racing only your team-mate for the title.

When it's just two guys in the same car battling, with such a performance gap over the rest, there is so much more at stake.

There is no other opposition to take the focus away from the two team-mates. And for the drivers there is nowhere to hide. The loser cannot console himself with the thought that the other guy had a better car.

Nico Rosberg and Louis Hamilton in actio at the Monaco GP
Rosberg and Hamilton led the way in Monaco and are well clear in the standings

In Monaco, Hamilton was obviously annoyed by what he saw as Rosberg's gamesmanship in qualifying, and he made that clear, even if he did not explicitly accuse Rosberg of deliberately ruining his last lap of qualifying by going off the track.

Hamilton chose to put it out there in the public domain, where Rosberg might have kept it more under wraps.

Only Rosberg will ever know for sure whether he did it deliberately; the rest of us can only have opinions.

But what is certain is that Hamilton and his engineer should be having a good long look at themselves and asking why they let Rosberg always be the first car on track in qualifying.

Rosberg had the strategy of always being the first guy out on track from the very start of the weekend, and he carried it throughout practice and qualifying.

He was always out ahead of Hamilton, and the maths is very simple. If there are only two minutes of qualifying left and you have to go faster to beat your team-mate, and he only has to cause a yellow flag to stop you, then your game is over.

So Hamilton was probably as frustrated that they did not respond to Rosberg's plan as he was at what he perceived Rosberg to have done.

He will have been thinking about the track being quicker at the end of the session, but in Monaco you can't think like that. You just need to be confident and get a lap. Whether it is at the beginning of the session or the end doesn't matter.

The bottom line is Hamilton was on the limit during the Bahrain Grand Prix when he swept across the front of Rosberg while defending his position shortly before the first pit stops.

And Rosberg was arguably on the limit with what happened in qualifying.

So in a way it is 1-1 in terms of the drivers giving each other a little glove across the face and the battle now continues in Canada on 8 June.

After the race in Monaco, Hamilton was very clear that he was going to go to Montreal for the next race and let his speed do the talking.

I'm sure Mercedes will just let the drivers get on with it in Canada. If a team is well managed, this sort of thing does not divide them. The engineers are mature enough to concentrate on their job and doing the best for their driver.

The biggest management job the team have is the media, not the two drivers, because neither of them is going to come to heel.

As for the rest of us, we should just enjoy it. This is great for F1.

This sort of battle comes along once every couple of decades or so, and we should simply sit back and savour two exceptional drivers do what they should do, which is to leave no stone unturned in the quest to be the best driver out there.

David Coulthard was talking to BBC Sport's Andrew Benson.

Top Stories