BANG GOES A FRIENDSHIP: Mercedes' British driver Lewis Hamilton (left) and team mate Nico Rosberg collide at the Spa-Francorchamps ciruit in Spa on during the August 2014 Belgian F1 GP. Image: AFP / John Thys
SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium - Nico Rosberg extended his Formula 1 championship lead after finishing second at the 2014 Belgian GP with his main title rival Lewis Hamilton claiming the German driver later acknowledged he had deliberately crashed into him.
Sunday's GP ended sourly with the huge tensions inside Mercedes overshadowing Daniel Ricciardo's impressive win for resurgent Red Bull. Rosberg effectively ended Hamilton's chances of victory on Lap 2 when a risky overtaking move saw him clip and puncture the Briton's left tyre.
BOTH CARS DAMAGED
"We just had a meeting about it and he basically said he did it on purpose," Hamilton said, struggling to contain his anger. "He said he did it on purpose. He said he could have avoided it. He said 'I did it to prove a point’."
Both cars were damaged - but not as much as their relationship. Hamilton said: "I heard someone say it was inevitable we were going to crash one day but I don't feel that today was that inevitability. It's not your job to go massively out of your way to leave extra, extra room."
Red Bull took full advantage as Ricciardo raced away to a second consecutive victory and his third of the 2014 season, beating Rosberg by 3.3sec. Hamilton retired five laps from the end and slipped 29 points behind Rosberg overall.
Ricciardo's efforts were totally overshadowed by the third major Mercedes feud this season. The Mercedes drivers’ friendship — cemented in their junior days racing karts — now appears to be in free fall.
Hamilton said, before aiming a thinly veiled swipe at Rosberg ahead of the Italian GP in two weeks: "It's damaging this weekend for me. I don't know how I'm going to get back 30 points.
“We'll have to make sure we're not wheel-to-wheel (in Monza).”
'OPPORTUNITY WAS THERE'
Each driver spoke shortly after a team meeting, with Rosberg visibly shaken as he tried to downplay the incident. He said: "The stewards judged it a racing incident. That's the best way to describe it. I didn't see any risk in trying to overtake so why should I not try?
“Inside was not possible so I tried round the outside. The opportunity was there."
Rosberg refused to reveal what was said at the team meeting. "That wouldn't be the right thing to do. I don't want to go into details as to who apologised."
However an incredulous-sounding Hamilton maintained that Rosberg acknowledged he had deliberately nudged his car. "I was gob-smacked when I was listening to the meeting. You need to ask him what point he was trying to make. He just came in there and said 'It was all my fault’. He just came in there..."
Finnish driver Valtteri Bottas was third — although his fourth podium in five races went largely unheralded as Rosberg was jeered by the Spa crowd while he was on the podium.
TOOTHY SMILE, GLUM MOOD
Even Mercedes executive director Toto Wolff blamed Rosberg. "You don't try to overtake with the knife between your teeth on Lap 2 and damage both cars," he told BBC Sport.
Ricciardo's beaming, toothy smile was in stark contrast to the glum mood at Mercedes. He continues to out-shine his Red Bull team mate Sebastian Vettel, who finished fifth behind Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen.
"To have three wins in 12 races has exceeded a few expectations,” Ricciardo said. “The in-team battle has gone really well.” Ricciardo, 35 points behind Hamilton, added: "I've shown speed throughout qualifying and in the race."
Rosberg started from pole for a fourth consecutive race but Hamilton and Vettel got past the German on Turn 1. As Hamilton fixed his racing line Rosberg surged past and his front wing hit Hamilton's left side, also damaging Rosberg's car.
"Nico hit me, Nico hit me," an exasperated Hamilton shouted over the race radio. Not again, the Mercedes team must have been thinking.
At the 2014 Hungarian GP in July Hamilton refused team orders to let Rosberg past, though in fact Rosberg wasn’t close enough to do so.
At the Monaco GP in May, Hamilton was incensed when Rosberg surprisingly crashed late in qualifying when under no pressure, leading to the pace safety car being deployed and ending Hamilton's chances of securing pole position.
Hamilton felt confident after qualifying on the front row for the first time in six races here at Spa but once again the 2008 champion needed to carve his way back through the field, just as in the previous two GP’s — Hungary and Germany — where he qualified 20th and 22nd due to technical problems.
Rosberg's front wing was replaced on Lap 9. Then, in a bizarre turn, some flying debris attached itself to the radio aerial on the front of the car and flapped around in front of his face. He tried in vain to remove it after at one stage the string-like material even caught on the steering wheel.
"It eventually came off," he said. "I couldn't even see where I was going sometimes."