Like the rest of the world watching in amazement as this sporting rivalry descended once again into acrimony, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg will disagree to their graves on who was to blame for Sunday’s spectacular, race-ending crash in the Spanish Grand Prix.
Even the team’s management could not decide, Niki Lauda, the team’s non-executive chairman, immediately blaming Hamilton, while Toto Wolff, their director, sat firmly on the fence.
The debate will rage just as fiercely as the Mercedes pair fought over an ever-diminishing piece of track to the point of calamity.
It began as soon as Hamilton furiously threw the steering wheel out of his car, mangled and beached in the gravel not far from Rosberg’s, and will go on and on as Mercedes face the tall order of keeping their two drivers from colliding again.
They have already taken the brave decision not to impose team orders, but that did not stop a visibly furious Lauda offering a scathing assessment of the world champion’s actions as he headed for turn four on the first lap.
Lewis Hamilton getting a ride back to the pits after the crash. Picture/AP
“Stupid,” Lauda said. “It’s very simple for me. It was a miscalculation in Lewis’s head. I blame him more than Nico. For the team and for Mercedes it is unacceptable.
“Lewis was too aggressive to pass him and why should Nico give him room? He was in the lead. It is completely unnecessary and for me the disaster is that all Mercedes are out after two corners.”
The stewards elected to punish neither driver, deeming it a racing incident.Tellingly, that was a verdict both Hamilton and Rosberg declined to endorse.
Nico Rosberg gets a ride back to the pits after the accident. Picture/AP
The Englishman was the calmer of the pair, Rosberg far tetchier more than three hours after the most destructive encounter these two have shared on a track.
In the end, the German was the biggest winner here, still leading Hamilton by 43 points in the championship standings and 39 ahead of his next nearest rival, Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen.
The judgment of the paddock was split, too, some believing Hamilton overly aggressive, while Jacques Villeneuve, the 1996 world champion, thought Rosberg had defended far too late.The stewards’ decision, therefore, seemed just about fair.
In many ways, the collision was a product of circumstances - of one driver who could not afford to fall behind, having lost the lead at the start, and the other who, in truth, had very little to lose if neither finished the race.
It proved a volatile combination.Not that either was prepared to concede this, even if they did apologise in general terms to the team for squandering a massive chunk of points.
Despite a lengthy meeting in the team’s engineering office while Max Verstappen was surging to a remarkable, record-breaking victory on his Red Bull debut, Hamilton and Rosberg barely spoke to each other or gave any ground.
“Firstly, I have already apologised to the team. It’s a very painful experience for all of us,” Hamilton said.
“You make a calculation in a split second. You never go to the outside. It’s not where you want to overtake. The gap [there] is one car width. The inside is two car widths. So I went for that one.”
Saw a gap and went for it
Then Hamilton said something reminiscent of his hero, Ayrton Senna, who once famously uttered: “If you no longer go for a gap that exists, you are no longer a racing driver.”
Hamilton’s version was: “I saw a gap and I went for it. That’s what racing drivers do.”
And Rosberg’s version was that he closed the door - as racing drivers do.
“I was well aware of where he was and I closed the door so that he understood that I was not going to leave a space,” he said.
“It was a move early to make a strong manoeuvre and to make it clear to Lewis that I would be covering the inside, which is the normal thing for a racing driver to do.”
Nico Rosberg (right) and Lewis Hamilton compete during the Spanish Grand Prix, before the crash. Picture/AP
The drama unfolded in a matter of seconds. From pole position, Hamilton got off the line well but braked too early for turn one, allowing Rosberg to sweep round the outside.But as the German left turn three, his car - through a mistake of his own - was in the wrong engine mode, leaving him well down on power.
Hamilton gained rapidly, at one stage 10mph faster on the straight. He opted for the inside heading for turn four, but just as his front wheel was alongside Rosberg’s rear, his team-mate defended strongly. Hamilton took the grass, losing control and careering into Rosberg.Race over.
Although it was visually more spectacular, the consequences of this crash for their feud are perhaps not as extensive as when they collided in the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps two years ago.Then, Rosberg was forced to apologise and publicly humiliated.
This time, the team will try to be more relaxed, despite Lauda’s typically outspoken intervention.
“He is an expert,” Rosberg simply said.
What will define this season, however, is how both drivers respond.We can argue over it as much as we like, but Hamilton and Rosberg would do well to consign the incident to the recesses of their mind, another chapter in a rivalry which revitalises Formula One with every confrontation.