So thorny did relations get, that at times during 2007 the pair were scarcely even on speaking terms as team-mates, but having since learned to live with one another within the confines of the F1 paddock, the mutual enmity between Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso seems to have brewed up again in the wake of last weekend's European Grand Prix, with the former accusing the latter of 'reacting emotionally' in his post-race outburst.
Hamilton took the chequered flag second in Valencia and Alonso just ninth, though the home hero was subsequently elevated to eighth courtesy of the spate of post-race penalties handed out. They had been running together in second and third respectively when the safety car appeared on lap nine, but whilst Alonso stayed dutifully behind the Mercedes road car on his way to the pit-lane for new tyres, Hamilton did not, overtaking it and going on to earn a drive-through penalty for his misdemeanour.
However, such did the race play out that the time lost by Hamilton through his unplanned extra pit visit was substantially less than that lost by Alonso whilst touring around at low-speed behind the safety car – a situation that the Spaniard has slated as 'manipulated' and unfair in perversely punishing the driver who 'respected the rules', in addition to leaving a 29-point gap between the duo in the chase for the crown...and the Oviedo native palpably aggrieved [see separate story – click here]. His British rival remains unrepentant.
“I think he is probably reacting emotionally,” the McLaren-Mercedes star and current 2010 world championship leader told the official F1 website. “It is all down to the point that you do the job that you have to do. I was told that I had to pit, I made the gap and I pushed as hard as I could.
“I pulled out some of the fastest laps and I was able to increase the gap from the guys behind – and I did my penalty. A drive-through is quite a long time – moving down the pit lane at 60km/h – and I came out still ahead of the others, so I don't think that this is unfair. This is racing and these are the rules.”
Despite confessing that he 'would have never expected to be so competitive' around the Valencia Street Circuit – with McLaren being the only one of the title-contending teams not to take any major upgrade to the race – Hamilton added that he was ultimately disappointed not to have been able to challenge for victory, what he had clearly stated to be his pre-weekend objective.
Still, he summarised, the performance has left him with considerable hope for the British Grand Prix at Silverstone in just under a fortnight's time, when the Woking-based outfit will be bringing a significant package of updates to its MP4-25 as the 2008 F1 World Champion bids to repeat his sensational triumph of two years ago in front of his adoring partisan supporters.
“I had a little contact with Sebastian [Vettel] in the first corner,” the 25-year-old acknowledged, reflecting on his Spanish outing. “I went for the move and he closed the gap as much as he could. Unfortunately, I was going direct towards the kerbs – I hit the kerbs and was pushed down and we touched. Fortunately it didn't hamper him, but I did damage my front wing and had huge understeer.
“I then messed around with the controls and put the wing up as much as I could. I still had massive understeer, but I was able to hold the pace and when the safety car came out I came into the pits and was able to change the front wing and the tyres. It was probably one of our best pit-stops – and I needed a good pit-stop. From that moment on, it was really difficult to overtake – even the backmarkers are hard to overtake.
“To be honest, I was thinking of first place, and if I had not had the safety car issue I would have been up to pressuring Sebastian the whole way. Hopefully he would have had to back off due to reliability issues – that would have been my chance – but it did not happen.
“We would have never expected to be so competitive this weekend, though. The car was great and I am looking forward to the upcoming upgrades – I truly hope that they will be a step forward, so hopefully we are heading for a home grand prix stronger than we have been here. It is good to be leading in both championships, and I hope we will be able to give the British fans a good race weekend.”
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