ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Formula One rivals Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg can’t even shake hands.
The Mercedes pair showed their competitive spirit Thursday by ignoring a request from photographers to “stand up and shake hands” before their pre-race news conference ahead of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Instead, both sank their hands into their pockets before sitting down to answer questions.
With Hamilton’s title on the line — and Rosberg’s first beckoning — neither wants to give any ground heading into Sunday’s race.
Rosberg has a 12-point lead and is favored to clinch the title, needing only a third-place finish if Hamilton wins.
“That’s not going to make me go faster, to have such thoughts about something that might or might not happen,” said Rosberg, runner-up to Hamilton for the past two seasons. “This is the third time the championship has gone to the wire. So I’m more relaxed.”
Asked how he will approach the decider, Rosberg wasn’t shy.
“I’m going to go for the race and win and do what it takes to get that,” he said, adding “within the limits of what’s acceptable.”
Mutual respect between the drivers remains, however, stemming from their days as teenagers racing karts against each other.
“The thing we still have from back then is the base respect and that will never go. That has helped us through the years,” Rosberg said. “It’s generally (a) neutral (relationship now), but of course it’s a difficult environment.”
However, three years of challenging each other for the title against has largely eroded the carefree relationship they used to have.
“We had a lot in common. We both liked pizza and eating boxes of Kellog’s Frosties (cereal),” Hamilton said Thursday. “Stepping away from being our competitive selves, I’m proud of how he’s driven, particularly this year. Generally, it’s been a pleasure to have him as a teammate.
Even if Hamilton wins his 10th race of the season on Sunday, it may not be enough to bring a fourth F1 title that would draw him level with French great Alain Prost and German driver Sebastian Vettel.
“(When I was) 43 points behind, I thought it was impossible,” Hamilton said. “Somehow I turned it round. (Then) I was 33 points behind and have almost turned it around.”
Hamilton’s season has been hit by mechanical issues and engine failure — unthinkable during pre-season testing when both Mercedes were hugely reliable.
That still seems to grate with him.
“When I look back on the season if there’s anything to be negative about would be cars failing in certain places,” Hamilton said. “(With the same engine) as the car that wouldn’t stop during testing.”
Prior to the start of the season, Mercedes swapped several mechanics around from each side of the garage. Some of Rosberg’s went to work with Hamilton and vice-versa, in a bid to end the divide that had been growing over the previous two seasons.
The issue of the mechanics swap was put to Rosberg at Thursday’s news conference, but before he could answer, Hamilton interjected: “What was the explanation given to you?”
Hamilton then pledged to reveal more in the future.
“You’ll have to buy my book … down the line … in 10 years’ time when I tell you exactly what happened,” the British driver said. “It will be an interesting read.”