Lewis Hamilton on Sunday refused to speak to Fernando Alonso after the Spaniard called him an ‘idiot’ who is only any good as a front-runner.
The pair’s latest conflagration came on the first lap of yesterday’s Belgian Grand Prix as the two old enemies went wheel-to-wheel for second place.
Hamilton, coming from third, nudged ahead around the right-hander Les Combes, squeezing Alonso, who was hugging the kerb. They tangled. Hamilton was propelled into the air and landed with a thump so hard it ‘nearly broke my back coming down’.
Lewis Hamilton made contact with Fernando Alonso on the first lap of the Belgian Grand Prix
On returning to the asphalt, he did well to gather the car and limped on briefly before retiring his waterleaking Mercedes.
Cut across to Alonso’s Alpine and his radio complaint. ‘What an idiot!’ he exclaimed. ‘Closing the door from the outside. We had a mega start but this guy only knows how to drive and start in first.’
Hamilton was unaware of the finger pointed at him as he stared at his stricken machine before making the long trudge back to the pits.
Hamilton initially attempted to carry on but was then ordered to retire by Mercedes staff
An hour later, he was showered and changed for his press duties. The race was still in motion, with Alonso on his way to a fifth-place finish. He was told of his old partner’s criticism.
Would he seek Alonso out to apologise for what he admitted had been his mistake, blaming a blind spot?
‘No,’ he insisted. ‘I mean, I would have done until I heard what he said. ‘I don’t really have a response to it. I know how things go in the heat of the moment, but it is nice to know how he feels about me, and it is better that it is out in the open.
‘The accident wasn’t intentional. I take responsibility for it. That is what adults do, and we move on. I just didn’t leave quite enough space. I am grateful to still be alive and in shape.’
Hamilton’s former teammate Alonso felt he had been cut across and said: ‘What an idiot!’
Of the damage from his steaming car, Hamilton added: ‘I could hear something was broken in the gearbox, so I was told to stop.’
Not that Alonso, at 41 the only member of the grid older than 37-year-old Hamilton, was finished with his analysis.
He effectively accused Hamilton of having previous, alluding to his coming together with Nico Rosberg here in 2014, when those pair were title adversaries. ‘It was the same as that,’ said Alonso.
The former world champion did not hold back in his criticism of the seven-time champion
Of course, there’s history between Fernando and Lewis. It goes all the way back to 2007, when Hamilton was the debutant in the McLaren team Alonso had just joined as the double and reigning world champion.
Relations became so toxic that the two men sat at opposite ends of the motorhome with their own retinues, talking in their own tongues. Alonso left at the end of the year — a decision partly prompted by the Spygate controversy over Ferrari technical secrets ending up in McLaren hands.
Alonso’s departure from Woking altered the course of his career. He never won another title in spite of his extravagant talent.
Valtteri Bottas (pictured) was also been forced to retire after contact with Nicholas Latifi
Hamilton went on to outstrip him in every chapter of the record books. So much so — to address the frontrunning jibe — that the Briton has taken 42 of his 103 victories starting positions other than pole compared to Alonso’s 32 total wins, from pole or elsewhere.
The stewards examined yesterday’s incident but decided not to apportion blame. After reviewing the video evidence, they reported: ‘We considered that this was a first lap incident with a lot of movement relative to other cars in the first few corners, and thus take no further action.’
As for being lucky to be alive, Hamilton did not even report to the medical centre for a check-up despite being asked to do so. His non-attendance earned him a stern rebuke from the stewards.
Latifi (pictured) was able to continue the race after pitting to have his front wing replaced
What will continue to haunt Hamilton and Mercedes once the bruising has worn off and the name-calling faded is their extraordinary lack of performance. They arrived in the Ardennes buoyed by second and third places in the two races prior to the summer break.
And what an opportunity presented itself with Max Verstappen, the unstoppable race winner from 14th on the grid, one of seven drivers taking grid penalties as a result of engine changes.
Mercedes boffins were cautiously optimistic about achieving a breakthrough. Until the engine was switched on and practice began, that is. Victory was clearly out of the question, with Hamilton’s team-mate George Russell representing their true race pace by securing fourth place, 29 seconds adrift.
Max Verstappen won the Grand Prix despite starting down in 14th
Over a single lap in qualifying they were at the wrong end of a far bigger margin — about two seconds — to Verstappen’s magic carpet of a Red Bull.
The Dutch Grand Prix comes on Sunday, so there is little to no time to find a remedy. They pretty much admit they are at a loss to know where to start putting things right.
What else might be gnawing at careworn Lewis? Well, Russell leads him in the standings by 24 points with eight rounds remaining. And that may be the toughest stat of all to bear.