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Handbags at dawn: Lewis v Nico

Dan Istitene/Getty Images

A storm in a teacup or storm clouds gathering? Kate Walker analyses the spat between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg following the Chinese Grand Prix

Any hope of team harmony at Mercedes in 2015 disappeared over the course of the short post-race press conference at the Shanghai International Circuit, when Nico Rosberg - with a face like thunder - interpreted team-mate Lewis Hamilton's description of his Chinese Grand Prix as a sign of selfish intent.

Asked whether he was aware that his pace at the head of the pack was causing Rosberg to fall into the clutches of an advancing Sebastian Vettel, the defending champion admitted that he was concentrating only on his own job on Sunday afternoon.

"I wasn't controlling his race," Hamilton said. "I was controlling my own race but, great race, I'm really happy. Definitely going into the race we thought it would be a lot closer and we knew the Ferraris were very, very good with their long run pace and also looking after their tyres. So, today the real goal was to manage the tyres. And, as I said, my goal was to look after my car.

"I had no real threat from Nico through the whole race. So, I just managed it and got to really enjoy it, to be honest. A few of the real good fun laps were the laps before the pitstop, which I really enjoyed. Ultimately it was a much smoother weekend than we had in the last race where we got the whole, full practice sessions, on my side of the garage at least. And it made a real big difference to the balance of the car for the race. So really happy, and yeah, kinda excited."

It was the remark that Rosberg had not been a threat on Sunday afternoon that caused thunderclouds to roll across the German's normally amiable visage, and prompted a tense reply.

"It's just now interesting to hear from you, Lewis, that you were just thinking about yourself with the pace in front, and necessarily that was compromising my race," Rosberg said. "Driving slower than was maybe necessary at the beginning of stints meant that Sebastian was very close to me and that opened up the opportunity for Sebastian to try that early pitstop to try and jump me. And then I had to cover him.

"So, first of all it was unnecessarily close with Sebastian as a result, and also it cost me a lot of race time as a result because I had to cover him and then my tyres died at the end of the race because my stint was just so much longer. So I'm unhappy about that, of course, today. Other than that, not much to say."

Asked to respond to his teammate's remarks, Hamilton said as little as possible but still managed to land a blow.

"My job is not to... it's not my job to look after Nico's race," he retorted. "My job's to manage the car and bring the car home as healthy and as fast as possible - and that's what I did. I didn't do anything intentionally to slow any of the cars up. I just was focussing on myself. If Nico wanted to get by he could have tried but he didn't."

Coming after a weekend of speculation that Rosberg will be forced into a de facto No.2 role due to the championship threat posed by Sebastian Vettel in a resurgent Ferrari, Hamilton's remarks stung. The implication was that his team-mate lacked the stones to attempt a serious attack, a comment that echoed Niki Lauda's recent remark that Rosberg was lagging behind Hamilton, which the Austrian attributed to the German driver's personal demons.

Inside the press room, the exchange between the pair prompted calls of 'cat fight!', and 'handbags at dawn, ladies!'. Both Monaco residents can surely afford a Birkin or six with which to batter their rival...