The F1 world is split over Nico Rosberg’s actions in the Belgian grand prix.
Jenson Button, Lewis Hamilton’s former McLaren teammate, thinks the incident that left the 2008 world champion almost 30 points behind the sister Mercedes was questionable at best.
“There was nothing there,” British newspapers quote him saying. “There was no move. “It is unbelievable.
“I’ve always said the person who wins the world championship is the person who does the best job on the circuit, but that does not seem the way it is at the moment,” Button added.
“It is a shame it’s not a cleaner fight.”
But Button also believes Rosberg – in the first championship fight of his career – is probably also grappling with the high “pressure” of that rare occasion.
Former F1 driver David Coulthard, however, says he would not too quickly judge the “sporting integrity” of the 29-year-old.
“You cannot premeditate giving someone a puncture. In my career I probably lost my wing like that 10 times, because you literally cannot see the front of the car,” he told the Telegraph.
“The stewards seemed to make the right call, but there should be another avenue or punishment open to them. This is not a normal racing incident.”
Coulthard said Rosberg’s driving was “clumsy” more than deliberate, but “there was an element of stubbornness to what Nico did”.
“He had been slapped in the face by Lewis in Bahrain, he had been slapped in the face in Hungary, and he perhaps felt the need to show he would not be easily pushed around.”
Coulthard said the crash should also be viewed in light of the highly controversial qualifying incident of Monaco.
“If it happens a third time? We may begin to consider him a driver in the mould of his former teammate Michael Schumacher, who went to astonishing lengths to win,” said the Scot.
With a more forgiving assessment is another F1 legend, Gerhard Berger.
“Sure, Nico was to blame,” he told the German newspaper Bild.
“But when two drivers of such calibre fight wheel to wheel, something can happen. It’s been shown that you can overtake at that corner — this was no suicide move. It was a normal racing incident.
“And whether it happened in the second or the 33rd lap, it doesn’t matter — if you feel you can go past, you try. Nico did nothing other than that, and it’s what the fans want to see,” Berger added.
What does muddy the waters, however, is what Rosberg might have let slip in Mercedes’ post-race briefing. Hamilton and team boss Toto Wolff both indicate that Rosberg admitted he maintained his line to prove a “point”.
That might tweak the interest of the FIA, who have the power to open an investigation even after the fact.
But former driver and regular F1 steward Derek Warwick told British radio that even though Rosberg’s driving was “silly”, it is “an internal problem” for Mercedes rather than “a problem for the FIA or the stewards”.
And an FIA spokesman told the Daily Mail: “The FIA will not intervene in this issue.
“Only a ‘new element’ that would have appeared after the results became final could justify us opening an investigation. A comment alleged to have been made in an internal briefing and later denied by the team itself does not constitute such a ‘new element’,” he official added.
What is clear is that what was left of the tattered relationship between Rosberg and Hamilton is now probably irreparable.
Asked if the pair can be civil for the rest of the 2014 battle, Mercedes team chairman Niki Lauda told Welt newspaper: “When I think of how the meeting went on Sunday, I doubt it.
“But this is precisely the task of the leadership team now — to establish this relationship again.”
Whatever the outcome, Bernie Ecclestone is happy.
“What it has done is created a lot of interest,” he told the Indian news source PTI. “That is very good for the sport.” (GMM)