London: Reigning Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton has admitted that there is genuine friction between him and Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg.
Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. Pics/AFP
The Silver Arrows pair have repeatedly clashed over the last two years -- most noticeably when they collided during the 2014 Belgian GP and when an emotional Rosberg memorably threw his cap at Hamilton following the US Grand Prix last year -- after being pitched into an exclusive fight for the world championship courtesy of their field-leading machinery.
Hamilton and Rosberg were boyhood friends but their relationship has buckled under the strain of their title battles and the reigning world champion has conceded the perceived antipathy between them cannot be dismissed as media invention.
"It is there. But it is a small fire that everybody pours a lot of gasoline on to make it bigger. And then, of course, also me and Nico, we unintentionally pour more gasoline on to the fire depending on who is winning a race. So it is real -- a real competition," Hamilton was quoted as saying by the official F1 website.
"I hope it is not purely a 'Lewis and Nico show' -- I hope Ferrari gets involved in that show and that we will have fierce competition beyond me and Nico," he added.
Ferrari have set the fastest time in the opening exchanges of winter testing while Mercedes have focused on strengthening the reliability of their new car. Many in the paddock believe Rosberg remains the dark horse in the championship battle having won the final three races of the 2015 season.
But according to Hamilton, Rosberg "had it good" in the final month of the season when the world champion, by his own admission, switched off after securing his third title.
"I did not do the bare minimum, but I did what I needed to do to finish the year. I didn't do what I had to do to win the championship because I already had won the championship. If you fight for the championship you have to bring that extra five or ten per cent - after I had bagged the title I didn't need that anymore. I used my energy elsewhere," the 31-year-old said.
"But now my sole focus is again on winning the title - but Nico also has grown, so I have to accept that he is exceptionally fast and so I also have to lift my bar again. I don't know how - but that is my goal," Hamilton concluded.