Lewis Hamilton radioed in to engineer Pete Bonnington while keeping Fernando Alonso at arm’s length during the Australian Grand Prix.
Hamilton spent most of his Australian Grand Prix locked in a tense stand-off with Alonso, following the Mercedes driver falling down to second after Max Verstappen’s overtake.
Hamilton had briefly led the race at Albert Park, taking over at the front at the first red flag due to teammate George Russell pitting from the lead. But Hamilton was powerless against Verstappen’s straight-line speed advantage as the Dutch driver sailed around him.
With Alonso hunting down the Mercedes driver, the Spaniard was able to close the gap to below two seconds as he tried to get within DRS range of his former teammate.
In the middle of the race, Sky F1 suggested that Hamilton had taken to team radio to say “There’s no way I’m losing to him”, which could have been seen as being in direct response to Alonso’s recent comments downplaying the significance of Hamilton’s championship victories.
But a closer listen to Hamilton’s communications with engineer Pete Bonnington reveals a very different message…
Bono: “Gap at 1.2 to Alonso.”
Bono: “Alonso 21.7.”
Hamilton: “Know where I’m losing to him?”
Bono: “OK Lewis, standby.”
Hamilton: “Lot of vibration on the front tyres.”
Bono: “Copy Lewis, it’s something on the rear axle, I’ll let you know.”
Why might there be tension between Alonso and Hamilton?
While the truth behind the radio messages completely changes the context of the suggested radio message, it wouldn’t have been surprising if Hamilton had indeed said “there’s no way I’m losing to him!”
Heading into the Australian Grand Prix weekend, Alonso spoke with French publication L’Equipe and poked fun at Hamilton’s memory of just how quick Mercedes have been after Hamilton suggested Red Bull’s RB19 is more dominant than any of his own cars.
“[In Saudi Arabia] I finished 20 seconds behind Checo and Max [Verstappen],” Alonso said. “He and [Nico] Rosberg were a minute ahead in 2014 and 2015… He has a short memory, he’s getting old!”
Alonso also went on to say: “With a normal car, you can see that he has weaknesses. Before, he drove alone or sometimes with his team-mate. But look, he is the record holder for poles and George Russell has just given him a 2-0 in qualifying this season. It just goes to show how much the car is still a key factor…”.
But, having been held off by Hamilton on track in Melbourne, the pair appeared on good terms with each other on the podium and in the press conference as Alonso praised Hamilton’s steeliness under pressure: “In terms of pace, we were very close to Lewis, also through the race – but every time that I tried to get close, yes he seemed to pick up the pace.
“I tried to put some pressure but he had an incredible race, no mistakes at all, as you probably expect from him, a champion. But only one lock-up, I think, Turn 13, in 58 laps. So I was trying to put pressure but nothing happened. So yeah, I will take P3.”
Alonso’s and Hamilton’s rivalry stems back to 2007, Hamilton’s rookie season, when they paired up at McLaren – resulting in a hugely dramatic and controversial season that ended in a tie on points and Alonso choosing to leave the team.
Last year, the pair had a collision at Spa-Francorchamps, with Alonso blasting Hamilton over team radio for the clash: “What an idiot closing the door from the outside.I mean, we had a mega start but this guy only knows how to drive and start in first.”
Hamilton refused to engage in a war of words afterward, but the spat appeared to clear up a week later with Alonso picking up a signed cap from Hamilton in the Belgian Grand Prix paddock.