|© AP Photo/Andy Brownbill
With With Mercedes looking certain to run away with the Formula One constructors' championship, the promising battle between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg should provide an intriguing backdrop for the rest of the season.
Rosberg is only three points behind Hamilton, the championship leader, who has won the past four races. The two go back a long way, to their days karting together. But with so little separating them in the title race, their friendship looks set to be tested.
Hamilton has even questioned Rosberg's desire to win.
"I come from a not-great place in Stevenage and lived on a couch in my dad's apartment, and Nico grew up in Monaco with jets and hotels and boats and all these kind of things," Hamilton said. "So the hunger is different ... if I were to come here believing that Nico is hungrier than me then I might as well go home."
Those comments give the first indication that Hamilton, the Formula One champion in 2008, is applying pressure on Rosberg, who is far more inexperienced with four career wins compared to Hamilton's 26.
Hamilton dismissed any notion of diplomacy when he was asked his ideal result at the Monaco Grand Prix on Sunday, replying "(me) finishing first, Fernando (Alonso) finishing second and Sebastian (Vettel) finishing third. That would be it for me. The dream result for the team would be the Mercedes cars finishing one-two."
Four-time defending champion Vettel is already 55 points behind Hamilton in fourth place, and two-time champion Alonso is in third, 51 behind Hamilton. They have one third-place finish each so far and don't look like closing the gap, so it looks like being Hamilton vs. Rosberg for the rest of the campaign.
Before he joined Mercedes last season, Hamilton's final season with McLaren proved a tense one.
Relations with Jenson Button were strained and he was reprimanded by the team for posting confidential information on social media about McLaren's telemetry in September 2012. Button said he was "disappointed" in him, but it also showed Hamilton has a ruthless streak.
Even though Hamilton has won the past four races after Rosberg clinched the season-opener in Australia, he wants to dominate Rosberg more.
"Even if we are a dominating team, I don't beat my teammate by 40 seconds," the 29-year-old Hamilton said. "Take the last race, it was six-tenths (of a second) between us."
Hamilton has beaten Rosberg 4-1 in qualifying -- Mercedes has all the pole positions so far -- but Rosberg argues that it could swing back in his favour heading into the mid-season.
"Three of those qualifyings were in the wet; in the dry it's 1-1 and it's supposed to be dry on Saturday (in Monaco) so I'm confident I can make it happen," said the 28-year-old Rosberg, who is the son of 1982 F1 champion Keke Rosberg.
"It's been a tough battle up until now and I expect it to continue like that," Rosberg said. "Of course now he's had the result in a couple of races but it's been very close. I just need a tiny bit to turn it around."
It seems unlikely their relationship will ever become as intense as the one between Vettel and Mark Webber at Red Bull, who were known to ignore team orders when asked to let the other driver pass.
"We will always have the years in karting, that kind of foundation of a long time ago," Hamilton said. "For example, I have been storing my safe in his house for several months and just took it back now, and that could always be the other way around."