|© AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert
Nico Rosberg was disciplined by Mercedes on Friday after accepting responsibility for a collision with teammate Lewis Hamilton at last weekend's Belgian Grand Prix that deepened the rift between the two rivals for the drivers' title.
The tension between the Mercedes pair ratcheted up Sunday when Hamilton claimed Rosberg had admitted to deliberately driving into him on the second lap of the race at Spa. The crash effectively ended Hamilton's hopes of victory -- he sustained a puncture to his tyre and had to later retire -- and Rosberg placed second to increase his championship lead over Hamilton to 29 points.
The two drivers attended a meeting at the team's headquarters in Brackley, England, on Friday along with executive director Toto Wolff and technical chief Paddy Lowe, where Mercedes said Rosberg "acknowledged his responsibility for the contact" and "apologised for this error of judgement."
"Suitable disciplinary measures have been taken for the incident," the team added in a statement, without disclosing the exact punishment for Rosberg.
"Lewis and Nico understand and accept the team's No. 1 rule: there must be no contact between the team's cars on track. It has been made clear that another such incident will not be tolerated. But Nico and Lewis are our drivers and we believe in them."
Rosberg tops the drivers' standings on 220 points, with Hamilton in second place on 191. There are seven races left, with double points on offer for the season's last grand prix in Abu Dhabi.
HAMILTON, ROSBERG REMAIN FREE TO RACE
"The fans want to see a clean fight until the end of the season and that's what we want to give them," Hamilton said in a statement on his website. "It's going to be a tough road from here but championships have been won from much further back than I am now."
Hamilton had been incensed by Rosberg's risky overtaking move that saw him clip and puncture the Briton's left tyre.
"He said he did it on purpose," Hamilton said after the race. "He said he could have avoided it. He said 'I did it to prove a point.'"
The incident further damaged a relationship that has been in freefall as they chase the drivers' title this season.
At last month's Hungarian GP, Hamilton refused team orders to let Rosberg pass.
At the Monaco GP in May, Hamilton was unhappy when Rosberg crashed late in qualifying when under no pressure, leading to a safety car coming out and squandering Hamilton's chances of securing pole position.
Hamilton and Rosberg were close friends during their junior days racing karts against each other.
"Nico and I accept that we have both made mistakes and I feel it would be wrong to point fingers and say which one is worse than the other," Hamilton said. "What's important is how we rise as a team from these situations. We win and we lose together and, as a team, we will emerge stronger.
"There is a deep foundation that still exists for me and Nico to work from, in spite of our difficult times and differences."
Rosberg also released a statement, saying he was "sorry to the fans who were deprived of our battle for the lead in Belgium."
"I look forward to concluding the season with hard, fair competition on and off track right up to the final lap of the season in Abu Dhabi," Rosberg said.