MONTE CARLO, France, May 27- Lewis Hamilton racked up the tension on Friday ahead of this weekend's Monaco Grand Prix with a thinly-veiled suggestion of collusion between the champion Red Bull team and sister outfit Toro Rosso during this year's Formula One world championship races.
Five days after finishing a very close, if frustrated, second behind Red Bull’s drivers world champion German Sebastian Vettel in last Sunday’s Spanish Grand Prix, the 26-year-old Briton advised the Monaco stewards to keep a close eye on the actions of the Red Bull drivers.
Hamilton, of McLaren, made clear he believed that Toro Rosso men Swiss Sebastien Buemi and Spaniard Jaime Alguersuari had blocked him deliberately at the Circuit de Catalunya, while allowing Vettel through easily.
"They let Vettel past and then they held me up," said Hamilton, the 2008 world champion. "The gap that I closed to him (Vettel) I lost and that wasn’t cool. There was definitely some of that going on the last race when, all of a sudden, they were moving in my way and causing a bigger gap to open up.
"If that continues then I think some penalties really should be handed out. I just hope the stewards are wary of it and I am sure they will do a great job here."
Like a major soccer club manager talking about the referee on the eve of a big game, Hamilton has introduced similar mind games on the traditional Friday ‘rest’ day at Monte Carlo when, on a Public Holiday, the Formula One teams play no part in the action.
But his comments were rebuffed immediately by the Red Bull team boss Christian Horner who stressed that the two Red Bull-owned teams are run and race independently.
Horner said: "Believe me, Toro Rosso drivers have often had that complaint from our own drivers as well. You’ve only got to look at Abu Dhabi last year to see that with Mark Webber. So — absolutely not, there’s no discussion between the teams.
"The teams operate totally independently, there’s no tactics to help one or the other."
Hamilton knows he has to win, or at least hope that Vettel does not, to keep him within reach in the title chase. Hamilton is the only driver to have beaten the wunderkind this season, but remains 41 points behind after five races.
But Monaco is Hamilton’s favourite circuit and uniquely suited to his refined reflexive talents of maximising his speed and commitment.
As the sun shone on the picturesque harbour on Friday, however, it was Hamilton’s words rather than his deeds in a racing car that were causing much discussion.
Last year’s winner, Australian Mark Webber, 34, of Red Bull, could afford himself a wry smile as the gamesmanship that is increasingly part of modern sport unfolded. Like Vettel, Webber is unlikely to be stirred or shaken.
It is far more probable that Hamilton’s comments will alert the race stewards to not only potential blocking or deliberate slowing by Toro Rosso’s cars, but by anyone in what promises to be a furious and unpredictable spectacle.
Two-times champion – and two times Monaco winner – Spaniard Fernando Alonso topped the times for Ferrari in Thursday’s opening practice, but he played that down and predicted a Red Bull resurgence on Saturday.
Like Hamilton, he knows it would suit the chasing pack better if Webber could follow up his pole in Barcelona last week with another great show in qualifying and a race that keeps Vettel off the top step of the podium.
"It is so true here, that this is a very unique venue and anything can happen," said Alonso. "More than anything, there is no room for mistakes and that is a big factor. For me it is about confidence in the car and having a good set-up."