SPA, Belgium (AP) — Nico Rosberg extended his championship lead and deepened his rift with Lewis Hamilton. The gloves are now well and truly off between the Mercedes rivals in their bitter fight for the Formula One title.
After Rosberg finished second at Sunday's Belgian Grand Prix, Hamilton claimed the German driver acknowledged that he had deliberately crashed into him early in the incident-packed race, which saw Daniel Ricciardo clinch his third win of the season.
"We just had a meeting about it and he basically said he did it on purpose," Hamilton said, struggling to contain his anger. "He said he did it on purpose. He said he could have avoided it. He said 'I did it to prove a point.'"
There was no immediate response from Rosberg, who now has 220 points with Hamilton still on 191 and third-placed Ricciardo on 156.
The huge tensions inside Mercedes overshadowed Ricciardo's impressive performance for resurgent Red Bull.
Rosberg effectively ended Hamilton's chances of victory on the second lap after a risky overtaking move that saw him clip and puncture the Briton's left tire.
Both of their cars were damaged, but not as much as their relationship.
"I heard someone say that it was inevitable we were going to crash one day, but I don't feel that today was that inevitability," Hamilton said. "It's not your job to go massively out of your way to leave extra, extra room."
Red Bull took full advantage as Ricciardo raced away to a second consecutive victory, beating Rosberg by 3.3 seconds. Hamilton retired five laps from the end as he slipped 29 points behind Rosberg overall.
Ricciardo's efforts were totally overshadowed by the third major Mercedes feud this season between Hamilton and Rosberg.
The two men's friendship — cemented in their junior days racing karts against each other — now appears in freefall.
"It's damaging this weekend for me, I don't know how I'm going to get back 30 points," Hamilton said, before aiming a thinly-veiled swipe at Rosberg ahead of the Italian GP in two weeks' time.
"We'll have to make sure we're not wheel to wheel (in Monza)," he said, stern-faced.
Both drivers spoke shortly after a team meeting, with Rosberg visibly shaken as he tried to downplay the incident.
"The stewards judged it's a racing incident. That's the best way to describe that," he said. "I didn't see any risk in trying to overtake so why should I not try? Inside was not possible so I tried round the outside. The opportunity was there."
Rosberg refused to reveal what was said at the team meeting.
"That wouldn't be the right thing to do," he said. "I don't want to go into details as to who apologized."
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