US GP: Why did Nico Rosberg throw his cap at Lewis Hamilton?
Revisiting Nico Rosberg's reaction after gifting the 2015 title to Lewis Hamilton. Watch this weekend's US GP on Sky Sports F1
By Matt Morlidge
Last Updated: 24/10/16 2:22pm
A year on from the drama that preceded and followed 'cap spat', we revisit the moment Nico Rosberg lost his cool after watching Lewis Hamilton clinch a third Drivers' Championship at the US Grand Prix.
Austin, October 2015: Setting the scene
In truth, Rosberg's 2015 title challenge was falling apart even before last October's United States GP. Trailing Hamilton by 10 points in July, the German then watched his team-mate win four of the five races before heading stateside with a DNF in Russia his latest woe. Crushed and out of form, Rosberg had lost 52 points to the Brit in that period.
On the back foot, Rosberg knew that a second straight title would be Hamilton's if his team-mate outscored him by two points and Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel by nine. Perhaps that's why he started the US GP weekend like a man on a mission, beating Hamilton to pole position in a rain-affected qualifying session.
But a poor start - common practice for Nico last year - saw the two W06s reach Turn One side by side. Hamilton was forceful on the inside, aggressive even, and nudged his team-mate off the road. In the blink of an eye, Rosberg had dropped to fourth. His race pace was strong, though, and he was actually the faster Mercedes on both the intermediate and slick tyres, mastering the conditions to lead with just 10 laps to go. A second safety car had given Hamilton the chance to pit for fresh rubber but the race still appeared to be Rosberg's - an outcome which would take the title fight to the Mexican GP.
However, the biggest twist of an unpredictable race was still to come.
Seemingly in cruise control, Rosberg ran wide at Turn 13 - with the mistake allowing Hamilton through for the lead and a championship-winning position. Nico famously later put the error down to wheelspin and, to headline-grabbing effect, a "big gust of wind".
Whatever it was, Hamilton had profited - and Rosberg was a broken man as he made his way to the cool-down room.
What happened next and why?
The subsequent hat throw may have been seen as a Nico tantrum and a lack of sportsmanship, but Rosberg was magnanimous when Hamilton first entered the room, hugging and congratulating his team-mate. One can only presume that Hamilton appreciated the gesture.
But what's clear from the footage is that both men had their minds elsewhere in the moment that followed. While Rosberg dwelt on defeat, an elated Hamilton, who had just achieved a lifelong dream, remained a bundle of energy, taking it upon himself to divvy up the three podium caps.
There's no obvious malice in Hamilton's actions as he tosses Rosberg's cap to him - Hamilton can also be seen passing the third-placed cap to Vettel. But there are no words exchanged between the two Mercedes drivers and the response of Rosberg, roused from a world of his own, was instantaneous and instinctive.
Maybe he thought it was Hamilton rubbing in his defeat, maybe he saw '2nd' on the side of that cap as a sign of failure. Maybe he hadn't seen Hamilton also pass Vettel his cap, maybe he had just had enough.
Whatever the exact reason, Rosberg interpreted Hamilton's action as a hostile gesture and threw the cap straight back at him.
Curiously, Hamilton barely reacted in response. He turns, barely glances at Rosberg and then turns away again. All the while, Mercedes technical chief Paddy Lowe remains an awkward but uninvolved spectator.
Was his indifference the result of familiarity? For the world at large, given a rare glimpse into the Rosberg-Hamilton dynamic, the exchange, however fleeting and inconsequential, made for riveting viewing. 'Cap spat' clips instantly went viral across social media and the defining image of Hamilton's latest championship triumph had been born.
But was Rosberg, booed on the podium by the Austin support, in the wrong? Not in Sky F1 pundit Martin Brundle's eyes: "I don't blame Nico Rosberg pre-podium for not appreciating having a second position cap slung across the room at him while he's quietly sitting and trying to come to terms with having just thrown away a race victory and handing the world championship over. To his team-mate. Honestly, how would you have reacted?"
Rosberg played down the incident in the immediate aftermath, telling Sky Sports News HQ that it was "nothing, just our typical games". Two days later, a contrite Hamilton added: "It's not something you expect to see from grown adults."
But in the week after Austin, Rosberg divulged further detail into how he was feeling when the incident occurred.
"I was just p*****d off. At myself, at Lewis, at the whole situation. Everything!" he wrote in his BILD column. "At the moment it feels as though there is something invisible stopping me from succeeding. An enemy that is so hard to combat. Some call it fate, others bad luck."
But Rosberg's anger at Hamilton's driving into the first corner still simmered.
"It was extremely aggressive," complained Rosberg about the Turn One battle. "I was ahead and I had a right to the track there and Lewis just was too aggressive today. One step too far and that is not okay."
Hamilton, on the other hand, was "putting the finishing touches on dominating his team-mate in every way, on the track and in the head", according to Brundle. He also cheekily told the press that "it's the worst thing being my team-mate".
How Rosberg turned 'cap spat' to his advantage
Rosberg won the remaining three races of the 2015 campaign to display his mental strength and the first four of 2016 to prove he was a genuine title contender. The seven-race streak may have been scoffed at by Hamilton due to its running over two seasons, but it put Rosberg in the history books. Only Vettel, with nine, has managed a more impressive back-to-back tally.
Highs and lows have followed during a roller-coaster of a season but unlike before, Rosberg is regrouping and responding to setbacks quicker than ever. Becoming a father seems to have matured him and his media stance of taking one race at a time, though slightly dull, is certainly working as he edges towards a maiden title. What's more, six of his nine 2016 victories have been at tracks where he had never previously won.
"Since the pain in defeat in Austin [in 2015] we all saw a changed person in Nico," said 1996 world champion Damon Hill on a recent F1 Report. Ben Hunt of The Sun, added: "I spoke to him at the start of the season and I accused him of being too nice, that you've got to get your elbows out and be tough. That's exactly what he's done this year."
The only thing missing from a consistent campaign, and his three years with Hamilton at Mercedes, is Rosberg beating his team-mate in a wheel-to-wheel battle. But while Nico is keeping his head in the game and mastering races from start to finish, Hamilton's off-the-track antics, media snubs and reliability complaints continue.
Make no mistake, Rosberg comes into this US GP as a vastly changed man and driver, and that 33-point advantage may yet be extended in Austin. If it is, the cool-down room coverage could yet be a must-see again.