When Valtteri Bottas won the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Sunday night, his Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton jumped out of his car and rushed over to hug the Finn and congratulate him on his victory.
Just 12 months ago on that very same track, Hamilton had intentionally slowed down while at the front of the grid, to bunch up the cars and try and prevent his team-mate Nico Rosberg from winning the championship title.
It didn’t work, but needless to say it had brought to an end a difficult 2016 season for Hamilton, where tensions rose between him and Rosberg, forcing their Mercedes team to navigate tricky incidents all year.
Hamilton’s relationship with this year’s team-mate, Bottas, appears to be far less contentious. But the more Bottas wins – he has claimed three grands prix in 2017 – the fiercer the competition will get between them.
Team principal Toto Wolff believes a strong rivalry is not something Mercedes should shy away from and that tension is not always a bad thing.
“I don’t think we need to avoid the stressful situation, we need to acknowledge that if two team-mates can fight for the race wins and the championship that this will be a rivalry,” Wolff told reporters in Abu Dhabi on Sunday.
“We’re not trying to build a new family here, we want to be the most effective racing team and an effective racing team needs stress, needs tension, needs disruption as much as it needs calmness and a positive attitude and mindset. But like everywhere in life you want to have a mix of both, probably that’s the recipe to success.”
Mercedes boss: Toto Wolff.
Still, there’s no doubt that life for Wolff and the Mercedes camp is much better when things are running smoothly with Hamilton, who secured his fourth World Championship title with two races to spare, earlier this month.
Wolff believes Hamilton has evolved in many ways and has become more “secure” in 2017.
“I think he made it into Formula One with great talent, ambition and hard work,” explained Wolff. “And through the five years he’s been with us he has developed as a human being every year.
“And after the rough ride we had last year he’s come back very strong, very round, very secure into the 2017 season. This is the main difference I’ve seen and has made him perform in an outstanding way.”
Hamilton brushed off the suggestion that he was ever an “insecure” person, but acknowledged that a stronger commitment from the team this year has paved the way for him to perform better.
“I don’t know how it is for you guys, but for me I think each year I’m growing and my understanding of life, of decisions you make, of ways you engage with people, all these certain things, I would definitely think that over these last years, my confidence has grown in terms of my approach in how I go about my business,” said the 32-year-old Hamilton.
“I wouldn’t say I feel any more secure this year, I’m not particularly an insecure person, I wouldn’t say that’s been an issue in the past. But I would say that a positive has been the reassurance of the team’s commitment to me into this season, starting off with Toto then transcending down.
“The positive response I’ve had from the team in terms of how I’ve engaged with them this year I think has been a fundamental positive in getting the results we’ve had. So I’m really really excited to continue the journey with the team and continue to improve on that working aspect.”
With the 2017 season coming to a close, Mercedes and Hamilton can now start discussing the Brit’s contract, which expires at the end of 2018.
The Silver Arrows will be keen to keep Hamilton away from the likes of Ferrari and Red Bull, and are likely to offer him a huge sum to make that happen.
“We’re going to start this discussion now,” said Wolff.
“I think it’s pretty obvious that we are the team of choice for Lewis and Lewis is the driver of choice for us. We performed well this year together and I think we would want to continue for a few more years.”
Wolff also dismissed the suggestion that Hamilton once again got distracted after securing the world title, just like he did in 2015.
This month, Hamilton finished fourth in Brazil and second in Abu Dhabi after knowing that he won the championship. In 2015, he won the title at the US Grand Prix and went winless in his last three races of the season. He was accused at the time of losing his focus.
Wolff doesn’t believe that’s the case this time around.
“No I don’t think so. He’s somebody that is very diligent and is progressing and I don’t think 2015 has happened,” said the Austrian boss.
“He had an accident in qualifying after he won the championship and where that came from? I don’t know.
“These guys are pushing the cars to the limit and he didn’t make a mistake or put a foot wrong all season and it happened in Interlagos and I’d rather it happened after he won the championship than before. And here he looked very good in qualifying but Valtteri put it all together and I think you just have to acknowledge that this was Valtteri’s weekend.”
Top season: From Hamilton.
Hamilton admits he expended some energy on celebrating his fourth title post-Mexico but is not worried about his results in his last two races.
“No, there’s zero concern. I think it’s clear that something happens once you’ve won the championship,” said Hamilton.
“All I can say is the week after that I won the championship I partied a lot, with my family, celebrating, and that’s what you do.
“I can tell you that before the other races that was not the case. So sleep, energy has definitely been different on these last couple of races. Nonetheless I still tried to approach them the same, but if you don’t prepare the same, you do worse.
“So I’m not worried about that and next year we go back to how it was in the second half of the season.”