SAKHIR, Bahrain – Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg say their relationship as teammates is likely to be tested this season as they battle for the Formula One title, with both expecting conflict between them at some point.
Having split the opening two races of the season, and with Mercedes clearly the dominant team heading into this weekend's Bahrain Grand Prix, the pair are already seen as the two front-runners for the championship.
While Hamilton and Rosberg get on better than many other sets of teammates in F1 — having raced with and against each other since they were kids in go-karts — both said Thursday that their relationship may be damaged during their looming title fight.
"It has not changed at all yet," Rosberg said of their rapport. "Maybe that is because we are not talking about the championship yet.
"There will be some tough times inevitably, but I am sure we can get through it."
Hamilton, who started out in F1 in a frosty relationship with then McLaren teammate Fernando Alonso before battling for top-dog status in an all-English showdown with Jenson Button, said the nature of F1 does not allow for friendships.
"In Formula One, we can count our friends on one hand," Hamilton said. "Nico does not come in the five friends I have and I don't come in his."
Team principal Toto Wolff said strategies for avoiding on-track conflict have been discussed but acknowledged that even the best-formulated plans may not be enough to prevent trouble.
"We have spent quite some time in discussing those things, discussing scenarios and situations," Wolff said.
"But one day it will be rubbish and it will all be academic. We will run into controversy and we will run into a situation that we have to manage. They are still very competitive creatures."
Rosberg, with a win in Australia and a second-place finish in Malaysia, leads the drivers' championship on 43 points while Hamilton, who retired early in Australia, is on 25.
The Bahrain International Circuit will hold no surprises for Mercedes, or any other team, as it hosted extensive preseason testing. The only potential wild-card for this weekend is the introduction of night racing, with the grand prix to begin at 6 p.m. local time on Sunday, as the sun is setting.
Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel was the closest challenger to the Mercedes cars in Malaysia, and with the team rapidly improving after a wretched preseason of serial engine failures, the defending four-time world champion again looms as the main threat this weekend, but he still felt the silver cars will be too strong.
"Mercedes is the favorite," Vettel said. "They have the quickest package, they are way quicker than us down the straight, so it will be tricky for us."