MONZA, Italy: Lewis Hamilton smiled and shrugged aside the jokes as his nearest rivals teased him about his newly-dyed hair.
Then, manfully, he stuck to the script.
Gifted an opportunity, in Sunday’s (Monday in Manila) Italian Grand Prix, to add a significant margin to his 28-points lead in the drivers’ title race by taking pole position, he suggested he would prefer to see his Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg recover from fourth on the grid and wreck a local party by finishing ahead of the two Ferraris.
It was, in pure corporate team-speak terms, the most diplomatic comment for German ears – and perish the thought that the defending two-time world champion would relish seeing his team-mate’s title challenge diminished by a scarlet surge of speed.
With Kimi Raikkonen second and Sebastian Vettel third in Saturday’s qualifying, the tifosi were already relishing the prospect of a Ferrari triumph at Monza for the first time since Fernando Alonso won in 2010, only their second victory in a decade.
A red-clad man on the podium would be cause for celebration.
Hamilton, even with his ‘experimental’ blond hair, was wary of being drawn into any kind of trap by making hopeful forecasts. Instead, he heaped everyone with praise.
“These guys (Raikkonen and Vettel) did a very good job – they were very close,” he said.
“It’s nice to have a good fight… The car has been feeling good all weekend… and the engineers and the mechanics have done a fantastic job and thanks to the guys back at the factory who made improvements.”
Asked if he hoped to capitalize on Rosberg’s problems – he had an enforced engine change and qualified fourth – he remained circumspect.
“Going into any race, you always want to get as many points as you can and you’re always hoping there’s an opportunity to gain more than usual,” he said.
“But, honestly, I am hoping that Nico pulls through and we both can do a good job and naturally we both want to finish ahead of the Ferraris here.
“That’s always good to do on their home turf, if possible, and obviously for the championship.”
From Hamilton, there was no trace of the tension or acrimony that had featured throughout his title battle with Rosberg last year – only, instead, a calm sense of destiny and professionalism.