Lewis Hamilton was full of praise for Lando Norris following the McLaren driver's impressive performance at the Austrian Grand Prix, but was there more to it than meets the eye?
In a perhaps surprising move, Hamilton came on the team radio after an on-track battle with Norris during the race to call the 21-year-old a "great driver". Following this, F1 journalist Tom Clarkson - who conducts the driver press conference interviews on Grand Prix weekends - has questioned whether Hamilton was so vocal in his praise in order to put some questions in Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff's head regarding whether George Russell will join the Silver Arrows in 2022.
"I was told that in the TV pen [after the race], Lando arrived after the podium, Lewis stopped whatever interview he was doing, went over to Lando, put his hand on his shoulder and said, 'Hello, Speedy Gonzales,'" Clarkson told the F1 Nation podcast.
"So not only was there the radio message, there was this big show in the TV pen as well. What is that all about?
"On the subject of Lewis coming out with all this stuff, I think it's relevant because we're now discussing who is going to partner him at Mercedes. Toto Wolff has said it's either going to be Valtteri Bottas or George Russell.
"But I don't know, is Lewis bigging up Lando Norris just to raise a few questions in Toto's head? Because I think Lewis would love to have Valtteri Bottas next to him, because he's a known quantity, and in fact Valtteri did a very good race in Austria, because when it didn't work for Lewis after he had those aerodynamic issues, he was there to take the second place.
"I'm just wondering if Lewis is bowling a googly. I don't know, it did seem strange."
Damon Hill isn't so sure that Hamilton had a secret motive in his praise for Norris.
"That is the alternative interpretation, that there is no ulterior motive and that it was just a nice thing to do," the 1996 Formula 1 World Champion said. "There is that possibility."
But Clarkson added: "If you wanted to compliment a driver, why do you need to do it in front of all the TV cameras? Why can't you just do it away from the TV cameras? It would mean more actually, it would feel more sincere."
Meanwhile F1 presenter Natalie Pinkham pointed out that Hamilton had not been so vocal about Russell when the Williams driver stood in for him at Mercedes during the 2020 Sahkir Grand Prix.
"I would have loved it if Lewis had complimented George after he stepped in for him at the end of last season. That would have been really big and he was noticeably quiet."