The Mercedes ‘rules of engagement’ is a tome penned by Paddy and Toto. Its design is to predict all possible areas of on-track conflict between the Mercedes team’s two drivers and codify how the plethora of scenarios can be overcome without incident.
The rule book Niki Lauda described during this year’s Australian GP is of biblical proportions including provisions for Nico and Lewis to be offered the decision of when to do their final Q3 runs on an alternating GP weekend basis.
Other codified scenarios include the lead driver having the first call on when to have his pit stop when both Mercedes drivers were running the same pit stop and tyre strategy.
When running alternate tyre strategies the drivers must not interfere/hinder the other despite track position. This chapter famously caused an almighty eruption in Hungary 2014, when Rosberg had handed a race strategy which would see him stop one more time than Hamilton.
Following a safety car period, Mercedes decided to split the driver strategies. Nico was given an aggressive three-stop strategy, whilst Lewis who was 2 places behind his team-mate at the time was offered a two-stop solution to regain track position.
The strategy appeared to favour the current order on track, but should have seen both Mercedes drivers on the podium. It was also believed to be the strategy which give Mercedes the highest haul of points.
Rosberg having stopped earlier than Hamilton was chasing him down at over a second a lap on a newer set of tyres. Hamilton meanwhile was required to be in ‘tyre management’ mode, to see him through to his final stop, from where he would run to end of the race.
Having closed the 12 second gap, Rosberg arrived on the tail of Hamilton, who then picked up his pace to defend against his team-mate. Paddy Lowe gave the order which was transmitted to Lewis, “let Nico past on the main start/finish straight”.
Hamilton was told twice more to let Rosberg through, but he refused to comply. The result was both Lewis’ and Nico’s ideal finishing positions being compromised. Hamilton had too little rubber to overtake a struggling Fernando Alonso and finished third, whilst Rosberg was fourth.
Lewis was candid about his actions, stating his primary objective was to beat his main championship rival.
The overarching principle which governs all the minutia in the Mercedes ‘rules of engagement’ handbook is – “We work for the best possible result for the team – regardless of the individual driver’s ambition”.
Speaking to SKY F1’s Craig Slater, Wolff confirmed after this weekend’s race in China, “Lewis first responsibility is to guarantee a good race result for the team, because there are 1500 people working in the background for that result”.
Given the shock result in Malaysia and a rejuvenated Ferrari team, Paddy and Toto’s Underwood No. 5’s were a blur of activity on the flight home to Brackley, such that other first class customers complained of the paper aeroplane flights that regularly buzzed the premier seating cabin.
The F1 world champion team bosses had a whole new set of on track possibilities to codify to avoid possible embarrassment again as in Shanghai.
What has changed in 2015 is that Ferrari are much closer to the Silver Arrows in terms of race pace and importantly the red team have demonstrated their tyre wear on both compounds in Malaysia and China is less significant than that of the W06.
Mercedes have now taken their micro management of races to a new level. Concerned the Ferrari cars could run longer on their first set of tyres, Lewis and Nico were told to drive significantly slower than was possible, to nullify any opportunity for one or both Ferrari’s to gain track position at the first set of pit stops.
This plan required both drivers to comply, because if Nico went after Hamilton in an attempt to overtake him, Mercedes believed both cars would be compromised and the Ferrari’s would take an advantage.
The analysis which led to this race management strategy, Niki Lauda revealed, was formulated on Friday night following the FP2 race simulations which had Ferrari within 0.2 seconds per lap on race pace.
Both cars qualifying on the front row had no effect on the plan, which explains Nico’s anguish at losing out on pole by a mere 0.042 seconds. The die was cast; the race was to be a trundle and in the words of Fangio, a “win at the slowest possible speed”.
TJ13 has learned, one new and important insertion has been made into the Mercedes racing version of the Levitical code. The AMG F1 drivers will not be allowed to race each other when the gap to the opposition is less than x.
X is a variable to be set during each race weekend given the strategists view of the team’s vulnerability from their rivals. Tyre management is now king.
In the Mercedes press briefing following the race in China, Toto Wolff explained how things have changed since last year. “And if it would ever come to the call between interfering between the two of them because we risk to lose a race, then we would do that. We don’t have the gap any more from last year where we can just let them push each other until the very end. We need to manage the gaps between the two of them.”
There is however light at the end of the tunnel for those fans hoping to see cars competing on track. Mercedes consciously broke one of its rules on Sunday by pitting Rosberg before Lewis at the second round of pit stops.
The call when to stop has been enshrined in Mercedes ‘order of events’ as that of the lead driver when both cars are on identical tyre strategies, though Hamilton was not afforded this right in Shanghai.
Each and every F1 fan should be petitioning the F1 gods to look favourably on the team from Maranello. As Ferrari close the gap further on Mercedes, then and only then may the weighty silver clad volume entitled ‘rules of engagement’ be rendered useless.
Then, just maybe, F1 racing will resume.