Following the last lap collision between the Mercedes racing cars at the Austrian GP last weekend, the race stewards’ clearly cast the blame on Nico Rosberg. The German was hit with 2 penalty points and 10 seconds added to his race time.
Book closed, cut and dry… Right?
Yet Toto Wolff’s behaviour and comments following the chequered flag in Spielberg may suggest more is at play behind the scenes in Brackley.
The nigh on immediate response from the Wolff was to inform the media that team orders may now be required at Mercedes AMG F1, which even in the heat of the moment was surprising.
Most reactive decisions attempt to remedy the problem in hand, and had a Mercedes team order been issued last weekend, the only realistic outcome would have meant Hamilton being ordered to hold station behind his team mate.
This of course would have been a punitive measure for Hamilton, despite the fact that Rosberg was deemed in the wrong by the stewards and Johnny Herbert et al.
Gerhard Berger believes team orders would solve some of Toto’s problems, but should be introduced in a very limited fashion.
“it would be a good idea to do so but only in the last few laps if necessary,” observed the ex-Ferrari driver. “If you’re leading in a team with one-two in the last lap after a race like this, and you say ‘keep position’, I think people would have much more understanding.”
Given Lewis Hamilton’s up and down relationships with both McLaren and Mercedes F1 teams, the question must be whether Lewis is running out of favour with the Mercedes hierarchy?
Last year, Wolff threatened to replace Hamilton with Alonso if he failed to sign a contract, yet in the wake of Nico’s grave crime last weekend, the Mercedes team boss was conciliatory over his German driver’s current contract negotiations. “The contract is a long-term decision and isn’t influenced by a race incident,” said Wolff.
Maybe Toto thinks Lewis isn’t playing fair, given the latitude Mercedes are offering their drivers. Besides the big incidents in Spa 2014, Spain and now Austria this year, there have been occasions where the Mercedes duo could have easily collided as-well.
At Suzuka and Austin and in Montreal this year, Lewis has claimed the ‘inside line’ into corners and appeared to have run Rosberg off the track. Had Nico Rosberg behaved differently on these occasions, there would be three more Mercedes on Mercedes collisions in the diary.
So it could be that Toto Wolff and Mercedes may not be impressed with Lewis Hamilton’s decision to turn in on Rosberg, despite being deemed’ in the right’ by the race stewards. For some this will have overtones of Rosberg in Spa 2014. There the German did nothing wrong in the eyes of the stewards, yet did not do the right thing for the team on the race track.
Interestingly, after the Mercedes team had met and much later than the initial round of interviews, a story began to emerge from Mercedes to mitigate Hamilton’s actions. “He was in my blind spot”, explained Lewis.
“Blind spot? Maybe that was it,” conceded a deflated Rosberg on his way out of the circuit.
Finally, when being interviewed by Channel 4, Hamilton was asked why he was not covered with champagne as usual and how was the mood in the Mercedes garage?
Lewis grinned knowingly, “Its.. erm… interesting.. to say the least,” he revealed slowly.
“I don’t know if you’ve heard what I’ve heard?” added Hamilton, “..since… erm… after the race. But it’s pretty heated.”
The British F1 press today are filled with threats that one or both Mercedes driver may be stood down for two races in future. Clearly the breadth of reporting on this story means this is a leak from Mercedes AMG F1 and designed to put into perspective their drivers’ title ambitions.
Hamilton says he will try to persuade Toto and the team not to introduce team orders, while Rosberg has indicated he will do as instructed.
The Times F1 correspondent Kevin Eason writes today, “Insiders say that Wolff is in despair after seeing his drivers throw away 60 points in the constructors’ championship in five grands prix because of their private war and is also sick of the poisonous atmosphere between the pair.”
Following today’s revelations about Hamilton’s behaviour in Baku and the more compliant nature of Nico Rosberg within the team, it may be that Mercedes decide in the longer term to back the driver who is more in keeping with their global corporate image, rather than the one who is adored by the British broadcasting media.