Lewis Hamilton’s asserted yesterday that ‘nothing will change’ following a sit down with Toto Wolff over the last lap incident between himself and Nico during the 2016 Austrian GP. Today, Toto Wolff now makes clear team orders are likely to be used going forward.
On the Thursday before the British GP, Mercedes issued a statement about the future behaviour of their drivers’ on track. “If the drivers do not honour the revised Rules of Engagement, we may impose team orders as a solution of last resort.”
Further, Toto Wolff explained any repeat of the drivers coming together would see one or both of them suffer a severe penalty. “If it happens again it will have a negative impact on their campaign,” said Wolff. “This is their final warning.”
Interestingly, Toto Wolff decides to utilise a football analogy to illustrate what has and will happen. “This is the tricky bit because if you have a yellow card, will it change your way of tackling it or not? Because you know what happens with a second yellow card. It is a scenario that none of us wants to be in.”
A second yellow card means a player is forced to miss a match. Maybe the Mercedes second yellow card will see the car of the guilty driver ‘handicapped’ for a race – for example, forced to use a reduced engine mode. Other than this, it is difficult to understand what Wolff can implement as a sanction, given he ruled out forcing a driver to stand down for a GP weekend.
At the FIA driver press conference in Silverstone, Lewis Hamilton sniggered when asked about Toto’s proposed clamp down. When questioned further as to whether the declared Mercedes’ driver sanctions were ‘scary’, after a lengthy pause, Lewis replied “I guess I should… say yes.” Lewis appeared to indicate he felt little threat despite the tough talking from the team’s management.
However, today Toto Wolff makes clear team orders will be given when similar circumstances arise to those in the final laps in Austria.
“We had a situation where both cars were clearly – I wouldn’t say ‘damaged’ but the brakes were not in a state where they could properly race each other,” explained Wolff to SKY F1.
“We were coming to a point that only the two of them raced each other and their brakes were near failure. We saw what happened to [Sergio] Perez he had a brake failure and he ended up in the wall. We saw [Felipe] Massa retiring the car.
“In that particular situation we need to stop the racing before we have two cars breaking down. So we would probably interfere and say ‘we haven’t got the car underneath you to race’.”
On the topic of brakes alone, Mercedes have shown their cars to be vulnerable over the past three seasons. These problems will invariably occur again – and so team orders are inevitable – and more than once – before the end of the season.
By issuing a ‘hold station’ team order, Wolff and Mercedes have interestingly found a way of circumventing the FIA radio ban preventing teams telling drivers of marginal resources on the car.
Lewis Hamilton’s attitude yesterday appears to set him at odds with the Mercedes AMG F1 management over this issue, and given he is ‘box office’, Hamilton may well intend to ignore team orders when they are given.