Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff has broken his silence on the recent ‘frustrating’ crash between Lewis Hamilton and George Russell during the Qatar Grand Prix.
In his official statement ahead of the upcoming US Grand Prix, Wolff expressed confidence that such an incident between the two British drivers would not happen again.
Certainly, this hasn’t been the only time two very close Mercedes team mates have taken each other out of a race with a few incidents between Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton occurring some years ago. Wolff was notoriously angry on camera in particular during the 2014 Belgian Grand Prix when both Mercedes cars collided several times.
The infamous collision in 2014
The 2014 Formula One season was a time of high tension within the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team, particularly between teammates Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. Tensions reached boiling point at the Belgian Grand Prix, held at the iconic Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps. On just the second lap of the race, Rosberg collided with Hamilton while attempting to overtake, resulting in damage to Hamilton’s rear tyre and Rosberg’s front wing.
Toto Wolff’s furious reaction
Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff was less than pleased with the incident.In an immediate post-race interview, Wolff didn’t hold back his frustration, describing the event as “unacceptable” and an incident that not only cost the team valuable points, but also damaged its reputation.
Wolff was particularly angry because both drivers had been explicitly told that they were free to race each other, but to avoid contact at all costs. The collision not only violated the team’s rules but also betrayed Wolff’s trust, causing a rift within a team that was already struggling with internal tensions.
Perhaps very reminiscent of recent clashes between George Russell and Lewis Hamilton, although on the face of it, the drivers and team are keeping the official line respectable, for now.
Dynamics within the team
The 2014 season was a contentious one for Mercedes. Hamilton and Rosberg, who had been friends and competitors since their karting days, found their relationship strained as they both fought for the championship.
Both drivers were equally skilled and had access to the dominant Mercedes car, making the competition even fiercer. The collision at Spa acted as a catalyst, turning the tension into an open rivalry and raising questions about the team’s ability to manage its two star drivers effectively.
One wonders just how amicable the pairing will be if Mercedes produce a race winner next year with the W15 F1 car.
Legacy of the incident
The consequences of the crash in Belgium were far-reaching. In the short term, it led to internal discussions and a review of team protocols to ensure that such an incident didn’t happen again. This obviously failed with several other on track incidents, most dramatic perhaps being the Spanish Grand Prix in 2016, a race that gifted Max Verstappen his first ever F1 win.
It also fuelled the rivalry between Hamilton and Rosberg, affecting the team dynamic for the rest of the season and even into next year. The relationship between the two was never the same after the crash, and it’s seen by many as a key moment that intensified their rivalry.
More broadly, it served as a lesson for Toto Wolff and Mercedes in managing competitive team-mates. In the years that followed, Mercedes implemented clearer team orders and strategies to avoid internal conflict, contributing to their continued success in the sport.
The incident in Qatar 2023
The collision occurred at the first corner of the first lap of the race in Qatar last time out. Hamilton attempted an ambitious overtake on the outside of Russell, causing the seven-time world champion to retire immediately. Russell recovered to finish fourth, but felt the incident had cost him a potential podium or even victory.
Both drivers expressed frustration over the team radio, blaming each other for the unfortunate incident. However, after reviewing the replay, Hamilton took “full responsibility” and graciously apologised to Russell and the Mercedes team.
Team reaction and future implications
After the race, Wolff, who recently returned from knee surgery, praised the maturity shown by both drivers.
“The last race in Qatar was a case of what might have been. As a team, you never want your cars to collide. It was frustrating to leave a lot of points on the table, especially as the pace of the car was strong,” said Wolff.
The Mercedes boss also stressed that the team and drivers are keen to learn from the incident, saying, “Both Lewis and George know that the team comes first and they never want to jeopardise that. I am sure we will all grow from this moment.”
Crucial time for Mercedes
Although Red Bull Racing and Max Verstappen have already clinched both the Constructors’ and Drivers’ Championships, Mercedes are in a crucial battle for second place with Ferrari, who trail by just 28 points with five rounds to go. Hamilton also has his sights set on P2 in the Drivers’ Championship, just 30 points behind Red Bull’s Sergio Perez.
Wolff concluded his statement by emphasising the team’s focus on the upcoming races.
“We have a busy few weeks ahead as the season comes to a close, starting with a triple-header in the USA, Mexico and Brazil,” he said.
According to Wolff, the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) is a challenging yet exciting track that creates a fantastic atmosphere.
“We will be bringing a modified floor, which is the last significant update we will be bringing to the track this year,” said Wolff, signalling the team’s ongoing efforts to fine-tune the performance of their car and set a development path for next season’s car, the W15.
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