Toto Wolff, the Mercedes chief executive, was absolutely uncompromising in condemnation of his two drivers, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, after they nearly took each other out at the Austrian Grand Prix.
He has made it clear that the team will sit down and consider imposing team orders on the pair, although he did not want at this stage to apportion blame for the incident.
Hamilton and Rosberg clashed at turn two on the final lap of the race. Hamilton went on to win but Rosberg could finish only in fourth with a damaged front wing – a result that cost the team a potential one-two and six points in the constructors’ championship. Wolff, however, was most concerned that the pair could have knocked one another out of the race and scored nothing, as they did in Barcelona earlier this year.
“One hard manoeuvre triggered the next hard manoeuvre and it could have ended in a double collision which is the worst nightmare for us,” he said. “I don’t want to attribute blame. There is the heat of the moment, be it on the first lap or the last lap. But you know what, I am fed-up. I just don’t want any contact any more.”
The result, he insisted, would be a discussion among core team members, who would make a decision on whether to impose team orders irrespective of the drivers’ opinion on the subject. “I thought they had learned their lesson from Barcelona,” Wolff said. “It happened again, so the consequence is to look at all the options on the table and one of those is to freeze the order at a certain stage in the race, which is unpopular and makes me want to puke. But if the racing is not possible without contact then that is the consequence.”
Wolff, who said he wanted to “put his head in a bucket of cold water” after the incident, reiterated that previously the team had allowed their drivers to compete.
“The mindset we have is: let them race, let them get on with it,” he said. “We owe it to everyone watching. All of us remember the days of the strategy calls and that makes it boring. The fact is if they race as in Bahrain we love it. But collision of team-mates is a no-go for every team.”
Rosberg’s contract is up for renewal at the end of this season but Wolff insisted it was a long-term decision that would not be influenced by what he referred to as a racing incident.
It was not seen as such elsewhere. Rosberg had brake issues but although going deep into turn two, did not turn in nearly as much as would have been expected, while Hamilton on the outside had left him a car’s width to make the corner. The stewards concluded that Hamilton was in front of Rosberg for the corner and that he would have made it had Rosberg not struck him – a lack of “racing room” that made Rosberg responsible.
The German denied culpability, however. “I can say that for sure I didn’t drive into anybody,” he said. “Because I had the car fully under control at all times. I didn’t lock up any tyres or do anything. Completely under control and him turning in just completely took me by surprise.”
The pair’s relationship is already tense and with the championship finely balanced this will add further needle to the fight. “I wanted to discuss it [with Hamilton] but he didn’t feel the need to,” Rosberg said.
Hamilton, who dismissed the booing he received on the podium, was hopeful that the team would step back from imposing team orders, as he recalled Ferrari’s infamous calls in Austria in 2001 and 2002.
“I want to race, I grew up wanting to race, I wanted to race the best and be the best by out-driving another individual,” he said. “They showed a replay of Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello from a few years ago and I was disappointed as a fan. We never want to see team orders like that happen.
“Toto has been great these last few years allowing us to race and that’s what racing is about, it’s not always blue skies but that’s motor racing. We’re driving at 200 miles an hour, you expect to drive around and never have a problem? I hope it doesn’t change and we’re allowed to continue to race and that’s my honest opinion from a love of the sport.”
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