MERCEDES CON­SID­ERS CRACK­DOWN

Team bosses may shackle driv­ers with team or­ders af­ter sec­ond tan­gle

Motor Sport News - - News - By Rob Lad­brook

Mercedes team chief Toto Wolff may have to go back on his pledge to al­low his driv­ers to race each other at all times af­ter a sec­ond col­li­sion of the sea­son be­tween Lewis Hamil­ton and Nico Ros­berg dur­ing the Aus­trian Grand Prix.

The Mercedes driv­ers came to blows out on track dur­ing the fi­nal lap of the race around the Red Bull Ring in Spiel­berg. Hamil­ton was clos­ing on race leader and ti­tle rival Ros­berg with two laps to go, de­spite run­ning on the harder soft com­pound Pirelli tyres while Ros­berg was on the su­per softs.

Ros­berg, whose car had suf­fered a brake-by-wire fail­ure on the penul­ti­mate lap, made a mis­take through turn one, al­low­ing Hamil­ton to move around the out­side into turn two, be­fore the cars col­lided when Hamil­ton tried to turn into the cor­ner.

Hamil­ton sur­vived the col­li­sion to win the race, while Ros­berg dropped to fourth af­ter break­ing his front wing. Hamil­ton’s third win of the year cuts the points gap to 11 be­hind Ros­berg.

The crash marks the sec­ond time this sea­son the pair have made con­tact, fol­low­ing the race-end­ing ac­ci­dent at the start of the Span­ish GP in May.

Wolff, who has al­ways promised to al­low his driv­ers to race each other, was an­gered by the in­ci­dent, say­ing Mercedes would im­ple­ment team or­ders if nec­es­sary to control the pair.

“This could have ended up as a dou­ble col­li­sion and re­tire­ment, which is ob­vi­ously the worst night­mare for us,” said Wolff. “In Barcelona I was much eas­ier about it be­cause we had 29 races with­out any col­li­sion. It was clear it was even­tu­ally go­ing to hap­pen, and it wiped out both cars there. From my naive think­ing I said to my­self ‘OK, that’s it, they’ve learned their lessons, they’ve seen the con­se­quences and it’s not go­ing to hap­pen any more’. But here we go, it hap­pens again.

“So the only con­se­quences is to look at all the op­tions avail­able on the ta­ble, and one op­tion is to freeze the or­der of a cer­tain stage in the race. It’s un­pop­u­lar, it makes me puke my­self, be­cause I like to see them race, but if rac­ing is not pos­si­ble with­out con­tact, then that’s the con­se­quence. But we’ll have to cool down a lit­tle bit in the next cou­ple of days first [be­fore de­cid­ing].”

Hamil­ton ral­lied against the pos­si­ble sanc­tion, say­ing: “I grew up want­ing to race, rac­ing the best, be­ing the best, by out­driv­ing an­other in­di­vid­ual. I saw a re­play of [Fer­rari pair] Michael Schu­macher and Rubens Bar­richello years ago, and I was dis­ap­pointed as a fan back then. We never want team or­ders like that to hap­pen.

“Niki [Lauda] and Toto have been great these past three years and let us race. It’s not go­ing to be per­fect, but that’s mo­tor rac­ing. We’re driv­ing at over 200mph – you ex­pect us to go around all day and never have a prob­lem? I doubt it.

“I hope that it doesn’t change and they let us con­tinue to race. That’s my hon­est opin­ion from my love of this sport.”

Who’s at fault?

Fol­low­ing the race both driv­ers vis­ited the stew­ards’ of­fice for an in­ves­ti­ga­tion, and Ros­berg was found to be at fault.

The Ger­man was docked 10 sec­onds, which didn’t al­ter his fourth-place fin­ish, and was also handed an of­fi­cial rep­ri­mand for con­tin­u­ing on the fi­nal lap with the front wing folded un­der­neath the car.

Ros­berg said he was in­fu­ri­ated by the col­li­sion, and felt he was the in­no­cent party. The cham­pi­onship points-leader said: “It’s a fact he [Lewis] had space. At all times there was space prior to the col­li­sion. I’m ex­tremely frus­trated be­cause I felt I had the win in the bag. The col­li­sion com­pletely took me by sur­prise, I didn’t ex­pect Lewis to turn in. I can say I didn’t drive into any­body be­cause I had the car fully un­der control, didn’t lock up or any­thing.

“To lose the win on the last lap is in­cred­i­bly hard. Then they [the stew­ards] give me the blame, which sucks. It’s re­ally hard to get over some­thing like that be­cause I was con­vinced I would win.

“I’m gut­ted for the team as it’s re­ally bad every time we col­lide like that. I didn’t lose that many points, so for the team that’s good, but I just need to try and for­get this as quickly as pos­si­ble and come­back strong again.”

Hamil­ton coun­tered that Ros­berg had made lit­tle or no at­tempt to make the cor­ner, and had also re­fused to give him space when he tried to re­join the track af­ter be­ing forced wide.

“He [Nico] just didn’t turn in,” said Hamil­ton. “I was ahead and he didn’t leave any room, even when I re­joined. Nor­mally af­ter a hit like that you’d move wide in case the guy tries to come back on. There were sparks com­ing from his car and he lifted half­way down the straight and by that time I was al­ready along­side.

“I went as wide as pos­si­ble think­ing I could cut back and get as good an exit as pos­si­ble with a straight steer­ing wheel, and then got a hit. I wasn’t expecting it.

“The mood in the garage is pretty in­ter­est­ing. It’s pretty heated, but hon­estly I just feel that I dug deep in this one and never gave up. It felt like I was back in my kart­ing days.”

Fol­low­ing the race Wolff would not be drawn on who he be­lieved was at fault. He added: “You can­not say it is black and white. Nico’s brake-by-wire failed on the sec­ond-last lap, that means the elec­tronic brak­ing, which ob­vi­ously re­duces brak­ing performance, so that was a tech­ni­cal prob­lem. Lewis caught up, tried to pass and there was a col­li­sion. It takes two to tango.

“I don’t want to at­tribute any blame. Nico’s car was hand­i­capped, try­ing to brake later and not on the usual line. I have a per­sonal opin­ion [who was at fault] but I won’t ex­press it here.”

Team un­ten­able?

The lat­est clash has led to spec­u­la­tion over the fu­ture of Hamil­ton and Ros­berg at Mercedes, with Red Bull team boss Chris­tian Horner sug­gest­ing the part­ner­ship was now be­com­ing un­ten­able.

While Hamil­ton has a fresh mul­ti­year agree­ment with the Ger­man brand, Ros­berg’s cur­rent deal ex­pires at the end of this sea­son. He has pub­li­cally stated though that ne­go­ti­a­tions are un­der­way and that he be­lieves he “will be at Mercedes for a long time”.

De­spite that Horner said: “Long term, how ten­able is it for that pair­ing to con­tinue as a team? While they are in the sit­u­a­tion that they are in, with the com­pet­i­tive­ness they have, they are ob­vi­ously go­ing to have these is­sues, [they] are not go­ing to be iso­lated to this race. But then that is an at­trac­tive el­e­ment for the sport. When you have a dom­i­nant car it’s great to see guys go­ing head-to-head.

“They are go­ing for the big­gest prize in mo­tor­sport so in­evitably, they will do what is right for them at the end of the day.”

“He had space. That’s a fact” Ros­berg

Wolff hates team or­ders, but they may be a nec­es­sary evil

Lewis Hamil­ton grabbed his third win of 2016

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