MERCEDES CONSIDERS CRACKDOWN
Team bosses may shackle drivers with team orders after second tangle
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.”
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