WINNER LEWIS IN THE DOGHOUSE AFTER RACE TACTICS ROW
Team unimpressed by Lewis Hamilton’s
Mercedes motorsport boss Toto Wolff says that Lewis Hamilton undermined the team by ignoring orders to increase his pace in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and has yet to decide if the team will adopt a different approach to letting its drivers race each other next year.
The Brit was backing team-mate Nico Rosberg into the rest of the pack in the closing stages of the race in his attempts to claim a fourth title. But with Sebastian Vettel closing fast on newer supersoft tyres, Hamilton was instructed to increase his pace to ensure Mercedes won the race.
He defied the orders, which later came from technical boss Paddy Lowe, saying “let us race”. In the end his plan didn’t work with Rosberg able to stay ahead of Vettel and Max Verstappen with second enough for the German to clinch his first title.
Wolff said the team may change its strategy in the future because of the way Hamilton acted, but that he had yet to make up his mind.
“Undermining a structure in public means you’re putting yourself before the team – that’s very simple,” he said. “Anarchy doesn’t work in any team or any company.”
But he added that he could understand why Hamilton ignored the orders. “The other half says it was his only chance of winning the championship at that stage and maybe you cannot demand a racing driver that is one of if not the best out there, a real guard dog in the car, to comply in a situation where his instincts did not make him comply,” he said. “It’s about finding a solution to solve the problem in the future because a precedent has been set.
“Everything is possible, from let’s change the rules for next year because it doesn’t work in those critical races. Maybe we want to give them even more freedom in racing each other, or we could go to the more harsh side that we feel the values were not respected. This is 180 degrees and I’m not sure yet where my finger is going to point – where the needle is going to go.
“The second question, of consequences, this is something I will keep internal. I need to form an opinion which I haven’t yet.”
Wolff defends Merc
Wolff defended the decision to issue the instructions to Hamilton, believing Vettel posed a genuine threat to a Mercedes victory.
“There were two moments in the race when there was a risk that we would be losing the race [Verstappen’s different strategy and Vettel]. Our number one principle for the past three years – and this doesn’t matter if it’s the first race or the last – is to secure the win. You can question that, whether it’s the right principle going forward, but that’s exactly what we did on the pitwall – there were these two moments and this is why we asked him to increase the pace.
“As we let them race for the last three years, the team deserves credit for that, not deciding to have a number one or a number two because that’s the easiest solution. It was clear that we would only interfere if our number one objective of winning the race was under threat.”
Lowe added: “We had some frustrations, we’d rather have some gap to control it to mitigate against any possible risks. It [Lowe’s message] was more like just to make it totally clear to him there was no b******* to that point. There was a proper threat from Vettel, so that he could respond if he was able. That was it really.”
But just a day earlier, the team said it wouldn’t interfere with Rosberg and Hamilton’s battle for the title.
“We can’t really interfere in the final race, we have let them race until now,” Wolff said after qualifying. “We need to let them go. It would cause a lot of controversy and therefore I trust this is going to go well tomorrow for the benefit of the team, the team spirit, and the effort it has been given, and the fans.”
Hamilton said he wasn’t surprised the team spoke to him on the radio, and didn’t let it alter his mindset.
“We’re out there to race and the team had won the constructors’ title,” said Hamilton. “At that time we’re racing; what was I going to do, just sit there and let the dude go and win the championship? I had to try to help myself, because no one else was going to.”
Red Bull team boss Christian Horner defended Hamilton’s approach to the race and said Mercedes was “naive” to expect him to do anything else.
Horner said: “He didn’t do anything dirty, he didn’t do anything against the rules and I think it would be unfair to criticise Lewis for the way that he drove, it was obvious coming into the weekend that that was his only chance of achieving the result that he wanted.
“It was only ever going to be that kind of battle between the two of them. Congratulations to Nico, he’s driven a great season this year, he’s a very worthy world champion but it was naive to think that there would be any different approach to this race with what’s at stake.”
Rosberg (r) came under attack from Vettel after Hamilton slowed