BUDAPEST - Mercedes are to review their team orders policy after Sunday’s Hungarian Grand Prix with team chief Niki Lauda backing Lewis Hamilton for ignoring instructions to allow Nico Rosberg to overtake.
Hamilton went on to finish third and trim teammate Rosberg’s lead in the championship from 14 points to 11 in a race won by Australian Daniel Ricciardo of Red Bull. Rosberg, who started on pole and had a different strategy, was a fuming fourth. According to Mercedes motorsport boss Toto Wolff, they can both expect to be disturbed at the beach during the sport’s August break by calls to discuss a new protocol for managing their duel for the drivers’ crown.
“At the beginning of the season, it is easy to say these are the rules and this is how we are going to do it, but now it is clear — these two are fighting for the world championship,” explained Wolff. “Maybe we have come to a point where what we had at the beginning of the season doesn’t function anymore, because we cannot ask either driver to give up positions or jeopardise their own campaign and championship chances for the benefit of the team.” Wolff spoke after Mercedes non-executive chairman Lauda had supported Hamilton’s decision not to obey repeated requests to allow Rosberg through with more than 20 laps remaining.
“The team was under enormous stress because the race was a very difficult one, there is no question,” said Lauda, a three-time winner of the drivers’ championship. “This race, with the safety car at the beginning and the wet conditions, was a completely different race. So every minute, you had to decide something different. “In this stress, the team told Lewis he should let Nico by because he was on softer tyres and has to come in anyway. If he (Rosberg) had been in the DRS position, he (Hamilton) would have let him by.
“But Nico never got that close. Therefore, I do understand that Lewis said ‘Why? Why should I stop now in the middle of the circuit to let my team colleague by?’ “He is fighting for the championship. So from my point of view Lewis was right. And why the call came? This happened out of the panic and we had to make up for what we were losing.” As the dust settled after a tumultuous race that saw two-time champion Fernando Alonso boost Ferrari’s flagging spirits with a dogged drive to second place, Mercedes were left to reflect on a madcap week.
Just seven days earlier, Rosberg had won his home German Grand Prix comfortably to cap a dream spell in which he had married, signed a new contract and cheered Germany to World Cup glory. Then, while resting in the brief break before the Budapest race, the team organised a bonding exercise - cycling as a group alongside the Danube near Vienna - that ended in a Tour de France style multiple collision. Several team members were injured including Wolff. On Saturday, exactly a week after his high speed crash caused by a brakes failure at Hockenheim, luckless Hamilton’s car burst into flames in the opening minutes of qualifying.
Until then, he had reigned supreme and topped the times in all three practice sessions. This required an overnight rebuild of the charred remains of his wrecked car and Hamilton starting from the pit lane. A heavy rainstorm before the race and two Safety Car interventions added more of the unexpected to create a rollercoaster race in which Mercedes’ almost flawless run of successes, Canada apart, came to an end.
“We suffered because of many things that were going on in the race,” said Wolff, who had broken his shoulder and collarbone in the bike crash. “The Safety Car, where you see the top three runners ended up fourth, seventh and eighth, meant we suffered. “Then we had a brake by wire issue on the lap after the safety came in - so lots of things could go wrong. “It would be wrong to pin it down to one single situation and say this was the reason why the race result suffered or Nico didn’t win.
“As a matter of fact, when he (Rosberg) was behind him (Hamilton) the pace dropped, he wasn’t anywhere near for overtaking - that is also clear. So it wasn’t an obvious case where he was all over him.” He added: “We have a 170-point advantage in the constructors’ championship and maybe it is a moment of loosening it all a bit, in agreement with both of them.”