Mercedes threatened Hamilton and Rosberg with suspension at height of rivalry, reveals Wolff
Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg’s ferocious rivalry at Mercedes may have resulted in some of the Silver Arrows’ most dominant seasons – but according to Team Principal Toto Wolff, it also forced Mercedes to consider some radical options to keep the duo in check, and stop the team from imploding.
Hamilton and Rosberg’s journey from karting team mates and friends to bitter rivals at Mercedes is well-documented, while their on-track clashes – most notably at Spa 2014, Austria 2016 and their infamous collision at the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix, which paved the way for Max Verstappen’s first F1 win – have cemented the team mate rivalry as one of the fiercest in F1 history.
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But according to Wolff, speaking on The High Performance Podcast, the intensity of the rivalry came close to forcing Mercedes to impose race suspensions on the drivers at the height of the pair’s on-track feuding.
“It was very difficult because I came into the team as a newcomer in Formula 1, and Nico and Lewis had been in the sport for much longer,” said Wolff, who joined Mercedes in 2013. “But still, I was able to create an environment where they had to respect the team. Sometimes with an iron fist, or iron grip, and they understood that they couldn’t let us down, they couldn’t let Mercedes down.
“The events of 2014, where I felt there was some selfish behaviour, I said that the next time you come close to the other car, your team mate, you think about the Mercedes brand, you think about single individuals in the team, you think about Dieter Zetsche, the CEO of Mercedes. That’s probably going to change the way you act; you’re not going to put your team mate in the wall.
"And I always made it clear that if this were to happen regularly, and I would see a pattern, then I have no fear in making somebody miss races.
“The thing the drivers want the most is to compete in a car,” Wolff added. “And you always need to be very clear that you compete in the car if you understand the team game. And it’s much more difficult because there are only two drivers in the team and it’s not easy to find a replacement, and a replacement on that level. But I’m prepared to sacrifice a race or two just to make it clear for all future generations that are going to drive for Mercedes that that’s not on.”
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Speaking on the podcast, Wolff also questioned the wisdom of Mercedes pairing Hamilton and Rosberg in the first place in 2013, given their shared history – while although Mercedes enjoyed their three most statistically dominant seasons in the Hamilton/Rosberg era from 2014-16, Wolff said that he remained convinced that the negativity between the duo was ultimately a destructive force rather than a positive one at the team.
“I’m not sure [the hostility got] the best out of both, because that is negativity, and you still have to be a team player,” said Wolff. “If the debriefing room is full of negativity because the two drivers are hostile with each other, then that will spill over into the energy of the room, and that is not something that I will ever allow again.
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“That happened, but I couldn’t change it, because the drivers were hired before I came. And nobody actually thought, ‘What was the dynamic between the two, what is the past between the two?’ There was a lot of historical context that none of us knew, and will never know. And that’s why it’s something that we’re looking at: how do the drivers work with each other, what happens in the case of failure with one and another.
“We accept the annoyance and pain if it goes against one, but we’re trying to still keep the positive dynamic in the team. And if it didn’t function anymore, that’s fine. If we were to fail again, that’s fine – but then we’re changing the driver line-up.”