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Wolff: Hamilton hurry-up was to protect the win

28 Nov 2016

Mercedes’ calls for race leader Lewis Hamilton to up his pace in Sunday’s 2016 Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix were simply to ensure the team of victory, rather than a bid to stop their drivers racing. That is according to Toto Wolff, Head of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport.

Hamilton ignored those calls in the closing laps as he backed team mate Nico Rosberg into the clutches of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, in the vain hope that they might pass Rosberg and thus deny him the championship.

“There were two moments in the race where we were at risk of losing the win,” said Wolff, when asked about the instructions from the pit wall. “First, it was not clear if Verstappen was on a one-stop strategy and he was in a good position; and second Sebastian Vettel was lapping two seconds quicker than us.

“Our number-one principle for three years is that we want to win - and believe me it doesn’t matter if it the first or the last race. You can question if it was the right principle executed today from the pit wall, but these two moments urged us to tell Lewis to increase the pace, because at that stage it looked like that Sebastian was going to win the race.”

Wolff refused to be drawn on whether Hamilton would face consequences from Mercedes for directly disobeying instructions, and admitted he could understand why the Briton - faced with losing his title - had chosen to do things his own way.

“One half of me says: with 1,500 people in the team and 300,000 people at Daimler, you have shared values that you have to respect, and not put yourself before these incredible organisations. Anarchy doesn’t work in any team or any company.

“The other half says: look, it was his only chance of winning the championship! Maybe you cannot demand from a racing driver who is probably the best out there to comply with a situation where his instincts cannot make him comply. Now it is up to us to find a solution in the future.”

In the face of continued media questioning about Hamilton’s strategy, Wolff praised Rosberg’s achievements in overcoming his team mate’s tactics and withstanding the pressure from behind to finish second and clinch his first drivers’ crown by a five-point margin.

“Racing against the most talented driver as a team mate and winning the championship against him - that is something that needs to be honoured,” added Wolff. “Nico is a tough cookie. There are some quite remarkable character traits that got him the title. A very worthy world champion!”