Mercedes ready to rethink team orders approach
Mercedes has admitted that it may need to rethink its approach to team orders, in the wake of Ferrari's latest victory and strong start to the 2017 Formula 1 season.
With Sebastian Vettel taking his second win from three races in the Bahrain Grand Prix, Mercedes has faced a reality check that it is in a very different kind of title fight this year.
Having based its recent campaign on ensuring equality between its two drivers with a dominant car, the threat of Vettel – and the risk of losing wins because Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas are fighting each other – means Mercedes may now face a tough call in terms of needing to favour one of its men.
Mercedes knows that if it had intervened earlier in the Bahrain race to let Hamilton pass Bottas after the first stops, it could have threatened Vettel more, but it equally did not want to treat either of its men unfairly.
However, with Vettel extending his advantage in the championship standings, Mercedes motorsport boss Toto Wolff says his team may have to reluctantly do things differently with team orders from now on.
"We don't like that at all," said Wolff, when asked about a change to the rules of engagement. "It's not what we have done in the last couple of years but the situation is different now, so it needs a proper analysis of what it means and where we are.
"We'd like to give equal opportunity at the start of the race, I think we owe it to them. Then you see what we did in the race, we made the call, we made the call twice, because we felt it was the only possibility of winning the race."
Wolff was clear that it was unlikely Mercedes could go as far as appointing a clear number one before the start of a race, but suggested that the team may have to be more open to favouring one of its men if it appears that Ferrari will beat it.
When asked about a simple rule of whoever get pole position will be given priority for the win, Wolff said: "No, that would be too harsh.
"It would be the opposite of what we have done through the years. It's important as we start the race, to give them equal opportunity.
"We would have probably taken a different decision [in Bahrain] if Valtteri had run in the front with the problem on the tyres and Lewis would have been second. But with Vettel in between, there is nothing we could have done. That's why it was the perfect storm."
He added: "It was our mindset and racing philosophy until now that we have given them both equal opportunity. Like [in Bahrain], you have two cars starting on the front row. If they run second and first, you just have to let them race.
"When you have a problem on the car like we had in the afternoon, that would have been a situation we would have considered - to swap them - but with a Ferrari in between, we couldn't. Three races into the season, you don't want to go there yet."
Hamilton is current on 61 points in the drivers' championship, seven behind Vettel, with Bottas in third place on 38 points.
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