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Mercedes should let the drivers race, not impose team orders says F1 paddock view

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Mercedes should let the drivers race, not impose team orders says F1 paddock view
Jul 4, 2016, 12:08 AM

Mercedes has a duty to let their drivers race and not impose team orders for the good of the sport, despite the controversial end to the Austrian G...

Mercedes has a duty to let their drivers race and not impose team orders for the good of the sport, despite the controversial end to the Austrian Grand Prix - that is the view of rival team boss Christian Horner and many others in the F1 paddock.

Mercedes will decide this week whether to impose team orders in the later stages of Grands Prix in light of the dramatic collision between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg on the last lap on Sunday. It was the third collision between the pair in 34 races and the second in two months.

Team boss Toto Wolff called the incident ’brainless’, but without saying which driver that adjective applied to.

Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg

Horner said that the Mercedes team has "sufficient margin at the front of the field, they don't need to impose team orders - it's exciting, it gets people talking about the sport."

This is a view echoed by many commentators and insiders. Wolff will seek the counsel of his Mercedes board members and senior engineers before making a decision. When the pair collided in Spa 2014, which was blamed on Rosberg, Wolff also made threats, even suggesting that one option is that they might both be replaced if they continued in that vein. The pair went 30 races without a problem after that.

The stewards clearly found Rosberg to be at fault again on Sunday for not allowing Hamilton ‘racing room’ and shots from TV images clearly show that the cars were well away from the racing line, marked out by black tyre marks, when they made contact, suggesting Rosberg had pushed Hamilton wide.

Rosberg, who said afterwards 'I got penalised by the stewards for the incident, they give me the blame, which sucks,' will have been mindful of the opening lap in Montreal, where Hamilton eased him wide through Turn 1.

Rosberg did not attempt to turn into him there, avoining a collision in the process, whereas Hamilton did attempt to turn into the corner on Sunday, albeit just before he went into the kerbs on the outside of the corner. Most commentators agree that it was Rosberg’s fault and so did the stewards.

Rosberg, Hamilton

Since their first lap collision in Spain, Rosberg has struggled to get back the momentum of the early season. Baku gave him confidence, especially as Hamilton brought trouble on himself with his accident in qualifying. He was on course for another very strong weekend in Austria when his suspension broke and the subsequent gearbox change and five place grid penalty appeared to have handed the race to Hamilton.

But Rosberg drove a very strong race, helped enormously by a very well timed and executed first pit stop, which got him out ahead of Hulkenberg and the Red Bulls and ultimately gave him track position over Hamilton and Raikkonen, when they made later stops.

What made the end of the race in Austria quite political was the way the strategy was set up, with the two drivers on different compounds, racing for the win.

Hamilton was on soft tyres and Rosberg on Super Softs. These choices were the only ones available to both men, based on the tyres they had selected for the weekend and what was left for them to use for the final stint, given that neither would be likely to reach the finish well on ultra softs.

Hamilton asked why Rosberg was on the faster tyre, but it turned out that he had the faster tyres at the end, as his engineer predicted to him. Mercedes had set out with Hamilton to do one stop and with Rosberg to do two, which is why the German pitted 11 laps earlier than Hamilton.

Mercedes pit stop

Perhaps the more interesting question is why did Hamilton make a second stop, given that he had done a long first stint with the clear intention to do a one stop strategy. Max Verstappen, who stopped far earlier, managed a one stop, as did Kimi Raikkonen. We will explore that in more detail in the UBS Race Strategy report on Tuesday.

A slow stop for Hamilton and a long stint on ultra softs meant that he dropped behind Rosberg when he made his first pit stop; Then the Safety Car intervened, neutralizing the race.

The pair have now collided three times, with Hamilton coming off worst in Spa, Rosberg in Austria and both retiring in Spain.

One of them will be world champion this year, especially as Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel lost further ground on Sunday with retirement due to a tyre failure.

Whilst it makes an eye catching threat, it is unlikely that Mercedes will actually enforce the team orders, especially as they have won the world championships for the last two seasons and there is little prospect of losing them this year, despite the growing competitiveness of Red Bull and Ferrari.

Sunday’s race was the 40th win for Mercedes since the start of the hybrid turbo era in 2014. As Horner says, they owe it to the sport to create a sporting competition between drivers.

The last time Rosberg was held to be at fault, in Spa 2014, he did not recover well afterwards that season and lost his championship lead to Hamilton from that point onwards. It will be very interesting to see if he can bounce back in Silverstone on Sunday, where he is likely to get a frosty reception from Hamilton fans.

“It’s unpopular, it makes me puke, because I like to see them race. But if the racing is not possible without contact, that’s the consequence,” said Wolff of the team orders threat.

“In Barcelona I was more at ease with it; we’d gone 30 races without a collision and it was clear it was eventually going to happen. It wiped out both cars and from my naïve thinking I thought to myself, ’Okay they’ve learned the lesson, seen what the consequences are and it’s not going to happen any more.

“But here we go, it happens again. So the only consequence is to look at all the options and one option is to freeze the order at a certain point in the race.

“We will make the decision irrespective of what the drivers say. We need to avoid contact. Everything is on the table.”

Hamilton was quite sanguine about it, claiming that they were ‘racing hard’ and that he needed the points as he has lost so much ground due to Mercedes reliability issues.

"I needed those points. I can’t afford to lose any points. Luckily I was as close as I could be on the lap. Nico made a mistake and I tried to capitalise on that,' he said.

"He’s in the (championship) lead with four engines and I’m fighting for the lead with one engine. So we’re in different positions in that respect. So I would say it’s a little more intense from my side as every point counts more than ever.
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