If there’s one defining characteristic of the 2015 Formula One season, it’s the rivalry between Mercedes teammates Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. However, Mercedes F1 team executive director Toto Wolff told Motorsport.com that if the rivalry ever hurts the team, they may replace one of the pair.
After the hat-throwing incident at the United States Grand Prix, Wolff admitted to Sky Sports F1 that the emotional rivalry was “what the sport needs.” After all, it made Hamilton and Rosberg human in an era when too many racing drivers come off as characterless dull-bots.
Now that the season is over, Wolff admits that the tension hasn’t been a walk in the park for the Mercedes team. Whenever one driver is angry about a team loss, it has affected not only how the drivers work with each other, but with other team members.
Wolff explained to Motorsport.com:
There is lots going on behind closed doors. I feel that the team is stronger than ever. We are having huge unity within the team, but the difficult relationship of the drivers is one of our weaknesses. And that is not good.
If I were to analyze what are the biggest strengths and the biggest weakness of the team, I would say the biggest strength is the quality and the characters of the personalities within the team.
The biggest weakness is the dynamic of the relationship between the drivers – and sometimes between the drivers and the team.
Of course, the Yas Marina season ender wasn’t without some debate over Lewis Hamilton’s tire strategy and engine modes. In an analysis of where Hamilton may have lost the race on strategy, James Allen on F1 also mentions that Hamilton turned up his engine modes despite his team’s wishes otherwise. Hamilton switching to a different engine mode than his teammate — which the team maintains is unfair — was a persistent enough problem last season at Bahrain and Spain for the team to reach an agreement with Hamilton not to do it. Nonetheless, Hamilton tried to override this in the last 14 laps of the season finale.
Wolff believes that the team should do better at managing Lewis Hatfield and Nico McCoy, and if they can’t, a significant change will need to happen. Wolff elaborated to Motorsport.com:
We took the decision of having two evenly matched drivers in order to make the team progress faster and better. It was a very conscious decision three years ago.
Going forward, we will consider if it is the best set-up for the team. Personality and character within the team is a crucial ingredient for the team success.
If we feel that it is not aligned with the general consensus, spirit and philosophy within the team, we might consider that when we take a decision, in terms of the driver line-up going forward.
To Wolff, this wouldn’t be a change to a number-one and number-two driver order per se, but a likely change in personnel.
“I think it is important to have talented and fast drivers in the car,” Wolff told Motorsport.com. “But we want to work with nice guys.”
Which of the two is more likely to go? Rosberg’s contract runs through 2016, although it likely includes an option for extension, and Hamilton’s contract was recently extended through 2018. However, Wolff made it clear to Motorsport.com that one of those contracts could be ended early if things really turn sour.
While most of the emphasis is on the drivers in the cars, Formula One is still a team sport — and that entire team has to be performing at their best in order to win. If strained relations between drivers and the rest of the team makes it difficult to get the cars set up correctly, or to put together and execute a race-winning strategy, then of course the team will want to make a change. The team wants to win.
For now, though, it seems as if Wolff’s warning hasn’t changed much. Following a season where Rosberg claimed that Hamilton was too aggressive in several on-track incidents, Hamilton told the BBC:
You’ve seen [Rosberg] complains about a lot of things. But you kind of let it go over your head because that’s just the way he is.
It’s kind of the different background we come from, I guess
Hamilton was filming an episode of the BBC One F1 Review show when he mentioned his teammate. When he referred to their different backgrounds, it’s a shot at the fact that Rosberg grew up as the son of F1 driver Keke Rosberg in Monaco, while Hamilton’s divorced parents were of considerably humbler means.
Hamilton continued to the BBC, defending moves like those he made at Suzuka and Circuit of the Americas:
On the racing side of things you have to be tough.
You can’t be nice out there, and go: “Hey, here’s some space.” I mean business.
I’m not here to make friends, to finish the race and say: “Hey, that was a lovely race, chap, you were so friendly with me, you let me win.”
This is the one opportunity and you take it. That doesn’t mean wiping someone out or cheating but you have to be fierce, strong and hard to as much of the limit as you can be.
And you can ask every world champion, if you’re on the outside, you have to back off.
Warning, schmarning. That feud ain’t goin’ nowhere. Cue the Georgia Satellites, though: Just gimme no lines, and keep your hats to yourself.
Photo credit: Getty Images
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