The Mercedes team principal, Toto Wolff, has insisted he would have dropped Lewis Hamilton or the British driver’s then teammate Nico Rosberg from races had their rivalry continued to prove detrimental to the team.
Wolff revealed he had to use an “iron fist” to manage his two drivers. The turbulent period at Mercedes has informed Wolff’s decision-making process in choosing teammates for Hamilton and will play a part in the makeup of the team in future.
Hamilton and Rosberg were teammates at Mercedes between 2013 and 2016. When Mercedes delivered a completely dominant car in 2014, the championship became a two-horse race and the friendship the pair had shared since karting deteriorated into a bitter rivalry. They clashed at the Belgian GP in 2014, in Austria in 2016 and also notoriously took each other out of the race in Spain the same year.
Wolff said the team could not tolerate the situation. “It was very difficult, because I came into the team as a newcomer in F1 and Nico and Lewis had been in the sport for much longer,” he told the High Performance podcast. “But still I was able to create an environment where they had to respect the team, sometimes with an iron fist, and they understood that they couldn’t let us down, they couldn’t let Mercedes down.”
The team principal, who joined Mercedes in 2013, issued an unequivocal warning to his drivers. “I always made clear that if this was going to happen regularly and I would see a pattern, I have no fear in making somebody miss races,” Wolff said.
Hamilton won the title in 2014 and 2015, with Rosberg taking it in 2016 and then immediately retiring. He was replaced at Mercedes by Valtteri Bottas, with whom Hamilton has a friendly relationship and over whom he has enjoyed a clear advantage on track. The British driver has won every title since 2017.
However, both he and Bottas are only on one-year contracts and Hamilton’s future in the sport remains uncertain. The hugely promising George Russell, a Mercedes junior driver competing for Williams, is a favourite to replace Bottas. Wolff was clear, though, that any decision would be informed by the likely dynamic between prospective teammates.
“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 in the room and that is not something I will ever allow again,” he said.
The Mercedes sporting director, Ron Meadows, who has been with the team since they were BAR in 1997, has praised the crucial role Michael Schumacher played in the team’s success since 2014. Schumacher came out of retirement to drive for Mercedes in 2010 and was with them until 2012.
“Given how he helped us improve, I think certainly my biggest regret was not seeing Michael win a race for us,” he said. “He was a different level of driver [than] we’d ever worked with at that point. We all wanted him to win. It didn’t happen. A couple of years later we couldn’t stop winning and he deserves some of that because the reason we’re winning today, a lot was down to him because he made us better.”