Mercedes executive director Toto Wolff has admitted that the team may be forced to resort to team orders if allowing Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg to race freely could hand a win to the likes of Red Bull and Ferrari.
The team has prided itself on not issuing team orders so far this season, and it resulted in a spectacular battle between the Silver Arrows for victory at the Bahrain Grand Prix.
However, Mercedes enjoyed such an advantage in Sakhir that the fight for the lead did not allow the other drivers to catch up. Sergio Perez finished in third place some 24 seconds behind.
Should this situation change – i.e. Mercedes rivals significantly cut the gap – and an inter-team fight possibly hinders the chances of a win or one-two finish, Wolff inferred that team orders may have to be used.
“There might be situations where you can’t lose lots of time in battle if you have your enemy right up your back,” he explained to the BBC.
“Bahrain was a very particular situation because our package worked very well there and we had quite a competitive advantage, so it’s easier to take a decision for the sake of racing because you know you have quite a margin to the guy in third place.
“The narrower that margin gets, the more you have to look out.”
Mercedes has swept to four straight wins and three consecutive one-two finishes, with the only blot on its scoresheet being Hamilton’s retirement in Australia due to an engine problem. Although its advantage over the likes of Red Bull and Ferrari is indeed great, it could yet shrink when the first raft of upgrade packages arrive at the Spanish Grand Prix.
“Our rule is that the competition is enemy number one, not your teammate,” Wolff said. ‘There might be situations in the race where you have to consider that, but we will see what happens.”
Time will tell just whether the team is forced to invoke team orders, but it was refreshing to see Wolff and co-chief Paddy Lowe let the drivers race freely in Bahrain, with the only rule being that they brought the cars home.
However, the turf war between the two drivers certainly appears to be hotting up, even if all of the niceties and smiles remain. Hamilton will be chasing win number four in Spain, and it would give him the championship lead for the first time this season.
Images courtesy of Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team.