Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff has revealed that the ‘transparency’ between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg’s two sides of the garage has suffered in recent weeks as the team-mate’s battle for the drivers’ title has intensified.
The first signs of tension within Mercedes erupted over the course of the Monaco Grand Prix weekend, after Hamilton suggested that Rosberg had deliberately made a mistake during the final part of qualifying to cost him a shot at pole, adding that the pair, who had once been karting team-mates, were no longer friends.
With the two Mercedes team-mates the only realistic challengers for the drivers’ title, Wolff admitted following Rosberg’s Austrian Grand Prix win, that he had started to see signs of a break down in the sharing of information between the two sides of the team’s garage earlier that weekend.
“Our first priority must be to let the two compete against each other, Wolff told Sky Sports F1. “They are on such a close level and we don’t want to interfere from the outside and manipulate it in one or the other direction.
“The playing field must be kept equal, that’s for sure.”
“Nevertheless, yesterday [the team] had a bit of a moment. After P3 we weren’t in good shape and the atmosphere wasn’t like in the races before.
“We see that it’s getting very competitive, that transparency is suffering a little bit and we need to make sure that this is not detrimental to the team.”
While Wolff did not pinpoint a particular moment as evidence for the breakdown in ‘transparency,’ he did suggest that sandbagging was something that he would not like to see, as it simply clouds the team’s understanding of the car, very much contrary to the long-term aims of the Brackley-based outfit.
“Transparency is all about exchanging views and what the car does and learning from each other,” added the Austrian. “We obviously have to look very carefully at it, but we don’t want to keep the lap which is the lap which is showing how capable the car is until the final qualifying because we need to understand where we can improve the car. That is one of the examples.
“I’m not saying this has happened – we just don’t want to see any sandbagging and aborted laps when we need to learn about the car.
“We need the knowledge of the whole group, we need the whole group working together. It’s not only the drivers, it’s also the engineers of both sides of the garage. This is the spirit we want to maintain.
“It’s not about winning the next couple of races, but hopefully staying competitive the next couple of years. Therefore every race we need to learn and we can only learn if we’re having an open and transparent way of working with each other.”
Wolff reiterated his faith in allowing his two drivers to race each other to the flag, but conceded that the situation remained under constant supervision and that if necessary, Mercedes would consider taking a team orders approach in the future to protect its own interests, namely the constructors’ championship.
“We must expect tension to creep in,” he said. “In the past most of the systems came back to a number one and number two driver.
“We are still in the situation that we believe in equal status because it’s what we think our racing philosophy and spirit should be – and not only for Mercedes but Formula 1 in general.
“But we could well be finding out at a certain stage that the intelligent guys in the last 30 years had a reason why they did it.
“I hope we are never going to find that out and we never need to find that out, but it could well be. But, as I said before, we are not having any issues until now. It is all running in the way we expected but we need to monitor it.”
Images courtesy of Octane Photographic