Just days after that dramatic collision in Austria, Mercedes battling duo Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg face the prospect of possible ‘team orders’ and the eruption of another noisy controversy ahead of the British Grand Prix, one of the classic events on the championship calendar.
The defending three-time world champion and his championship leading Mercedes team-mate crashed on the final lap of last Sunday’s Austrian Grand Prix, won in dramatic fashion by Hamilton, after which team chief Toto Wolff threatened team action.
Speaking while angry and frustrated in the aftermath of Sunday’s race, Wolff described his drivers as “brainless” and said he and Mercedes were prepared to introduce team orders if necessary. “It is on the table now,” he said, looking ahead to this weekend’s contest at the former airfield circuit at Silverstone, one of the traditional circuits of the sport.
Some observers believe he may need to do the same to control other parts of his team after non-executive chairman Niki Lauda was widely quoted on Tuesday saying that Hamilton had “destroyed” his room in the Mercedes offices at the European Grand Prix in Baku.
He had also ‘lied’ about the state of his relationship with Rosberg in a newspaper interview, said Lauda, the man who was most instrumental in persuading the 31-year-old Briton to leave McLaren and join Mercedes.
Twenty-four hours later, in a statement issued by the team on his behalf, Lauda was apparently back-tracking from those statements, as aired by Red Bull’s channel Servus TV during a chat show earlier in the week.
“Niki regrets any misunderstanding caused by comments that have been blown wildly out of proportion compared with the casual context in which they were made,” said the Mercedes statement.
It made clear also that Hamilton “did not in any way damage a hotel room or his private driver room at the circuit the race weekend in Baku” and “did not lie about his relationship” with Rosberg.
The Lauda intervention, on top of events at Spielberg last weekend, was another self-inflicted wound that heaped more pressure on the Mercedes team as they struggle to find a way to manage the rivalry between their drivers as they fight for the world title.
Just three days after his dramatic win in Austria, Hamilton aims to complete a home hat-trick with a fourth Silverstone victory, after wins in 2008, 2014 and 2015, to go top in this year’s title race.
Only Briton Jim Clark, Frenchman Alain Prost (both five-time winners) and Briton Nigel Mansell (four) have won more British Grands Prix at Silverstone, the original home of Formula One, than Hamilton.
Hamilton has made it clear he is against team orders and is concerned at how such a decision would be seen by the fans at Silverstone, if he is not allowed to race Rosberg. The German said he would abide by the team’s instructions.
Rosberg leads the championship with 153 points, 11 ahead of Hamilton on 142, but both know that Ferrari’s drivers four-time champion German Sebastian Vettel and Finn Kimi Raikkonen, on 96, represent a serious threat to their hopes.
Ferrari have won only twice at Silverstone in 11 years since 2004, Raikkonen and Spaniard Fernando Alonso triumphing in 2007 and 2011 respectively and are under pressure to register a first triumph in 2016.
Daniel Ricciardo and his Red Bull team are also expected to be strong contenders on home soil together with Force India, whose headquarters are only 100 metres from the circuit’s main entrance, and Williams.
After what, for him, was a below outing in Austria, the Aussie racer is hoping to make amends as quickly as he can. “I love back-to-back races,” he said. “I like it when you get the ball rolling… We just came away from Austria and I am glad to have another chance within seven days.
“I’m hanging out. For me, Silverstone is honestly one of my personal favourite tracks and you can really feel the aerodynamics working on the car. I’m looking forward to it…”
But the focus will be on Mercedes as their period of strife continues.