The Canadian Grand Prix was a spanner in the works for Mercedes’ otherwise flawless and dominant 2014 Formula 1 World Championship campaign.
Until both Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton struck technical trouble aboard their silver W05’s in Montreal, they had shared a total clean-sweep of one-two victories this year.
“You quickly get used to winning,” team boss Toto Wolff told Spanish reporters at the team’s Brackley headquarters this week. “I never thought, unless there was a collision, that we could not finish a race even with one driver. But in Montreal it was about to happen. It was a good wake-up call.”
The most immediate problem for Mercedes is getting to the bottom of the technical glitch, which Bild newspaper reports was an issue traced to the energy recovery systems, which overheated.
Wolff said: “In Montreal, we were trying a new cooling system for the first time. The new software went crazy. We have started new processes of quality control to make the car more reliable.”
Team Chairman Niki Lauda added: “It is a wake-up call. We need to check every detail on the car.”
But another issue to consider is the intense driver rivalry between Hamilton and Rosberg, who until Sunday appeared to have no external competitors for the 2014 crown.
Wolff was asked this week if, given his Canada DNF, the new ‘double points’ innovation for the 2014 season finale might be Hamilton’s saving grace.
“It might,” Wolff is quoted by Tuttosport, “but I have no doubt that, first of all, we must be careful to keep [the] gap to our rivals. Red Bull scored a lot of points in Canada.”
As their personal battle waged in the most recent weeks, Mercedes’ drivers have been told repeatedly that the Brackley team’s main goal is actually the constructors’ title.
But until now, Mercedes has let Rosberg and Hamilton wage their war almost unfettered, despite the risk of a crash.
“The team management is handling the situation very well,” Hamilton told Germany’s Sport Bild this week. “You have to realise that their ultimate goal is the constructors’ title. That’s what brings in the money.
“The team is number one,” the Briton insisted. “Only after that do Nico and I have our personal battle.”
At Monaco, however, that appeared not to be the case, as Hamilton had what many described as a ‘tantrum’, siding with those who believed that Rosberg had committed a deliberate act in running wide during Qualifying.
Hamilton says now: “I called Nico, we talked about Monaco and the situation is resolved.
“It was really important for both of us to show the team that we can continue to work well together.”
For Hamilton in particular, given his now 22-point deficit to Rosberg, the obvious fear is that Mercedes will end the ‘free fight’ between the drivers in the wake of the escalating driver battle and, now, reliability fears.
Recalling his situation in 1998, David Coulthard this week recalled that McLaren managed its position of early-season dominance by slowing down the drivers with strict team orders.
Wolff, however, rejected the theory that the reliability problems last week in Canada were caused by Hamilton and Rosberg pushing their cars too hard in battle.
“The damage would have occurred even if they had slowed down,” he insists. “We told the drivers how to manage it by changing the brake balance and braking more carefully. Both of them did it exactly to our specifications. That what happened to Lewis did not also happen to Nico was just pure luck.”
Nonetheless, Wolff admitted that Mercedes’ situation in mid-June is giving the team pause to “question whether we can let them continue to race so freely”.
He is quoted by the Spanish daily AS: “We will continue to let them compete and fight as long as it does not undermine Mercedes.
“We are a Formula 1 team, not a team of two Formula 1 drivers,” Wolff insisted. “We are all rowing in the same direction and share the same goal, which is simply to win the title.
“At the moment they continue to race freely, although the situation may change at any time. This is an ongoing, dynamic process,” he added. (GMM)