Mercedes chief Toto Wolff hailed his drivers – Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas – for obeying team orders in the heat of battle during the Hungarian Grand Prix, a sporting decision that may come back to haunt the team if the drivers’ championship title battle goes down to the wire.
During a tense race at Hungaroring, the team had a series of communication problems that thwarted their contact with their drivers from the pitwall.
When messages eventually came through, Hamilton was asking for Bottas to move over so he could launch an attack on the leading Ferrari duo, because the Finn seemed unable to reel them in and the Briton clearly had pace in his car at that stage.
The team agreed with the proviso that Hamilton relinquish the position should his attack be futile. Hamilton put the hammer down, quickly dropping Bottas and reel in Kimi Raikkonen in second place. His team had given him a five lap window to get the job done, which was then extended for another five laps.
But the Hungaroring is not conducive to overtaking with this generation of F1 cars, and although the silver #44 got close enough to use DRS on occasions, he simply could not find a way past Raikkonen.
Thus in the final sector of the final lap he did as agreed and moved aside to allow Bottas to claim third place, thus what could have been 15 points ended up being 12 for Hamilton.
Wolff conceded, “We could lose a championship because of those three points, but this spirit has made us win three championships and it will make us win more. We did it with full consciousness. This is the ethos that we have not only on track, not only with the drivers, but also with the team.
“It’s one of the most difficult calls we had to make in the last couple of years because Verstappen was so close to Valtteri that we couldn’t possibly know that it would work. But we took the risk because it is important to stick to your word.
“Maybe one day somebody will say we were naive in Budapest and that’s why we lost the championship it I still believe that the values are important on which you operate, and we stand by those.
“It plays to their advantage but at the moment this is the way we want to continue. If there was a situation after the European races where one driver has a clear advantage and the other one hasn’t, we would make that call also. It is just by now both have a real chance of the championship and we don’t want to take it away.
“Valtteri moved over because we wold him we were going to reverse and that’s what Lewis did. I really have to take my hat off to both of them,” concluded Wolff.
Mercedes F1 chief Niki Lauda added, “We said we are fair to both drivers. They can race whenever they want. When Bottas let Lewis by, he was quicker but it didn’t work out because he couldn’t catch the Ferraris so we turned it back again to be fair to both drivers.
“The radio problem is our problem. In the end it was close with Verstappen so we had to be careful not to lose places. Everything is fine,” added Lauda.