Mercedes allowed its drivers to race for victory in the Azerbaijan Grand Prix right up until the checkered flag, Toto Wolff insists.
Valtteri Bottas held off an attack from Lewis Hamilton on the opening lap in Baku and the two were then closely matched for the majority of the race, with Sebastian Vettel often close behind. Hamilton reduced the gap to Bottas and got within DRS range in the closing laps, and despite Wolff being shown pressing radio buttons, the team principal says there were no orders given to the drivers.
“The moment you talk to the drivers, it’s open, so everybody can hear that,” Wolff said. “But then obviously you have the intercom, which is only an internal line, but I was not talking to the drivers. If I push the driver button, I know myself, so I’m not giving myself permission to talk to the drivers, because I’m getting emotional and then sometimes I regret what I say.
“So, no, I have never talked to the drivers directly in the race. It was more a discussion with the group of strategists on the pit wall. It was a discussion on whether Vettel would actually come close, whether we would save the engine. It was about whether Leclerc or Verstappen would go for fastest lap. It was more an overall discussion.
“We acknowledged that it could get a little bit racy at the end, but we didn’t talk to them.
“I’m not speaking to the drivers. I’m never speaking to the drivers. No, we didn’t tell the drivers anything. What we told the drivers was when we switched onto the medium we weren’t sure whether the tire would make it all to the end, and I think a few laps into the medium stint we told them not to stress the tire too much because we weren’t sure whether it would last.
“We said to them … ‘We don’t know if the tire’s going to last’, and, ‘You will have an opportunity to race each other at the end’, and that’s what they did.”
Both drivers also confirmed they felt they were free to race in the closing stages – with Bottas thankful to get DRS from the lapped George Russell – and Wolff said the way they handled themselves at the start gave him confidence they could be trusted.
“Let them race,” he said. “I think they are both very experienced. They know that racing must be clean. You see lap one — lap one was very clean, and this is a track where you mustn’t take crazy risks, because it could lose both of the cars, and they know that.”
Race-winner Bottas even admitted he had come under more pressure from Hamilton than he’d hoped, but had no complaints that his team-mate was allowed to try and chase him down.
“I didn’t want him to get DRS, that was not planned,” Bottas said. “He had a very good middle sector that lap and managed to close and here even if you’re like 1.2, 1.3 seconds behind exiting from Turn 16 then you’re gaining time before the DRS detection. I wanted to keep him out from DRS, so it was my bad. But he was pushing hard, so that’s how it goes.”