Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff has revealed that he threatened his warring drivers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg with race bans during the early part of their rivalry.
Hamilton and Rosberg were paired at Mercedes in 2013, and became the two leading drivers on the grid 2014 as the Silver Arrows dominated under new regulations. As they fought over the drivers’ championship in equal machinery, there were often controversial moments and Wolff says he warned the pair that they would miss races if he felt one was the catalyst on multiple occasions.
“It was very difficult because I came into the team as a newcomer in Formula 1, and Nico and Lewis had been in the sport for much longer,” Wolff told the High Performance Podcast. “But still, I was able to create an environment where they had to respect the team. Sometimes with an iron fist, and they understood that they couldn’t let us down — they couldn’t let Mercedes down.
“The events of 2014, when I felt there was some selfish behavior, I said that the next time you come close to the other car, your teammate, you think about the Mercedes brand, you think about single individuals in the team, you think about Dieter Zetsche, the CEO of Mercedes. That’s going to change the way you act; you’re not going to put your teammate into the wall.
“And I always made it clear that if this were to happen regularly, and I would see a pattern, I (would) have no fear in making somebody miss races.
“The thing the drivers want the most is to compete in a car. And you always need to be very clear that you compete in the car if you understand the team’s game. It’s much more difficult because there are only two drivers in the team and it’s not easy to find a replacement, and a replacement on that level. But I’m prepared to sacrifice a race or two just to make it clear for all future generations that are going to drive for Mercedes that that’s not on.”
Wolff doubts the partnership was actually as productive as others can be, suggesting allowing friction in their battle didn’t necessarily push the drivers to better performances.
“I’m not sure it gets the best out of both, because that is negativity, and you still have to be a team player. If the debriefing room is full of negativity because the two drivers are hostile with each other, then that will spill over into the energy of the room, and that is not something that I will ever allow again.
“That happened, but I couldn’t change it, because the drivers were hired before I came. And nobody actually thought, ‘What is the dynamic between the two? What is the past between the two?’ There was a lot of historical context that none of us knew, and will never know. And that’s why it’s something that we’re looking at: how do the drivers work with each other, what happens in the case of failure with one and the other?
“We accept the annoyance and pain if it goes against one, but we’re trying to still keep the positive dynamic in the team. And if it didn’t function anymore, that’s fine. If we were to fail again, that’s fine — but then we’re changing the driver line-up.”