“Final warning? Those words have not been used…,” said Nico Rosberg when quizzed on the threat of sanctions hanging over himself and Mercedes-AMG F1 team-mate Lewis Hamilton should they crash into each other again.
When the journalist asking the question during the team’s pre-British Grand Prix press briefing at Silverstone pointed out that team boss Toto Wolff had used those exact words not more than 10 minutes before in his own media scrum, Rosberg glanced at the team’s press officer, who nodded in confirmation. Then with a raised eyebrow and a schoolboy grin, the world championship leader said: “That doesn’t sound good!” Cue laughs all around.
For Mercedes the fact that its drivers are frequently colliding is no laughing matter. The accident on the final lap of the Austrian Grand Prix, where Rosberg forced Hamilton long into the outside of the hairpin at turn two, whereby the two of them then made contact, infuriated the Stuttgart hierarchy.
Not so much because of the points it cost Rosberg by dropping to fourth, nor even the 10sec penalty and reprimand he received. “We didn’t like the manouvre because it could have ended up in a double DNF and we would really have looked silly and they know that,” said Wolff.
The days following the third incident between the two in the last five races (they crashed out in Barcelona and significantly hindered each other at turn one in Canada) have been rife with speculation about whether, finally, some form of team orders might be established by Mercedes. And on Thursday, following another private team meeting, both drivers were placed in no doubt that a further indiscretion would incur sanctions.
“If it would happen again, which is entirely in their hands, it would be something that would have a negative outcome for their campaign,” declared Wolff. “This is the final warning.”
The details of both the new ‘rules of engagement’ and the range of sanctions the team is prepared to levy have not been made public.
Wolff insists the focus is to maintain competition between its drivers and be ultimately competitive as a team while ensuring positive headlines for the three-pointed star. But it is difficult to see what penalties it could impose that would be effective while not also being in detriment to one of these aims.