Abu Dhabi - Lewis Hamilton risks having his £30 million (R525m) Mercedes contract ripped up after he repeatedly defied his team in a controversial Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. After the Briton lost his world title to Nico Rosberg, he was accused by team principal Toto Wolff of causing “anarchy” with his defiance in the cockpit.
Hamilton slowed down at the front, hoping second-placed Rosberg would come under pressure from drivers behind, as he tried to overcome a 12-point deficit to the German in the championship table.
The tactic did not work as Hamilton fell five points short, despite winning the race with Rosberg second, and he now faces censure from Wolff, who is weighing up his next move. Wolff said: “Anarchy does not work in any team and in any company.”
Asked if Hamilton could be suspended, Wolff said: “Everything is possible.”
Hamilton’s tactics angered rival drivers, with Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel saying: “It was tricky at the end because Lewis played some dirty tricks.”
The ploy infuriated Mercedes during the race, prompting them to issue two clear instructions to Hamilton to increase his pace. They feared his tactics could cost them the win, with Vettel closing in. Mercedes have a strict hierarchy for pit-wall-to-cockpit exchanges.
The highest authority is Paddy Lowe, the technical director. But when he told Hamilton to put his foot down, Hamilton retorted that he was “comfortable” doing what he was doing.
Not putting the team first
Wolff spoke out strongly after the previous Hamilton-Rosberg argument in Austria in July, saying that he would not be scared to suspend or dismiss a driver who failed to follow the team’s directives.
Genuinely conflicted a few hours after the race, Wolff said: “he one half of me says with 1500 people in the team and 300 000 in the Daimler company altogether, there are values we should respect.
“Undermining a structure in public means you are putting yourself before the team. It is very simple.
“The other half of me says it was his only chance of winning the championship, and maybe you cannot demand one of the best racing drivers, if not the best out there, to comply in a situation where his instincts do not allow him to comply.
“It is about finding a solution as to how to deal with this in the future because a precedent has been set. Let me sleep overnight and come up with a solution.
“I veer from, ‘Let’s change the rules next year’ because it does not work in those critical races and maybe we want to give them more freedom. Or, alternatively, go the more harsh route and say, ‘We feel the values were not respected’.
“I am not sure yet where my finger is going to point or the needle is going to go. But you need to win and to lose with dignity and this is a mechanical sport.”
Hamilton defends actions, Horner backs him
Hamilton defended himself, saying: “I don’t think I did anything dangerous today. I am fighting for the championship. I am leading the race. I am controlling it. That’s the rule.
“I generally don’t do anything to hurt the team or the brand. But we have won the constructors’ title, so it was down to me and Nico today. But they still felt the need to make those comments.”
He was supported by Red Bull’s Christian Horner, who said: “I wouldn’t have expected him to do anything different. He played completely within the rules.
“Winning the race wasn’t going to be enough for him. He needed cars between him and Rosberg and if he’d charged off into the distance he would never have had that.
“It wouldn’t have created that possibility. So he won the race as slowly as he could.
“It’s like in a football game where the team might protect their lead by kicking the ball around in their own half and not let the opposition get hold of the ball. I didn’t see that he did anything wrong.
“There are only two drivers competing for the world championship, so it would be naive to expect anything else.”
Jenson Button’s last race before a sabbatical - and possibly retirement - ended early after he drove his car on to a kerb and damaged the suspension.
He hugged his mother, Simone. Her relief to see him safe was clear to see. The 36-year-old said: “It was all about having fun today and I did that. Now I’m going to enjoy the rest of my last day as a Formula One driver and have a jolly good time this evening.”
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