London - Lewis Hamilton will escape punishment for his controversial “backing-up” ploy at last weekend’s title-deciding Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, says Mercedes F1 chairman Niki Lauda.
The dynamic in the team has changed dramatically since Nico Rosberg delivered the bombshell news on Friday that he was retiring from the sport, five days after winning the championship.
With Rosberg leaving at the age of 31, and just before his new three-year contract worth up to £55 million (R970 million) was due to start, the last thing Mercedes wants is to fire its other driver.
And now that Hamilton’s hand is strengthened, Lauda said: ˜There is no need to say anything to Lewis. We have no problem about how he raced in Abu Dhabi. We have drawn a line under it.”
Lauda’s approach is in contrast to the initial reaction of team principal Toto Wolff, who said he could not tolerate the “anarchy” of drivers disobeying instructions from the pit wall. In this case, Hamilton refused to speed up when told to do so and instead tried to push Rosberg back into the bunch of drivers behind him, hoping the German would get passed or knocked out. Hamilton pulled the strings from the front expertly, but the tactic did not work, with Rosberg finishing second to win the title.
No longer an issue
Wolff was in two minds afterwards. His anger towards Hamilton was tempered by his recognition that all the Briton’s instincts made it hard to comply with orders. He said he would think how to proceed - punish Hamilton or recognise their instructions were out of kilter with the situation. But that dilemma is no longer a pressing concern.
Various names are in the frame to replace Rosberg: Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, McLaren’s Fernando Alonso and Mercedes’ own junior driver Pascal Wehrlein.
But the most practical solution may be to draft in Williams’ Valtteri Bottas, who is managed by Wolff, with Wehrlein taking the Finn’s vacated seat at the British team.
But Lauda has admitted: “I have no idea what we will do because we were certainly surprised by Nico’s decision. We were not prepared for this at all.”
Mail on Sunday