Mercedes says it will consider replacing either Lewis Hamilton or Nico Rosberg if their troubled relationship starts hurting the Formula 1 team.
In a dramatic post-season warning to his drivers made by motorsport boss Toto Wolff, the Austrian claims that the dynamic between them – plus how they work with team members – has become the title-winning outfit’s biggest weakness.
He says that ongoing difficulties that come up whenever one of the drivers loses are no longer acceptable.
“We struggle sometimes in winning races on Sunday and having always one [driver] upset,” said Wolff in an exclusive interview with Motorsport.com.
“And this spills over into the team. It is something that needs to stop.”
His comments come in the wake of more trouble in Abu Dhabi, when there was controversy over the implications of Hamilton’s free tyre-strategy and disagreement about radio instructions regarding engine settings in the closing stages.
Wolff is well aware that having two number one drivers will always require a level of management, but he has suggested that what has been happening this season is not good enough.
“We took the decision of having two evenly matched drivers in order to make the team progress faster and better,” he said. “It was a very conscious decision three years ago.
“Going forward, we will consider if it is the best set-up for the team. Personality and character within the team is a crucial ingredient for the team success.
“If we feel that it is not aligned with the general consensus, spirit and philosophy within the team, we might consider that when we take a decision, in terms of the driver line-up going forward.”
When asked to clarify if that meant a change in team philosophy to have a number one and number two instead, or simply a change of one of the current drivers, Wolff said: “I think it is important to have talented and fast drivers in the car. But we want to work with nice guys.”
Rosberg’s contract runs until the end of 2016, although there are likely to be options that mean it can be extended beyond then.
However, if relations do get strained, and the team becomes unhappy about what is going on, then it is possible decisions could be taken earlier.
Wolff has said that a lot has gone on in private this season that he is not happy about, and he has suggested that the issue is not just related to tensions between Rosberg and Hamilton.
He also says there are examples where the behaviour of the drivers has strained relations between them and team members, too.
“There is lots going on behind closed doors,” he said. “I feel that the team is stronger than ever. We are having huge unity within the team, but the difficult relationship of the drivers is one of our weaknesses. And that is not good.
“If I were to analyse what are the biggest strengths and the biggest weakness of the team, I would say the biggest strength is the quality and the characters of the personalities within the team.
“The biggest weakness is the dynamic of the relationship between the drivers – and sometimes between the drivers and the team.”