Mercedes Formula 1 boss Toto Wolff says it had no warning Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg’s relationship would turn hostile, believing the pair had historical context they may never understand.
Hamilton and Rosberg had competed as team-mates in karting when they lined up next to one another at Mercedes in 2013, a partnership that would last up until the end of 2016.
When Mercedes became a dominant force at the start of there V6 hybrid era, Hamilton and Rosberg battled for the drivers’ championship for three successive years.
Hamilton fought off Rosberg’s challenge in 2014 and 2015, before the German overhauled him to the title in 2016 and announced his retirement five days after clinching the crown at the final round in Abu Dhabi.
During their title battles the tension between both drivers came to blows in on-track incidents at the 2014 Belgian Grand Prix and 2016 Spanish Grand Prix.
Speaking on Jake Humphrey’s High Performance Podcast about Hamilton and Rosberg’s rivalry, Wolff played down the notion that friction helped get the best out of both drivers.
“I’m not sure it gets the best out of both, because that is negativity, and you still have to be a team player,” Wolff said.
“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 into the room, and that is not something I will ever allow again.”
Wolff insisted Mercedes could never have foreseen the hostility between Hamilton and Rosberg, acknowledging the inter-team friction was something he was unable to get on top of.
“I couldn’t change it, because the drivers were hired before I came,” Wolff said.
“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.
“That’s why it is something that we’re looking at, how do the drivers work with each other, what happens in the case of failure of one and the other.
“We accept the annoyance and pain if it goes against one, but we’re trying still to keep the positive dynamic in the team.”
Reflecting on how the tension began to spiral during the 2014 season, Wolff said he felt the need to create an environment that reminded the drivers that the team came first after they showed glimpses of “selfish behaviour”.
“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 said.
“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.
“In the events of 2014, I felt there was some selfish behaviour. I said 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.
“I always made clear that if this was going to happen regularly and there was a pattern, I have no fear in making somebody miss races.”