Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has moved quickly to defuse tension in the camp in China after Nico Rosberg accused Lewis Hamilton of making his life difficult by backing him up and allowing Sebastian Vettel to stay on his tail.
Wolff said that after the matter was discussed in a team meeting the drivers understood the situation more clearly.
“It was a good debrief, because it was a positive debrief,” he said. “There wasn’t any animosity. There is much more positive today. We didn’t do any mistake in the race. Everybody was in good spirits.”
Wolff insisted that the main issue was that Hamilton wasn’t sure how the option tyres would play out over the second stint, and thus in effect kept something in reserve. The team had planned to put the prime on at the first stop, but the strategy was changed.
“Lewis was the car in the lead, he was controlling the pace. We were putting the option tyre on, although we were actually expecting to put the prime on, so our expected race would have been option-prime-prime. Also because we learned the lesson from Malaysia, we thought we might run into trouble with the option. And then we found out that our option was actually holding on much better than we expected, and much better than Ferrari.
“We tried to make sure that we could cover Ferrari with the option. We put the option on, the driver realises he has the option in, doesn’t know what’s going on behind him, and controls his pace, because he needs to take the option longer than expected. And he was controlling that pace. From his point of view, completely understandable.
“Nico on the other side was really running into trouble, because he was bunched up behind Lewis, he couldn’t go any more near, so he asked for a 2secs gap to Lewis so he could at least protect the tyres a little bit, which he did. And on the same time Sebastian was increasing the pace behind him. So understandable from both of them.”
Wolff was adamant that Lewis had not tried to handicap his team mate.
“I think he didn’t do it on purpose, and we’ve cleared that now. There wasn’t any intention from Lewis to slow Nico down in order to make him finish third or worse, one hundred per cent. He didn’t know the gaps behind Nico. What he knew was that he needed to take the tyre longer than we’ve ever run it the whole weekend, and this is why he decided to slow down in the way he did.
“Now after a while we realised after a while that this was putting us into trouble, putting Nico into trouble, risking the second place – or even worse, if Lewis has a DNF you could potentially lose the race as Mercedes, so there were lots of thoughts on the pit wall about the possible consequences. And he didn’t know that. So I think you can’t really blame anybody.
“You cannot take the DNA off a racing driver and expect him not to look after himself, which he did. Whether it was in the back of his mind, and he saw the Ferraris in the mirrors, and he thought that was interesting… But I don’t really think that was the case. He didn’t know how long the tyres would last, and this is why he decided to manage the gap the way he did. When we came on the radio it was the moment to act. Then he increased the pace, and as a remedy we pitted Nico first, which normally we wouldn’t have done, to take him out of trouble.”