What'll Merc do now? The 'consequences' Nico Rosberg could face post Spa
From a fine, to team orders, to standing Nico down for Monza, how might Mercedes respond to Rosberg puncturing Hamilton's tyre?
By James Galloway and Mike Wise
Last Updated: 27/08/14 11:40am
Mercedes’ management were quick to publicly condemn Nico Rosberg after the German driver committed the cardinal sin of motorsport in the Belgian GP by running into his team-mate – who in this explosive case also happened to be his sole title rival – Lewis Hamilton.
With Toto Wolff describing Rosberg’s botched as an “unbelievable risk”, the Austrian team boss has also suggested that “maybe the slap on the wrist is not enough” after the Brackley team lost a likely one-two finish as a result of Hamilton's puncture and his scolded team-mate's broken front-wing.
Having warned of “consequences” for Rosberg as a result, here we look at a few of the options which might be open to Mercedes’ management as the championship leaders look to get a handle on the escalating in-house squabbling:
The most likely – and obvious – sanction which could be applied to Rosberg from the suite of punishments Mercedes have open to them. The terms of Rosberg’s contract would determine the scale of any such financial hit although, in terms of how such a penalty would be received by wider critics of the German's driving at Spa, the fining of sportsmen who are on multi-million contracts is often regarded as a futile exercise. Furthermore, it’s debatable whether such a sanction in isloation would appease Hamilton, who has already claimed that what is likely to happen to Rosberg will be no more than akin to a school “detention”. A financial penalty would be perceived as validating that scepticism.
However, it remains the most viable option. “They can give Rosberg a fine and make it very public they’ve done that,” Ted Kravitz suggested when assessing the options on Sky Sports News HQ. “I think that’s probably the most likely option that they have."
Order Rosberg not to pass Lewis at Monza
Another idea floated since it became clear just how angry Mercedes’ management were about the incident and one which, theoretically, could have merit. In order to effectively give Hamilton the chance to partly ‘catch up’ in the championship standings after losing out on points at Spa when Rosberg punctured his tyre, Mercedes could order the German driver not to overtake his team-mate the next time the Briton is ahead on track, be it at the next race in Italy or sometime after.
All well and good on paper perhaps, but the problem lies in the detail: Mercedes have been loathed to impose strict team orders all season and Hamilton hasn’t outqualified Rosberg since May, meaning any such retribution might get a little messy to enact.
Take away one of Rosberg’s race weekend perks
Such has been the closely-balanced nature of the Mercedes pair’s duel this season, that the often overlooked details that make up a successful race weekend for a driver – race tyre strategy or the running order in Q3 – have been sharply scrutinised. So, with this in mind, Mercedes could insist that Rosberg 'loses a turn' in running last in the qualifying shootout or Hamilton is put on the faster strategy in the next race irrespective of their starting positions. Again, though, outside circumstances could intervene.
When asked about the consequences of the collision for their drivers, Wolff replied rather ominously that Mercedes could do “a lot”. But regardless of Rosberg’s part in it, not to mention Hamilton’s assertion about what the German said about it afterwards, no-one is seriously suggesting that Mercedes might consider standing down the current World Championship leader at Monza.
And anyway, as Ted Kravitz pointed out, the practicalities are beyond the Brackley team this year. “They could say his punishment is to not drive for a race and put their reserve driver in. The problem is they don’t actually have a number one reserve driver at the moment”
Alert the FIA
Hamilton expressed surprise that race stewards didn’t investigate the incident and the FIA has already stated that it wants no part in the recriminations. Moreover - Lewis’s outburst aside - there’s been absolutely no desire on the part of Mercedes to air their dirty linen in public, which is completely understandable. All indications suggest the matter will be dealt with internally.
“It’s very difficult for the FIA because they’re only there to act as referee for one driver from one team doing something very unsporting or causing a collision with a driver form another team,” Ted explained. “The FIA don’t get involved in disputes with team-mates, that’s for the team management to sort out. I suppose they could, but I don’t think they are going to go down that route.”
It seemed at times that former FIA Presidents Jean-Marie Balestre and Max Mosley relished becoming involved in similar controversies. However, the opposite seems more the case with Jean Todt.
Impose wholesale team orders
If it’s viewed that Rosberg’s determination to “prove a point” by not backing out of his attempted overtake was a more general consequence of his and Hamilton’s escalating feud, in which neither driver has been above blame, then Mercedes could draw the firmest line in the sand and impose strict team orders from here on in. Although that is highly unlikely to amount to favouring one driver over the other in the title run-in, the team could insist that they can no longer attempt to overtake each other after a certain point in the race. In essence, whoever is ahead wins. However, given he's already 29 points ahead in the standings, this would more likely work for Rosberg than against him.
Give Rosberg a warning and remind both drivers of the rules
Toto Wolff has already made clear that Mercedes will now review their policy of letting their drivers race freely over the remainder of the title run-in, although stressed that the “devil will be in the detail” in terms of what they ultimately decide to do. Given both drivers were explicitly told on the eve of the season when the extent of Mercedes' W05 dominance had already become clear that running into each other on the track was a no-no, it’s hard to see how they can make that point even more firmly.
If all of the options in front of them appear either too soft, or too harsh, then a sense of stasis could ensue in the decision-making process and the events of Spa go unchecked. However, in light of the team’s reaction on Sunday night, and with Red Bull beginning to come up on the rails in the championship fight, you can be sure something will be done, even if there's probably no obvious single right answer.