What do Mercedes do with Lewis Hamilton after Abu Dhabi?
Former champion ignored repeated team instructions in season finale
By William Esler
Last Updated: 01/12/16 9:43am
After Lewis Hamilton's flagrant disregard for team instructions in Abu Dhabi, F1 Report guests David Croft and Marc Priestley debate what Mercedes should do next.
Mercedes ordered Hamilton to speed up after he attempted to back team-mate Nico Rosberg into the chasing Sebastian Vettel and Max Verstappen in the hope they would pass the German and give the Brit the title.
Should the world champions sack Hamilton? Ban him? Fine him? Or just let it go unpunished? It's all up for debate.
Was Hamilton right to do what he did?
David Croft: "It is not an easy answer. From a team perspective he wasn't right to do what he did. The drivers are told by the team to how to go and drive and win a race. There are somewhere in the region of 3000 people working at Brixworth on the engine and Brackley on the chassis that are relying on the drivers to go out there and justify all the hard work that they put in day in and day out to go and win that race.
"That is what Mercedes are about - winning. What Hamilton did threatened that win, so from that point of view you can't say that what Hamilton did was right.
"However, what he did for himself was absolutely right and you show me any other driver who would have done anything differently."
Marc Priestley: "The team perspective is exactly why Paddy Lowe and members of the pitwall issue those instructions.
"They, as senior members of that pitwall, have to answer to the board of Mercedes, so as well as the thousands of people the board have put in hundreds of millions of pounds for the team to be successful so they can't afford to jeopardise it for Hamilton's own personal issues.
"The scenario that jumped into my mind was that with Lewis deliberately slowing Nico down in the race, what if Nico's mechanics who were involved in Lewis' pit-stop - both sets come together for the stops on both cars - had decided they wanted to do the same thing and changed Lewis' wheel a bit slower to back Lewis up and allow Nico past. That is a scenario that could happen."
How will Toto Wolff handle it?
DC: "I honestly think that Toto Wolff has the trickiest decision on his hands. How do you solve a problem like Lewis Hamilton? As a racer Toto knows that what Lewis did was totally justifiable, but as the boss at Mercedes you can't allow any team member to go lone wolf, because if you allow one to do it then someone else will and the precedent has been set.
"How do you then punish Lewis for doing what he has done without it affecting next year as well?"
Could Mercedes terminate his contract?
MP: "They can't sack him, he does very, very good things for the team. You employ him because you want that killer instinct, the 'do whatever it takes to win' attitude because in most scenarios you are fighting with one of your drivers with one from another team."
DC: "Hamilton is on a yellow card after Austria. Rosberg is on a yellow card as well, but he hasn't done anything wrong at this point in the team's eyes. If you are Toto Wolff you can't just brush it under the carpet. He's on a yellow card, are you a referee that is scared to send somebody off?
"They can't take him out for a race because they are probably going to need his talents more than ever because Red Bull might actually be a little bit closer to them."
Might Mercedes opt to fine him?
DC: "It would surprise me to see a fine coming Lewis' way, but if it did come behind the scenes if you're Toto Wolff you want to put your arm around him and say 'I'm doing this because I have to for the good of the team and the business, I don't really want to do it, but honestly you've left me no choice'
"You don't want to create a situation where you're prized asset, from a sponsorship, marketing and driving point of view, wants to walk away and go somewhere else."
Could Hamilton really walk away?
MP: "If you believe the reports, which come from believable sources, Hamilton came close to walking away after the Spanish GP.
"Lewis is a highly emotional, highly strung character and a potential punishment fine is probably the thing Mercedes can do.
"You can't give him another warning because he's already had one. The only punishment that looks significant on paper, but to him probably isn't going to mean very much, is a fine.
"But you risk tipping him over the edge. If he is on the brink of falling out of this relationship with his team, any punishment like that you risk tipping him over and they can't afford to do that."