A champion driver Mika Hakkinen and former team principal Ross Brawn has sided with Mercedes on the team orders saga in 2018 Formula 1 Russian GP.
Both Hakkinen and Brawn in their days faced the situation like Lewis Hamilton and Toto Wolff did in the Russian GP at Sochi last weekend. The two stalwarts of the sport agreed with the German manufacturer’s intentions.
They also understood that the decision wouldn’t be good for the sport’s publicity as it gathered much furor from the fans and media, but looking from the championship point of view, the move was absolutely necessary.
Hakkinen stated that Ferrari’s closeness to Mercedes this year meant the German manufacturer had to deploy every move in their bag to keep themselves ahead of their Italian rivals despite having a commanding lead already.
The Finn believes the title fight is not over until it actually is. “Formula One is a battle between teams involving up to 1000 employees, many hundreds of millions of dollars, and the power of major companies including Mercedes, Ferrari and all their corporate sponsors,” wrote Hakkinen in his post race blog.
“It’s not a kids game, it’s a serious sports business. After the pressure which Ferrari brought to the Mercedes team during the first half of the season it is clear that the Mercedes management are completely focused on doing everything they can in order to win both World Championships. Which is the correct approach.
“At this point in the season Lewis is the only Mercedes driver who can win the World Championship for Drivers, so while the decision to hand him the victory over Valtteri is very difficult from a human perspective, it is much easier when you look at this as a business.
“Both brought upgraded components to the race; after qualifying it was easy to see which team had made a positive step. For the race, Mercedes remembered that, last year, Valtteri was able to start in third position and win the race for two reasons.
“First of all the right hand side of the track has very low grip, so it is best to start on the left – in first or third position. Secondly, if you start third you have the opportunity to slip-stream the pole position car down the very long straight to the second corner, which is what Valtteri was able to do to Sebastian Vettel last year.
“With Sebastian’s Ferrari qualifying third this year, therefore, Mercedes knew that they had to do everything possible to keep him from taking the lead at the start, and Valtteri and Lewis put up a very good fight all the way to the first corner.
“From my view, this showed that Mercedes was already thinking about a combined race-strategy, and using team work between the drivers to beat Ferrari. Anyone who thinks that Mercedes’ win on Sunday was easy, and that there was no reason for the team management to ask Valtteri to give the win the Lewis, should consider the facts.
“At the pit stops Sebastian Vettel was able to close on Valtteri, and then under-cut Lewis so that the Ferrari moved into send position. At that point in the race things looked very close, and even though Lewis was able to overtake Sebastian very quickly, the Mercedes team really needed to put Valtteri between the two World Championship contenders in order to protect Lewis.
“When I was racing for McLaren-Mercedes alongside David Coulthard, our immediate rivals were the Ferraris driven by Michael Schumacher and Eddie Irvine. They were tough opposition, and to win the World Championship in 1998 and 1999 I needed the support from David a few times.
“He was asked to move over, for example, in Melbourne in 1998 because we had an agreement that whoever was leading at the first corner would take the win, and I then lost some time in the pits.
“These decisions don’t make the other driver happy, but David knew what was expected of him, and he has always admitted that when you have a contract to drive for a team you have to do what the team requests. Otherwise we have chaos.
“At the moment it is Valtteri who has been asked to support Lewis, and to work together for the benefit of the team. It is not easy, and it is not popular with some fans and media, but Sochi on Sunday was all about Mercedes trying to make sure that they secured the maximum points needed to win both World Championships.
“The fact that they had to ask Valtteri for his support in allowing Lewis to win showed the strength of Valtteri’s performance, rather than any weakness. Ultimately he had done everything necessary to win, and he then did everything required to support the team he works for.
“It was an impressive example of team work, focus and unselfish commitment. Lewis may have won the race, but Valtteri won for his team.”
On the other hand, Brawn believed the transparency from Mercedes was a better way to apply team orders than camouflage through pit stops: “I reckon the German team’s decision was the right one. The primary aim for a team is to get the best possible result for both championships and that’s what they did.
“I have found myself in this situation many times in the past and personally, I always believed the collective interest of the team comes before that of an individual driver. In may not be easily accepted by the fans, nor look good for the sport, and that is where the team have to judge the circumstances and make their decision.
“I can understand Bottas’ frustration, as he had a great weekend, demonstrating how well the Sochi track suits him, but team-orders are part of the sport. Also, it’s always better to apply them in a transparent manner, rather than trying to hide it, something we have seen sometimes in the past, which raised accusations of deception.
“It’s not the most attractive aspect of our sport, but it’s always been a part of it, good or bad, and it is better to have it in the open.”
[Read: Hamilton hails Bottas]