Niki Lauda exonerates Lewis Hamilton and says Mercedes 'panicked' in issuing order
Mercedes' chief says "stress" of dramatic Hungarian race led to call
By James Galloway and Mike Wise. Last Updated: 29/07/14 8:47am
Mercedes' Niki Lauda has admitted the team's pitwall 'panicked' in controversially asking Lewis Hamilton to make way for Nico Rosberg in the Hungarian GP, with the Austrian backing the Briton's defiance of the instruction.
The runaway World Championship leaders and their two title-duelling drivers became embroiled in a team orders row in the wake of Sunday’s unpredictable Hungaroring race after Mercedes attempted to manage the pair's divergent strategies when they met on the track with 25 laps to go.
With Rosberg fast catching Hamilton, but needing to make an additional pitstop, the Mercedes pitwall asked the latter not to hold up his team-mate. However, the British driver, chasing Fernando Alonso and Daniel Ricciardo for the race lead at the time, instead decided to hold position, arguing over the radio that the sister W05 wasn’t close enough for him to justify such a switch.
Hamilton insisted after ultimately beating Rosberg to third place that "I was racing for myself, I wasn’t racing for him" and Lauda, Mercedes' non-executive chairman, subsequently exonerated the former World Champion in the incident.
Furthermore, the Austrian suggested it was the topsy-turvy nature of the wet-dry race, and the fact Mercedes were set to be beaten to victory for just the second time this year, which led to the contentious call.
"This race out of Safety Car in the beginning and the wet conditions was a completely different race, so every minute, sixty seconds you had to decide something different," Lauda told reporters after the thrilling race, won by Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo.
"So in this stress the team told Lewis he should let Nico by because he's on softer tyres and had to come in anyway. But in Lewis's position it was clear if he had been in the DRS position, Nico one second behind, for sure he would have let him by. But Nico never got that close so therefore I do understand that Lewis said 'Why? Why should I stop in the middle of the circuit to let my team colleague by, he's fighting for the championship anyway?'
"So from my point of view Lewis was right and why the call came was out of the panic and we have to make up for what we are losing. Ricciardo was the best today, unbelievable drive. Red Bull [had] enormous car performance in these conditions. [Fernando] Alonso did a perfect job to go with the right strategy for second place and the Mercedes team was fighting all that.
"So therefore the call was unnecessary afterwards, but it was made, so what? Lewis ignored it and finished third, so looking backwards nothing wrong."
Although Rosberg insisted after the race that he hadn’t asked the pitwall for Hamilton to be moved aside, he admitted that Mercedes "need to discuss internally" the situation heading into the summer break.
Since simmering tensions between the two drivers erupted at the Monaco GP in May, Mercedes have generally managed to keep a lid on the intra-team rivalry, and Lauda isn't expecting the events of the Hungaroring to change the situation.
"It is completely normal between drivers that they want to be in front of the other. So the reaction for the drivers are completely normal," the three-times World Champion argued.
"For sure Nico was not happy with the passing in the end of the straight, where Lewis stayed on his line, which is normal. This happened in Bahrain ten times one way or the other, so I think when everything calms down there's nothing wrong. It was good racing between the Mercedes guys and the rest."
For Hamilton, Sunday's race and podium finish proved a particularly satisfying result given he had started the 70-lap race from the pitlane after his chassis had to be replaced overnight following a qualifying fire.
Lauda was effusive in his praise for his driver's performance.
"This was for me the outstanding drive," the Austrian enthused. "Not only [did Hamilton start from the] pitlane, he had a brand new car which had to be put together.
"He'd never driven this car, which is a handicap, and then he had to start in the wet so what Lewis did today with this unknown car not absolutely balanced, to go all the way through and finish third was incredible."