Mercedes consider team orders to curb Vettel

LONDON • Mercedes executive director Toto Wolff revealed his outfit will consider team orders after defeat at the Bahrain Grand Prix on Sunday made it clear the battle for this year's Formula One world championship will be closely contested with Ferrari.

Lewis Hamilton was beaten to victory by Sebastian Vettel at the Sakhir circuit and compromised his race by incurring a five-second penalty due to slowing in the pit lane but he also lost time behind team-mate Valtteri Bottas while Mercedes considered whether to let Hamilton pass.

Mercedes have rules of engagement for their drivers but previously have always allowed them to race without orders. However, Vettel has two wins this season and leads Hamilton by seven points in the drivers' championship on 68, with Bottas in third on 38.

Mercedes also trail Ferrari by three points in the constructors' standings.

TIME TO BACKTRACK

By no means did I mean to insult the Brazilian people who I greatly respect and (who) are always very nice to me when I visit the country.

MAX VERSTAPPEN, doing a U-turn on social media after his initial comment about Felipe Massa.

Wolff does not like the idea of changing the rules of engagement but with early signs being that the title fight will be between Hamilton and Vettel, the team may do so.

"It's not what we have done in the last couple of years but the situation is different now," he said, before ruling out nominating one driver as the No. 1 before a race.

"It's important as we start the race to give them equal opportunity," he said. "You have two cars starting on the front row; if they run second and first you just have to let them race.

"Three races into the season, you don't want to go there yet."

Red Bull's Max Verstappen knows all about saying things one later regrets as he apologised to Brazilian fans on Monday after a comment about Felipe Massa caused offence at the weekend.

The 19-year-old accused the Williams veteran of wrecking his best lap in qualifying and was asked by reporters whether he would be speaking to him.

"Well, he's a Brazilian. So there's not much to discuss," Verstappen replied.

The Dutchman took to Instagram to clarify remarks that went down badly in Brazil.

"Being a passionate racer, I was very disappointed with my last (qualifying) stint and gave an emotional reaction that was taken out of context," said Verstappen, who crashed out of Sunday's race. "By no means did I mean to insult the Brazilian people who I greatly respect and (who) are always very nice to me when I visit the country.

"I would like to apologise to any Brazilians that feel offended and look forward to racing in your country again," he added, referencing Brazilian world champions Ayrton Senna, Emerson Fittipaldi and Nelson Piquet.

THE GUARDIAN, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 19, 2017, with the headline 'Mercedes consider team orders to curb Vettel'. Print Edition | Subscribe