Warning lights come on at Mercedes

Lewis Hamilton (left), on the grid with Nico Rosberg before Sunday's Mexican Grand Prix. The world champion added to the bad blood between the pair, suggesting that he, instead of his Mercedes team-mate, would have won the race if he had not been ask
Lewis Hamilton (left), on the grid with Nico Rosberg before Sunday's Mexican Grand Prix. The world champion added to the bad blood between the pair, suggesting that he, instead of his Mercedes team-mate, would have won the race if he had not been asked to pit.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

LONDON • Lewis Hamilton's relationship with team-mate Nico Rosberg is at rock-bottom as his Formula One world championship-winning Mercedes team teeter on the brink of meltdown.

The duo are barely speaking to each other and it has emerged that even senior executives are enduring their own tensions.

Sources have told The Times that Niki Lauda, the chairman who brought Hamilton to Mercedes, is considering quitting, possibly as soon as the end of the season.

Lauda, a three-time world champion, is one of the most recognisable and popular figures in the paddock. But he triggered a falling-out with Toto Wolff, head of Mercedes Motorsport, on Sunday after the Mexican Grand Prix.

Wolff spotted Lauda being interviewed by journalists outside the Mercedes hospitality suite and immediately cancelled his own regular Sunday evening briefing.

SOOTHING RUFFLED FEATHERS

You should put those questions to Toto and Niki about how they feel about it, what they have to do behind the scenes to keep (Rosberg) happy.

LEWIS HAMILTON

The official line was that Wolff had a plane to catch but the Austrian stalked out of the hospitality suite some time later.

As he left, Hamilton was dodging questions about whether he believed Mercedes had sabotaged his bid to win in Mexico.

He was ordered to pit to take on fresh tyres on safety grounds when he believed he could run to the finish to outlast Rosberg, who took his first victory since June.

When it was suggested that Mercedes might have wanted to boost Rosberg's confidence by helping him to win, Hamilton became suddenly tongue-tied.

"I know the team have felt the need to be extra warm..." Hamilton said before allowing the sentence to trail away. The implication that Mercedes had rallied around Rosberg was clear, though.

"I do know what I mean but I'm not going to say what I mean. This weekend, (Rosberg) did a good job," he added. "You should put those questions to Toto and Niki about how they feel about it, what they have to do behind the scenes to keep (Rosberg) happy."

The spats are coming thick and fast. The friends who grew up racing together are now at daggers drawn. Insiders say they barely speak and the handshake after the race on Sunday was cursory.

Hamilton refused to apologise for their first-corner coming-together in Austin, which was followed by victory at the United States Grand Prix two weeks ago and a third world championship for the Briton.

What was not being said in Mexico spoke volumes, though. Rosberg said simply: "I am not going to comment on relations. You can see it from the outside anyway."

Hamilton said: "What did I have to apologise for? He never asked me for an apology. He didn't congratulate me either.

"Did we discuss it? I spoke to Toto on the phone. I think we sat down for a split-second but there was nothing to really talk about.

"I went up to him in Austin and shook his hand but after that..."

Mercedes feel less like a world championship-winning team and more like a volcano waiting to erupt. Hamilton and Rosberg have contracts that mean they have to work together for the next two years and there are few alternatives to staying with Mercedes.

After Sunday's race, a clearly frustrated Hamilton said: "There was no risk, there was nothing for me to lose. We have won the constructors' championship, the team have won, so let me take a risk, let's go for it.

"I didn't agree with the decision but the team make decisions and I abide by them most of the time. We'll have a chat when I get back. I have full confidence in those guys."

Rosberg's fourth win of the season, at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, was fully deserved because he drove a fast, solid race and his car appeared to have been better set up than Hamilton's.

But the British driver felt he could have snatched victory with a one-stop strategy.

THE TIMES, LONDON, THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 04, 2015, with the headline 'Warning lights come on at Mercedes'. Print Edition | Subscribe