LONDON • Mercedes executives are steeling themselves to break up the warring combination of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg as the relationship between the two drivers plumbs new depths.
Although they won 15 races this season, the tension has affected the team to the extent that Toto Wolff, the head of Mercedes Motorsport, has admitted for the first time that one may have to go.
"We struggle sometimes in winning races on Sunday and having always one (driver) upset and this spills over into the team. It is something that needs to stop," Wolff told the Motorsport.com website.
"We took the decision of having two evenly-matched drivers in order to make the team progress faster and better. Going forward, we will consider if it is the best set-up for the team. Personality and character within the team (are also crucial to) the team's success.
"If we feel that it is not aligned with the general consensus, spirit and philosophy within the team, we might consider that when we take a decision, in terms of the driver line-up going forward.
"It is important to have talented and fast drivers in the car. But we want to work with nice guys."
Hamilton has just signed a new three-year deal and as the three-time world champion he is in a strong position. But he can be a disruptive element, as he showed on Sunday at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix when he queried his team's strategy calls and had to be instructed forcefully to carry out changes to his engine management systems.
Rosberg's deal lasts only until the end of next season and rumours abound that he has had enough of the team-mate he once used to call a friend. When asked whether they would have an end-of-season get-together, Rosberg replied: "Let's skip that."
Would they exchange Christmas gifts, then? "I don't think we've ever done either so there's no reason to change," Hamilton said glumly, refusing to look at his team-mate.
The relationship is now at breaking point. The team-mates rarely speak and conduct their racing lives separately, even in the cramped atmosphere of the Mercedes hospitality suites around the world. The table tennis matches they enjoyed as neighbours in Monte Carlo have long been scrapped.
"I feel that the team is stronger than ever," Wolff said. "We are having huge unity within the team, but the difficult relationship of the drivers is one of our weaknesses. And that is not good.
"If I were to analyse what are the biggest strengths and the biggest weakness of the team, I would say the biggest strength is the quality and the characters of the personalities within the team.
"The biggest weakness is the dynamic of the relationship between the drivers - and sometimes between the drivers and the team."
THE TIMES, LONDON