Mercedes boss Toto Wolff admits that it was difficult to make a call on team orders that favored Lewis Hamilton only three races into the new season.
In Bahrain, Valtteri Bottas was asked to move over and let Hamilton past not just once but twice during the course of the race, as their different strategies played out.
“We don’t like it at all,” Wolff said when questioned. “We haven’t done it in the last years or have tried to avoid it as good as we can. Until today, we have tried to avoid it as good as we can. It’s a moment of realization that if you don’t react, you’re going to lose the race. Then you have to make an unpopular call.”
He added: “It was our mindset and racing philosophy until now that we have given them both equal opportunity. Like today, you have two cars starting on the front row. If they run second and first, you just have to let them race. When you have a problem on the car like we had in the afternoon, that would have been a situation we would have considered – to swap them – but with a Ferrari in between, we couldn’t. Three races into the season, you don’t want to go there yet.”
Wolff admitted that on the first occasion the team had waited too long, effectively costing Hamilton some momentum.
“You’re always more intelligent afterward, what could have been. It’s a call you don’t like to make. I think both have to have a chance of winning the race and having the best possible result. And it’s only when the moment comes, you realize if you’re not changing anything, you’re going to lose the race, that is the moment when you have to make that unpopular call.”
He said the team could not give priority to whoever got pole.
“No that would be too harsh, it would be the opposite of what we have done through the years. It’s important as we start the race, to give them equal opportunity. We would have probably taken a different decision if Valtteri had run in the front with the problem on the tires and Lewis would have been second but with Vettel in between, there is nothing we could have done. That’s why it was the perfect storm.”