Mercedes have been branded “naive” by Christian Horner, the Red Bull team principal, as they weigh up whether to punish Lewis Hamilton for defying team orders.
Hamilton’s Mercedes team were angry with his tactics in the title-deciding Abu Dhabi Grand Prix as he backed team-mate Nico Rosberg into the clutches of the chasing pack in a desperate bid to win the championship.
Mercedes feared the ploy would cost the team victory and issued two instructions for the Briton to pick up his pace, both of which were ignored.
Toto Wolff, the Mercedes boss, hinted at disciplinary proceedings against Hamilton after the race, with the team to determine in the coming days what, if any, action they will take against the triple world champion.
Hamilton needed Rosberg to finish fourth or lower to win the title and Horner, who oversaw Red Bull’s four consecutive driver and team championships between 2010 and 2013, gave his support to the British driver.
“It was only ever going to be that kind of battle between the two of them,” Horner said. “He won the race as slowly as he could. It’s like in a football game where the team might protect from the opposition by kicking the ball around and not enabling the opposition to get hold of the ball. I didn’t see that he did anything wrong.
“Congratulations to Nico, he’s driven a great season and is a very worthy world champion. But it was naive to think there would be any different approach to this race with what’s at stake. Winning the race was never going to be enough for Lewis and he drove a tactical race. He didn’t do anything dirty, he didn’t do anything against the rules. I think it would be unfair to criticise Lewis for the way that he drove.”
Mercedes, who have won all but two of the 21 grands prix this season and sealed the constructors’ championship with three races to spare, strengthened their ‘Rules of Engagement’ earlier this season after Hamilton and Rosberg crashed in Spain and then Austria. They were warned that they would be fined, or even banned, if they broke the terms which had been agreed. And Hamilton’s disregard for their orders during the Abu Dhabi race – one of which came directly from Mercedes technical boss Paddy Lowe – would appear to go against the rules laid down by Formula One’s all-conquering team.
Hamilton was scheduled to speak to the written media on Sunday night, but in the wake of Wolff’s remarks, his session was cancelled.
In an earlier televised press conference, Hamilton said: “I’m out there fighting and I generally never try to do anything to harm the team or the brand or anything like that. But we’ve won the constructors’ championship so it was down to me and Nico. However, they still felt they needed to make comments. We’ll discuss it afterwards as we always do as a team and pull back in.”