Mercedes chairman Niki Lauda has given some insight into the tense Hamilton-Rosberg relationship last season. The 2016 Formula One world championship was their last as teammates and the first in which Rosberg came out on top, retiring as world champion at the end of the season. The tension between Rosberg and Hamilton was clear throughout their period as teammates.
But Lauda gave the real story behind the feud. He said “They had no relation, which is always bad. They were so bad that they didn’t even say hello in the morning. I don’t expect them to have breakfast together if they don’t like each other, I don’t expect them to sit down and have breakfast, but the relationship was really bad. It affected Lewis mainly and Nico [as well], so it was fine but not easy.”
The 2016 collision at the Spanish Grand Prix may have been a possible catalyst for the relationship worsening. In the immediate aftermath, Mercedes’ management summoned both drivers to a meeting in the team’s engineering trucks where Lauda made it clear that he thought Hamilton was to blame. “The big question was whose fault was it?” Lauda said. “For me it was clear because Lewis was too aggressive going to the right, hit the grass, couldn’t stop his car and then hit him off.”
“I said if I have to choose between the two it’s more Lewis’ fault than Nico’s fault. Lewis did not appreciate that, because he was of a different opinion. He said, ‘Why do you criticize me?’ I said, ‘Excuse me. I cannot accept that you guys crash and then we have nothing and nobody’s fault. For me it has to be somebody’s fault.’ Then Lewis really got upset. Nico said, ‘Yes, it was your part too, you moved to the inside. Why did you not leave room?’ He said, ‘Why should I, I was doing the race’.”
Lauda said he met with Hamilton to talk through the incident one-on-one. Meanwhile Mercedes had had enough. They issued a stricter set of rules of engagement to its drivers. Lauda said the rules came with the ultimate threat of a driver being released from his contract if he did not act in the interests of the team.
The Austrian said that the team put some regulations in. The drivers were told that pushing each other off the track was unacceptable for Mercedes. One of them had to win the race and could not push each other off. Rules were established to prevent future collisions. The penalty was a possible release from your contract. Lauda said that Mercedes are team players here and the drivers cannot destroy each other. He said that Toto came up with some good rules and there was peace again. They fought hard and the accidents got reduced between them.