Mercedes have changed their stance on team orders in response to the threat from Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel.
Mercedes non-executive chairman Niki Lauda told BBC Sport if one driver was holding the other up in a race, he had to let the quicker one past.
« It is logical: ‘If I cannot go as quick as my team-mate I have to give him room to fight Vettel,' » Lauda said.
« The biggest problem for [Valtteri] Bottas and Lewis [Hamilton] is Vettel now. He is the one to beat. »
Lauda said this was a response to the change in Mercedes’ situation compared to the last three years.
- « In the past we had no team orders because we were dominating with both cars and there was no enemy, no-one could get in between, » Lauda said.
« This year, the first three races, is completely different.
« Ferrari is competitive. Vettel is right there, makes no mistakes and gives us a real interesting fight. So our new policy has to be that if one driver of ours cannot go quicker than the other one then he has to think as a team and use his problems not to block the other one. But it is not a team order. »
Hamilton is seven points behind Vettel in the championship after one win for the Englishman and two for the German so far this year. Bottas is 23 points behind Hamilton.
But Lauda added that the new policy would apply no matter which Mercedes driver was in front.
« So far Lewis was quicker, particularly in the last race, but these things can change, it works in both directions, we have to wait and see. »
Mercedes’ new stance is a reflection of their actions in the Bahrain Grand Prixtwo weeks ago, when Hamilton’s hopes of victory were hampered by being stuck behind Bottas while the Finn was struggling for pace.
This allowed Vettel to pull out a six-second lead after the first pit stops – exactly the margin the Ferrari driver eventually won by.
Team boss Toto Wolff said: « Team orders the word is pretty broad. We don’t like team orders like 15 or 20 years ago, where you make one driver win for the benefit of the championship at an early stage.
« But if we have a difference in pace and we know the root cause we might interfere like we did last time. »
He added: « If you ask Ferrari, they wouldn’t say they had a number one and number two driver and this is what I am saying as well. After the third race you can’t have a number one and two. the dynamics worked the last three years, two drivers on a very high level pushing each other and this is what we are doing as well now. »
Referring to Bahrain, Wolff said: « Yes, in hindsight having seen how Valtteri’s tyres were not in the right window, we could have maybe reacted two or three laps earlier but we are all world champions analysing the results afterwards.
« Yes, we could have been a bit quicker, but we will learn for the future.
« Nevertheless, it is a pretty tricky situation to ask a driver to let the other one overtake because he has an issue on the car. This does not feel right. »