While rival teams were throwing around team orders at the Sao Paulo Grand Prix, Mercedes didn’t bother as their drivers knew if they crashed they’d have to explain to the factory “why they let the team down”.
Lining up first and second on the Interlagos grid, Mercedes’ first front row lock-out of the championship, it was thought the team-mate drama of the day would come from George Russell and Lewis Hamilton.
After all they were in prime position to fight for the win, one that would be Mercedes’ first grand prix victory of the season.
Instead the team-mate shenanigans played out further down with Charles Leclerc urging Ferrari to let him pass Carlos Sainz, Max Verstappen refusing to give back a position to Sergio Perez, and Alpine telling Esteban Ocon he’s not to fight Fernando Alonso especially after their sprint race crash.
Russell, leading after a late Safety Car, did ask Mercedes “are we racing or are we protecting the one-two” and was told they are “allowed to race”.
Strategy chief James Vowles says that’s because the Mercedes team-mates knew the consequences of crashing.
“They knew that if there was an accident, they would have to explain to 2,000 people at the factory why they let the team down,” the chief strategist told Auto Motor und Sport.
Mercedes took the 1-2, Russell leading home Hamilton with the duo separated by 1.5s.
With the topic of team orders dominating the day, especially after the Red Bull drama where Verstappen ignored the team’s call for him to hand P6 back to Perez, Russell was asked about Mercedes’ decision.
“Toto and the team have put a lot of faith and trust in Lewis and I,” he said, “and we’ve obviously had a few side-by-side moments throughout this year and has always been respectful and I think we’ve got a huge amount of respect for one another.
“I knew how important that one-two was for the team so if we weren’t racing, it was kind of like, ‘bring the car home’. If we were racing, it was a qualy lap every single lap and you’re risking every corner because the laps just had to be perfect.
“So yeah, obviously happy to have won it that way.”
Chief engineer Andrew Shovlin was also very happy about the win.
“There are good sides to a season without a win,” he said. “It shows you how good it feels to win when they do happen.”
Toto Wolff explained that unless his drivers are fighting for the championship, Mercedes will always let them race.
“I think as a team, we have always stood for free racing and we have never done otherwise unless a driver is mathematically not in contention anymore for the championship and the other one is,” he said.
Sunday’s 1-2 saw Mercedes slash their deficit to Ferrari to just 19 points with only Abu Dhabi remaining.