Nico Rosberg lifts lid on Mercedes fall-out to Lewis Hamilton Spain 2016 crash

Jamie Woodhouse
Nico Rosberg attends a green event. Berlin June 2022.

2016 World Champion Nico Rosberg attends an environmental event.

Seeing the George Russell-Lewis Hamilton collision in Spanish GP qualifying got Nico Rosberg thinking back to their 2016 shunt, which was followed by meetings with Toto Wolff and Niki Lauda.

It was in the closing stages of Q2 at the 2023 Spanish Grand Prix that Mercedes team-mates Hamilton and Russell collided in odd fashion.

Mercedes’ trackside engineer director Andrew Shovlin has since revealed that both drivers were looking to pick up a tow from Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz ahead, leading to Russell moving across and hitting Hamilton, unaware the seven-time World Champion had pulled alongside him.

Hamilton would progress to the final stage of qualifying, but Russell was out in Q2 and left to start the race P12.

Naturally, this had people mentioning the 2016 Spanish GP again, where Hamilton and Rosberg, team-mates and title rivals at the time, took each other out of the race on the opening lap.

Leading the immediate and awkward debrief then was team boss Toto Wolff, while the presence of Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche added extra impact.

Speaking to Sky, Rosberg brought up the similarities between his shunt with Hamilton and the Russell one, claiming: “I didn’t see Lewis coming. How was I supposed to know he was behind me? Very comparable, actually.”

He then added: “First of all, a roaring Toto came in. Rightly so, logically. He then has said the first word on Sunday, very consistently, and then there was absolute silence for us at first, that was very, very difficult.”

That was the first round then of the fallout, after which both Hamilton and Rosberg both had to head to Ibiza and speak individually to the late Niki Lauda, then non-executive chairman of the Mercedes team.

It is safe to say that relations were far from great between the drivers at the time, though Rosberg detailed how Lauda was at least able to make sure that they could move forward from the incident.

“On Monday we still had to show up at Niki’s, in Ibiza,” Rosberg continued. “First one, then the other.

“But Niki did a very good job as a mediator. Then we got back together a bit. Niki always tried to find little concessions on each side, that you get closer. Until you are very close and then you can say ‘okay, now we can actually move on’.”

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Did Mercedes’ predicament stop 2016 repeat?

At that point in Formula 1 history, Mercedes were in a very similar position to the one which Red Bull are in now, where a huge slice of luck is needed for another team to get a sniff of victory. Ironically, it was Max Verstappen who benefitted from the Mercedes carnage that day to win on his Red Bull debut.

Meanwhile in present day, it was clear that both Hamilton and Russell ensured they put a lid on any suggestion of bad blood after their qualifying shunt, the duo continuing what has been a very harmonious partnership since they became Mercedes team-mates for the start of the 2022 campaign.

Is that though because unlike in the Hamilton-Rosberg days, now victory opportunities are rarely on the line?

Both Hamilton and Russell spoke very highly of the improved feeling in Mercedes’ 2023 challenger, the W14, with its B-Spec upgrade after Hamilton secured a P2 finish on 2023 Spain GP race day with Russell P3, yet Hamilton was 24 seconds behind runaway race winner Verstappen.

We are yet then to see how this Hamilton-Russell dynamic will fare if wins and titles are on the line, rather than just the relentless team push to get back to winning ways, and so Mercedes cannot be sure yet that such incidents like that one between Hamilton and Rosberg are consigned to the history books.