Mercedes teammates Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton look at each other during a news conference. Dominic Ebenbichler / Reuters / July 2, 2016
Mercedes teammates Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton look at each other during a news conference. Dominic Ebenbichler / Reuters / July 2, 2016

F1 cannot afford to lose open racing between Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg

Given that Sunday's coming together on the final lap of the Austrian Grand Prix was the third time in five races that Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg have made contact with each other, you would have thought that Toto Wolff would be almost used to it by now.

But Mercedes-GP's executive director could barely conceal his anger at the incident at Turn 2 which turned a 1-2 finish into Hamilton triumphing, with Rosberg, who had been leading at the start of the final lap, falling to fourth place.

An upset Wolff hit out at both his drivers, but also ominously threatened that team orders may be an option for the two in the future, having traditionally allowed open racing, and that arguably was the most worrying development from the incident.

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“We’re looking like a bunch of idiots and it’s disrespectful to 1,500 people who work their nuts off on the cars,” the German told Sky Sports.

As to the scenario of the team implementing instructions on their drivers, he added: “What I am saying is this is on the table because maybe that’s the only way we can manage the situation.

“I hate team orders but if every race ends up in a collision between teammates, it’s not what we want.”

You cannot really blame Wolff and the Mercedes hierarchy going in that direction, given their drivers do not appear to be able to circulate in the proximity of each other at present without swapping paint.

But it would be a devastating move for Formula One if Mercedes did finally say enough is enough and start telling their drivers to hold station in races.

The German marque have been the dominant force of F1 since 2014 and Sunday’s victory for Hamilton was the team’s 40th in 47 races.

The only thing that has really saved F1, which is going through a difficult enough period as it is with falling TV spectators and attendances on the slide at some races, from being completely monotonous is the duel between the Mercedes drivers at the front.

The 2014 season is remembered as a classic, despite Mercedes being well clear of everyone else on raw speed, because Hamilton and Rosberg fought so closely.

Despite the fact that Ferrari and Red Bull Racing are closer to them on pace this year, Mercedes are the still the dominant force, with eight wins from nine races.

The gap between Rosberg and Hamilton is now 11 points with 12 races to go, and it would be a real shame, and a blow to the sport’s credibility, if the outcome in this year’s drivers’ championship, which is almost certainly a private duel between the pair, was decided in any way by pit wall interference.

Yesterday’s clash came at the end of a tense tussle. Hamilton had led from pole, but Rosberg, who had started sixth, had moved ahead thanks to an early first tyre stop, while his teammate stayed out longer.

Hamilton had the faster run to Turn 2 on the final lap and looked to go around the outside.

Rosberg, who was reportedly suffering with a brake problem, ran deep into the corner as he looked to keep Hamilton on the outside, and the pair collided.

The impact damaged Rosberg’s front wing, with part of it lodging itself under his car, and he slowed, with an unscathed Hamilton crossing the line first.

Hamilton, who was booed on the podium by some spectators, was vehement he had done nothing wrong, and said: “I was on the racing line. He was in my blind spot so I assumed he was still there, so I went very wide.

“I left him plenty of room, as I started to turn as I was at the edge of the track. He collided with me.”

Rosberg disagreed and said: “I went a bit deep into the corner, but that’s fine because I’m on the inside – I dictate. I was very surprised that Lewis turned in and caused a collision.”

The stewards disagreed with Rosberg’s assessment, but the 10-second time penalty he was given did not drop him from fourth place.

The real damage was seeing his points advantage over Hamilton cut to 11 points, with the knowledge that the open racing dynamic of the team may become a thing of the past thanks to the incident.

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