Mercedes team chief Toto Wolff is prepared to use team orders, if necessary, to help Lewis Hamilton secure his fifth drivers’ championship in Sunday’s United States Grand Prix.
The Austrian boss told reporters late Saturday in Texas that he did not have a pre-meditated plan for the race in which four-time champion Hamilton needs to outscore Sebastian Vettel by eight points to take the title.
“If at the end we find ourselves in a situation where we again need to evaluate the points we’ll do that,” he told reporters.
“But I don’t want to commit to saying now whether or what we will be doing….”
He said he hoped that Hamilton’s team-mate Valtteri Bottas would make a strong start to the race and keep Ferrari’s Vettel, who starts fifth on the grid, behind him.
Four-time champion Vettel qualified second, but has taken a three-place grid penalty for speeding under red flags in Friday’s practice.
Finn Bottas has been given team orders to assist Hamilton before this year, notably at the Russian Grand Prix where he let him pass and Hamilton won the race.
Thanks to that and his own phenomenal form in the second half of the season, Hamilton is seeking his seventh victory in eight races since the British Grand Prix, won by Vettel, in early July.
“The objective for Valtteri is really to go for it at the beginning – he hasn’t got a lot to lose – and to show us a strong race,” said Wolff.
If Mercedes are in a similar position to that of Russia, where Bottas led Hamilton before orders were given, they are likely to switch them again to secure the title.
Mindful of Ferrari’s revival in speed and form in Saturday’s practice and qualifying sessions on a welcome dry day at the Circuit of the Americas, Wolff said he was ready for such a decision.
“Since a few days now, you guys (news reporters) have been talking us up – ‘this is almost done, he has a hand on the trophy’ – but, you either have the trophy in your hands or you don’t. And we don’t.”
“I know from the points we are looking solid, but everything can happen in the sport. Ferrari has come back strong, it’s what we had expected, and that’s why I’d like to keep all options open.”
Bottas, who starts third directly ahead of Vettel, believes he will be free to attack in the race and does not expect to be used as a ‘rear gunner’ to defend Hamilton.
“I think my job is to try and attack, try and progress in the race, and that means, at least, getting by Kimi (Raikkonen, of Ferrari).
“For us, the goal is maximum points as a team. There are no plans for me to slow anyone down so I am just trying to go for it and to get the best possible result I can.”