Toto Wolff bites back at tetchy Lewis Hamilton as duo clash in Austria

Toto Wolff bites back at tetchy Lewis Hamilton as duo clash over team radio in Austria, with Mercedes chief telling Brit to stop complaining and ‘just drive’

  • Toto Wolff and Lewis Hamilton clashed at the Austrian Grand Prix on Sunday
  • Hamilton had moaned over the team radio about the performance of his car
  • While the Mercedes team principal issued a strong reply to his star driver 

Such was Lewis Hamilton’s rising angst that the cajolings of his race engineer to calm down and refocus were not enough.

So the talking clock tones of Peter Bonnington gave way to the deeper inflections of Toto Wolff. In a rare turn on the radio, the Mercedes team principal said: ‘Lewis the car is bad, we know. Just please drive it.’

Hamilton, like every other Formula One peddler in the world, has grown accustomed to having his backside slapped by Max Verstappen, the untouchable winner of this Austrian Grand Prix, but the seven-time world champion is not used to having his trousers pulled down by his boss.

No wonder, when asked afterwards why Wolff had issued the surprising rebuke, Hamilton snapped: ‘I don’t know. You’ll have to ask him.’

So we did. But, first, a brief background to this spat — which, incidentally, Wolff insisted would have no adverse impact on the issue of Hamilton’s unsigned new contract, which is about the longest running soap opera after Coronation Street.

Toto Wolff (right) and Lewis Hamilton (left) clashed over the team radio at the Austrian GP

Toto Wolff (right) and Lewis Hamilton (left) clashed over the team radio at the Austrian GP

Hamilton finished seventh overall as Mercedes again struggled to get close to the podium

Hamilton finished seventh overall as Mercedes again struggled to get close to the podium

Hamilton was the first driver to be handed a five-second penalty for exceeding track limits. He was unhappy with this, thinking he was being singled out for punishment. He has a natural capacity for paranoia and a general scepticism of authority. Add in dissatisfaction with his car, and you are suddenly lighting gunpowder with a very short match.

Time and again, Lewis asked why nobody else was being penalised for crossing the white lines. They were being, in fact, as an overworked race control tackled over 1,200 incidents of cars potentially transgressing, often at the final corner, in the course of the race.

By the end, five of Hamilton’s fellows fell foul of the beak: AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda was hardest hit, with a 10-second penalty as well as five-second one, while five-second penalties were meted out to Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz, Alpine’s Pierre Gasly and the Williams pairing of Alex Albon and Logan Sargeant.Prior to Wolff’s more stinging rebuke, the Austrian had implored Hamilton: ‘They’re all going to get penalties ahead of you. Keep going.’

On a day of struggle, Hamilton started fifth and finished seventh, at one point complaining he could hardly corner. Team-mate George Russell, meanwhile, jumped three places from 11th on the grid.

So the Mercedes motorhome was hardly jumping for joy when Wolff came in to discuss the ruck with his star driver, a man whose moods he usually sweetens with spoonfuls of sugary words.

Back to, why the rap? ‘It was only for the best interests of the driver and the team,’ said Wolff. ‘Sometimes there is a certain moment when you need to calm things down, but I meant well.

‘We had a lot of discussion beforehand about track limits and I wanted to make sure we were getting the best out of the package, which wasn’t performing, and just giving it our best shot.’

Wolff confirmed that no contract announcement will be forthcoming ahead of this weekend’s British Grand Prix. He also revealed the extension would not be as long as five years, so shorter than Hamilton is understood to have asked for at the start of negotiations aeons ago.

Wolff barked over the team radio to Hamilton on Sunday: ‘Lewis the car is bad, we know. Just please drive it.’

Wolff barked over the team radio to Hamilton on Sunday: ‘Lewis the car is bad, we know. Just please drive it.’

Hamilton was getting frustrated by the performance of his Mercedes car at the Austrian GP

Hamilton was getting frustrated by the performance of his Mercedes car at the Austrian GP

Those are about the only elements of the saga clearer than sludge. Prior to last month’s Canadian GP, Wolff said resolution was more a matter of ‘days than weeks’. That was three week ago today.

‘I am still very confident it is still days,’ said Wolff, puzzlingly. ‘We want to do it super, to get every detail right.’

Hamilton (left car) explained after the race that he 'didn't know' why Wolff intervened

Hamilton (left car) explained after the race that he ‘didn’t know’ why Wolff intervened

As for the race, it was an irrelevance to a world championship that Verstappen leads by 81 points over third-placed team-mate Sergio Perez with nine of 22 rounds down. But it was just what the Dutch fans here — 70,000 of them, mostly orange-shirted — had come to holler about.

The one-man wrecking ball to the 2023 season started on pole and only briefly ceded the lead after the first of his three stops, Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, the eventual runner-up, cruising ahead. This broke Verstappen’s (below) sequence of 249 successive laps at the front.

But at Turn Three on lap 35 of 71, the Dutchman forced his way easily past Leclerc to reclaim first place. He was never likely to lose it. He didn’t. He won by 5.1sec.

And that was after he pitted at the death, a luxury afforded to him by his then plump 24-second cushion, to bang out the fastest lap and claim maximum points. The rest might as well have stayed at home.

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