Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has opened up about his relationship with Lewis Hamilton during his early days at the team, sending a stark warning to incoming star George Russell. Russell will replace Valtteri Bottas at the team next season after the Finn steadied the ship with the departure of Nico Rosberg in 2016.
Hamilton and Rosberg had a fiery four years alongside each other at the British-based German team in one of the most intense rivalries of recent times.
Yet, after beating Hamilton to the title at the fourth time of asking, Rosberg promptly quit Formula One.
Not looking for history to repeat itself with Russell, who is 13 years the junior of Hamilton, Wolff says he plans to take a different approach next season.
Yet the Austrian admitted no driver, not even Hamilton, is bigger than the team.
“This is Mercedes,’ Wolff told The Daily Mail. “We have no place for the genius jerk. Even a superstar driver has to respect team values.
“But with Lewis, we’ve been eight years together now. He’s not an arrogant, spoiled little kid.
“He’s a mature racer who has won seven titles, six with us, so we can take those moments, it’s part of our role to be a trash bin for the driver sometimes.
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“In the car, you can get very frustrated and emotional. You are racing at 200mph, in the rain, you have no idea about the overall picture of the race and decisions are being made that you cannot understand. In the early years, I would bite back at Lewis.
“He was very young and I had to make the point that I wouldn’t allow the driver to bad-mouth the team.
“But we’ve been moved on from there a long time. Still, I wouldn’t hesitate in the future if a driver talked bad about the team or wasn’t appropriate, I would first deal with it internally and if that didn’t yield results I would take the driver out of the car. On the bench, yes.
“I don’t think that would ever be Lewis. He’s a team member, not a contractor, a driver that comes and goes.
“We’ve been together since 2013. We know each other so well, there’s so much trust and respect. I was close to putting a driver on the bench when it was Lewis and Rosberg. Twice. In 2014 and 2016.
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“I said I would judge over 48 hours whether one needed to sit out. I still don’t know who it would have been.
“But that was long ago. It is unimaginable given the relationship I have with Lewis today that it could happen now.”
In the past, Wolff blamed himself for how Hamilton and Rosberg’s relationship transpired and blamed inexperience for how it manifested.
But with the arrival of Russell from Williams, Wolff felt confident harmony would remain between the pair.
“And George Russell is another intelligent young man,” continued Wolff. “He will slot into the team but that doesn’t mean he has to hold back when driving. You can’t expect a lion in the car and a puppy out of it.
“But there are certain boundaries within the team that must be respected and George knows them very well. Once the lights are green, only the drivers are responsible.
“I can’t interfere, manage, or remote control them, but one thing is of ultimate importance — don’t touch. That’s your responsibility. You can race hard, but no contact.
“I’ve been there before with Nico when it wasn’t just a rivalry. There was a lot of animosity and that’s not going to happen.
“This is about showing respect for each other and it can be hard because if you race on the same spot on the race track you will eventually come across each other — but there is an integrity we expect that no one is ever bigger than the team.
“The drivers know that. You represent 2,000 people who work for us and 350,000 people who work for Mercedes. So again, you are the solar system and the Mercedes star — that’s the sun.”
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