Toto Wolff has admitted Mercedes may need to rethink its policy on 'equal opportunities' for its drivers if it is to give the team the best chance to defeat Ferrari in the 2017 F1 world championship.
Sebastian Vettel snatched victory from Mercedes in the Bahrain Grand Prix after a series of 'marginal losses' – including tyre pressure issues for pole sitter Bottas and a penalty for Hamilton - contributed to Sebastian Vettel being able to leapfrog both with a superior pit strategy and claim Ferrari's second win of the year.
Evaluating the race, Mercedes boss Wolff admits its attempts to ensure both drivers had the fairest opportunity to challenge for the win was arguably its downfall because of the problems that enveloped during the race.
“We don't like this at all, we haven't done this in the last year and we want to avoid it as good as we can and even today we tried to avoid it as good as we can, it is just a moment of realisation that if you don't react, you're going to lose the race, then you have to make that call.
With Vettel set to receive the advantage of having clear number one status over Kimi Raikkonen and Bottas closing on Hamilton in terms of pace, as demonstrated by his maiden pole in Bahrain, Mercedes now faces a dilemma in deciding whether to continue to allow its drivers to fight it out along with Vettel, or begin instigating team orders more firmly.
“It was our mindest until now that we have given them both equal opportunities. Like today we had two cars starting on the front row, if they're on second and first you just have to let them race. When they didn't have a problem on the car like we had in one in the afternoon that would've been a situation to consider to swap them but with the Ferrari in between we couldn't, it's a tricky one. Three races into the season you don't want that.”
Mercedes went to great lengths to emphasise its equal opportunities ethos with Hamilton and Nico Rosberg between the dominant years of 2014 and 2016, but this arguably its first consistent outside threat it has faced since it became the dominant force in F1 with the introduction of the V6 Hybrid power units.