Barcelona: For the first time in more than five years, the Mercedes team on Monday flew home without a finisher, and pointless, following Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg’s opening-lap collision in Sunday’s Spanish Grand Prix.
The team also had to cope with an unwanted collective headache, one that felt familiar after the acrimony of 2014, and had to face a new challenge as Formula One hailed a new youngest race winner in Dutch teenager Max Verstappen.
The crash ended championship leader Rosberg’s winning streak -– four races this year and seven in all -– and delivered Mercedes’ first non-finish since the 2011 Australian Grand Prix, but, worse than that, it reopened a divide between the drivers.
The tension and emotion was palpable on Sunday night when they spoke to reporters after being cleared of blame for what the race stewards described as a “racing incident”.
Each driver seemed to blame the other, without clear articulation of those feelings, during a clumsy staged news briefing that barely papered over the cracks in a team likely to face more pressure ahead from the improving Ferrari and Red Bull outfits.
Hamilton said he had apologised to the team, but he did not accept blame for attempting to pass Rosberg on the inside at Turn Four.
Rosberg, who conceded that his engine was not in the correct mode, said he moved to defend his position and was surprised by Hamilton.
Team chief Toto Wolff, following the line of the stewards’ decision, attempted to provide some diplomatic objectivity. Each driver feels he is not entirely faultless, he said.
The stewards had explained that Hamilton “had a portion of his front wing inside Rosberg’s car fractions of a second prior to having to leave the track to avoid a collision…Rosberg had the right to make the manoeuvre that he did and Hamilton’s attempt to overtake was reasonable.
“The convergence of events led neither driver to be wholly or predominantly at fault.”
Like Wolff, Hamilton was upset at seeing the team lose 43 points.
“These things happen, but it is the right thing to apologise, just like when the engine fails they say sorry to me.”
The crash ended Hamilton’s hopes of a first win in eight races since clinching his third world title in Texas last October, but also confirmed that the ‘new’ battle-toughened Rosberg of 2016 has no intention of giving his team-mate any favours.
It also left the defending champion 43 points adrift of Rosberg in the title race as they prepare to regain control of their emotions ahead of the unique and taxing demands of the Monaco Grand Prix.
“It was an incident that could have been avoided,” said Wolff, who declared also that Mercedes would continue to allow free racing between them.
“I am going away angry and upset, but isn’t that what racing should be all about?”
He did not answer his own question, but will be disappointed if he has the same experience again in Monte Carlo where a reinvigorated Red Bull team and determined Ferrari will hope to smell blood again.