Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has revealed that Lewis Hamilton was once threatened with suspension at the height of his rivalry with team-mate Nico Rosberg.
The pair first linked up at the Silver Arrows for the 2013 campaign, after Hamilton was persuaded to leave McLaren for pastures new.
Their first year together was a learning curve, as Mercedes struggled to compete with Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel ultimately romped to his fourth consecutive world drivers' championship.
But once the turbo-hybrid rules were introduced for the 2014 season, Mercedes suddenly became competitive and problems soon began to come to light between the pair, who were both competing to earn the No.1 driver status at the team.
The rivals endured several on-track collisions while team-mates – including at Spa 2014, Austria 2016 and their infamous coming-together at the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix – to leave Silver Arrows chiefs fuming.
And Wolff, who joined Mercedes in 2013, has admitted that the intense rivalry almost forced the German giants into imposing race suspensions on the feuding pair.
Speaking on The High Performance Podcast, he said: “It was very difficult because I came into the team as a newcomer in Formula 1, and Nico and Lewis had been in the sport for much longer,” said Wolff..
“But still, I was able to create an environment where they had to respect the team. Sometimes with an iron fist, or iron grip, and they understood that they couldn’t let us down, they couldn’t let Mercedes down.
“The events of 2014, where I felt there was some selfish behaviour, I said that the next time you come close to the other car, your team mate, you think about the Mercedes brand, you think about single individuals in the team, you think about Dieter Zetsche, the CEO of Mercedes. That’s probably going to change the way you act; you’re not going to put your team mate in the wall.
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"And I always made it clear that if this were to happen regularly, and I would see a pattern, then I have no fear in making somebody miss races.
“The thing the drivers want the most is to compete in a car. And you always need to be very clear that you compete in the car if you understand the team game.
"It’s much more difficult because there are only two drivers in the team and it’s not easy to find a replacement, and a replacement on that level.
"But I’m prepared to sacrifice a race or two just to make it clear for all future generations that are going to drive for Mercedes that that’s not on.”
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While there was understood to be plenty of disputes behind closed doors, their awkward relationship was shown to the world in 2015.
Rosberg infamously threw a cap at Hamilton after the US Grand Prix, in which the drivers touched while disputing the lead at the start, and the incident was broadcast on live TV.
Moments earlier, Hamilton won the race to seal his third world title and his second with Mercedes.
And Wolff questioned the wisdom of Mercedes pairing Hamilton and Rosberg in the first place in 2013 before adding: “I’m not sure [the hostility got] the best out of both, because that is negativity, and you still have to be a team player.
“If the debriefing room is full of negativity because the two drivers are hostile with each other, then that will spill over into the energy of the room, and that is not something that I will ever allow again.
“That happened, but I couldn’t change it, because the drivers were hired before I came. And nobody actually thought, ‘What was the dynamic between the two, what is the past between the two?’
"There was a lot of historical context that none of us knew, and will never know. And that’s why it’s something that we’re looking at: how do the drivers work with each other, what happens in the case of failure with one and another.
“We accept the annoyance and pain if it goes against one, but we’re trying to still keep the positive dynamic in the team. And if it didn’t function anymore, that’s fine. If we were to fail again, that’s fine – but then we’re changing the driver line-up.”
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