MONACO (Reuters) - Dominant Mercedes are ready to read the riot act, even as they celebrate a perfect season so far, if their fractious drivers overstep the mark in an increasingly intense fight for the Formula One title.
After a Monaco Grand Prix weekend marked by the souring of relations between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, Mercedes motorsport boss Toto Wolff said the tensions between the two would be kept in check.
“I think they are probably exploring how far you can step up above the line and what the consequences are,” the Austrian told reporters after Rosberg ended Hamilton’s streak of four wins in a row with his own second victory of the season.
“Isn’t that normal? You have a chance of winning the championship and as long as it is not detrimental to the team spirit, as long as it is not underhand, we will handle the situation in the way we did before.
“The moment it goes in the direction where we believe it is not the spirit of Mercedes Benz we will act accordingly.”
Rosberg’s win came after a controversial Saturday, with Hamilton suggesting the German had literally pulled a fast one by stopping on track in the closing seconds of qualifying and denying him pole.
The top slot on the grid is more important than anywhere in Monaco, where drivers struggle to overtake on the tight and twisty streets, and victory allowed Rosberg to seize back the overall lead in the championship.
Hamilton had taken it at the previous race in Spain and Rosberg needed to stall the momentum the 2008 world champion was building up in a season where Mercedes are in a class of their own and have won every race and taken every pole position.
The Saturday controversy, with Hamilton suggesting he might emulate the late Ayrton Senna in his late 1988/89 duels with McLaren team mate Alain Prost, had stoked the fires but ultimately the incidents in Sunday’s race were caused by others.
If the pair - both Monaco residents - were not about to book a restaurant table for two, Hamilton said they would remain civil.
“The weekend’s done and dusted. We’ve got a one-two for the team. Let’s just focus on moving forward. I plan to be stronger in the next race,” he said.
“We’ve sat down and cleared whatever air was needed to be cleared. We’ve been through the data and seen what needed to be seen,” he added.
“We’re good. It was a difficult weekend but what doesn’t break you will make you stronger. I can only get stronger for this weekend, I think.”
Both played down the war of words that had built up since Wednesday, with Hamilton and Rosberg saying they had been quoted out of context.
The Briton had cited his own under-privileged background to show that he was hungrier than Monaco-bred Rosberg, while the German had suggested Hamilton was easy to unsettle.
“I’ve known Lewis for many, many years and he’s always been strong,” said Rosberg, who was Hamilton’s teenage team mate in karting. “So I’m definitely not expecting him to crack any time soon, that’s for sure.
“It’s going to be a tough battle, which is going to be ongoing.”
Wolff indicated that, far from Monaco being a turning-point where the feud truly ignited, he had been fire-fighting for several races already.
Both drivers have tried to gain advantages and in Barcelona Rosberg was the one who had felt aggrieved with Hamilton’s tactics. Before that, in Bahrain, they had gone wheel-to-wheel.
“I guess this is really normal. Everybody has their own absolute reality, and absolute belief,” said Wolff. “I guess it is like arguing with somebody. You think you are right and the other person thinks he is right.
“It is never black and white. There is sometimes grey.”
Editing by Ed Osmond