<
>

Mercedes still committed to 'equal opportunities' for Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff insists the team still believes in giving its drivers "equal opportunity" to race in 2017, though he admits it will have to consider team orders on a race-by-race basis now Ferrari is in the title fight.

In Bahrain Mercedes twice asked the struggling Valtteri Bottas to move aside to let Lewis Hamilton through, with the three-time world champion on an alternate strategy. Hamilton came six seconds short of challenging Sebastian Vettel for the win while Bottas -- whose race was compromised by a tyre pressure issue at the start -- faded in the closing stages and had to settle for third.

In previous years Mercedes has let its drivers race, confident in the knowledge it was unchallenged for either championship, but the emergence of Ferrari this year has complicated matters -- Vettel's win in Bahrain helped put Ferrari in the lead of both championships.

When asked if a simple solution was to say the man who qualifies ahead gets priority for the win, Wolff said: "No, that would be too harsh. It would be the opposite of what we have done through the years. It's important as we start the race, to give them equal opportunity.

"We would have probably taken a different decision if Valtteri had run in the front with the problem on the tyres and Lewis would have been second. But with Vettel in between, there is nothing we could have done. That's why it was the perfect storm."

Though Ferrari leads by just three points in the constructors' championship, the issue is complicated by the fact Hamilton and Bottas are already separated by 23 in the drivers'. Last year Hamilton and Nico Rosberg were held to a set of "rules of engagement" written after their collision in Spain, but the team rarely had wins come under threat from other teams.

Now that situation has changed Wolff admits Mercedes needs to consider favouring the driver with the best chance of winning at a certain point in a grand prix.

"We don't like that at all," Wolff said when asked about a change to the rules of engagement. "It's not what we have done in the last couple of years but the situation is different now, so it needs a proper analysis of what it means and where we are.

"We'd like to give equal opportunity at the start of the race, I think we owe it to them. Then you see what we did in the race, we made the call, we made the call twice, because we felt it was the only possibility of winning the race."