HOCKENHEIM, Germany -- Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff has defended his decision to call off the battle between his drivers in the closing stages of the German Grand Prix.
After rain turned Sunday's race on its head, Sebastian Vettel crashed out of the lead and presented Mercedes with a shot at victory. Valtteri Bottas had been leading teammate Lewis Hamilton up to that point, but when a Safety Car was deployed to clear Vettel's car Bottas made a pit stop and dropped behind his teammate.
That meant Hamilton and Bottas were in first and second at the restart, albeit with Bottas on fresher tyres than Hamilton and in a position to attack on a drying track. When racing got back underway, Bottas challenged Hamilton for the lead on the run through Turns 7 and 8 before being told to stick with second.
"Valtteri, it's James, please hold position. I'm sorry," Mercedes chief strategist James Vowles said over team radio.
Bottas obeyed the team order, allowing Hamilton to extend his lead to 4.5s by the chequered flag. Wolff explained that the radio message was a result of the dropped points at recent races and the opportunity to claw some of them back with a one-two victory.
"In terms of making the call later in the race when they started to be all over each other at the restart, it was raining at places and it was still humid and we had had so much bad luck in the last couple of races that the scenario of losing a car or two was just something that I didn't want to even envisage," he said.
Asked if it was because Hamilton is the No.1 driver at Mercedes, Wolff added: "No, absolutely not. If it had been the other way around with Valtteri in the lead and Lewis second we would have made the same call, an identical call. It was about bringing him home, irrespective of who is in front."
Bottas is now 66 points off Hamilton, but Wolff said it was still too early for Mercedes to back one driver over the other.
"No, racing is most important. We always said that if the championship goes into its last third or last quarter and there's a big difference between the drivers, we might make these unpopular calls. But it's much too early in the season to do this.
"Today we made it in order to bring a one-two home. We would have done it the other way around."
And Wolff is confident Bottas will not have hard feelings as a result of the radio message.
"We had eye contact on the podium, and I think it's pretty clear to us that what I said to Valtteri is something that I would also say in the team. I would have done the same thing the other way around. I think this is the transparency we have in the team that it would make no difference. It was important to score the double podium, the one-two, to recover some of the points we lost through bad luck."