Mercedes Formula 1 chief Toto Wolff feels that the rivalry between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg became more intense than the team felt comfortable with towards the end of their partnership in 2016.
Hamilton and Rosberg teamed up in F1 at Mercedes in 2013, the pair having known each other for almost 20 years and raced together in go-karts as teammates.
Hamilton edged Rosberg to win world titles in 2014 and 2015, before Rosberg struck back with a maiden championship victory last year, announcing his retirement from racing just five days later.
The pair enjoyed a fierce rivalry throughout their time as teammates, featuring a number of on-track clashes before culminating in Hamilton defying team orders in a last-ditch effort to deny Rosberg the title in Abu Dhabi last November.
Speaking to The Guardian, Wolff lifted the lid on the partnership between Hamilton and Rosberg, saying that their history together added an extra dynamic to the rivalry that turned negative.
“Towards the end it was more intense than we would have thought beneficial,” Wolff said.
“What was beneficial at the beginning, that they knew each other for 20 years also meant towards the end that there was lots of baggage carried over and things we weren’t even aware of.”
Wolff said that Hamilton’s relationship with new teammate Valtteri Bottas “starts at zero” in 2017 as Mercedes looks to capture both F1 crowns for the fourth year in succession.
Hamilton’s future has been subject to comments from ex-F1 drivers Damon Hill and David Coulthard in recent weeks. Hill stressed that Mercedes must be willing to give the three-time world champion freedom or risk losing him. Coulthard even went as far to say that Hamilton could quit F1 altogether should he grow disillusioned with the sport.
However, Wolff said that he would rather have stressful drivers to manage that were among the best in the world as opposed to an easy ride and sub-standard racers.
“The best ones are all not easy. This makes them the best,” Wolff said.
“After four years we have got to know each other and we kind of get the vibes. We are on this journey together and most of our objectives are aligned most of the time but not always, and we recognize that.
“We respect him as an individual, we respect him as a personality and we respect him as a racing driver.”