From informed Formula One sources, I get the distinct feeling that tremors behind the scenes at Mercedes, even at this early stage of the season, are likely to develop into earthquake proportions, leaving cracks in the team’s superstructure.
Two of the most prestigious figures ever on the grand prix scene aired differing opinions on the pattern Mercedes drew on the outcome of the Malaysian event two weeks ago. And who knows where it might all end up?
Lewis Hamilton, third placed, and his new Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg, clearly faster in the closing stages, were ordered from the pit lane by team boss Ross Brawn not to race each other and to stick to their placings.
It was a directive that didn’t please Rosberg, who desperately wanted to overtake and may have been able to challenge Red Bull’s second-placed Mark Webber for the runners-up spot if he had been given the go-ahead.
Neither did it please three-time world champion Niki Lauda, a winner 25 times, freshly appointed to the board and now the team’s executive chairman.
The usually deadpan but outspoken Austrian took an astonishing swipe at Brawn, the mastermind who plotted Jenson Button’s 2009 world title and all of legend Michael Schumacher’s seven world crowns at Benetton and Ferrari, by saying: “From a sporting perspective, it was wrong. Rosberg should have been allowed to go for it. And we need to talk to Ross if this is the strategy to be used from now on.”
That sounds to me like a thinly-veiled: “Don’t do it again.”
Such criticisms and cross views are normally hidden from prying eyes and ears and reserved for the secrecy of the boardroom or behind the closed blinds in an office at HQ.
For Lauda to have blatantly offered his contrary view, especially against somebody as universally hailed and admired for his strategic astuteness from the pit wall as Brawn, will surely have setback any mutual admiration, even respect, between two of the most famed men in the sport.
There were already question marks looming over 58-year-old Brawn’s future at Mercedes, with the surprising switch to the team from McLaren of technical expert Paddy Lowe at the end of this season.
Not very often in F1, I must say, do rumours fail to develop into fact. And, what with Lauda’s maybe unwise publicly aired difference of opinion and the challenge to his authority that could be offered by Lowe, perhaps Brawn, despite his dedication to the show, could be heading for the exit door.
Whether he would take to his leisure passion, a river-fishing sabbatical, and enjoy his vast financial comfort zone, reckoned to be £11m (Dh60 million), or be lured by the richly rewarded temptation of a rival team is a poser of ongoing intrigue.