By Alan Baldwin
SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS Belgium (Reuters) - Mercedes threatened to review their policy of allowing their drivers to race each other freely after Formula One leader Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton collided at the Belgian Grand Prix on Sunday.
"Unfortunately, yes," Mercedes motorsport head Toto Wolff told reporters when asked whether the dominant team might change their tactics.
"It would be too early to elaborate in detail because the devil lies in the detail. We are all fans and we owe it to ourselves and everybody out there to let them race," he continued.
"Today that philosophy has ended in Mercedes losing many valuable points and we don’t want to end up in Abu Dhabi, with a season where we lost the championship, be it constructors’ or drivers’, because we were too much race fans."
Hitherto the team have been clear in allowing their drivers to race each other, accepting that it is in the interests of the sport to provide exciting races and to avoid the sort of processions seen in the past when one team is dominant.
However, they have been shaken by Red Bull winning the last two races and looking more competitive than expected at a long and fast track that should have favoured the Mercedes hybrid power unit.
Sunday's collision, with Hamilton retiring with a damaged car and Rosberg finishing second to take his overall lead to 29 points with seven races remaining, left Mercedes fighting fires on two fronts.
There have been spats and sparks between the drivers ever since it became apparent that they had the best car on the grid and were prepared to go wheel-to-wheel for the biggest prize in motorsport.
Hamilton rejected on Sunday a suggestion that they were always an accident waiting to happen, emphasising that it was an avoidable collision and they had plenty of experience, but Mercedes have certainly been bracing for it.
At Spa, with Rosberg's front wing slicing Hamilton's rear tyre as they battled for the lead on lap two, the moment arrived.
"Now we are at the point which we always discussed, no?," said Wolff, looking around at the scrum of reporters.
"Is it going to happen or not? An accident waiting to happen – it’s unacceptable. Racing accidents can happen, racing accidents among team mates shouldn’t happen. Racing accidents among team mates on lap number two of a 44-lap race with a dominant car should be a no-no-no.
"It's exactly that point which we hoped we would never reach."
Mercedes have had so many clear-the-air meetings already this season they could almost add them to their regular weekend programme and there will be a few more to come after Hamilton accused Rosberg of hitting him deliberately.
The incendiary comments dropped into the paddock like a match in a hay barn.
"We just had a meeting about it and he basically said he did it on purpose. He said he did it on purpose," the Briton told reporters.
"He said he could have avoided it. He said ‘I did it to prove a point’"
Wolff suggested that point was to show Hamilton he was prepared to hold his line, rather than any payback for previous incidents.
But with many in the paddock wondering whether the governing International Automobile Federation should investigate, Mercedes now have to restore order with a weight of media and public pressure on them.
Hamilton, in comments immediately after the race, doubted that Rosberg would receive any real sanction but that could also force their hand.
"It reminds me of when I was at school, the teachers will say something but they won't do anything. The stewards didn't do anything...so I am just going to have to push like hell," said the 2008 champion.
Wolff indicated in response that Rosberg could not expect to get off lightly.
"If Lewis has said that it’s going to be a slap on the wrist, and that there’s going to be no consequence, then he’s not aware of what consequences we can implement," he said.
"Today we’ve seen the limits of the slap on the wrist. Maybe the slap on the wrist is not enough."
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Pritha Sarkar)