Triple world champion Lewis Hamilton and teammate Nico Rosberg will be given more freedom to race each other this season, Mercedes motorsport head Toto Wolff says.
“We owe it to them and we owe it to Formula One to let them race. The ride will be a bit more difficult for the team sometimes but I think that is absolutely necessary,” the Austrian told reporters in Germany.
The two have been title rivals for the past two years, with Hamilton coming out on top, and Wolff has had to bang heads together at times when the heat of battle risked damaging the dominant team.
Speaking at a Mercedes pre-season event in Stuttgart, Wolff explained the team would be taking a more relaxed approach to a rivalry that has veered from frosty silence to heated exchanges.
“In 2014 we won the championship and we confirmed that it wasn’t a one-off in 2015. But in order to contain that we tried to put a framework around that. Sometimes it functions, sometimes it doesn’t,” he said.
“We learned some interesting lessons and we improved as an organisation. With Nico and Lewis, we have been together for a couple of years. It functions pretty well.”
Hamilton, 31, can become Britain’s first quadruple champion this year but Rosberg, 30, is likely to be his closest challenger.
The German won the last three races of 2015, after Hamilton had clinched the title, and also ended the season with six successive pole positions.
Hamilton questioned the team’s strategy in some of those races.
Wolff doubted the atmosphere between the drivers would be any different to last season when Mercedes won all but three races.
He also pointed out the regulations would also help, with the team not allowed to assist drivers over the radio or offer as much guidance as in the past in order to make the racing less predictable.
Hamilton expects a “real battle” once the season starts in Australia next week and says closest rivals Ferrari have stepped up their game.