In the closing stages of the Japanese Grand Prix, Mercedes decided to use team orders to ask George Russell to move over for Lewis Hamilton.
At the time Lewis was running in P6, George in P5 and Carlos Sainz in P7. Lewis was was on a different strategy and much fresher tyres than George, but the younger Briton suggested to Mercedes that they keep Lewis behind him until the last lap, so that he can protect him from Sainz, who also had a tyre advantage.
Mercedes declined and asked George to let Lewis through. Although Toto Wolff was absent from the Suzuka track, because he had to undergo a knee operation, several news sources claim they learned it was Wolff who made the final decision to use team orders.
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“The Race understands it was Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff who ultimately ruled that Russell let Hamilton through in the closing stages when the strategists were debating whether to order a reversal of the cars or agree to Russell’s request that Hamilton stay behind until the last lap so they could resist Carlos Sainz’s Ferrari together,” wrote The Race’s Josh Suttill and Scott Mitchell-Malm.
The same information was also confirmed by Planet F1.
“During those tense moments with Russell pleading his case, PlanetF1.com understands it was Wolff who made the final call to get Hamilton in front of Russell and try to stay clear of Sainz – clearly fearing the Ferrari managing to get past both cars,” wrote Planet F1’s Thomas Maher.
It this information is correct, it is definitely not surprising that the top of Mercedes’ command chain had to be involved in such a delicate decision.