FORMULA ONE has exploded into civil war over Lewis Hamilton’s secret weapon.
On DAY ONE of F1’s eagerly-awaited return from its coronavirus suspension, Red Bull lodged an official protest over the controversial driver aid on the British world champ’s Mercedes.
The protest over Merc’s dual-axis system — which helps the car go quicker round corners — came after a blazing row between Merc chief Toto Wolff and Red Bull boss Christian Horner.
Hamilton arrived in the paddock here in Spielberg wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the words “End racism” and a giant chain and padlock around his neck in an undoubted reference to slavery.
But as F1 took to the track under the slogan “We Race As One” to promote unity, on the pitwall they were at each other’s throats.
Last night, Mercedes bosses were hauled in to see the stewards about the DAS on Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas’ cars that adjusts the front tyres.
While DAS was rubber-stamped by the sport’s governing body, the FIA, at pre-season testing in Barcelona, leading teams are still unhappy.
Wolff had pleaded with Horner not to protest for the sake of the sport’s return but Red Bull believe it is illegal.
Horner said: “It’s a very clever system. All credit to the ingenuity behind it but the fundamental question for us is does it comply with the regulations in what is a fundamentally grey area?
“We want clarity on it — it does have an impact regarding the rest of this year.
“It’s something that’s been outlawed for next year. But the question is, is it right for this year? So these are the questions we’ll be asking of the FIA.”
Red Bull were considering a protest back in March but the cancellation of the Australian GP put paid to that.
However, after seeing Hamilton and Bottas dominate both yesterday’s practice sessions ahead of tomorrow’s Austrian opener they demanded answers.
Wolff declared: “All teams are aware we are in a sensitive situation with going racing.
“It’s the first race. On one side, it’s fair enough to seek clarification but on the other side we are aware we don’t want to end up with a big debate on Sunday.
“I think Christian is going to take the right actions. Controversy and different judgment on engineering innovation has always been a part of Formula One and it’s part of the risk.
“We think we are on the right side. There was a lot of talking with the FIA.
“That is the reason we have it on the car, so we will both bring our arguments forward and let’s see.”
While the Mercedes chief was slugging it out with Red Bull, he also took a swipe at the FIA over their private settlement with Ferrari regarding the legality of its engine last year.
Astonishingly, the FIA said in February they reached an agreement with the Italian team that would remain a secret after questions were raised about its performance.
Seven teams weighed up legal action and Wolff is now ready to go back for a second crack.
He said: “We are not happy about last year. It has stretched all of us to a point to be competitive against Ferrari, where it was difficult to cope.
“Let’s wait and see how the season starts and get going, and we will then re-assess for ourselves and probably with the other guys where it stands.”
Questions are also being asked about the legality of Racing Point’s car that looks to have borrowed ideas from last year’s Merc.
F1’s rules say teams must produce parts themselves as a constructor but there is some feeling that the team have simply copied the homework of the champions.
Meanwhile, Ferrari boss Mattia Binotto says the team let Sebastian Vettel go because of the coronavirus.
Vettel, 33 yesterday, dropped the bombshell on Thursday when he said he was stunned to learn that he would not be offered a new contract after being dumped on the phone by Binotto.
It means the four-time world champion could be forced out of F1 when his deal expires at the end of the season.
Binotto said: “He would have been our first choice but the virus changed the entire world.
“The budget cap has been changed, the regulations have been postponed from 2021 to 2022 which was important for us.
“The season had not started, so there was no opportunity for Seba to prove how motivated he was to drive for Ferrari, which has been unfortunate for him.”