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Wolff defends Mercedes’ lead strategist after Austrian GP blunder

SPIELBERG, Austria — Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has jumped to the defence of the team’s head strategist after the call which cost Lewis Hamilton the lead of the Austrian Grand Prix.

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What had appeared set for a routine Mercedes victory soon turned into a nightmare for the world champions; Valtteri Bottas slowed to a halt with a hydraulics issue, before its pit wall failed to react to the subsequent Virtual Safety Car period. That meant Lewis Hamilton lost the lead when he stopped on schedule later in the race, dropping him down the order.

Hamilton was livid and spent much of the race questioning the decision over his race radio. Mercedes’ chief strategist, James Vowles, even came over the radio to personally apologise to the four-time world champion, saying: “I have thrown away the win today, but you have the opportunity to get back up… I’m sorry.”

As it turned out, Hamilton was unable to reverse the mistake and would later retire from the race when his car suffered a loss of fuel pressure.

Speaking after the race, Wolff said: “We made a mistake and what I think happened is that we were running one and two and controlling the race and suddenly you see Valtteri stopping with a hydraulic leak. The VSC came out, we had half a lap to react and we didn’t. Fact. This is where we lost the race.

“At that stage with the VSC, pitting is probably the 80 percent the thing you need to do. With one car out there against two others, the thinking process was what would happen if the others split their cars? If we pit Lewis would we come out behind Kimi Raikkonen or behind Max Verstappen and what would that mean for the race? I wouldn’t say it distracted us, but that thinking loop, we spent too much time on that.”

When asked why Vowles felt compelled to take full responsibility, Wolff said: “For Lewis he was leading the race comfortably, and then coming out in P4, it was a moment where he was really suffering. We thought it wasn’t all over, and we wanted to recover the maximum points that we could.

“At that stage we were all in pain at the mistake we made and James coming on to the radio is the mindset that we had to say that we have done a mistake in order to close the matter. And also to give Lewis the piece of mind that there is complete acknowledgement within the that it has gone wrong and it is our mistake – in order to make him park the thought.

It is not the first time in 2018 Mercedes’ strategy decisions have come under fire. In Australia it admitted making an error after a software issue meant it underestimated the chances of Sebastian Vettel overtaking Hamilton while pitting under a Virtual Safety Car, while it failed to mirror Red Bull’s winning strategy at the Chinese Grand Prix when a Safety Car was deployed with Bottas and Hamilton running first and third.

Wolff insists he has full faith in the team’s current set-up.

“We don’t need to make changes. The most important thing is to understand why an error happens and go back into the situation and analyse. I don’t think we’d make an error twice. “The situation is different this year, we are fighting, six cars, and that is just a tough situation.”

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