Mercedes chief Toto Wolff and his team have taken responsibility for making a glaring mistake that may have cost them victory in a tense Austrian Grand Prix and admits that the double-DNF at Red Bull Ring is a wake-up call for the world champions.
Speaking to reporters after the race in which both Mercedes cars failed to finish due to technical issues, a scenario that last played out for the team at the 1955 Italian Grand Prix when two Silver Arrows were sidelined by mechanical issues.
After the race in Spielberg, Wolff was typically candid when he told reporters, “I guess that was a major wake-up call. For me, it was my most painful day at Mercedes, worse than Barcelona.”
That day, in 2016, Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton collided on the first lap of the Spanish Grand Prix, that day it was also an all silver front row.
The Mercedes team chief added, “This is exactly how motor racing can go, it can be very, very cruel. I think we had all the cruelty go against us today and it just got us brutally.”
“We made a mistake. What I think happened is that we were running one and two and controlling the race and then suddenly you see your second car, 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.”
It was a terse communication between Hamilton and the pitwall that eventually elicited an apology for the strategy gaffe from the team’s chief strategist James Vowles live with millions of witnesses..
Going into the detail about the thinking behind the call, which chief strategist James Vowles took responsibility for, Wolff continued: “At that stage of the race with the VSC, pitting is probably the 80 per cent thing you need to do.
Nevertheless, Wolff explained, “But with one car out there against two others, the thinking process was: What would happen if the others would split the cars? If we pit Lewis, we would come out behind Kimi if they leave Kimi out, and behind Max. What would that mean for the race? That whole thinking loop, I wouldn’t say distracted us, but we spent too much time on that.”
It was an expensive afternoon for Mercedes as Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel has regained top spot in the standings after nine rounds, while the Reds now top the constructors’ standings with a ten point lead heading to the final leg of the triple-header at Silverstone next weekend.
Big Question: Have too many years of dominance turned Mercedes ‘soft’ on strategy?