Mercedes made no attempt to gloss over their mistakes during the Austrian Grand Prix in a race where it all went wrong for the Formula 1 world champions but they are determined to get their act together for Lewis Hamilton’s home race at Silverstone this weekend.
Hamilton’s first DNF since October 2016 ended a run of 33 successive races in the points and while it was bound to come one day it still hurt for a champion whose car has been relentlessly reliable.
The fact that Valtteri Bottas was also sidelined after starting on pole position at a venue where Mercedes had not been beaten since the Red Bull Ring came back on the calendar in 2014 added to the pain.
“We don’t have any excuses,” chief engineer Andrew Shovlin said after the double retirement dealt the team their worst day, mechanically, since returning as a constructor in 2010.
“We weren’t reliable enough, we didn’t make the right strategy call, our starts weren’t good enough and we didn’t manage the tyres as well as we could have done.”
With Ferrari now leading the constructors’ championship and Sebastian Vettel ahead of Hamilton in the drivers’ standings by one point, the Mercedes factory in Brackley will be on red alert.
Mercedes will pull out all the stops now to produce the ‘bullet-proof’ reliability and strategy calls that their four-times world champion, a winner for the past four years at Silverstone, demands.
Team boss Toto Wolff said that the race in his homeland was a wake-up call but the upgraded engine, which took Hamilton to victory in France a weekend before Austria, was not to blame at least, “None of the issues on the car had anything to do with the reliability of the engine.”
“We had a hydraulic leak linked to the steering on Valtteri’s car, and we had a drop in fuel pressure on Lewis’s car which was linked to the fuel system. So no regrets in introducing the (new) engine.”
The bigger problem was the strategy call, in keeping Hamilton out on track once a virtual safety car had been called following Bottas’s retirement.
Mercedes had half a lap to react and while others came in for fresh tyres, Hamilton stayed out.
It was not the first time this season that Mercedes had been caught out, with a season-opening win in Australia also slipping through Hamilton’s fingers in similar circumstances and this time the apology was very public.
Chief strategist James Vowles, his words relayed to a global audience of millions over the team radio, took full responsibility and said his mistake had thrown away the win.
“We are able to say we have done a mistake,” said Wolff. “For me, James is one of the best ever and it needs guts to go out there in front of millions of people and say that was my mistake.”
“We have to analyse what went wrong, try to not do it again, and try to understand how we can best avoid it and get our mind back to Silverstone and race as good as we can there.”
“We don´t need to make changes. The most important is to understand why an error happens and go back into the situation and analyse. I don´t think we would make an error twice,” added Wolff.