Although Lewis Hamilton was not in the expiration zone half an hour later with a defective car and everything was out of order anyway, Mercedes had hardly any other topic after the Austrian Grand Prix on Sunday than the squandered boxing strategy of the World Champion. It was a chain of unfortunate circumstances that resulted in a great patsy. The anatomy of a wrong decision.
The disaster took its course when Hamilton’s stable mate Valtteri Bottas rolled out in the 14th round. Because the Finnish car was unfortunately parked at the roadside, the race guide opted for a virtual safety-car phase (VSC) at a time when Hamilton was just approaching the Remus curve, that is to say, about two kilometers away from the boxing entrance.
The silver arrows were in turmoil due to the Bottas Panne. Suddenly the second car just stops!”, Sports director Toto Wolff describes a state of mind characterized by shock, insecurity and hectic.” The VSC came and we stayed half a round to react.”As during the neutralization it is necessary to drive at 60 percent slower, no more than one minute.
But Mercedes seemed paralyzed. The only consideration the team had was to stay ahead of Sebastian Vettel in the second Ferrari. Hamilton’s WM rival at the time was only fifth and not a winner. With a delay of 13,2 seconds he would not have been a danger with or without a pit stop.
The engineers did not adjust their tactics to win the race. The beginning of the end. Another thought was about a possible split in the strategies of Ferrari and Red Bull. Because we only had one car on the track, but two competitors, we thought:’What if they come to the box with one of their cars?’, says Toto Wolff.
Mercedes came to the conclusion that Hamilton with a pit stop definitely behind the third-placed Kimi rackets (delay: 9, One second) would fall back and possibly behind Daniel Ricciardo in fourth place. Even a tire change under the VSC would have taken too long. More time for reflection was not allowed and Hamilton was not on the track.
A pit stop would have been the right decision.” We didn’t do it. Period. This is where we lost the race,”Wolff admits in retrospect. Finally, Mercedes gave the opportunity “inexpensive” to stop and roll the top group either against cars with worse tires from behind (if the competition had not stopped) or to stay comfortably in the lead (if the competition had stopped as it did).
Only the distance to Vettel matched
The bitter reality: Ricciardo and Ricciardo lost only seven seconds on Hamilton during the tyre change and were able to keep the lag constant after re-release with fresh tires. Meanwhile, the super soft tires broke into Hamilton’s house. When he could no longer turn away from the box in Round 27, Ricciardo and the king of the line were 16,1 and 17,9 seconds respectively back. Only against Vettel (21,8 seconds delay) everything fit as calculated.
On square four and without any strategic option (all teams were planning to jump-in strategies) the victory was futile –Hamilton knew that. Mercedes would only have to rely on his own statistics to make the right decision.” In this race phase it is right to stop under VSC in about 80 percent of the cases,”says Wolff. And so it was on Sunday.
Wolff argues with tire problems
The sports director is convinced that his pilot with a guided tour after the boxing stop would not have had the same tire problems that later forced him to make a second change: “It was ten degrees Celsius warmer than announced, but I think, That all the cars with bubbles attacked. We drove full throttle and thus overheated the surface of the tyre.”
Means: Hamilton could not spare his tyres with free ride at will, but had to try to overtake the roller-coaster in front of him on the track. It was poison for the gums. Especially since Ferrari was less affected by the phenomenon than Mercedes and was thus not in trouble.” We did not expect this at all,”says Wolff.
He speaks of a”huge wake-up call”for the team, but the chief strategist James Vowles, who was in charge of the team, probably did not face any personal consequences”although he already made 2018 decisions in Australia and China that may have cost Hamilton races.” No, we don’t have to change anything,”says Wolff. It is more important to analyze and understand your own carvers. I don’t think we’d make a mistake for the second time.”