Hungarian GP: Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton defend late swap
"This spirit has made us win three championships and it will make us win more," says Wolff; Hamilton insists he is a "man of his word" after letting Bottas through; But was it the right call?
By Matt Morlidge
Last Updated: 01/08/17 9:05pm
Toto Wolff admitted Lewis Hamilton could "lose a championship" after letting Valtteri Bottas pass him at the end of the Hungarian GP.
But the Silver Arrows chief has insisted Mercedes did the right thing by swapping their two drivers on the last lap.
Sebastian Vettel's title lead would have only been 11 points if Hamilton remained in third place but the Briton, who was waved through by Bottas to attack the Ferraris earlier in the race, essentially let go of three points by allowing his team-mate to overtake him at the final corner.
And though Wolff conceded that the call, which he described as one of the "most difficult" in his time as Mercedes team boss, played to Ferrari and race-winner Vettel's advantage, he was adamant the decision was right.
"We could lose a championship because of those three points," Wolff told Sky Sports F1 after the race. "But this spirit has made us win three championships and it will make us win more.
"We did it with full consciousness. This is the ethos that we have not only on track, not only with the drivers, but also with the team."
And Hamilton also defended the decision, insisting he wanted to honour the promise made when Bottas was told he would be given the position back if Hamilton couldn't pass the Ferraris.
"It's tough in the championship but I'm a man of my word," the three-time world champion said. "I did say that if I can't overtake them I would let him back through.
"Slowing down seven seconds was tough and I was nervous of losing a place to [Max] Verstappen but fortunately I didn't."
Indeed, the action was made harder by the fact Red Bull's Max Verstappen had closed to within a second of Bottas in the closing stages, meaning Hamilton could have slipped down to fifth with the late position swap.
"It's one of the most difficult calls we had to make in the last couple of years because Verstappen was so close to Valtteri that we couldn't possibly know that it would work," Wolff explained. "But we took the risk because it is important to stick to your word.
"Maybe one day somebody will say we were naive in Budapest and that's why we lost the championship, but I still believe that the values are important on which you operate, and we stand by those."
The late order over team radio came as a surprise, particularly as Ferrari refused to make a similar call by letting Kimi Raikkonen overtake a slowing Vettel as he struggled with a steering issue.
Admirable by Mercedes and ultimately Hamilton to hand the place back to Bottas. But with overall pace and Ferrari's tactics it made no sense— Martin Brundle (@MBrundleF1) July 30, 2017
But Wolff said Bottas was owed the position back after moving aside for Hamilton, and praised both drivers.
"It plays to [Ferrari's] advantage but at the moment this is the way we want to continue," he added.
"If there was a situation after the European races where one driver has a clear advantage and the other one hasn't, we would make that call also. It is just by now both have a real chance of the championship and we don't want to take it away.
"Valtteri moved over because we told him we were going to reverse and that's what Lewis did. I really have to take my hat off to both of them."
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