F1: Mercedes back team after Lewis Hamilton strategy error
Toto Wolff backs team to learn from Austria strategy error and bounce back at Silverstone
By James Galloway and Matt Morlidge in Spielberg
Last Updated: 10/12/18 12:15pm
Mercedes have ruled out making changes to their strategy team in the wake of the "painful" Austrian GP which cost them leadership of both F1 world title races.
For the third time this season, the reigning world champions were caught out by rivals during a Virtual, or full, Safety Car period with then-race leader Lewis Hamilton the only leading car not to pit for fresh tyres under a VSC on lap 15.
Mercedes' chief strategist James Vowles apologised to Hamilton over the radio after he dropped to fourth, with the Englishman's pain eventually compounded by his first race retirement in 34 races when unreliability struck his car.
But Toto Wolff, Mercedes' team principal, insisted afterwards: "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 that we would make an error twice, it's just the situation is very different this year, and very complex.
"We are fighting six cars and it's just a tough situation."
Wolff gave a detailed explanation after Sunday's race as to the team's thinking in the moments after the Virtual Safety Car phase was initiated to recover Valtteri Bottas' Mercedes after it pulled off the circuit with a hydraulics fault.
After losing three positions by the time he pitted nine laps later, a perplexed Hamilton said the team had "thrown away the win" to which Vowles replied: "I have thrown away the win, but you have the potential opportunity to get back up".
Explaining Vowles' messages, Wolff said: "For Lewis leading the race comfortably and coming out in P4, it was a moment when he was really suffering. We thought that it wasn't all over. We wanted to recover the maximum points that we could and at that stage we were all paying for the mistake that we made and James coming onto the radio is the mindset we are having.
"We are able to say that we've done a mistake and in order to give him peace of mind, show that there's complete acknowledgement within the team that that has gone wrong, it's our mistake.
"In order to make him park the thought, it was about extracting the performance within him and helping him out of the mind loop of how this could have possibly happened. By admitting the mistake, it's easier to get out of that spiral.
"For me, James is one of the best ever and it needs guts to come out, in order to save the best result, in front of millions of people and say that was my mistake, but you can still do this with the tyres you have."
Mercedes aim to bounce back at British GP
With one leg of F1's first-ever triple header to come, Mercedes have an immediate opportunity to put the unusually troubled events of Austria behind them in the Northamptonshire-based team's home race at Silverstone.
Mercedes have won an unprecedented five British GPs in succession and Wolff says the team share the same mindset as their world champion driver heading into this weekend.
Wolff revealed: "Lewis came on the radio and said, 'I don't know how many are listening in Brixworth and Brackley, but I cannot remember when I last had a DNF. This team has had the best reliability over the last years, this team has had by far the best car and is by far the best team I have driven for. We need to recover from this but I am in no doubt that we'll come back strong.' That is his mindset.
"We have to analyse what went wrong, try to not do it again, try to understand how we can best avoid it and then get our mind back to Silverstone, and race as good as we can there."
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Mercedes' 2018 tactical errors
Australian GP: Mercedes and Hamilton lost a race they appeared to have well won when a glitch in their timing systems underestimated the driver's vulnerability to a Virtual Safety Car. Leading the race comfortably from pole, Hamilton had already made his one pit stop under normal racing conditions and was running second on the road to Vettel, who had yet to stop and was running an extended opening stint. But the appearance of the VSC when Romain Grosjean's Haas stopped on track changed all of that. While Hamilton was forced to drive at a controlled speed on the track, Vettel was able to pit, run at normal speed in the pit lane, and re-emerge on to the circuit in the lead of a race he went on to win.
Chinese GP: In Shanghai, it was a full Safety Car that wrecked a race which was heading Mercedes' way, this time with Valtteri Bottas. Red Bull, running third and fifth at the time, stopped their two drivers for fresh soft tyres, whereas the rest of the leading runners remained on mediums. Hamilton had been between Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo on the track and could also have been pulled in to the pits but Mercedes suspected there would not be much difference between the two compounds, so prioritised keeping track position. However, Ricciardo was able to scythe through from fifth on his fresh rubber and overtook Bottas for victory with 11 laps to go. Hamilton slipped to fifth on the road, although was promoted back up to fourth when Verstappen was penalised for hitting Vettel.
Austrian GP: Mercedes' chief strategist James Vowles apologised to Hamilton over the radio for failing to pit the then-race leader under the Virtual Safety Car in an error that dropped the world champion to fourth. Toto Wolff conceded "we had half a lap to react, and we didn't" as the team's pit wall frantically tried to calculate how their rivals behind might play it. As it happened, Red Bull and Ferrari both double-stacked their cars and Mercedes were left to look flat-footed.