Austrian GP: Mercedes 'didn't react' to VSC and cost Lewis Hamilton the race, admits Toto Wolff
Merc were too busy thinking about consequences of pit-stop, says Wolff; "It was my most painful day at Mercedes," says team chief.
By Matt Morlidge at the Red Bull Ring
Last Updated: 10/12/18 12:20pm
A downbeat Toto Wolff has sought to explain how Mercedes made their mistake with Lewis Hamilton's strategy at the Austrian GP, claiming the world champions "didn't react" to the Virtual Safety Car and lost the race because of it.
Hamilton was in control before Valtteri Bottas' stoppage brought out the VSC on lap 15, but while Red Bull and Ferrari brought their cars into the pits to take advantage, Mercedes opted to keep their leading driver out.
The decision, which meant Hamilton's next stop dropped him to fourth, led to heated radio messages from the Englishman, who later retired with a fuel issue as Max Verstappen won a chaotic race.
"We made a mistake," Mercedes boss Wolff told reporters in Spielberg. "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."
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.
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"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."
Mercedes brought their new '2.1' spec engine to Austria for its second race, but Wolff believes neither retirement had anything to do with the upgrade.
Losing both cars from the race has seen Ferrari leapfrog Mercedes in both the constructors' and drivers' standings, with Sebastian Vettel now leading Hamilton by a single point.
It was the teams' first double DNF since the 2016 Spanish GP, but also their first double mechanical retirement in more than 60 years.
"I guess that was a major wake-up call," Wolff added. "For me it was my most painful day at Mercedes, worse than Barcelona .
"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."