The Austrian Grand Prix turned from a ideal front row lockout by the Mercedes on Saturday to a double DNF on Sunday. Valtteri Bottas took pole and Lewis Hamilton qualified second. At the start of the race, Bottas slipped down while Hamilton took lead. Just as Bottas managed to climb to second position, he had retire his car following a hydraulics failure.
Bottas’ retirement triggered a Virtual Safety Car which led to every front runner pitting except for Hamilton. When Hamilton did pit, he was fourth and everyone ahead of him weren’t going to stop for the rest of the race. Furious Hamilton bashed the team as they were caught napping.
Although Hamilton retired a few laps later due to falling fuel pressure, it became the talk of the town as to how Mercedes could do something so silly like this. Now Toto Wolff has come out in defense justifying what went through the team that they decided not to call Lewis Hamilton into the pits.
We’ve just discussed it, and what I think happened was we were running one and two and controlling the race, and suddenly you see your second car stopping,” he recalled.
“The VSC came out, we had half a lap to react, and we didn’t. Fact. This is where we lost the race.
“At that stage of the race with the VSC, pitting is probably 80% the thing you need to do. With one car out there against two others, the thinking process that happened was, ‘What would happen if the others pitted [only] a car?’.
“We would come out behind Kimi, because they would 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.”
“I guess that was a major wake-up call,” said Wolff. “For me, the most painful day in my years at Mercedes, worse than Barcelona.