Mercedes backs strategist despite Austrian blunder

Lewis Hamilton leads Valtteri Bottas

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has thrown his support behind the team’s Chief Strategist James Vowles despite a costly error during the Austrian Formula 1 Grand Prix.

Running first on the road as team-mate Valtteri Bottas retired, Mercedes elected not to stop Lewis Hamilton under the resulting Virtual Safety Car.

It saw the Englishman drop to fourth when he eventually took service after both Ferraris and Red Bulls pitted under the VSC.

The decision not to bring Hamilton into the lane was made by Vowles, who later held his hand up to the mistake over team radio.

Wolff however has thrown his support behind his Chief Strategist, and rather than looking for a scapegoat says he is focused on refining the team’s processes under stress.

“We don’t need to make changes,” Wolff reasoned.

“The most important thing is to understand why an error happens, and go back into the situation and analyse it.

“I don’t think that we would make an error twice. It’s just that the situation is very complex, we are fighting six cars and it’s just a tough situation.

“For me, James is one of the best ever,” Wolff continued.

“It needs guts to come out and in order to save the best possible result go out there and say in front of millions of people and say, ‘That was my mistake, now you can still do this, with the car you have’.”

According to Wolff, having Vowles speak to Hamilton on the radio was intended to motivate their driver after the pit wall strategy call cost him the race lead.

“For Lewis, leading the race comfortably and coming out in P4, it was a moment where he was really suffering,” Wolff said.

“And 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 in pain about the mistake that we’d made.

“James coming onto the radio is the mindset that we have,” added Wolff.

“We are able to say that we’ve done a mistake and in order to close the matter, and also to give him peace of mind that there’s complete acknowledgement within the team that that has gone wrong, and it was our mistake, in order make him park the thought.

“It was about extracting what was left of performance in him, and helping him out of the mind loop of ‘how can this possibly have happened?’

“By admitting the mistake it’s easier to get yourself out of the spiral.”

Ultimately the error became insignificant when Hamilton was forced out of the race with a mechanical problem, his first retirement since the 2016 Malaysian Grand Prix.

The result saw Hamilton fall behind Sebastian Vettel in the drivers’ championship, with the Ferrari driver now holding a single point advantage in that competition.

Mercedes has also lost the advantage in the constructors’ championship, and now trails by Ferrari by  10 points courtesy of its double podium in Austria.

F1 continues its triple-header of races this weekend with the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, opening practice scheduled to begin at 1900 AEST on Friday.

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