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 (VSC) and lost the race because of it.

Hamilton was in control before teammate 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.

"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 (Raikkonen of Ferrari) if they leave Kimi out, and behind Max (Verstappen of Red Bull). 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 (in 2016).

"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.

"It doesn't get more cruel for us."

Neither of the team's cars made it to the chequered flag in a race Mercedes were expected to win with comfort to spare having locked out the front row.

Hamilton's retirement was his first in 34 races since the 2016 Malaysia GP and brings to an end the longest run of points-scoring finishes in F1 history.

"This is definitely the worst weekend that I can remember for a long time," said Hamilton.

Earlier, he blew up when he knew his race was over. "I don't get it guys, I just don't," Hamilton fumed. "I'm not going to be able to pass these guys, we've just thrown away a win."


Bottas exited on lap 15 while Hamilton's race ended with seven laps remaining when his car lost fuel pressure.

The race had already turned ugly for Hamilton after the team mistakenly failed to pit their driver under the Virtual Safety Car triggered by Bottas' retirement.

The blunder meant that while Max Verstappen, Sebastian Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen and Daniel Ricciardo all enjoyed a cheap Virtual Safety Car, Hamilton had to take a "full-fat" pit-stop with the extra 10 or so seconds of lost lap time demoting the aggrieved Mercedes driver from first to fourth.

"I have thrown away the win," Mercedes strategist James Vowles radioed Hamilton. "It's my mistake."

The Silver Arrows suffered a horror fall from grace.
The Silver Arrows suffered a horror fall from grace.

Vowles' honesty drew immediate praise from the Sky Sports F1 commentary team.

But Hamilton's frustration was then compounded when he was overtaken by world championship rival Vettel shortly before the new-spec engine which Mercedes introduced at the Canadian GP three weeks ago failed.

"Ultimately the guys on the pit wall, you have to put 100 per cent confidence and faith in them," said Hamilton.

"They have the full picture. All I can see is a guy in front of me and a guy behind me, I don't really know … actually, at the time I was in the lead and I couldn't see where they were.

"In those circumstances you have to fully rely on the guys on the pit wall. We've got to definitely work hard to understand where we have gone wrong on both ends. I know everyone in the team will be feeling pain but we've got to take out the positives this weekend.

"Ultimately we were the quickest, we should have won, so we've got to keep working hard."

Asked if he retained full confidence in the team, Hamilton replied: "Of course."

Hamilton's retirement brought a dramatic conclusion to a race which had started with Mercedes seemingly set for a straightforward cruise to victory after Hamilton built up a comfortable lead from pole-sitter Bottas through the early stages.

But Mercedes' race unravelled on lap 15 when Bottas' car suffered a sudden failure, condemning the luckless Finn to his second retirement of the season.

"It is what it is, there's nothing we can do about it," said Hamilton. "We move forwards. I'm looking forward to getting the car back and trying to understand what the problem is and the guys will all be working hard to rectify it and make sure it doesn't happen again."

This article first appeared on Sky Sports and was republished with permission