MERCEDES MUDDLE LEAVES DRIVER LAGGING BEHIND WINNING FERRARI
It’s rare to see a Formula One podium these days without a Mercedes driver standing on top, and rarer still to have the team arguing in public over the strategic errors which led to its defeat by Ferrari.
The team was chiefly undone at the weekend by the heat in Sepang, Malaysia, which degraded its tyres more quickly than those on the Ferrari cars.
However, it was also left to rue two bad decisions: pitting behind the safety car while Sebastian Vettel stayed out, and having only hard tyres available for Lewis Hamilton in the final stint of the race instead of the quicker medium-compound rubber.
Team principal Toto Wolff was contrite after the race, describing the grand prix as “the wake-up call that we needed”.
“It is going to make us work harder and concentrate even more,” Wolff said.
“It’s easy to be clever after the race, looking at things we could have done better and there are certainly plenty of points that could have been optimised. But we take these decisions together as a team and this is the moment to stay calm, do our analysis and learn what we can improve for next time. It was a complicated race for the team to read — and for the drivers, too.”
Ferrari crew give Vettel the thumbs-up after his win.
It was not too complicated for Hamilton, who was clear in his mind that he needed medium-compound tyres for the closing laps. Soon after being fitted with another set of the hard tyres, he radioed back: “This is the wrong tyre, man.”
He was told in reply that the only set of medium tyres left were from Friday’s practice, which the team had unwisely and unnecessarily used.
After further confusing Hamilton by mistakenly playing him some team radio communication mulling over another stop, the last straw came when he was being advised of the strategy for catching the Ferrari ahead.
“Man, don’t talk to me during corners, I nearly went off,” Hamilton shouted back.
Although the inquest will continue as to why the team pitted behind the safety car, the verdict was already in: racing director Paddy Lowe said the decision was wrong: “With hindsight, the advantage this gave to Ferrari on their two-stop strategy, and the time we lost in traffic in the first laps after the safety car, left us with a gap to Sebastian that proved too much of a challenge for us to recover.”