Mercedes had a disastrous 2018 Formula 1 Austrian Grand Prix on Sunday with a double retirement due to mechanical issues after dominating Friday and Saturday at Red Bull Ring circuit.
It wasn’t the best of starts for pole-sitter Valtteri Bottas who conceded the lead to teammate Lewis Hamilton and had to fight back for a Mercedes one and two in the opening stages in the 71-lap race.
The Lap 13 though was the beginning of the mounting troubles for the German manufacturer. Bottas was forced to retire due to loss of hydraulic pressure – which was another missed chance for the Finn who hasn’t had much luck this season.
While Mercedes were coming into terms with Bottas’ failure, the subsequent VSC period ironically blew the team’s chances for a win as they mistakenly didn’t call Hamilton in when their immediate rivals Ferrari and Red Bull Racing double-stacked its drivers.
Strategist James Vowles repeatedly apologised for his mistake on the radio with Hamilton then forced to do a double stop, thereby conceding any chance of victory. However, a loss of fuel pressure on Lap 62 sealed the fate for the team.
It was Mercedes’ first double non-finish since the infamous 2016 Spanish Grand Prix – when Hamilton and Nico Rosberg collided. It was also the team’s first double DNF for mechanical reasons which has allowed Ferrari to take a 10 points lead in the championship.
Mercedes brought a new upgraded engine in Paul Ricard where Force India’s Sergio Perez faced an issue to retire and now with both the factory team drivers facing issues, it led to the question if the recent upgrades has anything to do with the retirements.
But Toto Wolff ruled out the case, further adding that they will continue to bring upgrades even though an investigation will follow. “We will continue to introduce upgrades to the power unit and to the chassis in order to push the development race,” he said.
“I am always worried [for any failures], [but] you need to strike the right balance between performance and reliability. We have to find out what happened but it wasn’t related to any performance updates.
“For me personally, [this was] one of the most painful days in motor racing. It is just very cruel in this sport sometimes when you are qualifying P1 and P2, you are running P1 and P2 [and then] you have no points at the end.”
Wolff explained that they kept Hamilton out thinking the VSC will last longer but it didn’t. They had half a lap to react but couldn’t take the call as they took a lot of time to ponder what Ferrari and Red Bull would do.
Defending Vowles and crediting the ‘guts’ of his team member, Wolff said that they quickly had to push Vowles to move ahead with the race and not think of what was done. “He was not in the good mindframe [after the mistake].
“We tried to get him out of that loop by saying this was our fault [and not his solely], don’t think about it [and that] there’s nothing we can do anymore. [We can] now [only] drive the car and get the best result possible.”
Both the drivers though put up a brave face in front of the media despite the hard feelings at the back of their mind. Hamilton, who lost his lead by one point to Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, said that the team can’t afford to ‘throw away points’ like that.
“This is definitely the worst weekend that I can remember for a long time,” he said. “Everyone in the team will be feeling pain today, but we’ve got to take out the positives of the weekend.
“The car has been great all weekend, we were quickest and we’ve had such great reliability for so many years. So as painful as it is, we have to take the rough with the smooth. I have every confidence in my team that we will be able to bounce back.
“We can’t throw away points, so we will have to find a bullet-proof method going forward. We will work on it and we will try to re-evaluate and come back stronger.” On the other hand, for Bottas, he dropped to sixth after yet another ‘unlucky’ race.
“The luck I’m having this year feels like a bit of a bad joke at the moment,” he said. My start was not ideal; I had quite a bit of wheel spin and there was less grip than we expected, so I dropped a few places.
“Going into Turn 3, I could recover two places and was back in second place. After that the car felt strong, we were running well, but then I suddenly experienced a loss of hydraulic pressure.
“There was nothing I could have done to prevent the DNF. We need to investigate and find the cause of the issues we had today, but I’m sure we will recover from this result. I guess it was just not meant to be today – but one day it will be.”