Toto Wolff went through why Mercedes didn’t spot the pitlane closed message in F1 Italian GP as Lewis Hamilton takes blame of it.
When Hamilton first peeled off for the pit lane when his fellow competitor, Kevin Magnussen, had a mechanical issue and had to pull over to the side of the track, thus bringing out a safety car, there was confusion as to why his rivals at the front of the pack – or any other cars, save for Antonio Giovinazzi, for that matter – didn’t pit.
This confusion, though, was quick to dissipate when closer attention was paid to the FIA’s communication service, which stated that the pit lane was closed simultaneously with the bringing out of the safety car as Magnussen was parked at the entrance.
This then brought about a new discussion about action the FIA might take to reprimand Hamilton and Mercedes, and ultimately, they handed out a 10-second stop-go penalty, which demoted him to last place when he served it shortly the second restart.
There remained some confusion, though, as to how Mercedes – a team at the top of F1 – could make such a blunder, when teams were notified of the pits closing, and there was signage on the outside of Turn 11, visible from Hamilton’s cockpit, that made clear that the entrance was closed and he and Wolff explained the troubles.
“It was a very weird sequence of events,” said Wolff. “There was a car parked to the right with a single yellow, and ten seconds later, the safety car was deployed. [It was] highly unusual. Normally they deploy a safety car if a F1 car is in a thousand lego bits in some corner, but that wasn’t the case. They could have pushed it back easily.
“Or, you deploy a virtual safety car, in such a situation. So a safety car was deployed – I don’t know why – and at the same time, the pit lane was closed. We as a team, we didn’t know the pit lane was closed. We were all concentrating for the stop, bringing the mechanics out, the engineers are turned facing the pit lane. And then one of our engineers at base, spotted on page four of the FIA communications system that it said ‘Pit lane closed’.
“We don’t see any of the orange crosses on the outside that say you can’t enter, there was no red light you could see. So very unlucky, and Lewis – these yellow, and orange crosses on the exit [of Parabolica], not flashing – you as a driver see the car on the right, you’re just about to pit, and you can’t see. But the penalty is what it is, we need to look at the sequence of events and discuss with the Sporting Director and the stewards how we can improve such situations,” Wolff summed up, before offering up some constructive criticism on the system used for notifying teams and drivers of such a situation.
“I think, these funny crosses on the outside [of Parabolica], they should be red, first of all. Maybe they should be blinking, because the driver has his mind already on the pit stop. And then on the pit lane entry – like we have had for the past 50 years – put a damn light that’s red! [That way,] if a driver comes, they’ll say ‘there’s a red light’, and then they won’t enter. Why make things complicated if they can be easy?” Wolff added on behalf of Mercedes.
Hamilton took responsibility for not noticing the digital signs on the outside of the track, as he partly contributed to the blunderbuss act on the way to his eventual seventh-place finish. “You rely a lot on the team to tell you things,” he said to media including Racefans.net, Motorsport Network, BBC, Reuters and more.
“When you’re approaching a corner, it’s generally relatively easy to see, but when you’re cornering, you’re looking, if you’re going through a right, you’re not looking left. You’re looking over to the right and you’re gauging the gap between you and the white line, so your view is kind of centre to the right. You’re not necessarily looking to the left.
“Naturally also when there’s a car that’s pulled over on the right-hand side, you’re conscious of the people, the marshals, generally that’s the area you look to. You don’t look to the left. And generally I don’t remember any time coming here that that was the indicator for the pit lane closing. I’ve never actually known that would be on the left.
“That was a new experience. I’m generally quite unsure why they pushed the car from that spot which they could have pushed the car back into. Why the hell did they push it? I know why, but I don’t understand why they took that decision necessarily, because that wasn’t needed. But anyways, we didn’t do a good job necessarily with the pit stop. Honestly, I didn’t see those boards so I take responsibility for that. Something to learn from.”
The penalty, though, was a hard pill to take for Hamilton as he headed out to see the stewards during the red flag period. It was not clear at first if he actually did but it was later on confirmed that he did but he did not see the FIA Race Director Michael Masi. He only saw the stewards and after which he was fine.
“I just came back, spoke to the team, they didn’t have any video, and I just wanted to see what had been missed, because I could have sworn on the entry to the pit lane there was no red light,” explained Hamilton. “It wasn’t to see Michael, it was to see the other stewards who made the decisions with penalties. They just quickly showed me the onboard, and there were two signs that had an X on it. I actually didn’t see them, because I was looking elsewhere. Then there was not really much more for me to do, so I just left, went back, got changed, and that’s ultimately why I was a little bit late to the grid.”
Hamilton was not the only one to be penalised as mentioned above. Giovinazzi fell into the same trap which the Italian said, they are looking as to what happened. “We will need to investigate how the situation that led to the stop and go unfolded,” he said. “In the moments after a safety car is called, everything happens really quickly and you react to what’s happening around you: I was just focused on getting back to the pits. Afterwards, I was too far back to do anything, but this is racing.”
Here’s the video sequence which led to penalty: https://www.formula1.com/en/video/2020/9/2020_Italian_Grand_Prix__Hamilton_pit_lane_penalty_puts_race_win_in_doubt.html
Here’s how F1 Italian GP panned out
Here’s Toto Wolff on speaking with Christian Horner