Mercedes lost the lead in both the Formula 1 constructors’ and drivers’ championships with a shocking double retirement at the Austrian Grand Prix — the team’s first double retirement for mechanical reasons since the Italian Grand Prix in 1955.
The retirements came following a dominant Lewis Hamilton victory in France and with the reigning champion heading the early stages on Sunday at the Red Bull Ring.
However, everything started to unravel on lap 14 when Valtteri Bottas exited the race from second place courtesy of a hydraulic problem which caused the gearbox to fail.
In the ensuring virtual safety car period, Ferrari and Red Bull cars pitted but Mercedes didn’t.
According to Mercedes, the team left both of its drivers out in case Ferrari or Red Bull left a driver out on track who would act as a roadblock for race-leader Hamilton.
When Hamilton eventually pitted outside fo the safety car period, he came out in fourth place between the two Ferrari’s. This outcome eventually led to chief strategist James Vowles coming on the team radio to apologize to Hamilton, saying that it was his decision that had lost the race, not anything that Hamilton had done.
The next — and bigger — problem was tire wear. With temperatures much higher than at any other point across the weekend, the tires were suffering badly. Mercedes, which in recent years has often been heavy on its tires, was among those worst affected.
Hamilton was forced into a second stop, but his race went just a handful of laps further before he appeared to suffer a similar failure to Bottas.
“There are things you can do to override decisions from the pit wall,” Hamilton told Sky Sports when asked about the decision not to pit under the virtual safety car. “If they call you in you can choose to stay out but ultimately the guys on the pit wall you have to put 100 percent confidence and faith in them. They have a much better … they have the picture.
“All I can see is the guy in front of me and the guy behind me and actually at the time, I was in the lead. I couldn’t see where they were so in those circumstances you have to rely fully on the guy who’s on the pit wall. We’ve got to definitely work hard to try to understand where we’ve gone wrong on both ends. I know everyone in the team will be feeling pain today, but we’ve got to take out the positives from this weekend in that we were the quickest, we should have won.”
Hamilton’s retirement is his first in 33 Grand Prix stretching back to Malaysia in 2016. In all 33 Grand Prix since then, Hamilton had finished inside the points and set a new record for consecutive points finishes.