Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff faced the music with Formula 1 fans on Tuesday, May 26 on Twitter after the mix-up in pit stop strategy cost his pole-sitter, race leader, and current World Champion driver Lewis Hamilton to lose a win of the Monaco Grand Prix on Sunday, May 24. A mistake on the part of the team brought Hamilton in for a pit stop late in the race, allowing his teammate Nico Rosberg to get out in front, followed by Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel right behind him. The error not only cost Hamilton the win he deserved for leading the race from pole the entire time but his third place on the podium also changed the dynamic between him and his teammate in the overall drivers’ championship standings.
Hamilton must have had a moment of second-guessing his famed signing of a three-year renewal on his contract with Mercedes just days before when the team made such a consequential mistake on his first race after signing. Showing his displeasure over the poor call, he brought his Formula 1 car in after the race, knocking over the third place sign. He also looked down at the ground through the podium ceremony and did not take part in the ritualistic sharing of champagne. He did, however, answer questions and kept his composure for both the podium interview and the post-race press conference. For his part, though conceding he had “just a lot of luck” at Monaco, Nico Rosberg’s first place gave him three Monaco Grand Prix wins in a row, a feat achieved only by Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna, and Graham Hill before him.
According to Formula 1, in the press conference, Hamilton explained how things looked to him in regard to the pit stop: “I can’t really express the way I feel at the moment. So I won’t even attempt to,” he said. “You rely on the team. I saw a screen, it looked like the team was out and I thought that Nico had pitted. Obviously I couldn’t see the guys behind so I thought the guys behind were pitting. The team said to stay out, I said ‘these tires are going to drop in temperature,’ and what I was assuming was that these guys would be on Options and I was on the harder tire. So, they said to pit. Without thinking I came in with full confidence that the others had done the same.”
If anyone doubted whether or not motor racing is a team sport, one need only watch a replay of the 2015 Monaco Grand Prix to see how much a driver depends on his/her team and vice versa. Mistakes happen whether they are made by the driver or the rest of the team, and the team must accept them and move on.
The person people most wanted to talk to after the racers was Mercedes team principal, Toto Wolff. The poor call seemed obvious even to the fans watching at home — why did the team call Hamilton in for a pit stop when no one else came in, and the race was nearly over? While the issue clearly will be handled within the team internally, Wolff did take to social media to answer questions from fans in a live “AskToto” session on Tuesday.
One fan wanted to know how the error happened in the first place. “We believed we could make a free stop to cover risk of cars behind on SuperSoft. Unfortunately our data was wrong,” Wolff tweeted. To a similar question, he wrote, “Under Safety Car you need 12 secs gap to maintain position. Our system showed us that we had that gap.”
Another fan wanted to know if anyone lost a job over the incident. “Absolutely not,” Wolff replied. “We’re a World Championship team and we are not playing a blame game based on a single race.”
Asked about what was discussed in the debriefing and how they might improve going forward, Wolff said, “Improve software, better communication and a spice more common sense.”
The safety car that happened in the first place that caused the Hamilton incident was the result of Max Verstappen of Toro Rosso making aggressive passes through the race but then catching the back of Lotus driver Romain Grosjean’s car and spinning off into a dead stop at a barrier. Neither Verstappen nor Grosjean were hurt, but, according to “AutoSport,” Felipe Massa of Williams, for one, called Verstappen’s driving “dangerous.”
The troubled ending to the Monaco Grand Prix stood in contrast to the glamour of the sport and this particular event that was on display all weekend. NBC called Monaco “the grandest Grand Prix of them all,” and it is certainly one racers want to win. To have that chance taken away from you must be difficult, but a team in motor sport, like in so many other sports, wins and loses together.
The other placements of Sunday’s race were: 4th, Daniil Kvyat (Red Bull); 5th, Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull); 6th, Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari); 7th, Sergio Perez (Force India); 8th, Jenson Button (McLaren); 9th, Felipe Nasr (Sauber); 10th, Carlo Sainz (Toro Rosso); 11th, Nico Hulkenberg (Force India); 12th, Romain Grosjean (Lotus); 13th, Marcus Ericsson (Sauber); 14th, Valtteri Bottas (Williams); 15th, Felipe Massa (Williams); 16th, Roberto Merhi (Marussia); 17th, and Will Stevens (Marussia). Alonso (Ferrari); Verstappen (Toro Rosso); and Maldonado (Lotus) all did not finish.
A positive that came out of the race was British driver Jenson Button scoring renewed partnership McLaren-Honda’s first points of the season with four for coming in eighth. Daniel Ricciardo drove the fastest lap of the race with a time of 1m 18.063s on lap 74.
Championship points now go like this moving into Montreal on June 7, according to Formula 1: Drivers’ Championship = 1st, Lewis Hamilton at 126; 2nd, Nico Rosberg with 116; 3rd, Sebastian Vettel at 98. In the Constructors’ Championship, Mercedes has 242 points; the second place team is Ferrari with 158 points; and in third is Williams with 81.