Toto Wolff defended Mercedes’ strategy decision for Lewis Hamilton at the Monaco Grand Prix – one that left the seven-time World Champion baffled.
Unsurprisingly finding himself in a train of cars after starting sixth – promoted one place after pole-sitter Charles Leclerc was unable to take the start – Hamilton needed an inspired strategy to jump up the order.
Instead, despite his team-mate Valtteri Bottas’ retirement when a wheel got stuck at a pit-stop, the Briton found himself dropping back behind Sergio Perez and Sebastian Vettel to finish seventh.
One place ahead of him at the end was Pierre Gasly, whom Mercedes had targeted with their strategy call to put Hamilton on hard tyres on lap 30 in the hope of performing the undercut on the AlphaTauri. It failed to pay off due to the length of time it took the tyres to warm up.
“It was a disaster day for Charles [Leclerc] and wasn’t any better for us either,” admitted Wolff, the Mercedes F1 co-owner and team principal, on Sky F1. “We lacked pace all weekend, it’s as simple as that.
“The undercut looked like the only feasible way of clearing Gasly and with the tyre warm-up, the gap he had before, the one/one and a half seconds, was sufficient for him to stay ahead.
“There wasn’t any mistake, the out-lap was good, the pit-stop was okay, but it just wasn’t enough.
“The pit-stop failure we had is something we need to understand because we completely machined the wheel nut. And with Lewis, we just didn’t have the pace in the car.”
“It just feels awful…” 😠 A word from the Boss in Monaco. 👇 pic.twitter.com/6v5OYjLvKD
— Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS F1 Team (@MercedesAMGF1) May 23, 2021
Although Wolff maintained that the undercut had been the right strategy to attempt, Hamilton clearly felt it had been the wrong move while the race was in progress – expressing that opinion over the team radio.
“How am I still behind him, man, come on,” said Hamilton to his race engineer Pete Bonnington after finding Gasly in front again, later adding: “What has happened, guys, I’ve just lost two places.
“I don’t understand, guys. I saved the tyres to go longer. You made me stop before everyone.”
Straight after the race, Mercedes were honest about what has to go down as a rare off-day, similar to last year’s Sakhir Grand Prix which Hamilton missed while sidelined with COVID-19 – although by that stage, they had both World Championships in the bag.
A tweet from the team read: “Tough one to swallow. This has been one of our hardest days as a team in a very long time.
“We have to accept it, own the failure, learn from it and move on from here.”