Race Weekend Central

F1 Midweek: What Happened to Mercedes in Austria?

Since the hybrid era began in 2014, Mercedes sped their way from midfielders to champions. One of the drivers, Lewis Hamilton, has dominated for three of the last four seasons, and his only real challenge occurred in 2016, when his then teammate, Nico Rosberg, won the world title in the last race of the season and retired shortly afterwards.

But last Sunday, Mercedes had the biggest meltdown in years, as everything went wrong at the Austrian Grand Prix. Not only did the strategy call go sour for Hamilton, but an additional problem occured when the four-time world champion suffered a fuel problem in his car. In additon, current teammate, Valtteri Bottas, suffered hydraulic troubles that ended his race early.

It might seem normal to most F1 teams that situations like these can create a frenzy, but this is Mercedes, and when a team like this have a bad weekend even just once, it makes headlines. But for a championship team like this, can they change things around?

For one thing, Mercedes have to admit the honesty of James Vowles, the team strategist, who encouraged Hamilton to have a little bit of confidence when things went wrong, as well as admitting that he was incorrect when the strategy backfired. Following Bottas’ retirement that brought out the virtual safety car, most of the lead drivers came into the pits for fresh tires. But Hamilton did not, and questioned the decision.

But even when the strategy did not work, team manager Toto Wolff of Mercedes told ESPN F1, that even if it seems that the team is letting Hamilton down, Wolff feels that he would not change anything.

“No, we don’t need to make changes.” he said. “The most important thing is to understand why an error happens and go back into the situation and analyse. I don’t think we’d make an error twice. The situation is very difficult this year, we are fighting, six cars, and that is just a tough situation.”

While Mercedes will not likely repeat their antics in the next race in Great Britain, Ferrari might have increased Sebastian Vettel’s one-point lead in the championship, if the team had issued orders to let Kimi Raikkonen pull to the side and let Vettel move into second. But this was attempted at this same track 16 years before, and was a failure, and it might have been a good decision that this did not happen.

But will it be a mistake for Vettel if the season becomes a close fight with Hamilton that a few points might have made the difference? Honestly,  it would be better to lose this way by being fair.

Altogtether, all these situations make this sport more enjoyable to watch for the fans and better for the media to produce good articles, rather than having the same team dominate and lose popularity for the sport.

About the author

Mark is a motorsports journalist specializing in the field for the last 16 years in Formula 1 with experience in covering team launches, feature stories and race weekends during the season. In addition, Mark covers the World Endurance Championship, which includes the 24 Hours of Lemans. He also speaks French up to an intermediate level, with a basic understanding of German. Have worked for agencies as Racing Information Service News, Racing Nation, Fansided, the Munich Eye Newspaper in Munich, Germany, and Autoweek magazine. Mark is also a knowledgeable Formula 1 driver after graduating from both the F1 International and AGS racing academies.

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David Edwards

It was shocking to see Merc have a double DNF but I think it is probably good for the sport. And I do agree that the competition is pushing them more than any time in the hybrid era. Yet, I think that the strength of the Mercedes team will win out in the end.

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