Mercedes defends the use of team orders
Mercedes has defended their use of team orders to allow Lewis Hamilton to finish ahead of Valtteri Bottas and win the Russian Grand Prix.
The team ordered the Finn to allow his teammate to pass him and take the win, allowing him to extend his lead at the top of the championship. Mercedes F1 CEO and team principal Toto Wolff has described the decision as a “rational” call.
The Austrian, however, insisted that it was not a pre-planned move because “we felt we needed to let them race,” after Bottas took pole and Mercedes would have allowed him to win, if they did not feel Hamilton was vulnerable to Sebastian Vettel.
Wolff added that the team did face a tricky call on tactics and that the race had not turned out as they had expected. He told Sky Sports, “We spent a lot of time discussing the various scenarios and the one that actually happened was slipstreaming each other [at the start], we thought that could happen.”
He says that the team brought Hamilton in too late during the first round of stops, meaning that he lost track position to Vettel. Hamilton also blistered his tyres when he tried to repass the Ferrari, while Bottas had managed his tyres better.
Mercedes concern was that Bottas would have been unable to go faster and that would have led to Hamilton being vulnerable to Vettel, losing the second place. Wolff added “At that stage, there was two possible outcomes. The best case would have been it stays like it is and we finish second with Lewis and win with Valtteri.”
“The worst case was that the blister wouldn’t last until the end and Lewis would have been overtaken by Sebastian in order to manage his tyres. This is why having Valtteri in between was the call we made. Rationally it was the right call to do.”
Wolff accepts that the use of team orders, though perfectly legal, are largely unpopular and he says that he loathes needing to implement them.
But admitted he would rather be the Sochi “baddie” than the end-of-season “idiot” if Hamilton lost the championship by seven points or less, the difference between first and second place in a grand prix.
Schumacher’s seven titles helped by team orders – Hamilton
Lewis Hamilton has waded into the controversy around his Mercedes team use of team orders in Sochi, by saying that seven times champion Michael Schumacher was aided by team orders when he was at Ferrari.
Hamilton extended his lead over Sebastian Vettel to fifty points by winning in Sochi, where the Ferrari driver finished third. However, he gained an extra seven points after his Mercedes team instructed his teammate Valtteri Bottas to relinquish the lead to Hamilton.
Mercedes F1 CEO, Toto Wolff said he would rather be the “baddie” now than the “idiot” at the end of the season and talked about the “harsh realities” of fighting for and winning championships.
Speaking to UOL Esporte, the four-time champion admitted he was uncomfortable with the decision and considered handing the position back to Bottas at the end of the race, said he was also able to see the bigger picture.
Saying “I felt very conflicted. It did cross my mind, and that’s what the team wanted, they wanted to come away with 10 points more. That was the ultimate goal, was to have 10 points more rather than just the three or whatever.”
“I felt conflicted because that’s what the team wanted, and I knew that’s what we wanted, but I also knew what felt right. In winning championships, people don’t remember the right and wrongs in a season, they remember who wins.”
Hamilton added that Michael Schumacher may have not claimed seven titles if Ferrari didn’t make smart decisions.
The Englishman only needs two more wins, minimum, to equal Juan Manuel Fangio on five world championships and officially become the second most successful driver in Grand Prix racing.
Horner surprised by Mercedes user of team orders
Red Bull’s team principal Christian Horner was “surprised” by the way Mercedes use of team orders played out during the Russian Grand Prix.
Mercedes ordered Valtteri Bottas to allow teammate Lewis Hamilton to pass him and take the win, allowing him to extend his lead at the top of the championship.
Horner didn’t question Mercedes decision, but questioned why the German manufacturer didn’t discuss the possibility of using team orders going into the race. He told Motorsport.com “From what I understand Bottas wasn’t particularly happy. But you would have thought they would have discussed the scenarios before the race.”
“It shouldn’t have been a surprise. I’m surprised it would have been a surprise to anybody. It’s very easy to forget that F1 is a team sport. The drivers ultimately drive for the team.”
“What was, I suppose, slightly confusing about that is that it wasn’t all pre-discussed and agreed going into the event.”
However, admitted adamantly that if he was in the same position as Wolff he would have made the same decision.
Adding “In that situation, it only takes a couple of DNFs, and you are fighting for a world championship. It’s a constant battle between a drivers’ championship and the self-interest of the drivers and the collective interest of the team.”
Honda to dyno test upgrade for Suzuka
Honda is to test its latest upgrade to its engine to decide whether to use it at this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix, after deciding not to use it in Sochi.
The Japanese manufacturer introduced the latest specification in Friday practice at Sochi to the delight of its Toro Rosso team but reverted to an older spec for the rest of the weekend. This was because Honda discovered some “unsuitable behaviour” when the engine was run on the track.
However, they are confident of being able to reintroduce the update this weekend but are unable to be certain of that until later in the week. Speaking to Motorsport.com, technical director Toyoharu Tanabe said “We need to evaluate the test data.”
“We plan to have a dyno test with the new spec and then we will try to optimise our calibration. Then if the level of optimisation is suitable for the race application, we will decide yes or no [if we use it].” The website says that it understands that the engine suffered from higher oscillations than expected when it ran on the track, which mainly compromises driveability.
All engines experience oscillations on track but they can be exacerbated if incorrectly calibrated against frequencies from the chassis itself. Honda suffered an aggressive example of this year early in 2017 with its revised engine design.
Toro Rosso’s team principal Franz Tost declaring it had moved in front of Renault in the engine pecking order.
Tanabe would not comment on that comparison but said he was satisfied with Honda’s progress. Saying “The simple and easy one is power. We see some improvement as we expected. That’s the main item which we found this weekend with the new unit.”
Ocon willing to take a sabbatical
Mercedes are willing for Esteban Ocon to take a sabbatical from Formula One next season. The Force India driver is set to be without a race seat next year as Lance Stroll is set to replace him at Force India, while he missed out on a Renault drive to Daniel Ricciardo.
There are only three remaining seats for 2019, and a lack of options for the Frenchman could see him sit out a season entirely. Mercedes F1 CEO and team principal Toto Wolff told Sky Sports, “We still very much hope that we can find a good solution for him but where he is his career, we are not desperate for a seat for next year.”
“Eventually he’s going to be someone that is going to be successful in Formula 1, and if it means having a sabbatical year then I’m fine with it.” The Austrian has previously tipped Ocon to be a future world champion with Mercedes, and he is currently enjoying his best F1 season with Force India.”
Wolff’s counterpart at Force India, Otmar Szafnauer added “If [a sabbatical] happens we’ll make every effort to help him. He’s been a great team member for us, he’s a good talent and we don’t want to see him completely out.”
Williams is rapidly becoming the only option despite there current struggles, Mercedes are keen to keep him in a Mercedes powered car.
Toro Rosso, meanwhile, would be willing to take Ocon if Mercedes released him from their programme. But that’s an option Wolff is not willing to contemplate.
Addressing no-shows in qualifying
The FIA is considering changing the way drivers with engine penalties line up on the grid, following the events in Q2 at the Russian Grand Prix.
At the moment, grid penalties for drivers who have engine or gearbox changes going into the race have the penalties applied in the order the element is used and who leaves the pit lane first in FP1. That means all they need to do in qualifying is be within 107% of the fastest car in Q1.
Three of the cars who had penalties all made it into Q2, however, none of them ran in that session, because there was no point in wasting tyres or engine mileage. With that in mind, Renault also chose not to run its drivers in Q2 in Russia, because they would be guaranteed to start 11th and 12th, with a free choice of tyres.
In response, the governing body is now looking at ways of penalising drivers on time rather than the way they leave the pits in FP1. FIA race director, Charlie Whiting told Motorsport.com “I don’t think anyone could have foreseen what happened here. I think there is another way, I’ve been talking about it to a few teams here.”
“I think what we could do based on this weekend is instead of having cars line up at the pit exit in a rather farcical way, and that sort of thing will only ever get worse, if you have five drivers you will arrange them at the back in the order in which they qualified”
“I think that would provide some incentive for drivers to actually go and qualify, and try to qualify as high as they could at least.”
Asked about the chances of the change being voted through, Whiting said: “I would have thought quite high. I like to think that’s a sensible solution. There may be some drawbacks that we haven’t thought of yet, but it’s a relatively new idea.”