Sunday’s Australian GP was rife with controversial incidents but undoubtedly the one that made headlines the world over was Mercedes’ inexplicable decision to allow Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel to get ahead Lewis Hamilton at a crucial juncture in the race and the Silver Arrows have laid the blame for the gaffe on a ‘software glitch’.
Hamilton, the defending world champion, was comfortably leading the Ferraris of Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen when the Virtual Safety Car (VSC) was called in after Romain Grosjean’s race came to a premature end.
With Vettel coming into the pits for a quick stop, the German seemed certain to come out behind his rival but much to the dismay of Hamilton, the Ferrari racer came out in front and from then on it was an uphill battle for the Brit, which he ultimately lost.
Hamilton immediately asked his team if he had done something wrong, but Mercedes chief Toto Wolff revealed that their software’s miscalculation had cost them the lead.
“We were trying to build enough of a gap to (Kimi) Raikkonen to avoid the undercut and we were trying to have enough gap to the Haas to have the Safety Car gap,” Wolf explained after the race at Albert Park in Melbourne.
“Everything was under control. We took a bit of a risk of putting Lewis on a soft (tyre) to go to the end, but it was the only choice to avoid Kimi jumping us. The pace was good.
“Then we calculated the VSC gap which was needed (if one was activated). Our computer said 15 seconds was the necessary time in order to jump us.
Notably, it was the third year on the trot that Hamilton had started from pole position but failed to win at the season-opening race.
“The drivers oscillate within one second in the delta. Then suddenly the cameras showed us the pit exit. Sebastian came out in front of us. The software or system we have been using for five years just gave us the wrong number.”
While Albert Park is a popular track among both fans and drivers, it is extremely difficult to overtake on the five kilometre plus circuit and Hamilton was unable to get ahead of Vettel again as the German once again stole a march in the title race.
“Lewis did nothing wrong. It was down to a software bug or an algorithm that was simply wrong.
“Lewis knew that he needed to make it to the end on the tyre and drove to the target and without that (glitch) we probably would have had the gap,” Wolf stated as he continued, “The only thing we could have done was try to push more after his pit stop and try to create a bigger gap.”
Vettel has won the curtain-raiser of the Formula One season for two years on the trot and after Scuderia Ferrari’s ‘dominance’ on Sunday, it seems the Prancing Horse will once again be the Silver Arrows’ major rivals.
The Maranello-based outfit lead the constructors standings after Raikkonen finished third while the other Mercedes driver, Valtteri Bottas, could only finish eighth.
“But knowing that the tyre needed to go another 40 laps or so it was very important not to stretch that too much and he was going quicker than Sebastian anyway. So the gap grew.
“And we knew that the gap was good enough that even under VSC we would still maintain the lead.If we knew it would have been three of four seconds more we would have pushed a bit more with the tyres with the risk at the end of the race – but we would have done it.”
Mercedes and Hamilton will look to make amends when the next race—The Bahrain Grand Prix—comes around on the April 6-8 weekend.