MERCEDES boss Toto Wolff admitted computer system errors were to blame for the Virtual Safety Car drama which cost Lewis Hamilton victory in the Australian Grand Prix.
Hamilton pitted on lap 20 while challenger Sebastian Vettel remained on track, holding a 12-second lead over the reigning world champion.
But when Vettel made his pit stop under VSC conditions — due to Haas’ dual retirements — on lap 24 he somehow emerged in front of Hamilton, a combination of luck and savvy strategy that left the Mercedes driver perplexed.
Hamilton was unable to reclaim the position and had to settle for second as Vettel won the race, a pill Wolff admitted was a bitter one for the entire team to swallow.
“Yeah, it’s very hard to take because we had the pace and for whatever reason, we need to find out we lost the win,” Wolff told Sky Sports F1.
“We thought we had about three seconds margin. I don’t know, we have to ask the computers, that’s what we’re doing at the moment, whether we have a software problem somewhere, we need to fix.
“I think the problem is within our systems, I think that we have a bug somewhere that told us fifteen seconds is what you need, we had twelve, it should have been enough, but it wasn’t.
“With a special constellation of cars on track going at high speeds, the others at slow speeds — simply the gap we needed was wrongly calculated by the systems.
“I think the way the algorithms are set up, the way the computer is being programmed, we always had the green light that the gap was enough for us to stay ahead and then we saw the TV pictures — it wasn’t enough.”
Regardless of the glitches which cost Hamilton crucial seconds, Wolff was philosophical about the game of chance that is pit stop strategy.
“I don’t think you can be opportunistic. It’s going to work for you one time and the other one it’s going to go against you,” he said.
“We had lucky moments, we were unlucky today and have been in the past — I think you just need to give credit to Ferrari for a one-three. We saw three teams doing competitive lap times today and this is what we need to take as a positive.”
With passing notoriously difficult at Albert Park, Hamilton pushed hard but was unable to steer his Mercedes past a wide Ferrari in front of him over the final 25 laps once the Safety Car period ended.
With roughly four laps to go he was seen adjusting setting on his steering when and backed off dramatically, seemingly raising a white flag and saving his engines for another day.
“I mean, he was attacking flat out, and as you can see the overtaking is pretty bad here — even the mega overtakers like Lewis couldn’t make a pass,” Wolff said.
“He tried hard, but at a certain stage he had to give up because the tyres wouldn’t have made it to the end.”
Hamilton’s second capped off a disappointing weekend for Mercedes which was widely considered to have once again rolled out comfortably the fastest package in the paddock for 2018.
Valtteri Bottas finished eighth after starting the race in 15th position following a nasty qualifying crash, leaving a sizeable gap in the Constructors Championship to Ferrari after Kimi Raikkonen completing a one-three result for the Scuderia.