Sochi – Mercedes team chief Toto Wolff has blamed himself for the “team orders” controversy that engulfed Lewis Hamilton’s victory in Sunday’s Russian Grand Prix.
The Austrian said he was talking to chief strategist James Vowles when they should have called in the Briton for his first pit-stop and as a result he pitted a lap too late.
This, he said, created the scenario that led to Hamilton fighting to pass title rival Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari on track and a subsequent need for team orders to protect the defending champion, with blistered tyres, from a Vettel attack.
“Somebody needs to be the baddie sometimes and it’s me this time,” said Wolff. “You need to weigh it up. What do I hope for? To be the baddie on Sunday evening for many right reasons or do I want to be the idiot in Abu Dhabi at the end of the season?
“I’d rather be the baddie today than the idiot at the end of the year.”
The switch of positions that deprived Valtteri Bottas of a deserved win on the Sochi Autodrom track where he claimed his maiden triumph last year left him glum-faced after the race with Hamilton embarrassed at the means by which he was victorious.
Wolff said the decision was not pre-determined.
“It all panned out differently to what we expected and discussed,” said Wolff. “We spent a lot of time discussing various scenarios and the one that actually happened was slipstreaming each other – we thought that could happen.”
“But then we got tangled up in the way we called the pit stops,” he added. “We did the right thing in calling Valtteri in first, that protected his position, but we were a lap too late with Lewis.
“I take it on me because I was engaging with James in a conversation when he should have made the call. We came in a lap too late and lost the position.
“Lewis had to fight hard to overtake Sebastian, which was really an awesome move, but blistered the tyres. Then we had a situation where Valtteri in front was managing the tyres, Lewis behind with a blistered rear and Sebastian all over Lewis…”
Hamilton said afterwards that it was not the way he wanted to win and added that it was the most unsatisfying feeling he had experienced in his career.
Team orders are contentious, but legal, in Formula One and were used last season by Mercedes.
The greatest controversy, however, came when Ferrari used team orders to transfer victory at the 2002 Austrian Grand Prix from Rubens Barrichello to Michael Schumacher amid a cacophony of jeers, boos and whistles.