Mercedes technical director James Allison believes the way his team dealt with its strategy mistake at the Austrian Grand Prix shows a healthy attitude towards failure within Mercedes.
Lewis Hamilton lost the lead of the race when the team failed to pit him under a Virtual Safety Car period following Valtteri Bottas' retirement on lap 14. In the end the decision proved inconsequential as Hamilton retired with a loss of fuel pressure nine laps from the end, but had he finished the race it would have cost the reigning world champion at least 13 points.
In an unusual break in formalities, Mercedes' chief strategist James Vowles apologised to Hamilton during the race via team radio in the belief it would help the four-time world champion focus on the rest of the grand prix. There was some speculation that Vowles had been forced to relay the message instead of Hamilton's usual race engineer Peter Bonnington, but Allison insists Vowles wanted to offer an apology to his driver.
"You do sometimes hear James [Vowles on the radio], and it's normally under unusual circumstances when we have a message that's either subtle or difficult and we need to get a message to the driver without the intermediary of the race engineer," Allison explained via the team's YouTube channel. "The normal communication path is that the strategist will tell a message to the race engineer to pass on to the driver and the race engineer will do that. Sometimes you want to avoid the Chinese whisper of that or the message is very important or, in this particular instance, it was extremely personal.
"In this particular instance it was James showing an extremely broad pair of shoulders, standing up and saying 'that's my mistake, Lewis, and I'm very sorry for it'. I think that's characteristic of James but also a measure of how this team operates, where people will hold up a hand when they have made a mistake knowing that the team's attitude to mistakes is that they are things that they learn from rather than throw blame around for or cause great polemics within the team.
"It was a great example of strong leadership by James, trying to explain to Lewis what had happened. The importance of that message meant James wanted to give it personally rather than passing it through the intermediary of a race engineer."
Allison also explained why Mercedes deliberated on its decision to pit Hamilton, saying the team thought it would still have an opportunity to pit under the VSC on the following lap.
"Strategy is one of those really odd things where it is incredibly obvious in hindsight what you should have done; even my mum could have made the right decision with the benefit of all the hindsight after the decision is taken. But at the time, the strategist faces more of a dilemma and the person who is in the lead of the race always faces the biggest dilemma of all because they have the most to lose.
"You don't want to be the only one stopping and then find that all the others don't stop and you get tangled up in them in a way you hope not to be. We thought that the Virtual Safety Car would last for more than one lap, so we thought we would wait and see what happened to the guys behind us, see whether they stop or didn't stop, and make our decision on the second lap.
"It didn't last for more than one lap, it all happened in just one, we lost out to everyone behind us because they had a cheap stop and we had an expensive stop and it was a big mistake - one that we would have paid a big price for had we not had a subsequent DNF later in the race."