Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Sochi Autodrom, 2019

Wolff: Mercedes wouldn’t have won without VSC

2019 Russian Grand Prix

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Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff doubts his team’s strategy would have allowed them to beat Ferrari if it hadn’t been for the Virtual Safety Car.

Lewis Hamilton was leading the race when Sebastian Vettel’s retirement triggered a VSC period. That allowed Hamilton to make his sole pit stops and rejoin the track ahead of Charles Leclerc.

Without the VSC, Hamilton would have fallen to second behind Leclerc after he pitted. Wolff said in that scenario it’s unlikely Mercedes could have passed Ferrari to win.

“We had good pace at the beginning. Lewis was able to hang on to Charles. The Ferraris were pushing very strong, were pushing each other very hard.

“I think we would have gone onto the soft for the last 25 laps and been on a soft against the medium. Realistically, you must say, I don’t think it would have been enough. We would have followed them in the gearbox like in the last few races, but not enough.”

Wolff said Mercedes can’t hide from the fact they weren’t the quickest team at Sochi.

“I think first of all we need to, in the moment of joy, now, we need to be self-aware that on pure speed we didn’t have the performance this weekend. And there’s many areas which we which we need to work on in order to get our get our performance levels back.

“But equally the Sunday result shows you that you must never give up. Even if you go into the race with a package that is not the quickest. If you do things right all of us together, the drivers and the engineers and the management you can still win races. You’ve got to finish.”

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Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...
Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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33 comments on “Wolff: Mercedes wouldn’t have won without VSC”

  1. Well Toto, some people over here (or anywhere else) will probably know it better than you

    1. @anunaki So whatever Wolff says it’s nonsense. Apart from now when you like what he’s saying?

      1. Not really, it was a joke

  2. Personally,i think the pit lane should be closed under safety/virtual safety car.
    It stinks that a car can win or lose because of an advantage gained or lost because of a safety car.

    1. But in the case of a safety car what if the leading car had a 30 second lead and needed to come in for a pitstop when the pits were closed? They would have to pit immediately after the pit lane reopened which would put them to the back because the pack would close up under the safety car.

      Also if weather conditions changed it could be potentially very dangerous or unfair if some cars had to do a lap on slicks whilst other cars were on wets.

    2. We’ve had that before. It was horrible.

    3. Just a 40% reduction of the pit lane speed during VSC would already make a difference. As speed is reduced on track (all around, not just in the danger zone), why not in the pit lane?

      1. hmmmm… thats a very logical idea. @Bart
        Especially if a damaged car from the incident that was involved in the incident causing the yellow flags came in.

        Great idea for an article by the racefans team ;)

    4. @mobiusclean it was done, but I can’t honestly remember why it was reverted to the actual situation. @keithcollantine or Google may help!

      1. Lol, or half an 8 ball ;)

        1. Woops,wrong reply to reply to :(

    5. Be careful what you wish for. Sometimes the vsc ruins a race, sometimes it makes it better.

      That being said I do kind of like Bart’s idea of dropping the pit lane speed to 40kmh or 32kmh during vsc and sc (40% of what it is normally). Other idea I was thinking was to add minimum pitstop times under vsc and sc. If you pit under vsc you have minimum pitstop time of 10s and 15s under sc. But that is not ideal as it prevents double stacking the pit stops. The car that pits after the first one has to wait. So the lower speed limit sounds like better idea. I’d like to see a calculation for how slow the pitlane speed would need to be so it is neutral. 40kmh could be not slow enough or be too slow. It is very simple calculation though once you know the pitlane length though.

    6. You cant close the pitlane, as what if a car has an issue, a puncture or a lossed wing, a lot of SC and VSC are caused by parts of cars being on track because of a clash, but the cars are able to carry on back to the pit lane, you want them to stay on track until after the SC/VSC has ended? Also the main issue with closing the pit lane under a full SC is it means drivers are at an even bigger disadvantage. So imagine this race for instance, Lec has already pitted, Ham hasnt, there is a full Safety car, the cars bunch together behind the safety car, once the SC comes in and the pit lane opens, if Ham pits he comes out last, and he cant push for a gap over the next few laps before he pits because hes on old tyres against people behind on fresh tyres.
      I do like the idea of reducing the speed limit in the pits though, it doesnt have to be an exact science, different tracks would require different limits, but just reducing the limit by 50% or whatever they work out works best on average at all tracks over a season, just to level the playing field, the only issue i see is it would be hard to manage this, if a safety car was deployed when you are already part way down the pit lane for instance, how much time would you get to adjust your speed, as at the moment if you speed in the pitlane even for a cm, it is a penalty, also you would need a 2nd speed limiter set on the cars for the drivers use in this instance. It would be good if they could somehow set the current limiter to automatically reduce the speed further as soon as a SC/VSC is deployed

    7. But closing the pitlane during VSC opens the door to some driver “lucking out” because he was actually pitting when the VSC or SC starts, so he doesn’t have to pit anymore and the others do, or some driver’s race is ruined because his tyres are shot but now he isn’t allowed to pit until after the SC/VSC. Or a driver can win because of the way VSC or an SC impacts race strategy (eg. you just pitted and because of slower running under VSC you suddenly don’t need that second pitstop anymore and your opponent can’t respond to your earlier pitstop because he has to wait).
      You just can’t preclude that drivers’ races are ruined or saved by a safety car or virtual safety car. There will always be good/bad luck involved.

    8. @mobiusclean That could be an unnecessary safety-risk, though, especially if someone already happens to have a slow-puncture, for example, or just extremely worn tyres in general such as Albon had towards the end of the British GP. I don’t have a problem with some drivers potentially getting a free pit-stop under a VSC or full-SC period, it’s just part of the game, and sometimes some might lose out, and some gain, and vice-versa.

    9. @mobiusclean Did you not watch F1 when in fact this was the rule? It was an utter nightmare!

      There is nothing as horribly unfair as closing the pitlane. Over and over, drivers were caught out by not being allowed to pit. Many races were utterly ruined by it.

      It’s a strategy game and Ferrari lost it because their strategy was a mess (with all the position swapping drama going on)

  3. I think they were absolutely the fastest car on Sunday. As they have been for the last 4 weekends. Without Seb’s inferior strategy designed to delay Lewis in Spa, Charles’ dirty driving in Monza, the strategy error in Singapore, Mercedes could have won last 4 races.

    Their problem is Ferrari is faster on Saturday and in a straight line. But purely from the point of view of who has the fastest Sunday car, the answer is Mercedes.

    1. @Sumedh ok but if my grandpa had 4 balls he would have been a pinball

      1. Lol, or half an 8 ball ;)

      2. Don’t believe me. Here are the fastest laps for each of the races. Mercedes is the fastest race car on 3 of the 4 weekends (except Spa). At Spa, they are not the fastest only because Seb was on a 2-stop strategy. If I discount that, then Mercedes is faster on all the 4 Sundays.

        Belgium:
        1 Sebastian Vettel 1’46.409 (lap 36, after 2nd pitstop)
        2 Valtteri Bottas 1’46.465
        3 Lewis Hamilton 1’46.580
        4 Charles Leclerc 1’46.664

        Italy
        1 Lewis Hamilton 1’21.779 (Lap 51, after late stop for FLAP)
        2 Sebastian Vettel 1’22.799 (Lap 50, after 2nd stop on lap 41/42)
        3 Valtteri Bottas 1’22.859
        4 Charles Leclerc 1’23.009

        Singapore
        1 Valtteri Bottas 1’43.534
        2 Charles Leclerc 1’44.723
        3 Sebastian Vettel 1’44.802
        4 Lewis Hamilton 1’44.914

        Russia
        1 Lewis Hamilton 1’35.761
        2 Charles Leclerc 1’36.193
        3 Valtteri Bottas 1’36.316
        4 Sebastian Vettel 1’38.245

        1. bwhahahahahhaah, Its way more complicated than looking at a single fastest lap.

        2. Geez, is that nonsense what you based your conclusion on?

        3. I agree pretty much, Mercedes have generally had the fastest race car but it’s not quite as straightforward as that. At some stages the Ferrari has been quicker, ie on full tanks or on certain tyre compounds, but overall I think Mercedes has just about edged the race pace.

          Problem is as stated, Ferrari are quicker in qualifying and they have straight line speed, so overtaking them is not easy!

    2. Without Seb’s inferior strategy designed to delay Lewis in Spa

      Sebs inferior strategy was borne out of his terrible tyre management. It was not designed to delay Lewis that was just a handy benefit.

  4. Yes indeed. Mercedes indeed lucked out for this one-two by the timing of the VSC.

  5. I really believe Ferrari were quite honest over the radio at least based on what we heard.
    It was agreed that Charles would give Vettel the tow; he did; he didn’t defend. Charles indirectly asked for a swap (or wanted one) soon after that. Didn’t happen that early. Post that episode, i wanted Charles to push and get closer to Vettel and maybe even fight and regain it. I was disappointed that it didn’t happen. Once Vettel built the gap, Ferrari told Charles about a swap later in the race. Fair enough provided they were 1-2 with Lewis charging onto Charles.
    The pit-stop calls were somewhat messy. Ferrari would have known about the undercut advantage Charles would have had, no? ; i feel that is just poor management of a race. Thumb rule–lead driver gets pit priority to protect position. In hindsight, it may have worked well to see off at least Bottas. Worst case, 1–3 with Vettel taking the win. But the element of misfortune only makes them look even worse — without VSC/SC period, it would have been 1-2 for Ferrari. Lewis was right about Ferrari have the better strategy; Toto is right about Mercedes getting lucky with VSC.

    Two more cents: I admire Charles for his calmness in the face of calamity. Just about everyone moans–right from Romain to Lewis. On this site, even fans are moaning about Ferrari’s strategy calls. :D
    I find it to be belittling to call someone a moaner–Lewis mentioned about Ferrari being so fast at least 5 times yesterday–that sort of moaning takes the cake maybe. i dont know what it means to take a pole or win a race or drive an f1 car–i will never know how they feel. I feel its better if we stop complaining about their moaning.

  6. Regarding the increasing notion that VSC / SC shouldn’t be allowed to affect the race winner…

    Can guarantee that if Hamilton was leading the Championship by say 20 points, and a VSC / SC allowed the driver in 2nd to close the points gap, there wouldn’t be anywhere near the outcry.

    Over the course of a driver’s career they’ll win some and they’ll lose some.

    The community has bemoaned the sport for its “fixing what ain’t broke” approach with quali format etc… instead of fully focussing on what really matters (more competitive racing, fairer distribution of prize money) and yet we see the community crying out for equally low-priority changes…

    1. @ninjenius
      Yeah…..i could care less who benefited or didn’t benefit by by the safety car/virtual safety car,i still think that you shouldn’t be able to benefit from a safety car.
      And what if someone like say Hulkenberg was up for the win yesterday and he was the one that got stitched up by the VSC?

      1. That would be his (typical lack of) luck @mobiusclean, I guess. Luck and/or being able to grab an opportunity when it presents itself (or misjudging that …) has always been a big part of the sport, this is just one element of it, to me. I can certainly accept you see that different though.

    2. Yep, I feel much as you do about this @ninjenius

      The sport could choose to not allow pitting (or reduce the pitlane speed in (V)SC situations even further?) in VSC or SC, if they wanted, but it does provide another element of chance and strategy which F1 currently does often need. It also often tends to show which teams are thinking on their feet, and which were sleeping, and thus lose out on merit, which to me is part of the sport.

      If Wolff is right, unreliability (or lack of managing the reliability well enough?) cost Ferrari a potential 1-2, that must hurt, but that too is part of the sport to my eyes.

      1. and which were sleeping

        yeah, even yesterday Ferrari could have prevented losing the nr 1 spot simply by pitting Vettel 1st. He probably would’ve extended his 7 sec lead to Lewis to be save

  7. Leclerc was closing up behind Bottas. So they could have asked Bottas to hold Leclerc up and Hamilton would have come out in front of Leclerc after his stop.

    This is just Wolff’s usual downplaying of their actual chances. It’s hilarious how now that people want to hear the message they lap it up, but he does this every time. He always claims they won by the skin of t heir teeth and the competition had them reeling.

    Of course Ferrari gifting them a 1-2 was unexpected, but there was plenty chance for Hamilton to take the win after all the panic in the Ferrari pit over swapping their cars. If Ferrari had left Vettel in front then they would have won. With all that swapping going on they seriously undermined their own chances.

    Leclerc’s tyres were apparently already that bad that they even opted to switched him to softs giving away P2 to Bottas. He probably overdid it trying to close the pit gap to Hamilton on his new tyres.

    Hamilton was already just as fast as Leclerc with Leclerc on soft vs Hamilton on Medium. So without the VSC/SC, Hamilton might have even taken Leclerc using his fresh softs to overtake Leclerc on slower medium tyres.

    We’ll never know of course, but it’s oerly simplistic to pretend the VSC was their onlyu chance. The easiest chance, “for sure”. Only chance, no.

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