Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes team have dismissed the need for change despite costing their star driver victory in a dramatic Austrian Grand Prix.
Hamilton will head into his home race at Silverstone next Sunday one point behind Sebastian Vettel after the Brit failed to finish following a mechanical failure.
A scathing Hamilton had already accused Mercedes of costing him a straightforward win after, and not for the first time this season, they failed to react to a Virtual Safety Car (VSC) period, caused by Valtteri Bottas’ retirement in the sister car, and stop him for new tyres.
Hamilton dropped to fourth, and following a series of furious exchanges with the Mercedes pit wall, he then ran out of power with only seven laps remaining.
Red Bull driver Max Verstappen capitalised on Mercedes’ first double mechanical DNF since their return to the sport in 2010 to claim his fourth career win ahead of Kimi Raikkonen and Vettel.
Hamilton’s retirement, his first in 33 races, ensured a 15-point championship swing in Vettel’s favour.
Mercedes have dominated the sport since 2014, but they are crumbling under the fiercer competition provided by both Ferrari and Red Bull this year.
Here, distracted by Bottas stopping on track following a lack of hydraulic pressure, they took their eye off the ball, and when the VSC was deployed to slow down the pack, Hamilton, unlike all of his rivals, did not stop for fresh rubber.
The team’s fifth major problem in only nine rounds left Hamilton in no-man’s land.
“We don’t need to make changes,” Hamilton’s boss Toto Wolff said. “The situation is very complex this year. We are fighting six cars.
“We made a mistake. We were controlling the race, running one and two, and suddenly Valtteri stopped. The VSC came out, we had half-a-lap to react and we didn’t. Fact. This is where we lost the race.”
James Vowles is the man in charge of strategy at Mercedes, and is now under increasing scrutiny. The Englishman has masterminded the tactics at Mercedes for all of their recent success, but he has now overseen three strategical mistakes in Australia, China and now Austria yesterday, which may end up costing Hamilton the title this year.
Vowles, 39, owned up to his error in front of the world as Mercedes attempted to settle Hamilton.
“Lewis, this is James,” he said over the radio. “We understand. It’s my mistake.”
A seething Hamilton said: “I want to say something, but just leave me to it.”
Moments later, Hamilton was back on the radio again. “I don’t get it,” he yelled. “I am not going to be able to pass these guys. We have thrown away the win.”
Vowles responded: “I have thrown away the win. We trust in you, and believe in you. I’m sorry.”
“James is one of the best ever,” Wolff said in defence of his chief strategist. “It needed guts to come out and speak in front of millions of people and say it was my mistake.
“For Lewis, he was leading comfortably and then he was in fourth. It was a moment where he was really suffering. James coming on the radio was to help Lewis out of the mind loop of how could this have happened? By admitting a mistake it is easier to get yourself out of a spiral.”
Wolff revealed that Hamilton paid tribute to the team during their post-race debrief.
Hamilton, who is due to sign a new £40million-a-year extension with Mercedes, added: “I am not going to lie, we’re going to have to work on all areas.
“We can’t afford to throw away points. We need to find a bulletproof method to move forward. As painful as it is, we are professionals and we have to take the rough with the smooth.”