When Autosport asked “What the hell happened there?” in regards to Lewis Hamilton’s pit stop snafu at Monaco, Mercedes Formula One team boss Toto Wolff shed some light on what makes timing at Monaco more difficult to calculate than it is at other tracks. Now we know more on how that call was botched.

Towards the end of the race, Hamilton had over nineteen seconds separating him from his second-place teammate, Nico Rosberg. On lap 64, F1’s first virtual safety car was called, slowing down the entire field at once. According to Motorsport.com, the cars following him spent more of that lap under the virtual safety car than Hamilton did, boosting his lead on Rosberg to 25.7 seconds. Hamilton saw Mercedes’ pit crews out in pit lane on a television screen next to the track, causing him to think that Rosberg may have pitted for fresh rubber. Cars chasing him on fresh rubber could catch up to Hamilton’s car on older tires, so Hamilton radioed in his tire concerns to the team. The team initially told Hamilton to stay out, but Hamilton insisted that he needed tires soon to be able to finish the race with his lead intact.

This is where everything appears to have gone wrong. Instead of reassuring Hamilton that his two closest competitors weren’t on fresh tires, the team figured that they had time to pit. Unfortunately for Hamilton and his crew, the virtual safety car only lasted for thirty seconds before officials decided the situation merited a full, physical safety car instead of the VSC limiter.

Advertisement

At the front of the field, Hamilton quickly caught the safety car, slowing him down before he entered the pits. Rosberg and Vettel hadn’t caught up to the safety car yet, allowing them to continue at faster speeds just long enough to come out ahead of Hamilton when Hamilton left the pits. For Hamilton, this decision to pit before the end of the race gave him a crushing defeat for all the wrong reasons.

Wolff explained to Autosport that a lack of GPS may have contributed to the mess:

We thought we had a gap which we didn’t have when the safety car came out, and Lewis was behind the safety car.

The calculation was simply wrong, hence what happened. In Monaco, you have no GPS and that makes the whole exercise more difficult.

This is why we got it wrong when it switched from the virtual safety into the safety car.

Advertisement

According to Motorsport.com, teams often work the FIA’s GPS system into their calculations, but have to rely on other sources of position information at Monaco. Around 20 loops in the track are one such source, and teams are able to use algorithms to pinpoint a car’s location.

Obviously, the team knew Rosberg wasn’t a threat, either. Not knowing when Vettel might pit was the issue. Wolff told Autosport:

The potential risk could have been Sebastian switching on a soft tire behind us.

Now, very simply from a common-sense overview - disregarding the data, but we have to follow the data, that’s how the sport works - I agree it looks like a risk.

But the simple answer was the numbers were wrong.

Ferrari, interestingly enough, wasn’t planning on stopping soon anyway, especially with everyone being held up by the safety car.

Advertisement

The margin of error in this case wasn’t forgiving. Wolff confirmed to Motorsport.com that the final call to bring Hamilton in was made approximately 50 meters before the pits and explained:

We thought we had 3.5 seconds on top of a normal pitstop. And that disappeared. Somewhere the data got frozen, and we have to find out where. The numbers just didn’t add up any more. The safety car stopped him a little bit.

The calculations were done based on the virtual safety car speed, not the slower, live safety car. Motorsport.com points out that the two cars of Nasr and Ricciardo who didn’t have to slow down to catch the safety car on lap 65 ran lap times in the 1:59s, while Hamilton’s lap was 2:11.321. In other words, he ran at least 11 seconds slower than expected that lap—much more than Mercedes was budgeting for with the stop.

Advertisement

Hamilton was the only one who could see that he was being held up more than the others, but also couldn’t have realized he was losing more time than the team accounted for with the stop, either.

The entire stop was a hot mess of miscommunication and bad calculations. When Hamilton came out behind both Sebastian Vettel and Nico Rosberg, it made the final green-flag laps of the race interesting, but it was gutting to see a simple mistake cost Hamilton that much. He drove the wheels off that car all race long, only to get hosed in the end.

For that, Mercedes chief Toto Wolff felt the need to apologize to the driver.

“I went to see him in the scrum and I said ‘apologies for that one, it goes on the team,’” Wolff told Autosport. “It was all good between us.”

Advertisement

It wasn’t just Wolff who felt the need to apologize to Hamilton over the botched pit stop, either.

“We win and we lose together and what I am proud of in this team is that we take collective responsibility,” explained Wolff to MotorSportsTalk. “But this is a day when we simply have to say sorry to our driver, because our mistake cost him the victory here.”

Advertisement

Hamilton isn’t the team’s only worry. According to Autosport, Daimler chairman Dr. Dieter Zetsche was in the garage for Monaco, and was also extremely unamused at the company’s premier marque losing out on a 1-2 finish over such a poorly made decision.

Wolff also made it clear that the decision to pit Hamilton clearly wasn’t one of favoritism of one driver over another, either. Sure, Rosberg hit a cool milestone in winning his third consecutive Monaco Grand Prix this weekend, but it was not the team’s intent to hand Rosberg the win, despite what any Internet tin-foil-hat-types have to say about it. Wolff told Autosport:

We have a championship leader, this is Lewis, and we have Nico running in number two today.

Lewis is a great leader, a great driver, and I am sure he will understand sometimes we make errors and this was such a situation.

Believe me, there is no such thing as favoritism in this team for whatever reason.

Advertisement

According to MotorSportsTalk, the team took a good, hard look at every aspect of the situation after the race so as hopefully not to repeat it again. They know as well as anyone that Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari is more than happy to jump ahead whenever they make the slightest mistake.

Photo credit: Getty Images


Contact the author at stef.schrader@jalopnik.com.