Four days since the Monaco Grand Prix when Valtteri Bottas’s Mercedes was retired from the race due to a stuck right-front wheel nut, the team has finally shared a video of the tire being removed from the car.
Update Thursday, May 27, 2021 11:22 a.m.: Mercedes has posted a video to Twitter showing a mechanic using what almost looks like a dentist’s drill to shave off the nut before eventually pulling the wheel off the hub. The job was actually completed Tuesday at 10 a.m. according to the team.
Look, there’s no denying at this point that Mercedes-AMG F1 is the best constructor on the grid, and has been for the better part of a decade at this point. There’s also no denying that Sunday’s event in Monaco was not the team’s best effort. Lewis Hamilton ran an abysmal race with bunk strategy to finish seventh, and a right front wheel nut machined itself to the hub on Bottas’s car, causing him to retire from second. The team couldn’t figure out how to get the wheel nut off. That same wheel/tire/nut combo remained on the car as it got shipped back to team headquarters.
Basically, when the right front tire man put the wheel gun onto the nut a little bit off of square and it just tore the fluted driving edges of the nut free from the surface. It was stripped, and the gun wouldn’t grip the nut, and therefore the nut wouldn’t budge. Mercedes technical director James Allison said “It is a bit like when you take a Phillips head screwdriver, and you don’t get it squarely in the cross of the screwdriver.” We all know how big of a pain in the ass that is, right?
“Given the power of the gun,” Allison continued, “you can end up with no driving face and you just machine the nut down to a place where there is nothing left to grab a hold of, and that is what we had today.”
The team spent some time trying to get the wheel nut off of the car before loading up in Monaco and shipping the whole organization, soup to nuts, back to HQ in Brackley, West Northamptonshire. The lion’s share of the nut was still there at the time the car left Monaco, just without the required bits to allow it to be removed. Therefore the team had to painstakingly Dremel through the remnants of the wheel nut in order to get that wheel removed from the chassis. Brutal!
“We need to review the design, we need to review the material of our wheel nut, because the mechanics that operate the wheel nuts need to do it in a way that you can’t machine it off,” said Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff. “And as a matter of fact, a mechanic that did that is one of the best, and one of the fittest in terms of pitstop speed, that the team has. So there are always things coming together. It’s never someone’s fault, it’s always multi-faceted.”
There’s no use blaming the wheel gunner, because the whole team is working in fractions of a second here. Presumably they’ve done this wheel off and on thing a hundred times, and this was just the one high-stakes moment where they fucked up in a minor way that escalated into a really big deal. With Bottas retiring from the Grand Prix and what was all but a secure podium position, and Red Bull finishing first and fourth with Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez respectively, Mercedes has fallen out of the lead of the championship.
If I’ve done my sums right, this is the first time Mercedes hasn’t been leading the Constructors’ championship since the German Grand Prix 1-2 put the team back into the lead over Ferrari in 2018. They’d better get their wheel nuts figured out before heading to Azerbaijan next week.