July 3, 2018 / 6:01 PM / in 4 months

Motor racing-Mercedes hail strategist after Austria error

LONDON, July 3 (Reuters) - Formula One champions Mercedes have hailed chief strategist James Vowles for his leadership and dismissed suggestions he was forced to make a public apology for a mistake in Sunday’s Austrian Grand Prix.

Vowles spoke to Lewis Hamilton over the team radio, in an exchange heard by millions of television viewers worldwide, during the race after a tactical error dropped the Briton from first to fourth when a virtual safety car was deployed.

“That’s my mistake, Lewis, and I’m very sorry for it,” Vowles had told the four times world champion, who subsequently retired from the race, in a rare intervention. “I have thrown away the win,” he added.

Mercedes on Tuesday dismissed as “baseless” any suggestion that Vowles had been “thrown under the bus”.

Technical director James Allison said in an Austrian Grand Prix debrief on the team’s YouTube channel that Vowles had shown “an extremely broad pair of shoulders”.

“It was I think very characteristic of James but also a measure of how this team operates,” he added.

“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 we learn from rather than throw blame around for.

“So it was a very good example of strong leadership by James, trying to explain to Lewis what had happened.”

Radio messages are usually relayed via the race engineer but Allison said Vowles did sometimes speak directly to a driver in unusual circumstances.

“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,” he said.

Hamilton had led until teammate Valtteri Bottas suffered an hydraulics failure and pulled over, bringing out the virtual safety car for one lap. He did not pit while those immediately behind him did.

“You don’t want to be the only one stopping and then find that all the other guys behind you don’t stop and you get tangled up in them in a way you hope not to be,” explained Allison.

“We thought the Virtual Safety Car would last for more than one lap, so we thought we would see what happened to the guys behind us.” (Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Mark Heinrich)

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