Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has described the Austrian Grand Prix as his “most painful day” in Formula 1, after Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas were both forced into retirement. 

Hamilton and polesitter Bottas ran first and second after the opening lap but a series of unforeseen events would turn from what looked to be a comfortable 1-2 finish into a “brutal” disaster. 

A hydraulic problem dropped Bottas out of the race from second, while teammate Hamilton joined him on the sidelines when he suffered a loss of fuel pressure in the closing stages. It marked the reigning world champions’ first double DNF in two years and its first two-car retirement due to technical failures since 1955. 

Driver Ratings - Austrian GP

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Wolff said the result was more painful than watching his two cars wipe each other out on the opening lap of the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix. 

“I guess that was a major wake up call. For me the most painful day in my years at Mercedes, worse than Barcelona,” Wolff explained. "I had plenty of people coming to see me before the race and saying it would be a walk in the park, one and two, you have the quickest car.

“I said ‘let's talk in two hours’ and this is exactly how motor racing can go. It can be very, very cruel and we had all the cruelty go against us today and it just got us brutally.”

It followed on from a strategy blunder earlier in the race when Mercedes opted not to pit race-leader Hamilton during a Virtual Safety Car period, caused by Bottas’ stricken W09. 

Hamilton was the only frontrunner not to pit and subsequently emerged out in fourth following his mandatory stop. The error prompted Mercedes chief strategist James Vowles to speak directly to an irate Hamilton over team radio as he personally apologised for the mistake. 

The Briton, who held a 14-point lead heading to Austria, now trails fellow four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel by a single point in the title race after the Ferrari driver finished third. 

But Wolff jumped to the defence of his team’s strategist in the aftermath of the race and praised the “guts” shown by Vowles’ to accept responsibility in such a public manner. 

“We don’t need to make changes,” Wolff insisted. “The most important thing is to understand why an error happens and go back into the situation and analyse. I don’t think we’d make an error twice. The situation is very difficult this year, we are fighting, six cars, and that is just a tough situation.

“For me, James [Vowles] is one of the best ever and it needs guts to comes out and then in order to save the best possible result and go out there in front of millions of people and say ‘that was my mistake, now you can still do this with the car you have’.”

 

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