Mercedes’ F1 weekend turns from perfect to painful in one hour

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What seemed like a perfect race weekend for Mercedes at the Austrian Grand Prix on Sunday turned into its worst showing in Formula 1 since 2016 in less than an hour.

Having started from the front row of the grid, both Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas failed to finish due to mechanical issues, the first race without a Mercedes seeing the checkered flag since the Spanish Grand Prix two years ago.

But it was a poor strategy call by the team that left Hamilton fuming.

“We can’t throw away points,” said the four-time world champion, who ended a series of 33 consecutive races in the points. “The car has been quick all weekend, we were the quickest.”

History repeated itself for Hamilton as another strategy mistake cost him a potential victory at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix in March.

“We have got to understand how we went wrong,” Hamilton said. “Ultimately, we have to take positives where we can.”

When Bottas went out on lap 14 after losing hydraulic pressure, Red Bull and Ferrari were quick to take advantage of the reduced pace on the track during the Virtual Safety Car period and got all their cars to the pits for a tire swap.

But Mercedes didn’t call in Hamilton, who had been leading the race from the start. And when he completed his unavoidable pit stop 10 laps later, he returned only in fourth place…on a track with limited possibilities for overtaking.

Mercedes’ chief strategist, James Vowles, took the blame and was quick to say “sorry” to Hamilton over the radio.

“The strategy was not perfect,” Mercedes non-executive chairman Niki Lauda said. “We have to look into this, and take the consequences.”

According to Lauda, the wrong call happened as Bottas’ exit left the team baffled for a moment.

“The team did not make the right decision right away,” Lauda said, adding that “those two, three seconds made the difference” as the virtual safety car period was already over by the next chance for Hamilton to enter the pit lane.”

After the mishap, Hamilton damaged his tires as he attempted to gain ground, and after pitting again, had to retire with a loss of fuel pressure seven laps short of the finish. The race was won by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.

Failing to score points, Hamilton lost his championship lead to Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel again. The German finished third to take a one-point lead going into the British GP at Silverstone next weekend.

“Both retirements have cost us all the points,” team principal Toto Wolff said. “With just the strategic mistake, we could still have got P4 or P5.”

It was a bitter end for Mercedes to a weekend that started brightly.

A week after a delayed engine upgrade helped Hamilton win the French GP, Mercedes introduced several aerodynamic adaptations to the chassis of their cars. Hamilton and Bottas dominated two of three practice sessions and finished clearly on top in qualifying, with Bottas earning his first pole position of the season.

“I already said it before the race: It is super to start 1-2 but it is better to finish 1-2,” Wolff said. “This was a truly grueling day for us.”

Starting lineup grid for IMSA Petit Le Mans: Tom Blomqvist puts MSR on pole position

Petit Le Mans lineup
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IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar championship contender Tom Blomqvist put the Meyer Shank Racing Acura at the front of the starting lineup for the Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Road Atlanta.

Blomqvist turned a 1-minute, 8.55-second lap on the 2.54-mile circuit Friday to capture his third pole position for MSR this season. Earl Bamber qualified second in the No. 02 Cadillac for Chip Ganassi Racing.

Ricky Taylor was third in the No. 10 Acura of Wayne Taylor Racing, which enters Saturday’s season finale with a 19-point lead over the No. 60 of Blomqvist and Oliver Jarvis (who will be joined by Helio Castroneves) for the 10-hour race.

PETIT LE MANS STARTING GRID: Click here for the starting lineup l Lineup by car number

PETIT LE MANS: Info on how to watch

With the pole, MSR sliced the deficit to 14 points behind WTR, which will field the trio of Taylor, Filipe Albuquerque and Brendon Hartley in Saturday’s race.

“We really needed to put the car in this kind of position,” Blomqvist said. “It makes our life a little less stressful tomorrow. It would have given the No. 10 a bit more breathing space. It’s going to be a proper dogfight tomorrow. The guys gave me such a great car. It’s been fantastic this week so far, and it really came alive. I’m hugely thankful to the boys and girls at MSR for giving me the wagon today to execute my job.

“That was a big effort from me. I knew how important it was. It’s just awesome for the guys to give them some sort of reward as well. It’s always nice to be quick. If you do the pole, you know you’ve got a quick car.”

Though WTR has a series-leading four victories with the No. 10, MSR won the Rolex 24 at Daytona and has five runner-up finishes along with its three poles.

The strong performances of the ARX-05s ensure that an Acura will win the final championship in IMSA’s premier Daytona Prototype international (DPi) division, which is being rebranded as Grand Touring Prototype in the move to LMDh cars next season.

Taylor qualified third despite sliding into the Turn 5 gravel during the closing minutes of qualifying while pushing to gain points.

“Qualifying was important for points,” Taylor said. “Going into it, if we outqualified the No. 60 Meyer Shank Acura, they had a lot to lose in terms of championship points. So, we were trying to increase the gap over 20 points which would’ve made a big difference for tomorrow. We would have loved to get the pole and qualify ahead of the No. 60, but in the scheme of the points, it didn’t change a whole lot. I’m feeling good since it’s such a long race, and the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura team does such a good job strategizing and putting us in a good position.

“I’m very confident in our lineup and our team compared to them over the course of 10 hours. I’d put my two teammates up against those guys any day. I think we are all feeling optimistic and strong for tomorrow.”

In other divisions, PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports (LMP2), Riley Motorsports (LMP3), VasserSullivan (GTD Pro) and Paul Miller Racing (GTD) captured pole positions.

The broadcast of the 10-hour race will begin Saturday at 12:10 p.m. ET on NBC, moving at 3 p.m. to USA Network.


QUALIFYING

Results

Results by class

Fastest lap by driver

Fastest lap by driver after qualifying

Fastest lap by driver and class after qualifying

Fastest lap sequence in qualifying

Best sector times in qualifying

Time cards in qualifying

PRACTICE RESULTS: Session I l Session II l Session III