Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has sent another warning to Lewis Hamilton in his tight battle with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, adding that a non-finish this season could be a deciding moment in the fight for the F1 championship.
Verstappen now leads the way by six points after a second-place finish at the Turkish Grand Prix, with Hamilton crossing the line in fifth due to a tyre gamble from Mercedes.
Ahead of the race, the British-based German outfit had already been forced to take a grid penalty, as Hamilton picked up a fourth internal combustion engine [ICE], not wanting to risk a mechanical failure ahead of the race with just seven remaining.
The penalty meant Hamilton started Sunday’s race in 11th place, with Verstappen in second, just behind Valtteri Bottas.
However, in the latter moments of the race, the seven-time world champion was advised by his race engineer to pit his intermediates that had run for over 40 laps, yet Hamilton seemed to overrule the team, and instead opted to stay out.
Ultimately it was the wrong call, with Hamilton eventually diving into the pits from third on lap 51 of 58, re-emerging in P5, with the 36-year-old left fuming on the radio after fighting his way up from 11th.
Toto Wolff responds after Lewis Hamilton’s radio rant at Turkish GP
Verstappen heavily capitalised in Russia despite starting from the back of the grid, and with mixed feelings in the Mercedes camp after Turkey, Wolff warned that any DNF’s could now put the championship to bed.
“In the end, we lost eight points today [Sunday] to Red Bull from a grid penalty and Red Bull last week were happy with a seven-point loss,” said Wolff. “It’s going to be very tight until the end [of the season].
“DNFs are going to make the big difference and that was also a consideration today, not three or four or five-point swings.”
Hamilton initially ignored orders from his team to pit during the Turkish Grand Prix with the seven-time world champion sitting third.
Eventually, with seven laps remaining, Hamilton swapped for a new set of intermediate tyres but was left frustrated on the radio after dropping back two places.
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“The whole season swings back and forth, we make mistakes together, we win together,” added Wolff. “We decided for one thing and it went wrong.
“We have had much bigger swings in the past with lost opportunities and this one was a very close call.”
Hamilton initially seemed to fume over the radio at his race engineer Peter Bonnington after rejoining the race in P5, but released a statement on Monday explaining his position.
“I’ve seen some of the press this morning which has made a bit too much of the incident in yesterday’s race of when to pit,” Hamilton wrote.
“It isn’t true to say I’m furious with my team.
“As a team, we work hard to build the best strategy possible but as the race progresses you have to make split decisions there are so many factors constantly changing.
“Yesterday we took the risk to stay out hoping it would dry, it didn’t. I wanted to risk it and go to the end but it was my call to stay out and it didn’t work.
“In the end we did pit and it was the safest thing to do.
“We live and we learn. We win and we lose as a team. Don’t ever expect me to be all polite and calm on the radio when I’m racing, we are all very passionate, and in the heat of the moment that passion can come out, as it does for all drivers.
“My heart and spirit are out there on the track, it’s the fire in me that’s got me this far but any angst is quickly forgotten and we talked it through, already looking ahead to the next race.”
Round 17 of the 2021 Formula One World Championship heads to America next for the USA Grand Prix, with Hamilton looking to regain control of the driver standings.