Mercedes has explained the events behind its failure to spot the closed pitlane message on the FIA’s timing screens during the Italian Grand Prix.
The Brackley-based team called race leader Lewis Hamilton into the pits when the safety car was deployed to allow marshals to retrieve Kevin Magnussen’s Haas near the pit entry.
Race control decided to close the pitlane 11 seconds after the safety car had been dispatched, but Mercedes hadn’t noticed before Hamilton boxed for new tyres.
Hamilton received a 10-second stop/go penalty that ultimately cost him victory having dominated the early stages of the grand prix, with the stewards handing the same punishment to Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi.
Explaining how teams are notified that the pitlane has been closed in Mercedes’ post-race debrief video, chief strategist James Vowles said: “In terms of the sequence there were two pieces of information to tell us that the pitlane entry had been closed.
“The first was there were boards around the track that have a cross on it, a red cross indicating that’s the state, and when the driver sees that, he knows he must stay out.
“The second piece of information is we have TV screens in front of us. One of those is called page three and it contains a number of messages that the FIA wants to send us. That could be a yellow flag or safety car deployed, and one of those was the pitlane entry was closed.”
Vowles revealed discussions with Hamilton over tyre choice moments before he entered the pits played a major factor in the Mercedes pitwall overlooking the message.
“This was a key point in the race where the entire field would have come into the pitlane,” Vowles said. “Lewis came on asking for a different set of tyres, we were reviewing whether or not we had time, whether it was the correct decision or not.
“These were all conversations that take just a few seconds, but they all add up. What you are not doing particularly is looking for a single line on the screen to indicate the pitlane entry was closed.
“Both Shov and myself have been through similar instances, 2016 was the last time this happened in Brazil, it happened twice there but it was clear that the pitlane entry would be closed then. There was a crash and almost a huge amount of debris, you wouldn’t want to drive into the pitlane at that stage.
“This was different, it didn’t really prompt us to necessarily look at the screen and look for a single line that was hidden amongst other information and we missed it. It didn’t take us long to spot it.”
Although Hamilton was mistakenly pitted, Mercedes had enough time to inform team-mate Valtteri Bottas to stay out.
Vowles said following the team’s analysis of the incident, it has now taken the steps to ensure there won’t be a repeat at future races.
“We were able to still keep Valtteri out and for reference we can hear from other team radio that it took them about 10 seconds to notice it as well and that 10 seconds was the crucial period where because Lewis was so far in the lead of the race he was just able to come in,” he said.
“With all the benefit of hindsight we know what we would do differently now. We can put systems in place in software that will enable us to find and ensure that we see these critical messages in just a few seconds.”
Vowles refused to apportion blame on Hamilton’s part, despite the six-time world champion accepting responsibility after the race.
“He was just turning into Parabolica at that point, still at full racing speed,” Vowles said.
“The driver there is trying to control the vehicle and just at that point also was getting himself down to the correct delta time for the safety car and preparing for the stop because we had already called him to come into the pitlane.
“There was a lot going on for him, and it’s not typically to be looking at a board that is on the far left-hand side of the track.
“There were two boards. The first would have been very difficult for him to see, one was on the left-hand side but as I say he was in control of the vehicle looking at the dash and he didn’t see it.
“As you come towards the pitlane entry if you look on board with Lewis, there is actually no indication at that point that the pitlane is at all closed. There are no further boards, there is no light, there is nothing to tell him anymore that it should be closed.
“So, from his perspective it would have been a very difficult call, just a matter of seconds to look up, look in the correct place and make a judgement call.”