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2018 F1

Hakkinen: Ferrari made most of VSC period, but Mercedes are not to blame

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Two-times F1 world champion Mika Hakkinen believes Mercedes was not at fault for the offline software tool error that cost champion Lewis Hamilton a chance to win the Australian Grand Prix.

Hamilton looked to be in utter domination after starting powerfully from pole position at Sunday’s season-opening race, but he suddenly found himself behind Sebastian Vettel after coming out of the pit lane.

The confusing incident occurred after a virtual safety car was deployed as marshals removed Romain Grosjean’s stricken Haas car from the track.

When the Virtual Safety Car deployed, cars stay on track with VSC mode. There then is a short distance between the designated line of the safety car and the entrance to the pit lane when cars can briefly speed up as they prepare to pit, which is what Vettel did.

Timing proved crucial as Mercedes misjudged the gap to Vettel, enabling the Ferrari driver to pull ahead and win the race.

Following the race Mercedes primarily blamed a software problem for the timing that led to Hamilton being leapfrogged, but later revealed a “bug” in an offline tool used for its VSC calculations as the true cause of the problem.

“After the pre-season tests I was personally very confident that the Mercedes team would dominate Formula One again,” Hakkinen wrote in his Unibet column.

“But even I was amazed to see the incredible performance that Hamilton and the team produced in qualifying. A different level to everybody.

“The race, however, was a different story because it was not at all straightforward for Mercedes.

“Vettel’s win came down to Ferrari being able to react very well to what happened during the VSC period, and their strategy worked perfectly for him even if it was not so good for Raikkonen.

“Personally I did not see this race result as a failure on Mercedes’ side.

“When you are leading a race you often find yourself first into any situation, and that actually gives the guys behind you a little more time to work out what to do.

“Ferrari made the most of the VSC period, and I would not say it was Mercedes’ fault that this situation worked against them.”

Hamilton’s team-mate Bottas made to an eighth-place finish from 15th. The Finn suffered a huge crash into the wall during qualifying Q3, leaving him with hugely damaged gearbox which acquired a penalty after having to be replaced.

But Hakkinen – once known was the ‘Flying Finn’ when he raced for McLaren – believes his compatriot will bounce back.

He added: “Valtteri Bottas will recover from the mistake which caused his qualifying accident and meant he started further back on the grid.

“The accident happened at a corner where you are right on the limit, with a wall waiting for you on the outside, so you need good grip and a perfect exit in order to prepare for a period of long acceleration.

“Valtteri was off line, enough to lose all the rear grip, but he will come back strongly. He had a good pre-season test, is mentally strong, and knows what he has to do.”

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