Mercedes Formula 1 boss Toto Wolff says his team is continuing to tighten its radio communications after incidents this season, and is trying to stay out of strategy discussions himself.
Wolff admitted after the Russian Grand Prix that he had distracted chief strategist James Vowles at a critical time, causing the team to make a mistake by not calling Lewis Hamilton into the pits a lap after leader Valtteri Bottas stopped.
That helped Sebastian Vettel to get ahead, forcing Hamilton to damage his tyres while battling to get past and then setting up the controversial decision for Bottas to hand the Sochi win to his teammate.
Wolff cited a fatal Polish military plane crash in Russia in 2010 as an example of what can go wrong if experts are overruled by their bosses.
“It was two very, very experienced fighter pilots that were flying the plane, and they aborted two of the landing attempts because the fog was too thick and there wasn’t an automatic landing system at the airport,” Wolff said.
“When they were thinking about what to do, the head of the air force came into the cockpit and says, ‘we are landing.’ He overruled the two pilots because he’s higher up the hierarchy. And they landed, executing his order, and killed people. They knew better.
“So when our plane flies in qualifying and in the race, James flies the airplane and all I can do is comment and give him feedback and input but ultimately it’s his decision what to do.
“He’s in command at that moment even though from my ranking I’m higher up. But I will not interfere. It is his call in the end.”
Wolff admitted that his input can be a distraction, and that during Suzuka qualifying Vowles gave an order for “quiet on the radio” except for him and trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin, leading Wolff to think “he means me, I guess”.
Wolff added: “There is the race support room back in Brackley that is engaged, and we have all the clever guys there.
“So I’m having my special button with James Allison where we’re offloading all the crap and vice versa, just not to offload it onto the guys that are actually flying the plane.
“Unless I am 100% convinced that he’s not spotted something, which is when I will give him the input, I will not interfere with the final decision.”
He admitted that communication was still something where Mercedes was “trying to get better every weekend, we’re reviewing that every weekend”.
Wolff also made clear that the Russian GP team orders decision ultimately rested with him.
“The decision of inverting the cars which I took, and I take that on me, in Sochi, we knew what the outcome would be,” he said.
“There was no variable in the outcome. If there is variable in the outcome, it’s [Vowles’] call but there was no variable. We knew what would happen and we knew we would take some criticism.”
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