Sebastian Vettel was able to get ahead of Lewis Hamilton during a Virtual Safety Car period in the Australian Grand Prix due to a software error, according to Toto Wolff.
Hamilton had been leading from pole position with the two Ferrari drivers in relatively close proximity when Kimi Raikkonen opted to pit first of the frontrunners. Mercedes reacted by pitting Hamilton, and although Vettel stayed out in the lead, the gap between the two initially closed and then stabilized as the Ferrari did not have enough margin to make a pit stop and emerge ahead.
However, a Virtual Safety Car (VSC) allowed Vettel to pit and rejoin in the lead – a scenario Wolff says Mercedes did not believe was possible.
“We thought about it and we were trying to maintain the correct gaps, trying to build enough gap to Raikkonen to avoid the undercut, trying to have enough gap to the Haas to have the Safety Car gap,” Wolff explained. “Everything was under control. We took a bit of a risk of putting Lewis on a soft to go to the end, but it was the only choice to avoid Kimi jumping us.
“The pace was good. Then we calculated the VSC gap which was needed. Our computer said 15 seconds was what the necessary time in order to jump us. We were always within this three/four second margin. Then suddenly the cameras showed us the pit exit. Sebastian came out in front of us.
“We have no explanation yet. It could be an unlucky situation that Sebastian was just making it into the pits, was accelerating behind Safety Car line one and two. I don’t know. This is a hypothesis at the moment. Therefore losing much less on VSC than Lewis, who had to break pretty hard in a high-speed zone. The software or system we have been using for five years just gave us the wrong number.”
When it was put to Wolff that the drivers have to adhere to a delta time set by the FIA, the Mercedes boss explained it was the gap Hamilton was maintaining before Romain Grosjean stopped on track that turned out to be incorrect.
“When he came out, we tried to have enough pace in the car to make the gap to have a virtual safety car gap. It was before the VSC. We said we have the VSC gap, maintain the VSC gap, slow down, we have three or four seconds, we knew we had that.
“The drivers oscillate within one second in the delta. He did nothing wrong. It was down to a software bug or an algorithm that was simply wrong.”