Sebastian Vettel would have easily won the United States Grand Prix had he not spun on the opening lap, according to Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff.
Kimi Raikkonen took the lead from polesitter Lewis Hamilton into Turn 1 and went on to take victory, with Hamilton dropping behind Max Verstappen as a result of a two-stop strategy. Vettel started from fifth place but spun when fighting with Daniel Ricciardo on the opening lap and dropped to 14th, and Wolff believes the pace Ferrari showed means the German would have won without that error.
“This has been the most difficult season so far,” Wolff said. “It’s spanning the whole season — you can see two or three races that were going in our favor, then Ferrari was again very strong, and then we had a good run, and now Ferrari had a very good weekend.
“Imagine Sebastian not spinning out on Lap 1, I think he would have probably won the race easily. It’s stressful — the drivers’ championship, we’re in a solid position, but I always said we mustn’t drop the ball. We’ve seen that in the past with other teams.
“And with the constructors’ championship, that is very important for the team, nothing’s done yet. There are 129 points to be scored with 66 (the advantage) that we have. Of course it’s a good buffer, but no reason to giggle away and think that you have the trophy in your hand because we can see that we haven’t got it in our hands.”
Wolff defended the thinking behind switching Hamilton to a two-stop strategy during an early Virtual Safety Car, with the championship leader already second to Raikkonen at the time.
“The moment we committed to a two-stop, we were running second on the road and thought that by moving to a two-stop at that stage, we would only lose a position to Valtteri (Bottas), catch up Kimi and then effectively be on the same one more stop to do but on a better tire. That was the thinking.
“(Tire life) was an unknown, and you can see that. Fundamentally, we lacked pace. We ran out of tire, and that was the underlying reason why we lost the race.
“The thinking was that if we were to bite the bullet a little bit more, we would have a larger tire differential at the end, but then we started to drop massive pace and probably we were a lap or two late in pitting Lewis, because the tires dropped off in the mid-38s, low-39s to 41s.”