London - Formula One champion Mercedes rallied around chief strategist James Vowles on Tuesday and dismissed reports he had been forced to apologise publicly for a mistake in last Sunday's Austrian Grand Prix. Vowles spoke to Lewis Hamilton, his words heard by millions of television viewers worldwide, after a tactical error dropped him from first to fourth when a virtual safety car was deployed.
"That's my mistake, Lewis, and I'm very sorry for it," Vowles told the four-times world champion, who later retired from the race, in a rare radio intervention. "I have thrown away the win."
Mercedes technical director James Allison on Tuesday described as baseless any suggestion that Vowles had been "thrown under the bus" by the team. Speaking in a debrief on the Mercedes YouTube channel, he said Vowles had "an extremely broad pair of shoulders" and his actions reflected the culture within the team.
"People will hold up a hand when they have made a mistake knowing that the team's attitude to mistakes is that they are things that we learn from rather than throw blame around for," he said. "So it was a very good example of strong leadership by James, trying to explain to Lewis what had happened."
Radio messages to drivers are usually relayed via race engineers but Allison said Vowles sometimes intervened directly in unusual circumstances if the message was particularly important. Hamilton had led until team-mate Valtteri Bottas suffered an hydraulics failure and pulled over, bringing out the virtual safety car for one lap. He did not pit while those immediately behind him did.