Mercedes have said that Sir Lewis Hamilton did not pit under the late Virtual Safety Car (VSC) in Saudi Arabia because he believed the pitlane was closed.
The Briton started the race 15th after a horrible qualifying that saw him knocked out in the first phase, before the incapacity of Mick Schumacher’s destroyed Haas after qualifying to compete in the race bumped him up a position.
Having started the race on the Hards, he made his way up to sixth by virtue of the Medium runners pitting around him, and it had looked as though the Virtual Safety Car was going to give him the opportunity to make a stop and mitigate the time usually lost by doing so.
However, the simultaneous reliability issues for Alpine’s Fernando Alonso and McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo meant that there were two cars slowing as they tried to coast back into the pits and, upon seeing Alonso’s car, he perceivably thought that the pit lane would be closed.
“We told Lewis at turn 19 to come into the pits. At the time the pit lane was still open and there was no yellow flag. Ricciardo was standing, Alonso was driving slowly,” Mercedes said, quoted by Auto Motor und Sport.
“Double waved yellow flags were shown as Lewis approached Turn 27. The pit lane remained open.”
Formula 2 driver Dennis Hauger had lost a race win in Formula 2 earlier in the weekend when he went through the pitlane under a Safety Car following a crash between Jack Doohan and Logan Sargeant on the home straight.
The drivers were initially told to go through the pitlane, but Hauger did not see or hear the later message confirming the closure of the pitlane.
He therefore lost 11 positions, and was given a penalty for good measure.
The pitlane was closed shortly after Hamilton had passed it, but Kevin Magnussen and Nico Hulkenberg were both able to pit afterwards, as they had ascertained that they were still okay to do so.
Valtteri Bottas also went in, but that was to retire his Alfa Romeo due to an overheating engine.
The Silver Arrows conceded that there was “confusion” around the Briton’s decision to stay out, and note that the 37-year-old lost over five seconds.
“We didn’t repeat the announcement that he should pit. Lewis saw Alonso slowly rolling and hesitated to overtake him because of the yellow flags, that cost him 5.5s. In all the confusion, he decided to stay on track,” they explained.
“The next time he came around, the pit entrance was closed. But that didn’t do the damage. The damage was the five and a half seconds lost.”
Due to the lost time, Hamilton ended up in a battle with Magnussen, who would eventually beat him to P9, consigning the seven-time champion to just a single point.