Mercedes came close to dashing Lewis Hamilton’s title hopes and potentially handing the Formula One championship to Nico Rosberg in Sunday’s Mexican Grand Prix, team boss Toto Wolff has revealed.
The Austrian told reporters after triple world champion Hamilton had won the race that it had been touch and go whether to bring the Briton into the pits when he damaged his tyres at the start.
Had they done so, and Rosberg gone on to win, it could have ended the championship battle between the two Mercedes team mates.
“All the bad luck Lewis had through the season, he got some of that (good luck) back today,” said Wolff.
Hamilton suffered a brake problem before the start, also locking up into the first corner and tracking across the grass instead of making the turn.
That left him with a ‘flat-spotted’ tyre — one with a badly worn patch — that caused vibrations so bad the team feared the suspension could shatter.
“We had quite a conversation on the radio about whether we should pit him for safety reasons,” said Wolff. “In any other race, we would have pitted him and lost the race.
“We kept him out there in order to not throw away the championship for him. Every single lap, every single straight, we monitored the vibrations. Our team did a fantastic job in really keeping that under control.
“And then we pitted him a bit early because the vibration metrics was going sky high and a suspension failure could have easily happened. That was the earliest we could have pitted him. Everything else would have destroyed the race.”
Hamilton, who made his sole stop on lap 17, told reporters the vibrations had been so bad he had feared the worst.
“I didn’t know if I was going to be able to make it in the first stint,” he said. “Honestly I thought I had to stop, the vibration was so big I could barely see.”
Rosberg would have been champion had he finished first and Hamilton failed to place in the top nine. As it stands, the German has a 19 point advantage with two races remaining.
Hamilton’s fate is still not in his own hands — Rosberg can wrap up the title at the next race in Brazil if he wins, regardless of where the Briton places.