Mercedes to rely on software to prevent closed pitlane blunder
Mercedes says it will rely on software in the future to prevent in the future the closed pitlane blunder that undermined Lewis Hamilton’s Italian Grand Prix.
Following the deployment of a safety car at Monza to protect the retrieval near the pit entry of Kevin Magnussen’s parked Haas, Hamilton pitted for a tyre change but entered the pitlane after it had been closed.
The race leader had obviously missed the warning signals on the side of the track but more importantly, his Mercedes team had also failed to inform him on a timely basis of race control’s decision which was taken 11 seconds after the safety car was sent out.
The mistake compelled the stewards to hand a 10-second stop-and-go penalty to Hamilton and to Alfa’s Antonio Giovinazzi for the same offense.
Mercedes chief strategist James Vowles explained why the Brackley squad’s pitwall had missed the FIA’s ‘pitlane closed’ message.
“In terms of the sequence there were two pieces of information to tell us that the pitlane entry had been closed,” said Vowles in Mercedes’ Italian Grand Prix debrief on Youtube.
“The first was there were boards around the track that have a cross on it, a red cross indicating that’s the state, and when the driver sees that, he knows he must stay out.
“The second piece of information is we have TV screens in front of us. One of those is called page three and it contains a number of messages that the FIA wants to send us.
“That could be a yellow flag or safety car deployed, and one of those was the pitlane entry was closed.”
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However, the crucial info was lost on Vowles and engineering chief Andrew Shovlin amid the commotion that occurred following the deployment of the safety car.
“This was a key point in the race where the entire field would have come into the pitlane,” explained Vowles
“Lewis came on asking for a different set of tyres, we were reviewing whether or not we had time, whether it was the correct decision or not.
“These were all conversations that take just a few seconds, but they all add up. What you are not doing particularly is looking for a single line on the screen to indicate the pitlane entry was closed.
“Both Shov and myself have been through similar instances, 2016 was the last time this happened in Brazil, it happened twice there but it was clear that the pitlane entry would be closed then. There was a crash and almost a huge amount of debris, you wouldn’t want to drive into the pitlane at that stage.
“This was different, it didn’t really prompt us to necessarily look at the screen and look for a single line that was hidden amongst other information and we missed it. It didn’t take us long to spot it.”
Fortunately, the warning was spotted in time to inform Valtteri Bottas to stay out, but Hamilton’s race was inevitably lost.
“We were able to still keep Valtteri out and for reference we can hear from other team radio that it took them about 10 seconds to notice it as well and that 10 seconds was the crucial period where because Lewis was so far in the lead of the race he was just able to come in,” added Vowles.
“With all the benefit of hindsight we know what we would do differently now. We can put systems in place in software that will enable us to find and ensure that we see these critical messages in just a few seconds.”
After last Sunday’s race, Hamilton took the blame for the costly pitstop blunder, but his team absolved their driver from any blame, insisting there was simply too much going on for the six-time world champion to notice the signals located on the other side of the track at the final corner.
“He was just turning into Parabolica at that point, still at full racing speed,” said Vowles.
“The driver there is trying to control the vehicle and just at that point also was getting himself down to the correct delta time for the safety car and preparing for the stop because we had already called him to come into the pitlane.
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“There was a lot going on for him, and it’s not typically to be looking at a board that is on the far left-hand side of the track.
“There were two boards. The first would have been very difficult for him to see, one was on the left-hand side but as I say he was in control of the vehicle looking at the dash and he didn’t see it.
“As you come towards the pitlane entry if you look on board with Lewis, there is actually no indication at that point that the pitlane is at all closed. There are no further boards, there is no light, there is nothing to tell him anymore that it should be closed.
“So, from his perspective it would have been a very difficult call, just a matter of seconds to look up, look in the correct place and make a judgement call.”
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