Mercedes show Achilles heel as unbeaten run comes to an end

SPIELBERG, Austria (Reuters) – Mercedes showed their Achilles heel in the Austrian heat on Sunday, with the Formula One champions suffering defeat for the first time this season. 

Formula One F1 – Austrian Grand Prix – Red Bull Ring, Spielberg, Austria – June 30, 2019 Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton in action during the race Christian Bruna/Pool via REUTERS

Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas went into the race at the undulating Red Bull Ring having won all of the season’s eight races, six in one-two formation, as well as the last 10 in a row.

They could have turned the run up to 11, equaling McLaren’s modern-era record from 1988, but instead a combination of soaring temperatures and the characteristics of the 4.3km circuit left them vulnerable.

Max Verstappen won for Red Bull, ahead of fellow 21-year-old Charles Leclerc in a Ferrari. Bottas had to settle for third with Hamilton only fifth — the first time he has been off the podium since Mexico last October.

“We never saw our performance because we were racing with our hands tied behind our backs,” team boss Toto Wolff told reporters.

“We tried to work on mitigating the performance loss, but at the end it was really painful to watch cruising, not being able to defend or attack.”

Wolff said his team’s cars had the speed to win but were unable to unleash it on a hot day with air temperatures touching 33 degrees centigrade at the start of the race and track temperatures in the 50s.

“Today exposed our Achilles Heel,” said Wolff.

“We were running the engine way turned down, lifting and coasting for up to 400 meters — it’s almost having no throttle rolling downwards — and still able to pull in some decent lap times.

“So I think…we would have a chance to fight for the win but we were limited by the cooling problems.”

Hamilton said he wouldn’t have been able to challenge for the win, even if he hadn’t had to lift and coast as Wolff described and hadn’t also damaged his front wing.

That damage cost him crucial time in the pits where his car was fitted with a new nose.

“There’s not much to say really. I was just pushing as hard as I could but just limited by temperatures,” said the Briton, who has won six of the nine races this season and holds a 31-point lead over Bottas in the standings.

“I had to just cruise back there basically.”

Bottas could at least draw some consolation from clawing back five points on his championship leading team mate.

“I felt like we couldn’t really race today,” said the Finn. “I’m happy that I managed to be on the podium and also get a few points against Lewis.”

Editing by Alan Baldwin/Pritha Sarkar

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