Lewis Hamilton bemoaned his race strategy in a series of angry radio messages during Sunday’s Malaysian Grand Prix, as Mercedes admitted they were stunned at how quickly Ferrari have eroded their advantage.
Hamilton, who finished second behind Sebastian Vettel, sounded increasingly exasperated with the team during the race, complaining about the “confusing” communication from the pit wall.
Mercedes won the first race of the year in Melbourne by half a minute so were left scratching their heads after this “wake-up call” from Ferrari. Executives at the team stood by their strategy and conceded they were fairly beaten.
"It felt like it was lost at the first stop,” Hamilton said. “We were a little bit quicker than them through some stints but it was too big a gap to close up.
“I remember there were some conversations going on, Paddy [Lowe, technical director] had pressed the wrong button and I could hear them yapping in my ear. He was asking 'am I going to do another stop'. I thought it was my last stop so it confused me, which was not helpful."
Once the temperature cooled after the race Hamilton conceded that he may not have caught Ferrari whatever the strategy. However, during the race he repeatedly remonstrated with his engineers.
First, during his last stint, he said: “This is the wrong tyre man”. Then, when the team accidentally broadcast a message from Paddy Lowe, Hamilton added: “I can hear you. I don't know what I'm supposed to be doing. Paddy says I might be doing another stop.”
And finally, when the team told him he would catch Vettel with five laps left, he fired back: “Don’t talk to me in a corner! I almost went off.”
It betrayed the fact Mercedes were put under pressure for the first time in more than a year. A seemingly shocked Lowe said the strategy was correct and the car was simply not quick enough.
“I don’t think we did a lot wrong,” he said. “Ferrari were very quick. We were always going to do three stops and with the safety car it was the right call to pit then. We lost a bit of time in traffic, but if we had had more pace we would have beaten them.”
Toto Wolff, Mercedes head of motorsport, blamed the high temperatures on their poor performance but admitted he was concerned by how quickly Ferrari had closed the gap.
“Yes, it is worrying,” Wolff said. “They have won the race. It wouldn’t be right to say that we have lost it. In hindsight it’s easy to be clever."