Mercedes feared both W11s were on the verge of imminent failure during the Austrian GP with Toto Wolff saying the problem could have led to an “instant kill”.
As the Formula 1 season finally got underway at the Red Bull Ring on Sunday, it proved to be a race of attrition for the F1 field.
Only 11 of the 20 cars saw the chequered flag with Mercedes one of only three teams to get both cars to the finish line.
But it was touch and go.
Running 1-2 with Valtteri Bottas ahead of his team-mate Lewis Hamilton, the brains trust on the pit wall began to issue orders for both drivers to stay off the kerbs.
Initially it was thought this was Mercedes’ way of telling the two to stop pushing so hard and hold stations.
It soon became clear that was not the case.
📻 Bono: "We’re seeing sensor issues on both cars, do your best to stay off the kerbs"
Hamilton: "I’m generally saying off the kerbs"
Bono: "Copy, do your best to look after the car:
— Luke Smith (@LukeSmithF1) July 5, 2020
Eventually chief strategist James Vowles’ voice was heard over the radio.
“Valtteri this is James, the gearbox issue is critical, please stay off the kerbs, that’s both cars,” he told Bottas.
“Lewis this is James, the gearbox issue is critical, please stay off the kerbs, that’s both cars,” he repeated to Hamilton.
Vowles warned both drivers that both W11s were suffering from a potential gearbox sensor issue that threatened their continued participation in the grand prix.
Both Bottas and Hamilton listened to the team’s orders in the latter part of the grand prix with the Finn racing to the victory with Hamilton P4 on the day after he incurred a penalty for causing a collision with Alex Albon.
Wolff says it was not posturing from Mercedes, it was a genuine problem.
“The situation was pretty serious, right away from the start,” the Mercedes team principal told Autosport.
“We saw it started with issues on Valtteri’s car, but it was something that can be an instant kill. Then it started on Lewis’s car.
“We didn’t really know what it was.
“We know that it was somehow linked to vibration and agitation of the car. That is why we advised them very early on to keep off the kerbs.
“At the certain stage, it looked like we would not finish the race with both cars. So we were trying to really cruise home.”