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Allison pays tribute to strategist Vowles

NEWS STORY
03/07/2018

At a time some sections of the media are claiming that Mercedes strategist James Vowles was "thrown under the bus" by Mercedes as its Austrian Grand Prix imploded, technical director James Allison has explained why the Briton chose to offer his mea culpa over the team radio, whilst paying tribute to him for the move.

Having missed an open goal in failing to pit when the VSC was deployed following the retirement of his teammate, the voice that Lewis Hamilton would normally expect to hear over the team radio is that of his engineer Peter 'Bonno' Bonnington. Instead however, as his race began to fall apart, it was the voice of strategist James Vowles that was heard by the world champion... and millions of race fans around the world.

Admitting that he had "thrown the race away", that he'd made a mistake which would cost Hamilton victory, as well as apologising for his error, Vowles did his best to encourage the driver, only for a fuel pressure issue to finally end his misery.

In the latest edition of Pure Pitwall, Allison explained the situation.

"You do sometimes hear James, and it's normally under unusual circumstances when we have a message that's either subtle or difficult and we need to get a message to the driver without the intermediary of the race engineer," said Allison.

"The normal communication path is that the strategist will tell a message to the race engineer to pass on to the driver and the race engineer will do that.

"Sometimes you want to avoid the Chinese whisper of that or the message is very important or, in this particular instance, it was extremely personal.

"In this particular instance it was James showing an extremely broad pair of shoulders," Allison continues, "standing up and saying 'that's my mistake, Lewis, and I'm very sorry for it'.

"I think that's characteristic of James but also a measure of how this team operates, where people will hold up a hand when they have made a mistake knowing that the team's attitude to mistakes is that they are things that they learn from rather than throw blame around for or cause great polemics within the team.

"It was a great example of strong leadership by James, trying to explain to Lewis what had happened. The importance of that message meant James wanted to give it personally rather than passing it through the intermediary of a race engineer."

Explaining the failure to pit Hamilton in the immediate of the VSC's deployment, Allison said: "Strategy is one of those really odd things where it is incredibly obvious in hindsight what you should have done; even my mum could have made the right decision with the benefit of all the hindsight after the decision is taken. But at the time, the strategist faces more of a dilemma and the person who is in the lead of the race always faces the biggest dilemma of all because they have the most to lose.

"You don't want to be the only one stopping and then find that all the others don't stop and you get tangled up in them in a way you hope not to be.

"We thought that the Virtual Safety Car would last for more than one lap, so we thought we would wait and see what happened to the guys behind us, see whether they stop or didn't stop, and make our decision on the second lap.

"It didn't last for more than one lap, it all happened in just one, so we lost out to everyone behind us because they had a cheap stop and we had an expensive stop and it was a big mistake... one that we would have paid a big price for had we not had a subsequent DNF later in the race."

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1. Posted by BGP73, 04/07/2018 13:53

"When I heard the strategist making his "mea culpa" I was impressed rather than disappointed - it sounds like he wanted to take responsibility rather than hide from it. Not sure what the consequences were with Lewis after he retired but it was brave and if anything indicative of someone who was willing to stand up and be counted. All too often people who screw up seek to deflect or divert the blame elsewhere.

As TedS says we all make mistakes and if people feel comfortable in trying their best and know they will be supported they are likely to strive and excel rather than play safe."

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2. Posted by TedS, 03/07/2018 18:58

"I make sure the guys working for me feel safe admitting mistakes. The only people who do not make mistakes are the people who aren't doing anything.

All I want to know is what you will do to make it right now, and try to mitigate mistakes in the future.

I've never understood the cut-throat environment of F1 firing people for being human."

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3. Posted by Bill Hopgood, 03/07/2018 18:43

"It looks like the AMG Mercedes team practise Extreme Ownership."

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