Lewis Hamilton says the first Safety Car in the Austrian Grand Prix ruined his plans to “take a risk” with a strategy gamble he hoped would help him win the Formula 1 season-opener.

After being hit with a late grid penalty for failing to slow for yellow flags during qualifying, Hamilton had worked his way up to second from fifth in the first stint of the opening round in Austria and was applying serious pressure to race-leader and Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas.

Hamilton had got the gap down to three seconds when a Safety Car was deployed on Lap 25 after Haas driver Kevin Magnussen spun off with brake issues.

Mercedes responded by double-stacking its drivers and switching them both onto the Hard compound, but the six-time world champion revealed afterwards that he wanted to take an alternative strategy to Bottas in an attempt to get ahead.

“The stint was going very well and I think we planned – I don’t remember which lap the Safety Car came out but it was unfortunate for sure because I was closing down Valtteri during that period,” Hamilton said.

“It was just at the time when he was really starting to fall off the cliff with his tyres, and I could see the gain that I was having each lap.

“It was getting quite exciting because I needed to get him as close as possible but then the Safety Car came out and obviously that put a spanner in the works. But that’s racing.”

Hamilton explained his thinking behind the plan, adding: "The fact is here at this track you know that in order to have an opportunity to pass the car in front of you always want to try and go for the opposite strategy.

"Now when you're in a team like ours, the first car always gets the priority in the stop. And so if you both come out on the same tyres, you're pretty much stuffed at a track like this, particularly where it's very, very hard to overtake.

"It's something like eight-tenths of a second advantage you need on the car ahead to have an opportunity at fighting with them. So I knew that on the same tyre, I would most likely be finishing behind.

"But then obviously the safety car came out and that really kind of messed with things, because I was gonna plan to try and extend my stint as long as I could then stop for the opposite tyre, basically, and just take a risk, because ultimately [when I'm] behind that's ultimately what I like doing, taking a risk.

"But it didn't work out that way, and I don't think it was a big issue. I mean, there was so many other things that came into play, so…”

However, Hamilton admitted he did not “prompt” Mercedes of his wish to do something different when he was heading into the pits due to the Safety Car.

Hamilton was ultimately slapped with a five-second time penalty for causing a collision with Red Bull’s Alex Albon late on and subsequently dropped to fourth at the finish, leaving him trailing Bottas by 13 points in the championship after the opening round.

 

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