Mercedes AMG F1, winner of the last seven Formula 1 constructor’s championships, is known for its perfect in-race execution. This is the team that won this month’s Spanish GP with a perfectly-executed late call for an extra pit stop and the team that won last year’s title with a brilliantly confusing trick steering column. All that perfection can get exhausting, and sometimes you just need a hilarious mistake to lower expectations back to a more reasonable level. Valtteri Bottas, unfortunately, was forced to retire from yesterday’s Grand Prix of Monaco after one such mistake.
Bottas was five seconds behind race leader Max Verstappen when his crew called him into the pit lane on lap 30. There, a tire changer failed to connect the wheel gun with the wheel nut correctly before attempting to remove the car’s right-front wheel. The resulting catastrophic error spun the single nut against nothing in particular, jamming the wheel in place and making a tire change impossible. Bottas saw his day end immediately, leaving his Mercedes team to a long afternoon of trying to get the thing off.
As team technical director James Allison revealed to Motorsport, the historically great Mercedes team failed in that goal. The faulty nut was stuck so firmly that no amount of tools readily available in a paddock could strip it back off, meaning the team will have to take the car back to their shop and drill through what was once a functioning hub. The car was packed for transit with the faulty wheel still attached, an irritating project left for another day by the world’s greatest active racing team.
Team boss Toto Wolff claimed in the same piece that Mercedes plans to resolve the problem by reviewing the design of their wheels and the removal process. He also declined to criticize the specific mechanic for what he saw as a “multi-faceted issue,” which is as close as a Formula 1 executive can get to saying “hey, these things happen.”
Formula 1 has the weekend off before returning on the street circuit at Baku in early June. Mercedes, of course, will need that time to remove a single wheel nut.