Mercedes own up to ‘mistake’ that left Lewis Hamilton unhappy
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Mercedes chief strategist James Vowles has admitted the team made a “mistake” in starting on the medium tyres for the Mexican Grand Prix with Lewis Hamilton unable to challenge Max Verstappen for the win. Mercedes have made huge strides in recent weeks in trying to close the gap to Red Bull on track and came agonisingly close to their first win of the year at the United States Grand Prix.
Verstappen proved too quick in the end, but there was some hope of them challenging once again in Mexico at the weekend with both George Russell and Hamilton just behind Verstappen on the starting grid. Mercedes opted to put both their drivers on the medium tyre to start while Red Bull opted for the softs on Verstappen and Sergio Perez.
And it initially appeared to work in Mercedes’ favour as neither Red Bull drivers were pulling away from Hamilton or Russell. The sticking point came at the first round of pit stops when both Verstappen and Perez came in for the mediums.
Mercedes looked as though they were going to go long on the mediums to switch to softs with a one-stop later in the race. But they were losing too much time before Hamilton was surprisingly brought in for the hard tyre with Russell also being pitted a few laps later.
Hamilton moaned over team radio about the hard compound, questioning his team on several occasions whether it was the right call. Mercedes maintained hope Verstappen would eventually struggle on the mediums towards the end of the race, bringing the hards into play, but that didn’t prove to be the case.
Vowles admits their decision to start with a different strategy to Red Bull was based on concerns they wouldn’t have the pace to compete with Verstappen, but he conceded it was ultimately a “mistake”. “If we can pressure them we’ll try to,” he told the F1 Nation podcast.
“Because humans don’t like that. You do suffer, but I wouldn’t go in with expectations of that. It was more formally based on the fact I didn’t think we had the pace that they had today so you’ve got to do something different.
“Start on the soft, probably finish exactly where you end up. Start on the medium, it may provide other opportunities. We did the wrong thing today, we should have started on the softs but I’m not too upset with where we ended up.”
Daniel Ricciardo made a one-stop strategy work wonders for him after starting on the medium compound. By staying out on the mediums, Ricciardo gave himself plenty of time to race through the pack on the much quicker softs where he eventually finished seventh.
Vowles said: “In the race – it’s probably worth asking other teams – but we certainly had the belief that a soft-medium may just in the best circumstances be possible but it would be right on the limit in terms of where you’re taking the tyres. Whereas a medium-hard could be a nailed on one-stop and if they drop off the curve at the end, if the degradation is too high it could provide us an opportunity that wasn’t open to them.
“It also means that at the beginning of the race the soft tyres, you saw it after 16 laps, started to drop away. I honestly thought it might be more than that. If it was more than that and they come back towards us and the medium suffers like it did with George after 34 laps actually we’d be sitting here pretty.
“The other thought we had is starting on the medium doesn’t stop you two-stopping, doesn’t stop you fitting the soft later like Daniel did, so it doesn’t close your options off. Now the question comes do you lose out at the start of the race and you will do, couple of metres I would say.
“But our thought process was with the tow, we’re probably able to make up for it, probably wouldn’t lose anything as a result and it gives us opportunities later.”
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