Lewis Hamilton’s error at the Turkish Grand Prix cost him a podium finish and left Mercedes with a lot to think about. The team has since taken steps to improve their performance and keep Hamilton in contention for this year’s championship.
Lewis Hamilton had a chance at the podium in the Turkish Grand Prix, but he was bumped by Mercedes. This caused him to fall back to 4th position and lose out on that podium spot.
It’s always a risky move to overrule Lewis Hamilton on tyre strategy.
Hamilton’s racing sense is probably one of the most important tools Mercedes has in its strategic arsenal, with almost 15 years in F1 and seven world titles to show for it, but it was disregarded at Sunday’s Turkish Grand Prix.
Such choices are much more difficult to make when they drop a vehicle from a podium position to fifth, as Hamilton did when he pitted on Lap 50 of the Turkish Grand Prix, but it was the correct option in this instance.
What went wrong?
Hamilton had a difficult task ahead of him on Sunday, starting from 11th on the grid owing to an engine penalty. The wet track seemed to provide a chance for the seven-time world champion, who came from sixth last year to win in Turkey, to break through the pack, but it never materialized.
This year’s Turkish Grand Prix was unlike any previous rainy Formula One event. The course never fully dried up, even though the rain was reduced to a mist and then ceased entirely in the second part of the race. Given that a single intermediate tyre can eject 30 litres of water per second from the track surface while traveling at 300 km/h, 20 cars with four tyres each were expected to dry the track, but this never occurred.
Some members of the Mercedes crew predicted a dry line on the track by lap 10 of the race, while Hamilton himself anticipated it to appear by lap 30. Despite this, the circuit was still not suitable for slick tyres after 58 laps of racing, making strategy decisions more difficult than usual.
With the benefit of hindsight, stopping for a second set of intermediate tyres between lap 35 and lap 42 was the quickest route to the checkered flag. Valtteri Bottas accomplished just that, winning the race by 14 seconds over Verstappen in the same Mercedes vehicle as Hamilton.
So, why wasn’t Hamilton able to benefit from Mercedes’ speed in the same way?
Mercedes’ decision to pit Lewis Hamilton towards the conclusion of the race irritated him. Pool/Getty Images/Umit Bektas
Hamilton finished sixth, the same position he was in when the cars began making pit stops. Sergio Perez of Red Bull had held him off in an excellent show of defensive driving at the end of lap 35, before pitting two circuits later and surrendering position to Hamilton in return for a fresh set of intermediate tyres.
Hamilton refused to stop four circuits later, on lap 41, despite his team’s opinion that a second set of intermediates would be the fastest and safest route to the finish. According to other radio conversations around the time of the race, Hamilton was still hoping that the track would dry sufficiently for him to swap to slicks, which would remove the need to stop twice if he could wait long enough on his current tyres. He would have gained a place on Perez and, if the timing of the changeover to slicks had been ideal in comparison to Bottas, Max Verstappen, and Charles Leclerc, he would have had a chance to win.
Other variables also clouded the rationale of moving to a different set of intermediates. Every driver that switched to a fresh pair of intermediates battled during the first few circuits of their new stint as the track became increasingly dry. The intermediate tyres’ extremely soft compound was “graining” on the surface, which meant the top layer of rubber was rolling up into tiny balls rather than digging into the track. For many laps, the tyres struggled for performance until the issue was resolved, the rubber on the tyre’s surface began to smooth out, and the tyre’s real performance was shown.
Mercedes discussed pitting again on lap 42, with racing engineer Peter Bonnington stating that it would provide additional “thinking time.” Perez and Pierre Gasly, whom Hamilton had overtaken for sixth position on lap 14 of the race, were both many circuits into their second set of intermediates at that point, but neither was gaining much time on Hamilton.
Hamilton had taken fourth position from Perez by not pitting, giving him a comfortable 15-second lead and the option to switch to slicks if required. However, he had given up the opportunity to switch to intermediates and leapfrog Perez in pit stops, since doing so now would give Perez track position back, and he was unlikely to catch up during the graining phase.
Leclerc’s Ferrari was trying a similar tactic to overtake Bottas, but two errors at Turn 12 demonstrated how tough it would be. At Turn 1, the Ferrari driver was obviously struggling with his tyres and quickly gave up ground to Bottas. Bottas’ return to the lead was a warning sign for Mercedes, who were understandably pleased to see him reclaim the lead.
The Mercedes pit wall considered the worst-case situation during its “thinking time.” Some of the tyres on competing vehicles were worn down to the carcass, and Pirelli’s specialists had begun advising teams not to go to the finish line.
“We could see the loss in performance occur pretty soon when we saw Charles drop off in the Ferrari, and we began to see a bit of a decrease with Lewis,” Mercedes head trackside engineer Andrew Shovlin said after the race.
“We suddenly saw on the [race] plans that the places we would lose by making the pit stop [for intermediates] would be lost on track anyway, to Perez and Charles, with the possibility of losing even more if you really fell off the curve. So it came down to minimizing our losses and not being too greedy.”
Hamilton was losing well over 0.5 seconds per lap to the cars that had already pitted by lap 46, and on lap 47 alone he lost 1.4 seconds to Gasly in sixth. He still had a 25-second lead over the AlphaTauri at this point, but the margin was only going to become smaller over the following few circuits, and Hamilton would soon be unable to stop for new intermediates and stay ahead of Gasly.
Around the same time, Mercedes decided that Hamilton’s current set of intermediates would not make it to the finish of the race. They could tell that his performance was deteriorating by monitoring temperatures, and by physically inspecting the tyres, they could see part of the carcass of the tyre protruding on the front left tyre. When there is practically no rubber left in the tread, the white chords from the carcass become apparent, and it was obvious that Hamilton was in danger of losing not just performance but also tyre failure.
By the time Lewis Hamilton came to a halt, his tyres were severely worn. Getty Images/Bryn Lennon
Alpine’s Esteban Ocon was the only driver to finish the race without pitting and receive a point for tenth position.
When Hamilton heard that Ocon had finished the race on a single set of tyres while speaking to French television after the race, he responded by stating, “If Ocon did it, then I could do it.” However, Ocon’s achievement of the chequered flag on a single set of tyres was just half of the tale.
When Mercedes chose to stop on lap 48, Ocon was in ninth position, five seconds clear of Lance Stroll in tenth (who was racing on eight-lap old intermediates) and 21.9 seconds ahead of Antonio Giovinazzi in 12th (who had seven-lap old intermediates). By the conclusion of the race, Ocon had fallen 21 seconds behind Stroll (a net loss of 26 seconds) and was just 0.7 seconds ahead of Giovinazzi in the Alfa Romeo. Ocon’s front right tyre was worn completely through to the carcass when he arrived at parc ferme after the race. He and Pirelli both acknowledged that he was fortunate to complete the race.
Using the Ocon scenario to apply a comparable decrease in tyre performance to Hamilton’s vehicle, he would have ended not just behind Perez and Leclerc, but also most likely behind Gasly and Lando Norris – all while risking a total failure.
In that environment, Mercedes’ choice to pit Hamilton on lap 50, relegating him to fifth, was spot on. Ideally, the team would have pitted Hamilton before Perez to gain an edge over the Red Bull and reclaim the place lost by Leclerc when he remained out too long, but based on his radio communications around lap 42, Hamilton would very likely have rejected that plan.
Hamilton: I’m a daredevil.
Despite seeing all of the evidence above and more during his debrief, Hamilton still appeared to believe he could have made a no-stop plan work.
“Again, you never know whether I would have held position if I had remained out, but I’m a risk taker, so I would have wanted to take that chance,” he added. “However, we began 11th today, and we received a new engine, so we earned points.”
“It simply seems like I only have a limited amount of knowledge at the time, while the team has access to more information and can see everyone else.” It’s difficult for me to want to give up anything when I don’t have all of the facts.
“That’s why you have to trust your staff and accept their decisions, hoping they’re the correct ones.” We win and lose as a team, I always say.
“Today, I paid attention to the team. Is it possible that we could have remained out longer? Who knows, but a few of others who tried it fell down significantly and lost places, so it was a risk in any case.” Shovlin, on the team’s side, is convinced that the data backs up the pit wall’s judgment, and he’s grateful to have a driver that is constantly pushing for more.
“Lewis is constantly thinking about what’s ahead of him and how much he can acquire,” he said. “He’s invested much in this championship, and we wouldn’t expect anything other than dissatisfaction at a P5 when we believed we had a chance to finish third.”
“But we’ll go through everything with him; we’ve already had a debriefing with him, and I believe he knows the reasons.” It’s simply his anger that he believed he’d be on the podium at points throughout the race but didn’t. That, I believe, is a source of disappointment.
“However, if we examine how we worked, we can see that it was prudent, and in a championship race, there comes a time when you must stop taking chances and reduce your losses. And, despite the fact that such choices are tough to make, you must be strong and take them.”
The f1 standings is a list of the current F1 standings. Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes team placed 3rd in Turkey, but did they cost him a podium?
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