The team and driver errors that caused Hamilton’s retirement

2007 Chinese Grand Prix

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McLaren and Lewis Hamilton were left blaming themselves after a poor call on race strategy forced the championship leader out of a race for the first time this year.

While McLaren accepted their mistake in not bringing Hamilton in, the Briton apologised for losing control of his car on the way into the pits.

But when they analyse the mistakes that led up to his retirement from the Chinese Grand Prix they will recognise a series of missed opportunities to avoid the DNF.

Hamilton built up a lead very quickly in the opening stages with a series of quick laps:

Lap 2: Hamilton 1’47.6 – Raikkonen 1’48.5 (+0.9)
Lap 3: Hamilton 1’47.6 – Raikkonen 1’48.1 (+0.5)
Lap 4: Hamilton 1’46.3 – Raikkonen 1’47.1 (+0.8)

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This continued up until the final laps before Hamilton’s first stop on lap 14 – Hamilton taking up to 1.2s per lap off Raikkonen (on lap six). But when Hamilton made his pit stop it was clear his front-left tyre was in very poor condition.

Raikkonen waited until his fuel load was lightest before he set his quickest laps – which were all fastest laps of the race up to that point:

Lap 15: Raikkonen 1’45.0
Lap 16: Raikkonen 1’44.3
Lap 17: Raikkonen 1’43.8

When Raikkonen pitted on lap 18 his tyres were in visibly better conditions than Hamilton’s had been – despite starting with more fuel, covering more laps and setting faster laps. Not only that, but he came out of the pits having cut Hamilton’s lead to 4.1s from 9.0.

It’s easy to be wise after the fact, but at this stage McLaren must surely have been alert to the fact that Hamilton was getting marginal on tyres. Nonetheless, Hamilton kept pushing:

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Lap 20: Hamilton 1’43.8 – Raikkonen 1’44.3 (+0.5)

By this time several laps had passed since the last of the rain and some drivers further down the order had switched to dry weather tyres. Wurz set a new fastest lap on the 23rd tour on standard grooved tyres.

Up front the leaders were all on worn wet tyres and Hamilton’s plight was becoming clear – he was 1.6s slower than Raikkonen on lap 26 as the rain began again. Twenty seconds further back was Alonso, whose tyres were in even better condition having spent most of the race thus far stuck behind Felipe Massa.

Hamilton led the field away on a wet track
Hamilton’s plight would have been familiar to Alonso – because exactly the same thing happened to him at Shanghai last year. Alonso wore his wet weather tyres out too quickly, had to pit for fresh rubber, and fell behind those who were able to continue on the same worn but hot tyres.

But as the track became slippery once more Hamilton’s situation was looking dire. Raikkonen caught Hamilton and, after a lap and a half of frantic defending by the Briton, passed him. Now Alonso was zeroing in on his team mate:

Lap 28 Hamilton 1’55.6 – Alonso 1’53.6 (-2.0)
Lap 29 Hamilton 1’55.3 – Alonso 1’51.6 (-3.7)

Lap 29 was the critical moment for Hamilton. He was unable to put Jarno Trulli’s Toyota a lap down, his right rear tyre was showing visible signs of damage, he’d been carrying a heavier fuel load for longer than anyone else, and his team mate was 3.7s faster than him. Yet McLaren kept him out:

Lap 30 Hamilton 1’56.8 – Alonso 1’49.1 (-7.7)

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Finally the sight of Hamilton losing 7.7s in one lap pushed McLaren into action and he was called in.

He got within one corner of dragging his car into the pit box where fresh dry weather tyres were waiting. But he took a fraction too much speed into the corner, the destroyed rear tyres refused to follow the front wheels around the bend, and the McLaren ground pathetically to a halt in a gravel trap scarcely much wider than the car.

Afterwards Hamilton avoided blaming the team for the bad call and apologised for losing control of the car on the way into the pits:

The tyres were finished, and these things happen. I’m sorry for the team, but I can still do it.

The team accepted responsibility for their mistake. Martin Whitmarsh said:

Quite simply we didn’t call him in. I think with hindsight we left him out a lap too long and I think his tyres were pretty worn.

The weather was pretty changeable at that time and we wanted to make sure that we weren’t taking any risks and that we had to cover Kimi. In the end it was decided we had to come in, but at that stage it was frankly a lap too late.

It was our decision. We were getting the weather information and it was coming and going. We didn’t want to come in and get on the wrong tyre. We took it one lap too long and we regret that now.

It’s the second time Hamilton has found himself on the wrong tyres this year – he switched onto dry weather tyres too early in the European Grand Prix. Was this a risk too far on a day when second or even third place could have made him world champion?

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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28 comments on “The team and driver errors that caused Hamilton’s retirement”

  1. The Ferraris are better able to take care of their tyres, thats the advantage they’ve had all year. The Mclaren is faster over a single lap sometimes, but shred their tyres more often. Thats why you always see the Mclaren running on the harder of the two tyres when the Ferraris can make do on the softer.

    I have a feeling one more lap and Hamilton would have lost his tyres and probably end up in the gravel, as it turned out, he just converted a team error into his own error

  2. Maybe someone inside McLaren team is on Alonso’s side after all? Strange with all the machinations that have been going on that the team could not see what even James Allan noticed!!!!!

  3. Of course they knew the tyres were marginal, but they had to stretch them as far as possible to be able to fuel up enough and switch to dry tires at the pit stop. Had Hamilton driven more sensibly, especially towards the end when he was screwing around with Trulli for no reason, he would probably have been on the podium and have his championship all but secured. Now Alonso can take the title by winning in Brazil and Hamilton no better than 3rd, which isn’t all that impossible.

  4. It did seem a set of weird decisions by Hamilton & McLaren… I understand exactly what Magnus is saying in the previous post, but it’s almost as if the team & Hamilton lost sight of the fact he didnt need to take any unnecessary risks. Had he finished above Alonso, he’d have won it, or failing that, finish close behind & make it easier in Brazil. As it stands now, the title is wide open….. Poor day for McLaren…

  5. If Hamilton had of slowed more coming into the pits he would have made that corner, as it happens inexperience has caught him out!
    He shouldnt have been going all out for the win, he had the margin to play it safe.
    Its the 1st time he has been under real pressure this year and he cracked, lets see how he copes in Brazil, come on Rai & Alsonso, coz I couldnt listen to ITV biased commentators if he wins!!

  6. One thing that struck me, I thought the current school of thought on these new tracks was to have tarmac run off areas. Typical that there should be a bit of piddling gravel in an area where they’re only supposed to be going slow anyway…

  7. Andy I was really amazed too at having a gravel trap in there and funny thing i never noticed it all these years until Hamilton pointed it out, the silly thing about it is that, a driver could beach the car there and be partially on the track there by blocking the pit entry which im sure can lead to a red flag or something, and it really is so narrow goin into that pit.

    Magnus, the reason they gave for not stopping earlier was race control was expecting rain i think at the time, you can just see how the wrong set of tyres can ruin a race like Webbers.

  8. I have to say I was (for the first time) impressed by Hamilton today. Not by his driving – which was bonkers – but by the way he avoided laying blame on the team when “interviewed” by ITV.
    Although he did then confuse me by saying “I could see the canvas on my tyre” and then two sentences later “my mirrors were dirty so I couldn’t see my rear tires”.
    Can’t wait for Brazil, I confess to hope something goes wrong – I think we might get to hear James Allen cry! I’m rooting for Kimi now, I don’t desperately like him, but at least he’s done nothing but race this year, if you see what I mean.

  9. The true driving skill of lewis are out………… Lewis S****…….

  10. Kirk, I agree. I want Kimi to win too. Out of the 3 contenders left I think he is the best driver. In fact, I reckon he’s probably the best driver not to have been world champion in the modern era.

  11. Well he wasnt interviewed while the race was still goin on but after he had parked the car and taken a good look at it, so its often easy to mix the past with the present. Its also safe to assume from seeing his front tyres, he probably expected the rear tyres to be just as bad if not worse, so a visual confirmation at the end of the race just only solidyfies any mental image he may have made.

  12. His front left was pretty marginal as well so he could easily have been talking about that. It confused me as well, but I guessed that he didn’t realise how bad the rears actually were. Maybe that’s added to the surprise going into the pits.

  13. another lewis fan
    7th October 2007, 19:58

    I guess that was inexperience showing from hamilton which is to be expected at some point but at least he did’nt do an alonso and throw his toys out of his pram even experienced drivers make mistakes what about alonso crashing into the wall at fuji that should’nt have happened to an experienced driver, but Those of you who dont want hamilton to win championship are you british?why is it that some of you love to see a fellow brit fail?

  14. I am sure that the team did not ask him to drive to the gravel. He may be great, but he was still a rookie driving one of the best car that uses some part of Ferrari’s information

    Comment for another Lewis fan:

    Because he is British then the rest should support him? Are you also supporting Stepney’s conducts? He is british as far as I know……

  15. Ironic twist, Stepney didnt get promotion, got disgruntled.
    Alonso expected promotion, got disgruntled.
    Stepney gave Mclaren dossier.
    Alonso gave FIA email.

    Anyway, I’m still of the view, that the only Ferrari Intellectual property on the Mclaren, is the Vodafone logo on their sidepods

  16. Another Lewis Fan – yes, I’m british as it happens, but that has nothing to do with it – I’d love to see Button win for instance, because I’ve seen him race. I just feel that all we know about Hamilton is that he can drive from the front to victory, and that ITV love him. Which I guess is because he’s british. I don’t support a driver from just one race, and that’s all we’ve really had this season. I’m not blaming Hamilton for this, good on him for getting into McLaren, it must have taken nerve to do go up to Ron – and good on him for sticking at it, and qualifying – but I’ve not seen enough of him *driving* (I don’t watch any other formulas). Can Lewis come up from P20 on the grid to win? Can Lewis fend of a real attack behind him? Such as from Kimi today… etc, etc. I guess he does deserve to win the championship, since it’s in essence a qualifying championship, and he seems to be best at that!
    Sorry for the length, just trying to explain!

  17. another Lewis fan,
    Not everyone in the world is British contrary to popular believe, and have you heard ITV and the British media in general build up LH?
    I remember hearing very similar things about Jenson last year after he won a race, how quick they were to absolutely forget he exists this year.
    I like LH at the start of the year, but having watched him defend his reputation at all costs I no longer hold any regard for him at all. GO KIMI & ALONSO!

  18. Good work, Keith! I like the analysis. McLaren wouldn’t be first/last to leave a driver out on bad tires if they were working a strategy that would bring him in before the margin of speed/handling loss kicks in or if the conditions were so in flux that it’s a roll of the dice either way-just ask Prost or a few of the old CART dirvers. Missed the live feed last night but, the rerun is coming on in a few minutes. You would think they’d have brought him in around lap 27 28, just looking at what you’ve written but, I’m unclear on when Alonso pitted before that. Anyway, it sounds like you have to give the kid alot of credit for giving it his all through problems beyond his control. Hopefully next season will be a clean season and with the first year feeding frenzy over we’ll see what he’s really got.

  19. you play the cards you are dealt with in life,
    sadly Lewis messed up, happens to us all but seems like he has moved on pretty quickly, maybe he is looking on the bright side that over the last two races he is 2 points beter than Fernando
    great that we get a more tense finale as the Kimster has an outside chance at the last race, but if Lewis goes for pole, he can cruise and collect the Championship because the top four drivers surely won’t be beaten


  21. Kirk, it gets more difficult now coming from 20th position and winning the race or getting on the podium. With the new 19,000rpm rev limits, its tough enough coming from 3rd to 2nd. Ask Massa the last race he had to start from the very back.

    Besides, if its possible to come from the back in say for example Monza, it would be totally reckless in thinking, to then expect the same to be done in Monaco, or Hungary.

    And as the cars get more and more refined, it would gever even harder still

  22. When Hamilton went into the pits it could be clearly seen that the right front tire was spent. Even though there was no tire change Hamilton should have been told the condition of his tires. He should have been able to feel his tires going away. He did not need to race with Kimi but true to his youth he chose too. A lack of communication along with over confidence cost him the race. All that being said I am still in amazment that a gravel pit in the entrance to pit road would be the spot where it went wrong.

  23. The problem with that tight turn is that, you just cant make it if ur tyres are canvas. Its ok if you have momentum, but a sharp turn like that and the tyre would never bite, so he didnt really go in too fast, the tyres just had no grip. A very good experiment that can be carried out is to see how such tyres would go from a standing start. My bet is that you will just end up with wheel spin and very little forward motion

  24. I understood what you meant Oliver. I am not saying that the turn was at fault I meant that I find it somewhat ironic the location of a gravel pit being placed at that particular location would end his race.

  25. Well at least Bernie can have the ultimate final he so longed for. And we may yet see the competitors take each other out like Bernie would wish.

    Strange still the smallest gravel trap.

  26. he could have gone in slower. But it was a hard situation… he didn’t have any grip and they entry was much wetter then the track.
    And as an f1 driver you try to look for the limit, even when entering the pits!
    Even at a slow speed, he would have gone off (i think), ok maybe he wouldn’t got stuck tough.
    I get that Mclaren wanted to wait for the rain, if it came…
    But it was so obvious he needed the tyres instantly…
    I believe Lewis with a bit more experience, in the future, will make the decision for himself to come in for new tyres!

  27. Alonso follower
    8th October 2007, 23:26

    Spaniard here…

    I don’t see anything wrong with British TV commentators glossing over British drivers. It’s just natural and probably following the tastes of their target audience. Just watch the races while hearing the Spanish TV commentators and you’ll also feel a bias towards Alonso. I guess that TV sports events are too popular for getting the kind of balanced, unbiased and deeply technical comments that some of the posters would like to hear.

    However (and that’s the part pro-Alonso) I don’t see pro-LH people here recognizing some facts:

    1- Lewis is a rookie, he commits rookie mistakes, like not changing tyres before they wear out. It is not the first race where he has wear down a tyre. Before the China race he has been very lucky in those situations, however.
    2- Most critics to Alonso are targeting his lack of team play. I don’t know if anyone has analyzed why McLaren is this year’s number one builder. You must give credit to Alonso influence on the team and the car (please forget the espionage, I seriously doubt that with cars so different it really had any impact on such different designs) and must reckon that Lewis would not be heading for the championship with a car tuned by himself.
    3- Alonso joined McLaren assuming that, if there ever McLaren had to make a choice between the two drivers, he was going to be the preferred one. His main failure was to not have that written down in a contract. During the first half of the championship, when his results were not measuring up to the McLaren expectations, McLaren changed his policy so as to give their rookie driver the preferred treatment. When Alonso started to get better, McLaren changed their policy their “no preferred driver” attitude.

    Or at least that’s what I feel. Honestly, if Alonso is not the winner, I’d prefer to see Kimi taking the championship than having to bear with more media-induced LH hype.

  28. i think that it is definantly the teams fault for the hamilton retirment as much as i am a mclaren fan. They should of had him pitting much earlier than he was and has handing an easy world title victory for alonso and raikonen due to a lack of confidence for hamilton.

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