How Mercedes’ Safety Car strategy backfired

2015 Malaysian Grand Prix lap charts

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Mercedes’ executive director Paddy Lowe acknowledged their decision to pit during the Safety Car period cost them time they were unable to make up.

Malaysian Grand Prix lap chart

The positions of each driver on every lap. Use the controls below to show/hide different drivers:

Lewis Hamilton111126655522222222111111233222222222221333222222222222222
Sebastian Vettel222211111111111111333222111111111111112111111111111111111
Nico Rosberg333339998777543333222333322443333333333222333333333333333
Daniel Ricciardo44444776666677866791515121011111111109999989121010101099999999999910101010
Daniil Kvyat56666101111101011111111109887767121212121312121110101098888881010101010101010101010109999
Max Verstappen691010101210109991010109776667131110998777666676777678888888777777777
Felipe Massa755558877888886444444444587665555554444765555555555555566
Valtteri Bottas8141212111312121111109997555555555459888777765555456666666666666655
Marcus Ericsson9888
Romain Grosjean101099833333444551017151412128777651313131414131213151313131313131212111111111111111111111111
Kimi Raikkonen1112181817171615151514131312121714121198666644334444447666544444444444444444
Pastor Maldonado121919191818181818181817171717151316161817171616161616161616161514141616151515151414141413121214
Nico Hulkenberg1377772222233334816171514141199101010910101113151514131111111111111111121515151414141414141414
Sergio Perez1416131312558121212121213141211131716161513131313121111121211111010101616161615151515141313121313131313131313
Carlos Sainz Jnr151111119444445566111615141311109888765568881312999998777777788888888
Felipe Nasr1613171716161717161616161616161412111213131614141414141414141516161615141212121212121313151414131212121212121212
Jenson Button171715151515141414141515151515131010101011101515151515151515131212111111141414141616
Fernando Alonso181514141314131313131314141413119988914
Roberto Merhi191816161411151617171718181818181818181718181717171717171717171717171717171717171717161616161616151515151515

Lewis Hamilton’s chance to win the Malaysian Grand Prix began to slip away from him when Marcus Ericsson spun his Sauber into a gravel trap, bringing the Safety Car out. Mercedes had decided before the race they would pit under these circumstances, but when they did Hamilton was surprised to see Sebastian Vettel and others staying out.

That meant when the race restarted on lap six Vettel had an immediate advantage over Hamilton. By the time Hamilton had passed Sergio Perez, Carlos Sainz Jnr, Romain Grosjean and Nico Hulkenberg, Vettel’s lead was ten seconds.

The gap was the same on the penultimate lap of the race before Vettel backed off to take the chequered flag. That being so, it’s not hard to see why the wisdom of Mercedes’ strategy has been questioned.

“The time we lost in traffic in the first laps after the Safety Car, left us with a gap to Sebastian that proved too much of a challenge for us to recover,” executive director for technical Paddy Lowe accepted after the race, “especially considering that we did not have an underlying pace advantage to Ferrari, who were very competitive this weekend”.

Nico Rosberg lost out even more, partly because he was queued behind Hamilton in the pits. “I expected to have to wait behind Lewis but it was letting some other cars by that cost the places,” he said, “especially waiting for the Red Bull queue to move”.

It took Rosberg until lap 14 to emerge in third place behind Vettel and Hamilton, by which time the Ferrari was 18 seconds up the road. However while Hamilton gained little more than a second on Vettel by the end of the race, Rosberg made up almost six seconds.

Malaysian Grand Prix race chart

The gaps between each driver on every lap. Use the controls below to show/hide different drivers:

Lewis Hamilton0000.85713.4483.6325.887.6639.4139.9959.90210.0449.7159.2289.0138.7914.1020000004.63324.22123.1822.18620.82620.26219.11718.09516.80715.65214.71814.48914.0669.887014.57213.72114.19713.95713.6112.59811.49811.71111.24111.17610.91110.27610.0710.1069.929.75710.0948.569
Sebastian Vettel0.7051.030.8290000000000000012.71210.1368.2717.1235.0552.54000000000000004.933000000000000000000
Nico Rosberg1.6432.3182.3364.61321.0815.6028.4269.65110.84912.50514.76517.04818.45218.28417.83117.14312.2068.0947.4457.2527.5087.7937.597.65710.36316.6335.43334.75233.78432.87931.79230.27129.29328.47627.21125.94520.7077.0623.6154.8449.59426.94525.19323.51722.49122.43321.6620.40118.98817.58917.79317.00316.38615.65315.04612.31
Daniel Ricciardo3.1974.1084.8976.57218.8084.6116.8218.49810.23212.03814.33317.86620.75924.46227.37929.44128.82532.54852.86852.36952.27852.13852.61853.59257.09662.32664.86566.32968.40470.67572.48674.07676.40682.182102.572102.1897.89384.04180.82182.18884.29685.91887.53488.8590.3692.54894.64197.12298.53999.801101.443106.952109.736112.154118.698
Daniil Kvyat5.17.0918.17111.20125.5366.7699.2711.77113.67516.37818.20720.29622.40625.81228.66130.74729.13626.90728.94231.79237.14856.49154.7453.87257.35666.0367.33769.73272.65473.88575.55976.87478.08379.52480.8682.22179.55667.72770.19992.50692.93194.07694.87295.45895.87396.98298.56499.645100.329101.147102.129105.709107.283108.766110.77
Max Verstappen7.47610.25512.44416.22829.0016.6538.88711.18812.64814.06716.49319.79921.98925.07127.84929.94828.13525.75627.28532.89752.73252.43451.72950.67452.21453.15453.84654.56556.14456.91857.76458.66559.47163.14464.45865.92763.68852.41251.30461.44481.7882.66983.92685.186.00787.07988.06389.7291.14691.93393.15194.39795.88497.00799.08597.762
Felipe Massa4.4466.0887.259.71719.9895.3497.8789.04210.96713.18115.33418.40320.98123.34125.56125.95521.99318.83519.50220.41121.67122.77623.35628.49149.350.18651.20452.54653.24353.93754.18654.40254.77355.40355.24154.95450.80340.54258.35558.33358.70659.51260.2260.50860.84661.66962.7763.74264.45964.79865.94667.24768.28869.60773.48673.586
Valtteri Bottas9.62413.413.78817.64329.1167.3759.52813.26214.00214.41715.96619.04121.44724.39626.32527.28223.55420.53421.54822.76323.70124.98825.79427.49536.53956.44156.34956.36456.7258.7659.03259.36959.90861.43260.89160.4355.84541.95638.31743.65263.11463.51263.79763.79563.95464.69265.1265.6866.06166.35466.97467.68868.79269.8871.68370.409
Marcus Ericsson6.7499.05910.823
Romain Grosjean7.83910.19711.53612.5372.1221.7554.4366.5138.30310.97713.80516.08819.38722.73630.91250.49146.27741.82141.25841.87541.73240.8240.16739.70941.2546.80367.84369.79173.95883.86485.887.0988.79195.342116.113115.162110.3596.55693.95196.27398.347101.297103.818106.424108.88111.745114.26117.498119.557122.682125.622128.114130.53133.445136.379
Kimi Raikkonen9.26755.70492.66198.09558.51519.91420.41120.9621.19221.94223.10925.39925.69730.58748.41147.42141.74636.73835.23334.75633.67632.4130.61829.24731.632.67333.67234.69737.10538.37739.68840.80442.247.66865.86265.24360.04245.26540.99341.10541.58742.71443.55244.44345.16946.55347.94849.28950.28550.77851.61852.4953.35554.06955.00153.822
Pastor Maldonado53.43686.56898.191106.76681.12432.79533.90335.06236.48537.96739.72741.21442.24343.76945.65547.33946.90749.05680.23779.89179.71579.0877.94676.99478.61580.29781.97883.36885.8388.3490.96393.50599.919120.688121.033121.26118.612104.473101.361104.851106.641109.175110.824112.157114.673119.812138.608
Nico Hulkenberg6.3038.59310.4511.9280.5591.2623.7365.8827.79610.03412.9615.62118.33522.02228.42650.47948.26746.12247.38548.72550.29551.32751.49953.14456.82461.80864.73269.00472.58278.20285.365106.967108.045109.597110.06110.722107.22994.71192.33395.197.453100.378103.659111.68143.008144.182145.557146.681147.545148.683150.051150.814151.832153.644156.533
Sergio Perez10.6514.61416.9919.6088.5982.7048.21413.89717.04419.9922.46825.29328.53431.89635.08439.05743.58959.87759.27459.3459.34959.6459.40159.2861.64164.17766.85369.46973.76479.14282.24684.45986.79989.46896.053126.82122.374110.659110.111112.744114.753117.981120.678122.992126.59130.326133.515137.216139.938142.808145.368147.972150.478153.24156.078
Carlos Sainz Jnr8.77110.912.72313.8733.6942.1765.027.2229.05911.50214.28317.30920.18827.87747.7647.81144.08140.05640.30841.46443.46243.49343.2843.30545.66748.0850.14752.12255.97459.24862.07868.55889.86791.00492.8893.08788.80375.37372.50974.35475.96378.08380.11381.74383.46285.55587.61491.73693.68195.72797.699100.449103.666107.216109.743
Felipe Nasr9.36918.95551.80860.75251.03420.14322.87625.31126.31827.32228.74930.79932.34634.34537.1539.70739.17337.11742.18548.71368.85967.60666.51265.90467.92770.38472.31674.12776.94784.476106.811107.522108.326110.039110.92112.115109.24796.11593.43395.68897.931101.551110.788130.781130.458131.639133.729134.98135.552136.421137.129137.427137.339137.935138.886
Jenson Button11.26615.65919.13232.01249.40914.04216.32618.49120.74123.65826.1928.78430.97733.34736.36538.97337.48136.10839.19841.54649.369.83969.42869.19771.60274.06575.68477.61279.73581.78683.9885.76487.7389096.503117.761114.204101.05198.735114.236173.494
Fernando Alonso10.33115.20118.45526.10335.648.77211.30714.40117.3321.04623.38926.38328.95231.82634.62736.67734.0931.81233.37235.21758.067
Roberto Merhi12.64718.89524.13431.80327.38214.21920.84825.99330.6735.70240.37545.50250.28755.27760.62465.46566.97769.51676.00883.07590.865103.115127.931130.093136.298144.72149.833154.591163.2170.566175.667180.869190.137196.115202.688209.87211.767211.354221.278231.16241.126255.551286.508291.32299.854308.549315.641321.195327.953334.476342.85350.542355.741

2015 Malaysian Grand Prix

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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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37 comments on “How Mercedes’ Safety Car strategy backfired”

  1. Mercedes assumed too much. I think they assumed all the leaders would head for the pits. I think they assumed their cars had enough of an advantage speed wise to make up any deficit. I think they assumed in qualifying they would not need the additional option tires later, like during the race. I think they assumed that Ferrari was better on tires, but still could not beat them. I think they assumed there was no way that Ferrari could match their pace in a race so soon. You know what they say about *assume*.

    No team can stay on top indefinitely.

    1. Mercedes could and should have won, though. If you think a rival is nearly equal but you have the advantage, as Mercedes had, then the general rule is to match them on strategy and not surrender track position. Mercedes did neither because they failed to acknowledge Ferrari’s pace at this track in the heat. Not catastrophic, good for the sport, nice to see the emotion of Ferrari and Vettel, and maybe Hamilton will like the proximity, pressurizing Rosberg more. But the win will give Ferrari an enormous boost of confidence – more than Mercedes would like I’m sure.

    2. @bullmello Lap4-safety cars always require a reaction decided on before the race, which means a plan that is based on assumptions. Obviously, they assumed wrong. However, the assumption (nearly) everyone would pit is very understandable, it was a huge surprise to me seeing people staying out, especially on such a hot day. And staying out didn´t work for anyone bar Vettel, e.g. Perez just fell down all through the field after the restart in no time.
      So, if I had been in charge of one cars strategy, I would have pitted, too. In charge of two cars, it would have been to split strategy, but that´s obviously something Merc would be having a lot of trouble with, expecting a lot of media-reaction.
      However, I guess (by the sound of the team-radio) Rosberg realised on lap 21 that he wouldn´t beat Vettel, and it was quite funny how the Merc-engineers seemed to block out that notion, just like they didn´t see the constant pace Vettel had. “The new data is so far of expectations, it can´t be real. Oh… Ouch… Oops”

      1. @crammond – It was quite surprising that Vettel stayed out. It makes me wonder when Ferrari made their decision to keep him out. Pre-race strategy or decision on the spot? Either way, brilliant move.

    3. You know what they say about *assume*.

      I don’t, but you assume I do.

      1. u make an ass of me (assume)

        1. Not to split hairs, but I think it means
          “when we assume, it makes an ass out of you and me” … get it?

  2. I felt like much of the race cast Mercedes into territory that had not been simulated. This is not so much a reference to the safety car call, but a reference to having lost track position to a car with serious pace. Mercedes cannot deny this: they did not expect Ferrari to be as fast as they were, otherwise they would have not handed Vettel an opportunity by placing themselves on an asymmetrical strategy. They equally would have not used option tyres in Q1 had they foreseen Vettel’s pace: the prospect of Hamilton’s two stints on the primes almost seemed immaterial to Mercedes prior to the race.

    But why did Mercedes not foresee this pace? Raikkonen was the fastest man on-track during the long-runs in FP2, as he was in Melbourne and the Ferrari looked strong in long-runs in pre-season testing. Yes, testing is testing, and Ferrari have an uncanny habit of flattery, but in Melbourne Vettel dramatically out-gunned Massa with an “overcut” on used tyres! If Mercedes are honest, they will have to admit they were overconfident today.

    1. @countrygent clearly the used mediums Hamilton received for his last stint tend to support your theory that they didn’t even bother to anticipate a fight. Overconfidence is the word, but be sure they won’t repeat that mistake so easily now.

      1. Given that Merc seemed to be admitting before the race that Ferrari had serious pace, I wonder if what they really underestimated was their ability, at least at this race, to do one less pit stop. One more stop for SV would have meant a Ferrari 3-4, not 1-4. Merc will learn from this now that Ferrari have shown this hand, at least at hot venues.

  3. 1) Select None
    2) Select Vettel, Alonso and Button
    3) Remember JB lost 4 secs a lap at Melbourne
    4) Take comfort that McLaren only lost around 3 secs a lap just a fortnight later

    Even considering Mercedes was actually faster than Seb, it’s still a bit of progress I suppose

  4. I really don’t understand why Mercedes say the safety car hurt them. They would have to run a three stop strategy anyway, whereas Vettel would have run a two stop strategy anyway as well. A normal pit stop would have cost Hamilton twenty seconds. Under the safety car, he stopped and only lost ten seconds. So I can’t believe that the sub optimal timing of the first stop would have accounted for an additional ten second difference. Hamilton would probably have stopped around lap ten otherwise.

    However, I agree that having another new option tyre at the end would have made the race between Vettel and Hamilton very close indeed.

    1. What really hurt them was the track position lost and thus the time spent having to pass all the cars that stayed out. During those laps they couldn’t run at full speed, allowing Vettel to build a gap. If Hamilton had been running in clear air the result would have been very different.

      So it wasn’t the safety car itself that hurt, but the aftermath. I think they expected every team to pit and therefore the race order to be unchanged.

      1. @k-l-waster But as I said, HAM was only 10 seconds behind VET when he emerged into clear air. If he had done a normal first pit stop (i.e. not pitting under SC), maybe around lap 10, he would have come out 20 seconds behind VET, and would probably have been stuck in some traffic as well.

        1. Pitting under SC means having all the cars that have gone ahead of you being “bunched-up” and immediately jockeying each other for track position once SC comes in, thus making it harder to overtake them than under normal race conditions.

        2. Agreed. A stop under safety car conditions is normally considered a ‘free pit stop’, isn’t it? Although held up by traffic, Mercedes just weren’t fast enough to make up the extra stop, surely? And ate their tyres too fast to two-stop.

        3. Take this scenario, No safety car:
          HAM pits in L10: (assuming lead over VET < 2 sec) comes out 20 sec behind VET. Given the pace advantage of Merc, the next competitor car 4 before pitting could be atleast 10 seconds behind the lead car and since they are front runners like RBR or Williams, would need to pit themselves around L9-12.
          VET having run at max potential for 10 whole laps with a heavy car in a dirty air would need a pit at L15 if not earlier and when he comes out, will have to push and overtake atleast one.
          HAM without the need to overtake and in cleaner air will pit much later between (30-35) maintaining the advantage.
          Now you see how SC was negative strategy wise from Merc point of view.

          1. @aks-das
            But this is not what I was referring to. I was taking the SC as a given, and then checked whether it would have been better for Merc to stay out as some have claimed. And in this case, the scenario you pointed out does not apply as HAM would have been dropped into significant traffic.

          2. Actually I note I was not clear in my initial post. Yes, the SC hurt Mercedes (as it almost always does to the guys at the front), but pitting under the SC was still the better choice even in hindsight.

    2. A normal pit stop would have cost Hamilton twenty seconds. Under the safety car, he stopped and only lost ten seconds.

      Good point.

  5. Their strategy was just as bad as the one utilized by ferrari in Abu Dhabi 2010. I couldn’t believe it.

  6. Wow, look at Manor on that graph. They need to seriously improve relative to the rest of the field else Bernie might just have a point after all.

  7. Mercedes may have wanted to switch from a M-M-H to a M-H-H strategy, but to throw away the mediums after four laps was an enormous waste. Of course if everyone else (and it was almost so) made the same decision we wouldn’t be here discussing, but I think Ferrari, Force India and Toro Rosso were the only ones to make a sensible decision, no genius involved but careless thinking by the rest.

  8. Why did Hamilton go 10 seconds slower than the delta on their way to the safety-car pitstop? The normal way as a team on the way to double-stacking would be the lead-driver driving to the delta and the 2nd driver going slower in order to not lose track position while waiting in the pits.

    1. Returning the favour after Rosberg’s slowing down the day before?

  9. Select none, select Hamilton and Vettel, look at lap 18 to 23: Vettel takes more than 12 sec on Hamilton, and then Hamilton visits the pitlane to get some decent rubber, but the battle is lost as he is out of option tyres for the last stint.
    Looking at lap 6 to 12, Hamilton looses 6,5 sec in traffic compared to Vettel.
    Even if he had had a decent set of Option tyres for the last stint he probably wouldn’t have come nearer than 4-5 sec’s of Vettel.
    In hindsight I do understand why Merc did send Lewis to pit with the safety car, but they should have put Rosberg on a different strategy. This could actually ad value to the excitement this season: A Ferrari pressure will force Merc to select split strategies when in doubt.

    1. agree, VET’s 2nd stint shows massive performance difference, but HAM’s old prime tyres vs VET’s new options would look like this as expected. Surprising that Merc pitted both cars AND put both on primes as early as lap 4. HAM on options for 2nd stint might have been a winner given an inevitable SC pit (he was in the lead at the time, so only prescience would have told him to stay out.)

    2. Everything is down to tyre management.
      Mercedes couldn’t do 19 laps on mediums, but could on hards.

      So they split the 19 laps on mediums on a 4+15.

      A very unusual situation for the rest of the season, i guess. There’s no other place as hot.
      I expect Mercedes to put on some wins as they are still quicker.

  10. Glad they know where they went wrong and will focus to avoid same mistake going forward.

  11. Merc was going to lose whether they pitted or not. Based on Friday FP times, on either tire, they had similar pace as Ferrari and much worse tire wear. All you have to do is look at the Mercs yesterday after they cleared traffic — Hamilton’s 3rd Stint on Mediums was 14 laps and his tires went off. Vet did 17 and 20 on his 2 medium tire stints. If there was no safety car, the margin of victory would have been even bigger for Vettel. Merc should be thankful for Nasr giving Kimi a puncture or it would have been a Ferrari 1-2.

    The only reason we are having this conversation is that the two Merc drivers are too insecure to be put on separate strategies. Merc should have brought in one driver and left the other one out. I can hear Hamilton (who I like) whinging after being left out and still falling behind Vettel “you should have brought me in”.

    There other truth, right now, is that no matter what, Rosberg was never going to pass Vettel. He’s not driving good enough for any strategy to have made the difference.

    1. Well if Merc was never going to win this race, then I think you are being wholely unfair to NR in saying he was never going to pass SV…neither was LH by your standard.

      If you are going to play woulda, coulda, shoulda, and if there was no safety car, NR would not have been relegated to 9th, such that he had to reel LH and SV in, and in fact ended up reeling in SV quicker than LH was in the last 10 laps.

      As to insecurities toward separate strategies…this is a close rivalry and needs careful management by the team. I don’t think it would be any different for any two drivers who are in WDC capable cars. Any two who can have a blanket thrown over them pace-wise are always going to want equal treatment to their teammate at all times, but would be willing to try different strategies if circumstances dictate it.

    2. As it is clear from the graphs, at no point in the race RAI was steadily gaining on VET, and he was only gaining on HAM and ROS between LAP 19 and 24. Moreover, since he got into 4th at lap 40, in the next 16 laps he lost 14 secs to VET (almost a sec per lap), 18 secs to HAM, and since lap 42 he lost ca. 24 secs to ROS (almost 2 secs per lap). So, RAI was slower than VET even when running in clean air while having fresher tyres than him (since his puncture basically put him on the same strategy as both Mercs), and he almost never matched the pace of the Merc boys. Based on this data, the only way a Ferrari 1-2 could happen was if both Mercs would retire.

  12. The more i read about this race, the more i think Mercedes just thought too high of their car.
    Last year on inumerous times they were so far ahead, strategy wasn’t even a concern. They simply had the speed to compensate everything.

    Yesterday they didn’t. And i believe everybody who reads F1Fanatic knew since friday that Ferrari was closer than ever this weekend.

    They were careless and lost the race. Simple as that.

    1. Perhaps, except that even Merc were admitting ahead of the race that Ferrari were definitely the most improved. Perhaps they underestimated Ferrari, but it did take a wet quali, and a safety car, and Ferrari being able to pit one less time, so I’m not sure Merc were all that careless. They did their best under the circumstances, will learn from it, and will likely be 1-2 in China.

  13. Ok, now which are the tracks which have high tyre wear, would not miss those races

Comments are closed.