Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Sepang International Circuit, 2015

Mercedes’ race problems began in qualifying

2015 Malaysian Grand Prix tyre strategies and pit stops

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Mercedes’ unusual decision to use the softer tyre compound in the first phase of the race was another strategic miscue which hurt their chances of victory.

Malaysian Grand Prix tyre strategies

The tyre strategies for each driver:

Stint 1Stint 2Stint 3Stint 4Stint 5
Sebastian VettelMedium (17)Medium (20)Hard (19)
Lewis HamiltonMedium (4)Hard (20)Medium (14)Hard (18)
Nico RosbergMedium (4)Hard (22)Hard (15)Medium (15)
Kimi RaikkonenMedium (2)Medium (12)Medium (20)Hard (22)
Valtteri BottasMedium (4)Medium (21)Medium (15)Hard (16)
Felipe MassaMedium (4)Medium (20)Medium (14)Hard (18)
Max VerstappenMedium (4)Hard (16)Hard (20)Medium (16)
Carlos Sainz JnrMedium (14)Hard (18)Hard (23)
Daniil KvyatMedium (4)Medium (17)Hard (18)Hard (16)
Daniel RicciardoMedium (4)Medium (14)Hard (16)Hard (21)
Romain GrosjeanMedium (15)Medium (11)Medium (8)Hard (21)
Felipe NasrMedium (2)Hard (18)Hard (10)Hard (13)Medium (12)
Sergio PerezMedium (17)Hard (18)Medium (20)
Nico HulkenbergMedium (15)Medium (16)Hard (13)Hard (11)
Roberto MerhiMedium (5)Hard (17)Medium (20)Medium (11)
Pastor MaldonadoMedium (1)Medium (17)Medium (15)Hard (14)
Jenson ButtonHard (4)Medium (17)Medium (14)Medium (6)
Fernando AlonsoHard (4)Medium (17)
Marcus EricssonMedium (3)

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Sepang International Circuit, 2015If Mercedes made a mistake by using the early Safety Car period to make their first pit stop, it was a decision most other teams also made. Only Sebastian Vettel, Carlos Sainz Jnr, Romain Grosjean and the two Force India drivers stayed out.

However by shortening their first stint they left themselves needing to make three pit stops to reach the chequered flag. The pivotal moment came on lap 24, when Vettel got a run on Hamilton into the final corner and the Mercedes driver made for the pits for his second of what would inevitably be three pit stops.

“Coming into the race, there were two main choices to be made: whether to make two or three stops, and whether the [hard] or the [medium] would be the better race tyre,” explained Mercedes’ executive director for technical Paddy Lowe.

“It was clear yesterday that opinion was divided on that question, as we saw the leading teams using different tyre compounds in Q1. We saved new [hard] tyres for the race, while others saved new [medium]. We planned a three-stop strategy favouring the [hard] tyre and, although the Safety Car came out early, it was late enough to be used as the first of our three stops.”

However when Hamilton came in for his third pit stop he switched back to the medium compound tyres. It was clear he preferred that tyre for his last stint as well as he complained he’d been given the “wrong tyres” when was sent back to the track on a set of hards. Mercedes explained his only remaining set of mediums were heavily used – Mercedes’ decision to run the compound in Q1 had come back to haunt them.

Both Ferrari drivers and Valtteri Bottas made it through Q1 without using their medium tyres, and with Mercedes’ superior one-lap performance it was an option that was definitely open to them.

Rosberg was in the same situation as Hamilton but he chose to save his medium tyres for the final stint. Significantly, he took 14.6 seconds out of Vettel over the last 14 laps, at the beginning of which Hamilton was 13.9 seconds behind the Ferrari.

With the benefit of hindsight, Mercedes’ tyre choice in Q1 one was one of a series of small mistakes which added up to the advantage Vettel needed to grab a surprising win.

Malaysian Grand Prix pit stop times

How long each driver’s pit stops took:

DriverTeamPit stop timeGapOn lap
1Sebastian VettelFerrari23.99617
2Lewis HamiltonMercedes24.1790.18338
3Pastor MaldonadoLotus24.2760.28033
4Nico RosbergMercedes24.3360.34041
5Romain GrosjeanLotus24.3770.38115
6Valtteri BottasWilliams24.4320.43625
7Nico RosbergMercedes24.5740.57826
8Lewis HamiltonMercedes24.5950.59924
9Romain GrosjeanLotus24.6210.62526
10Kimi RaikkonenFerrari24.6530.65734
11Kimi RaikkonenFerrari24.7440.74814
12Max VerstappenToro Rosso24.7680.77240
13Daniil KvyatRed Bull24.7810.78521
14Felipe MassaWilliams24.7880.79224
15Valtteri BottasWilliams25.0021.00640
16Nico HulkenbergForce India25.0471.05131
17Sebastian VettelFerrari25.0921.09637
18Carlos Sainz JnrToro Rosso25.1261.13014
19Carlos Sainz JnrToro Rosso25.1651.16932
20Felipe NasrSauber25.2041.20843
21Fernando AlonsoMcLaren25.2221.2264
22Sergio PerezForce India25.2681.27217
23Felipe NasrSauber25.3311.33530
24Daniel RicciardoRed Bull25.3931.39734
25Jenson ButtonMcLaren25.5811.58521
26Daniel RicciardoRed Bull25.6041.60818
27Max VerstappenToro Rosso25.6551.65920
28Felipe NasrSauber25.7411.74520
29Nico HulkenbergForce India25.8261.83015
30Felipe MassaWilliams25.8311.8354
31Jenson ButtonMcLaren25.8461.85035
32Romain GrosjeanLotus26.0142.01834
33Lewis HamiltonMercedes26.0942.0984
34Daniil KvyatRed Bull26.1492.15339
35Daniel RicciardoRed Bull26.7142.7184
36Felipe MassaWilliams26.9712.97538
37Roberto MerhiManor27.0043.00822
38Kimi RaikkonenFerrari27.2853.2892
39Roberto MerhiManor27.5403.5445
40Roberto MerhiManor29.2025.20642
41Max VerstappenToro Rosso29.5165.5204
42Valtteri BottasWilliams30.1546.1584
43Daniil KvyatRed Bull30.4636.4674
44Jenson ButtonMcLaren33.0279.0314
45Nico RosbergMercedes33.6899.6934
46Felipe NasrSauber33.9189.9222
47Nico HulkenbergForce India35.35111.35544
48Sergio PerezForce India35.77611.78035
49Pastor MaldonadoLotus37.28913.2931
50Pastor MaldonadoLotus37.39413.39818

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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55 comments on “Mercedes’ race problems began in qualifying”

  1. 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. +1. And that is underlined in the post race reactions of both Toto — a “wake-up call” means you’ve been asleep/overconfident– and Lewis, who usually knows at all times where his closest rivals are point-wise. He had no idea that he and Seb were now even on wins with only the point difference between P2

      1. and P3 separating them. In his mind, he’s had only his teammate to worry about for quite a while. @countrygent

    2. @countrygent:
      [Wild Theory] Maybe Mercedes let Ferrari have the win, in order to get the focus off themselves and spice up the ‘show’

      1. If that was the plan it was brilliant, brave and successful…

      2. It would certainly benefit Mercedes as they are less likely to be neutered by Ecclestone now…

    3. Agreed. Mercedes suffered from underestimating the opposition. The pace for the win was there, yet Mercedes seemed to have decided not to use it. They may have thought they didn’t need to utilize all their assets, even in terms of strategy. If this indeed was the case, then we might not see another Ferrari on top for a long time. Merc will not repeat their mistakes.

      1. I think if Merc underestimated Ferrari on anything it was their ability to do one less stop. They already knew Ferrari was much improved and showing good pace, but they were not so fast that they could have won with an equal number of stops to Merc.

  2. If you’re already limited on option tyres, don’t give up a set after 4 laps. Even without this being compounded by being put into traffic, it seems an obvious oversight. At the time I didn’t realise it was a problem because I underestimated the pace of the Ferrari and their ability to run long on the options, but I had no idea that Hamilton would have to go onto hards for his final stint- even if he’d made much larger inroads before then, he would have struggled to pass Vettel with that strategy.

    1. @matt90
      Spot on. There were so many small little misjudgments that led to this result on Merc’s part. But I have to admit that I had no idea the Ferrari had so much pace and that it would make that much of a difference. But with the wrong call in Qualy, the wrong call on the safety car and then being stuck with the wrong tyre for the last stint…no way.
      Time for Merc to do that German thing and be planned and precise!

  3. Merc had made up their minds the prime was the better race tyre. But it seems to me they were set up for a tyre half way between the two. I’m not sure they still don’t have some of their old tyre use problems lurking around.

    1. As for why they thought Hard was better race tyre: I think it started on Friday. With Hamilton’s track time shortened significantly they didn’t have enough time to do a high fuel run on Hards, done only briefly (4-5 laps) by Rosberg at the end of the session. They knew Mediums didn’t last long and it’d be a tight 3 stopper, so as a rule of thumb decided to save Hards.

  4. Mercedes problems began on Friday when they failed to provide adequate time for Lewis to setup his car.

    1. Exactly. That left them comrpomised for the remainder of the weekend. Yet again.

      1. isn’t it interesting how people are not saying anything about that 500 pound gorilla :) it’s almost insulting to listen to commentators try to walk around that fact as they try to promote Ferrari and the spectacle. The way the ‘formula’ insists on ‘dumbing’ down things to the point where drivers can’t wear different helmets, and the way commentators neglect key pieces of evidence and promote sponsor agendas has me somewhat sick to my stomach.

    2. @pcxmerc That should not have meant Mercedes didn’t win. Where was Rosberg…..

      1. well, leaving him stacked up behind Hamilton for that pitstop dropped him even further down the field @xtwl, so in this case I would say the team messed up there too.

        1. @bascb Of course. But by the comment above, Rosberg did have adequate time to prepare himself for the race and he was still never ahead of Hamilton in any way. It’s no hatred towards him just a note.

          1. Who mentions “hate” @xtwl, just offering facts that explain where Rosberg was (after that he was completely without a chance).

            Reliability issues certainly did not help Mercedes get a good view of the tyre situation by missing feedback from Hamilton. Wrong expectations, partly based on this lack of information from the friday, led to their approach in qualifying. And then to the (too early) stop. Not to mention that the pitstops at Mercedes also weren’t stellar, although a second here or there on its own wouldn’t make a big difference.

            Yes, its nonsense to view reliability issues as the biggest reason, but it was the start/first in a chain of mistakes and wrong desicions that helped Mercedes lose the way this weekend.

          2. @bascb I think you misunderstood my comment then.

            Where was Rosberg…..

            Wasn’t as much of a question rather than a remark on him having a smooth weekend all through the FPs. Thus having adequate time to prepare for the race and have the knowledge about tyre life.

            There have been plenty of drivers missing out on a FP and perform perfect in all other sessions. So, yes they lost data but I don’t think it affected their performance as Rosberg himself who didn’t also did not match Vettel.

            But of course you’re right when you say

            Reliability issues certainly did not help Mercedes

          3. Ah, right. Get it. Yes, they lost some info, but certainly did get the information from Rosberg running @xtwl, although it seems they have gotten used to the the luxury of having both a bit too much :-)

          4. it’s a matter of fact that Lewis manages his tires much better (than Nico) and states publicly that he doesn’t really use his teammate in order to get a good setup. It’s pretty clear Lewis owns the tires on that team, and almost always gets better life out of them over race distance by a good enough margin to win almost every race, on equal terms.

            By missing all of FP1 and 40 minutes of FP2 Lewis was not able to get good enough setup to even get a good ‘balance’ in his car, which he stated after the race. The problem is Merc failed Lewis big time, and the lack of preparation that Mercedes showed before FP1 is suspect at best, suspect,

            The good news is Merc helped TV ratings and boosted interest in their own campaign in doing so. So Mercedes actually won by giving the appearance that Ferrari has caught up. Lewis and Nico were the big losers, Mercedes achieved a net gain.

  5. i just honestly think ferrari should enjoy their win for the next ten days, this is going to make merc”s 1,2 ‘s even more predominant this season. Ferrari has had pace but not the kind of pace to worry Mercedes with a tuned up engine. The Mercedes strategist should have been given a real wakeup call..nice win for ferarri tho..

    1. @sigwa: So soon, we will see Mercedes ‘turn the wick up’ in China…

  6. What I do not understand is why they chose to pit both cars under the SC.

    Surely Rosberg would have loved trying ‘something else’ to get back at Lewis, no? Especially since he was going to lose some time anyway when Mercedes decided to pit both cars at the same time.

    1. That’s one of Mercedes weaknesses, they always put both drivers on the same strategy so nobody can accuse them of favoring one over the other. A smarter team would have split their strategies there, pitting one driver and leaving the other out.

      In practice their forcing both drivers to use the same strategy sometimes ends up giving one an advantage over the other, as it gave Lew an edge over Nico today. So I’d prefer to see them abandon this rule of theirs.

    2. If you honestly thought the strategy was the right call, why would you give the other driver a different strategy, especially since he’s in the hunt for the championship, too? You could split strategies if you’re unsure, or one driver has a strong preference for a particular strategy. If you thought staying out was definitely wrong, they why would you only allow one of your drivers to make, what you think, is the right call?

    3. @paeschli: Imagine if Mercedes left Rosberg out during safety car period and he won, then Merc would have to bear the Hamilton whine for the rest of the season…

    4. @paeschli Rosberg should start making these decisions to go for alternate strategies and just ask them from the team. Say A is the best simulated but B is close, go for B. He can’t do it on pace so why not gamble on it. Albeit that might mean losing out on some occasions but surely winning on others. I see a season without wins for Rosberg if Lewis his car keeps running.

  7. Hamilton and Vettel did their final stint on the same rubber with identical fuel loads, so lap times there give the best indication of the relative performance of the two cars. The Merc had about 0.3 seconds a lap on the Ferrari. That’s still a lot, but it’s much less than the gap between Mercedes and the second best car we’ve seen over the last year.

    1. The Merc had about 0.3 seconds a lap on the Ferrari.

      True, but Seb was managing his pace while Lewis was pushing to catch the red car. I think Ferrari was simply faster.

  8. The question is though, where the medium tyres they used in quali new ones or old ones? Perhaps they opted to use a couple of used medium tyres instead of a set of new hards?

    The commentating was excruciatingly annoying in it’s false assumptions though. Coulthard really needs Brundle there to keep his poor judgments in check. Ben Edwards just seems to be there for the frantic enthusiasm when nothing is really happening.

    1. @patrickl : How did Nico get another set of options at the end? Did he not use up his tyres in Qualy?

  9. 1. SC, and BOTH Mercs pitting & stacking their cars. don’t they have the courage to try something different?
    2. Vettel catching Ros and Rosberg asking “If he passes me does that mean he has won? ” PRICELESS
    3. Ham having a go at his race engineer. He was probably working harder than he had for the last year.

    1. 2. Was in fact hilarious. Rosberg looked foolish. But it was a reflection of how the team were not giving the drivers consistent, credible information.

    2. @mim5:
      3. Alll the talk of coolness etc goes out of the window when one starts to lose

    3. 1. Mercedes were sticking to a pre-prepared plan rather than making decisions on the fly. Ferrari showed superior “on the spot” judgement all weekend (using hard tyres in Q1 and putting Vettel at the front of the line for Q2).
      2. Rosberg was rattled by the pace of Vettel. He freaked out.
      3. Hamilton was rattled by the pace of Vettel. He freaked out.

  10. 4. Vettel catching Hamilton & Hamilton cowering to the pits

    1. I think cowering is a little unfair. We’d heard a transmission where Hamilton said his tyres were done before Vettel actually caught him.

      1. The cowering Hamilton still on top. check the championship table please.

    2. Some Vettel fans are hopeless. Really.

  11. With regard to Mercedes’s overconfidence, maybe Ferrari should thank Horner for so aggressively talking down the chances of the peloton. Maybe it went to Wolff’s head.

  12. If Mercedes was better suited for hards, i wonder why didn’t they started on hards.
    Two stints of 19 laps on hards, regardless of Vettel, and a final one with the car low on fuel and the track “rubbered”, for the remaining laps. I doubt Vettel would build a gap as big needing to overtake and then go away.

    We’ll never know if this could work out, but it probably would be better than giving Vettel the control of the race without even putting up a fight.

    1. You have to start on the tyres used in Q2 if you make it into Q3 though Edgar, so that option was not open for them

      1. I understand.
        I didn’t see the qualy this weekend and don’t know where they were in terms of pace.
        Was it possible for them to achieve Q3 using hard tyres?

        Cuz doing just 4 laps on mediums and then going for hards to what was essencially a 2 stop race is why they lost. They basically gave Vettel a 9s lead for them to take out using slower tyres for most of the time.

  13. I do not agree that using options in qualifying was a bad decision. In Aus, Ferrari used their options in Q1 and about everyone did the same, I suspect Merc were not convinced that they would be safe if everyone used options in Q1 at Sepang given that everyone seemed to have improved since Aus. I don’t think that decision was as bad as most are making it.

    1. They thought that Prime tyres were the best choice for the race, that’s why they used options in Q1.

    2. It was a bad decision because Malaysia is always rougher on tyres than Australia. All other things being equal, it is always better to have more of the faster tyre in the race. Mercedes have sufficient pace to always make it into Q2 even if everyone else uses softer tyres.

  14. The one thing I don’t quite understand is why Lewis thought he would’ve got to the end on the Options.

    At the end of his first Prime stint, he had 32 laps to make it to the end of the race after completing 20 laps on the Primes. Given how the Options on his Merc fell away after just 14 laps on his third stint, I can’t see how he would’ve made the final 18 laps on the Option Tires, even if they were a fresh set that they had saved in Q1.

    The Ferrari deg was so much better than the Mercs that I think it was going to be a 2 v 3 stopper and it would’ve been very, very close had the SC not been deployed for Ericsson, it’s not like Lewis was pulling away from Seb at a huge rate of knots.

    1. Lewis’ last stint was on the tyres he used at the start of the race. They’d already down 4-5 laps – thus he actually got 18-19 laps out of the options. The primes suffered because of the aggressive overtaking required after he lost track position.

      A 2 stop strategy for Mercedes that might have worked if the tyres were available:

      18 laps on options.
      22 laps on primes.
      18 laps on options.

  15. Does any one know why the Virtual Safety Car wasn’t used instead of the safety car? Surely this is the exact situation when the VSC should be deployed as the safety car was unnecessary if they had to slow down for the start/finish straight and first two corners under the VSC rule?

  16. Mercs’ race strategy 56 laps 3 stops after having pole position, 4 laps later, new strategy 52 laps 2 stops and give up hard earned P1 … doesn’t make any sense at all!

  17. I didn’t understand why Mercedes went with the softer tire in quali….and I still don’t understand. It didn’t, and doesn’t, make any sense. They certainly didn’t need the pace in the tire to advance, so why use it at the time? I don’t know who made that call, it seems very strange indeed.

  18. The issue is, Mercedes unable to keep their tyres last long. Look at Ferrari and Williams driver stints, Their Medium stints are 20 laps, Neither Merc drivers reach 15 laps.

    1. Not to mention that McLarens, Force Indias, Maldonado, Kvyat, Verstappen and even Merhi did more laps on Mediums than Merc too

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