Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari, Albert Park, 2018

Analysis: Mercedes’ missing seconds that cost Hamilton victory in Melbourne

2018 Australian Grand Prix

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“We said ‘we have the VSC gap'”: But it turned out they didn’t. Here’s why Mercedes’ miscalculation added up to a stunning defeat for Lewis Hamilton in Melbourne.

How Hamilton lost the lead

On lap 16 of the Australian Grand Prix everything was going according to plan for Lewis Hamilton. He’d held his lead at the start and pulled 3.3 seconds clear of Kimi Raikkonen. Sebastian Vettel in the other Ferrari was almost four seconds more behind.

Safety Car, Albert Park, 2018
The neutralisation changed the race
Raikkonen pitted at the end of that lap and Ferrari turned him around smartly: At 21.4 seconds, this was the second-fastest complete pit stop of the race. Pitting while the track was green cost him around 18 seconds.

On the lap before he pitted Raikkonen set his personal best lap time up to that point. This tells us Ferrari did not pit him because his tyres were losing performance: It was a strategic move, and the goal was to make Hamilton respond to Raikkonen’s pit stop immediately so the Mercedes driver would have to run a long second stint on soft tyres. As Ferrari had the luxury of Vettel running immediately behind Raikkonen, they could cover off both strategic options by leaving him out for longer.

Ferrari expected pitting Raikkonen would provoke Mercedes to pit Hamilton because the first driver to pit usually gains an advantage by being the first onto fresher tyres – the so-called ‘undercut’. That was the case at this race last year, where Hamilton gained nine-tenths of a second after his first pit stop.

But the undercut wasn’t as powerful this year – in fact, the opposite. As Raikkonen was the first one-stopper to pit, Ferrari was the first team to discover this. Having switched from ultra-soft tyres to softs (which are two ‘stages’ harder) his first full lap out of the pits was six-tenths slower than his last lap before he came in.

However by the time this was known Mercedes had already committed to bringing Hamilton in, no doubt expecting the ‘undercut’ would help them. Hamilton actually did a better job on his out-lap than Raikkonen: His first flying lap was only a tenth slower than he’d gone before pitting.

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On lap 19 Hamilton was 13.3 seconds behind Vettel. Obviously this was not enough for Vettel to make a pit stop under green flag conditions and come out in front of Hamilton. But crucially if a Safety Car or Virtual Safety Car scenario occured, Vettel might have a chance of coming out ahead of Hamilton.

Mercedes were alert to the threat and warned Hamilton he needed to improve his pace. “Vettel still inside our Safety Car window by one second,” they told him. Hamilton responded, taking 1.7 seconds off Vettel by lap five. And that, Mercedes thought, was enough. But it turned out they were wrong. When Romain Grosjean’s Haas caused a VSC period Vettel pitted and rejoined the track narrowly in front of Hamilton. It won him the race. How did Mercedes get it so badly wrong?

Interactive graph: Gaps between Hamilton, Raikkonen and Vettel

“We said ‘we have the VSC gap'”

Mercedes’ motorsport boss Toto Wolff explained their tactics before pitting Hamilton: “We were trying to maintain the current gaps, trying to build enough gap to Raikkonen to avoid the undercut, try to have enough gap to the Haas to avoid having a Safety Car gap. And then pretty much everything was under control.”

Raikkonen’s pit stop forced their hand, he conceded. “We took a little bit of a risk of putting Lewis on the soft to go until the end but it was the only choice to avoid Kimi jumping us. Pace was good.”

With Hamilton back out in front of Vettel they were left with Vettel to worry about. His only chance of staying ahead was if the race was neutralised.

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“We calculated the VSC gap that was needed. And the computer said to us 15 seconds was the necessary time,” said Wolff. On top of that they added a margin of error. “So we were always within this three, four seconds margin. And then suddenly the cameras showed us the pit exit and Sebastian came out in front of us.”

According to Wolff, Mercedes were so certain Hamilton had a safe margin between him and Vettel they told him to moderate his pace before the VSC was deployed. “We said ‘we have the VSC gap, maintain the VSC gap, slow down, we have three or four seconds’. We knew we had that. But we didn’t.”

Wolff made it clear Hamilton had correctly followed the instructions they gave him: it was the instructions which were wrong. “It was down to a software bug or an algorithm that was simply wrong,” he suggested.

Interactive graph: Hamilton, Raikkonen and Vettel’s lap times

Two questions

If Mercedes had got the VSC gap correct, would Hamilton have won? They suspect so: although Hamilton needed to look after his tyres more than Vettel did, the gap between them when the Ferrari rejoined the track was small.

“I think we would have been able,” was Wolff’s assessment. “Lewis knew that he needed to make it to the end on the tyre and drove to the target. He probably would have had the gap.”

Inaki Rueda, Sebastian Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari, Albert Park, 2018
Ferrari strategist Inaki Rueda joined the celebration
Hamilton thought so too. “It was quite close between us, maybe a second or so,” he said. “If I had known that Sebastian was in my window I may have been able to make a difference, yes. Whether it would be enough, I’m not quite sure.”

Would it have made a difference had Valtteri Bottas in the other Mercedes qualified where he should have done? This was exactly the scenario Mercedes feared on Saturday.

It’s not hard to envisage realistic scenarios in which Bottas, had he started inside the top four, would have been a useful ally, either in running in front of one of the Ferraris or running close behind and pitting before them, inviting them to use the undercut.

“I don’t know if that for this specific situation it would have been different,” said Wolff when asked if the race would have unfolded different had Bottas not crashed on Saturday.

“It was clear we had to react to Kimi’s pit stop because the risk of the undercut was there. That means you have to commit to this one strategy and you are completely exposed to a Safety Car or a Virtual Safety Car. And this is what bit us today.”

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Quotes: Dieter Rencken

2018 F1 season

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Author information

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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132 comments on “Analysis: Mercedes’ missing seconds that cost Hamilton victory in Melbourne”

  1. Excellent explanation with factual evidence.

    I was getting a bit riled up about people on the internet assuming there was a “conspiracy” in the Haas failures. The simpler truth is they lost a load of points that may have secured them a couple of steps up in the WCC which in turn amounts to 8-digit money. Haas had those failures because smaller teams make that sort of mistakes, and those mistakes were common back in the day when race teams were organizations employing tens of people, not hundreds.

    1. @faulty Thank you!

      1. Umar A (@umartajuddin)
        26th March 2018, 14:52

        @keithcollantine Im a bit confused by Mercedes’ strategy. I understand they were worried about the undercut, but Raikkonen was going to tyres two steps harder, and Hamilton had a 3.3s gap to him when he pitted. How did they think he would gain 3.3s on harder tyres? I forget what the deltas between the compounds are this year, but surely it couldnt be that much. Wouldnt it have been better to watch his sector times for the next few laps and then pit?

        1. @umartajuddin you can’t only look at the type of tyre, you have to consider wear as well.

          I agree with you, since they had 3.3s they probably couls afford to wait 1-2 laps. But that could also mean that they would release Hamilton right behind someone, making him lose time to the Ferraris

    2. I would like to add.

      Those points would have given Haas a standing of third. Valuable points that would affect their standing in the championship. If they were to make that sacrifice for Ferrari to win, they would do it when they are running out of the points. And not in the first race.

      I have to add that it is great to see a newer team running high in the points. Hopefully it will encourage others to join following the same method.

      1. Thank godness, somebody who really knows what he’s talking about! I guess you must be very close to Haas himself, seeing how well you know what he thinks and when he would be willing to fix a race for Ferrari. Would you care to show more of your insights with us?

    3. @faulty it is conspiracy, because it is perfect storm…

      vettel staying out with a high chance to drop further back unnecessarily. but they gambled for a safety car…
      then the haas’ pitstop disasters, and they are ferrari customers… (8 digits they loose here, they may get far better deal than that from ferrari, better support and maybe some donations… technical and monetary discounts)
      then the lucky VSC then a SC which wasnt deployed for sometime for some reason…
      then vettel getting the VSC he needed desperately…

      if you dont think these could/didnt happen, you maybe not watching F1 for long enough… so much had happened in the past people wouldnt believe would happen!

      all the ingredients of a perfect storm was here, and you cant blame people for thinking about it!

      1. It seems you don’t watch F1.

        Vettel has on average a longer first stint. Ferrari did comment that the possibility of a SC or VSC was high due to history. They took the gamble and it paid off.

        So what if Haas is Ferrari customers. We don’t see Force India, Williams or even Bottas crashing to bring out a SC for Mercedes.

        Every year and yet we are still on conspiracies. Which cost the team in question a lot of money. There is loyalty and there is money. Small teams are more loyal to the money as they can change suppliers quite quickly. See Torro Rosso and McLaren as an example.

        1. dude, the article was presenting an analysis. this guy was presenting an analysis, with a smattering of “what if”. its not crazy, its not ignorant. maybe its a bit inspired by bitterness, but this sort of thing HAS happened in f1. whatever team you like, and whatever the probability of this occurring, dont pretend like its a completely ridiculous thing to say.

          its guys like you that really make it tough to want to be part of the fan community. you can just tell him that it is only a REMOTE possibility, almost to a point that it isn’t worth his time to even rationalize it, and move on. but you decide to be a complete tool. typical junky.

          i respect and appreciate vettel, ham, danny, max, kimi, etc. and sometimes i disagree and sometimes i agree. i respect the sport, even more so than it appears the sport respects itself – money and personal gain are always the highest priority it seems. just chill out man. its possible, but not worth much thought. however, its probably worth more thought then the amount of thought you put into your response.

        2. Exactly. All these tinfoil hatters and their ridiculous conspiracy theories… Can you believe in 2008 they said Renault fixed the Singapore race? Thank godness you watch F1 and you’re here to set the record straight.

          1. The Singapore incident involved 2 people – Briatore and Piquet Jr – and it cost those involved nothing. This supposed conspiracy otoh would have involved half the pit crew of Haas (guys who don’t make that much money and who are sure to spill the beans sooner or later) and it cost Haas massively. That is why it is just an absurd conspiracy theory.

          2. @krommenaas: Of course. Only two people involved in Crashgate. Pat Symonds wasn’t involved at all, FIA just gave him a five year ban for being annoying. And no other member of the team was involved in any way either. Specially not Teflonso. Don’t let any of those tin hatters (or Teflonso team mates for that matter) tell you Teflonso knew anything about it. Only two people involved, absolutely.

      2. Spoken like someone who has watched this sport for a long time, nobldy would have expected alonso teams to do what they did in 2009

      3. Matteo (@m-bagattini)
        26th March 2018, 8:53

        @mysticus now tell us something about chem trails

        1. @m-bagattini: I’ve no idea of what chem trails are, but if it is something that adds to the discussion in any way, just let us know.

    4. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
      26th March 2018, 1:56

      @faulty of course, this is intentional.

      4 wheels, 20 cars, 20 races, 2 pitstops on average per race

      3,200 wheels changed during a year.

      What are the odds of a faulty release? I don’t know off the top of my head but let’s go with 10 a season which I think is very generous.

      Odds of back to back releases by the same team??? You do NOT want to know…

      Odds of that helping the team’s engine manufacturer win the race. No one cares because it’s about the same as a comet wiping out humanity during the course of a F1 race…

      1. @freelittlebirds: I will refine your numbers if you don’t mind: In 2016 there were three unsafe releases due to wheels improperly fitted during a race (Gutiérrez, Räikkonnen and Palmer). In 2017 there were two (Grosjean and Sainz). That’s an average of 2.5 per year, so your estimation of 10 was too generous indeed. That means that the odds of having that kind of issue in any give pit stop are 1 in 1280. The odds of having that issue IN TWO CONSECUTIVE PIT STOPS are roughly 1 in 1.600.000.

        An average F1 season has about 20 races which last about 100 minutes each, for a total of about 2000 minutes. Being very generous (because this would be much more difficult to calculate precisely), let’s say in the whole season there are two situations in which this kind of “failure” will help just the right team win the race, and each situation lasts for about ten minutes (like the one that helped Ferrari did). That’s 20 minutes for a whole season, or 1/100 of the total.

        Combining both, the probabilities that the whole thing happens by chance are 1 in 160 million. Technically a bit more likely than a comet wiping humanity during an F1 race, but equally impossible for all practical purposes.

        1. you math is wrong

          first of all every wheel has the same change of being put on badly, the change does not change because of other wheels, why would you go all math on us if you don’t even get this very basic concept?

          the fact that they have some technical problem that allows a wheel to be installed wrong increases the change that the problem will happen again, not because of math but since obviously something is malfunctioning.

          1. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
            26th March 2018, 14:48

            Because of the sheer number of wheels being changed and the fact that it’s a very unlikely event. By the way, my math only takes into account the races. Do you know how many times Haas changed tyres during testing and during P1, P2, P3, Q1, Q2, Q3?

            Do you seriously believe that the problem manifested itself only in the race and happened back-to-back? Did they change wheel nuts?

            Who makes the nuts? I’d surprised that Haas doesn’t make its own nuts and more than likely gets them from Ferrari, Pirelli or another company that F1 teams use. We’ve been told repeatedly that Haas gets many parts from Ferrari so it’s possible the nuts were made by the Scuderia.

            As for the guns causing issues, they were 2 separate guns which is even less likely and usually once a gun fails, they probably throw it away and go Office Space on it like they did on the printer since it just cost them a few million dollars…

        2. The odds of winning the Euro Millions are 1 in 139.8m. Pretty similar odds and it happens more than once a year!

          1. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
            26th March 2018, 14:50

            Not sure what your point is but I can assure that if you win the lottery back-to-back, you’ll be spending a lot more time behind bars than on the beach :-)

            So make sure you only win it once and if you do win it twice, DO NOT (I repeat DO NOT) cash the 2nd ticket. You’ll spend the rest of your life with lawyers proving your innocence.

        3. @freelittlebirds:

          Do you know how many times Haas changed tyres during testing and during P1, P2, P3, Q1, Q2, Q3?

          I do, it’s published data. You can check how many times they had failures in those sessions here: https://www.racefans.net/2017-f1-season/statistics/penalties-index/. I just decided to exclude the data from free practice and qualifying from the calculation because it’s probably not representative for the race.

          Regarding Michel’s comment… Mate, before you discuss something in public and say somebody else is wrong you might want to get some basic understanding of what you’re talking about. Here, have a look: https://www.mathsisfun.com/data/probability.html. Oh, and you might also want to learn how to spell the word “chance”.

      2. Matteo (@m-bagattini)
        26th March 2018, 8:56

        @freelittlebirds this is not throwing a dice, you can’t use probability on this

        1. @m-bagattini: Thank you so much for letting us know, Matteo. Now go running to Wolff, Arrivabene, etc., and tell them what you just told us, because their engineers have been using probability for this since 1950. The fools…

          1. Matteo (@m-bagattini)
            27th March 2018, 6:19

            Glad you learned something today Fernando.

          2. @m-bagattini: Oh, come on, don’t be like that, don’t stop now. Give us another one like “you can’t use probability on F1”. Please, please, pretty please! We were having such a good time…

          3. @alonshow people here are saying that having 2 failed pits is impossible, without considering that if you have some problem in your procedure, having a second – or third – bad pit stop is very plausible.

            Say you’re driving and suddenly you flat a tire. This may be unfortunate, but after a couple of km, another flat tire. And another. Is this a conspiracy against you? What is this obscure design that works against all probabilities? Well, a while back you inadvertently drove over a lot of broken glasses. Your flat tires all come from the same event.

            That’s what I meant and the game of trying to put on absurd conspiracy theories, completely ignoring the fact that Haas hitting those places at the end of the race was far more valuable than gain something from Ferrari, completely ignoring the fact that Mercedes itself admitted they made wrong calculations with the VSC windows is plain stupid.

          4. @m-bagattini: Thank you so much, man. You’ve outdone yourself. “You can’t use probability on F1” was really good. But now it turns out that P4 is more valuable than a race win. I mean, I find it a bit hard to follow you with your dyslexia, but that certainly seems to be the meaning of “Haas hitting those places at the end of the race was far more valuable than gain something from Ferrari”.

            Just keep going, mate, we’re loving it.

          5. @alonshow you keep saying “we”, probably to feel stronger. But no, you’re alone in this, mate. And you’re wrong, no matter what you do to try to convince yourself or anyone else. You forgot a simple rule, it is your duty, since you’re accusing, to prove you’re right; instead, you ask “how any of its contents proves or even suggests that Ferrari and Haas did not fix the race”. That’s not how it works, mate. Your math stinks, you accuse and insult to make your point.

            You say “You see, in this thread some of us are trying to use facts, maths and reasoning to reach a reasoned conclusion”, but you’re only trying to reach a conclusion you already have in mind.

            You, mate, are using countless logical fallacies, more than I ever saw in a single thread: check out https://yourlogicalfallacyis.com and see watch yourself in the mirror.

            You’re not even close to being worthy of the nickname you’re carrying.

            I’m sorry for you because living like this doesn’t sound healthy. Have you already covered the webcam on your computer? I’m quite sure they are watching you.

          6. @m-bagattini: Thank you for your detailed answer, mate, but no need to keep going, really. The moment you said P4 is “far more valuable” than a win, you summed up the value of your comments quite nicely.

          7. @alonshow never said that: “Haas hitting those places at the end of the race was far more valuable than gain something from Ferrari”

            Maybe you should start taking care of all the things you see around that are simply not true.

    5. @faulty: An excellent article indeed. Now will you kindly explain to us how any of its contents proves or even suggests that Ferrari and Haas did not fix the race?

      1. Yeah, well… ever heard of burden of proof?

        I’m accusing Haas of having limited personnel, which I guess If I sent a kind enough email to the FIA They’d tell me the exact number of employees they have.

        You on the other hand have a larger task at hand proving that Ferrari and Haas fixed the race.

        1. @faulty: I don’t think there is a need for me to prove anything, but if you want a mathematical analysis of how it is essentially impossible for this whole thing to happen by chance, check my comments above.

          Anyway, my question is how any of the contents of this article proves or even suggests that Ferrari and Haas did not fix the race, as you implied in your comment. If you didn’t imply such a thing, just correct me on that.

          1. GtisBetter (@)
            26th March 2018, 9:51

            As pointed out your math is wrong. It’s actually not relevant at all. And you do have to provide prove, cause you are accusing haas if cheating or manipulation. We can safely assume that they didn’t, until otherwise. You are just grasping straws (incorrect application of math, fallacies) to confirm your theory. While you can believe what you want of course, you know as little as everybody else on this forum and your theory of race fixing is very unlikely. An opinion doesn’t make it a fact.

          2. @passingisoverrated: You see, in this thread some of us are trying to use facts, maths and reasoning to reach a reasoned conclusion. If you really feel like having a “your math is wrong because I say so even though I don’t even understand your math” kind of discussion… OK, OK, we can have that discussion, but let’s move it elsewhere. Just tell me where you want it and I’ll create a “you’re wrong because I say so” thread elsewhere just for you.

      2. You can’t prove a negative!

      3. @alonshow That you genuinely think Haas and Ferrari could have ‘fixed’ the race with a double DNF is really worrying. You even take time to crunch nonsense numbers to back your assumption while the only thing that happened was a software bug at Mercedes.

    6. People said Haas failure was a conspiracy? OMG!

      They were the stars of the day for me until that pit stop disaster.

    7. I was getting a bit riled up about people on the internet assuming there was a “conspiracy” in the Haas failures.

      I don’t know about th erest of the internet but most of those saying that here seemed to be doing so as a joke.

      1. Actually if you read some other sites comments,it is beyond crazy… I think it’s the Donald Trump fake news influence, people love conspiracy ‘theories’ or make believe alternative facts. It’s Abad human habit at the moment dividing people instead of uniting.

      2. @davidnotcoulthard The sad part is that they’re not joking..

        1. @davidnotcoulthard: You did say the same after Singapore 2008, didn’t you?

          1. @alonshow I wouldn’t have been in the position to do so being so young and not connected to the internet, but I basically would’ve. And yes, I do realise I would’ve been wrong. Doesn’t change the fact that coincidences usually are just that.

            Besides, where were you when Ross Brawn almost magically inherited an awesome chassis, with all to do being stamping his name on it plus a Mercedes engine? The chances of that happening were pretty close to zero (the only exception I can think of was when ferrari bought a championship-winning car from IIRC Lancia, and that was when front-engined cars were winning championships). What illegal things were Leyton house doing when they took 2nd place having been 1-2 during a race for some time?

          2. @davidnotcoulthard: Hats off to you for acknowleding you would have said the same thing after Singapore 2008. I wish everybody was as clear and straighforward as you are.

            About Ross Brown I’d say the chances that a genius like him does something utterly brilliant that nobody else could have thought of are quite high, actually. That’s why people like him are called geniuses.

  2. This was a great read, thank you. It’s interesting that Mercedes themselves are putting it down to their own error rather than blaming the rule book like a lot of people. That’s very respectable

    1. @strontium It’s far from the first time someone’s lost a significant position because of the VSC. Ricciardo losing second to Rosberg at COTA two years ago springs to mind. And that was because his team mate caused the VSC!

      1. @keithcollantine exactly! As I commented on another article, it’s nothing new

        1. Yes, but now it’s Hamilton on the wrong end so it must be a conspiracy.

          1. Hamilton also lost out in the case above too (Rosberg finishing behind Ricciardo would have improved Hamilton’s chances at taking the title). No one cried conspiracy.

            Clearly the ridiculousness of Haas failing to attach 2 wheels in the space of about 2 laps fuelled some immediate questions in the heat of the moment, but I don’t think they should be taken too seriously.

          2. Are you aware that Crashgate was a conspiracy? Are you aware that it gave Hamilton his first title? (Not remotely impying here that that was the goal of the conspiracy, that was just a very high profile but probably unintended side effect).

      2. And giovinazzi, junior ferrari driver, causing a SC in china 2017 which advantaged hamilton in the strategy if I recall.

  3. Botta’s absence was a critical part. It is likely he would have helped.

    I’m curious about where Grosjean stopped. Perhaps he simply stopped. Or perhaps he made the most of his misfortune and parked where recovery would prompt VSC or SC. It never hurts to help a powerful allie like Ferrari.

    Does anyone have insight on what his options were? Could he have made it somewhere that wouldn’t have promoted a SC?

    1. I’m not sure where the service roads were, but I do know that the rules require the driver to stop immediately once they are aware of the problem

    2. @slotopen

      Could he have made it somewhere that wouldn’t have promoted a SC?

      He did, race control switched to the Safety Car because the marshals were having difficulty moving Grosjean’s car and they decided to send a crane to the scene.

      1. Semantics, ultimately a SC (both virtual and real) was triggered. I don’t blame Grosjean though.

      2. @keithcollantine Romain was quite well behaved, he stopped really soon and on a good spot, I don’t understand why they didn’t wheel him through the gap, maybe it was a shade too small.

        Rare mistake by Mercedes, they had everything in control.

        1. @peartree – From what I saw on the screen, Grosjean’s car was stuck in gear and wouldn’t roll when pushed. Sometimes the release button doesn’t work. You could see the marshal’s trying to push the car and it wasn’t budging, which is why they deployed the SC – they had to bring a snatch vehicle onto the track.

          1. @mazdachris thats what I thought too, the car looked stuck with gear engaged.

          2. @mazdachris So that’s explained, Ferrari remotely stuck the car to trigger full safety car.

    3. To me it looked as if he stopped where recovery would be fast, from the angle of the camera. But in later camera angles the break in the wall looks like it was fenced off. He possibly thought that as well and he did stop off opposite the racing line.

  4. Totally understand how this happened (Despite being very confused at first). However it seems odd that we have a situation where vsc is far better to pit under than a full safety car especially when the VSC was supposedly brought in partly to make the racing more fair.

    Not sure what the solution is. Could reduce the pitlane speed under a VSC in order to even it out a bit?

    1. Not sure what the solution is. Could reduce the pitlane speed under a VSC in order to even it out a bit?

      Maybe have a second speed limiter at an earlier point which will add the seconds otherwise being gained by pitting under the VSC. Shouldn’t be too difficult to an average pit stop, the added time necessary and where the speed limiter needs to kick in.

      1. it is an easy problem to solve, if VSC to be fair to all, add a time/fixed delta at pitstop during VSC, like 5 sec no touch period before pitstop crew can work? slower pit speed? there is a time delta during VSC periods, why they dont adjust it for pitstops? if it is keep the distances fair! this VSC is almost equal to cutting the whole field instead going through a chicane! He gained a whole 7-8 secs unfair advantage!

        People say ham gained similary in spain, he was under the same conditions, and vettel didnt use it for his own tyre strategy… ham did it… here vettel purely had it by luck and gained a massive unfair advantage… adding a no touch time at pitstop would eliminate this kind of gains!

        1. Indeed, with all those penalties for cutting chicanes, they should make vsc fairer too.

        2. Why so complicated?

          Why not just close the pit lane like they used to when a safety car came out?

          That didn’t used to work because of fuel and people having to pit for fuel, but they don’t refuel now. Surely they can make tyres last a lap or two longer at safety car/virtual safety car speeds.

          1. I don’t think closing the pit lane is realistic. What if a car has damage and needs to pit for safety reasons? And if you allow that, where do you draw the line? Tyres being close to their limit could present a safety issue, for instance.

            Cars which pit under SC/VSC conditions will always gain an advantage compared to pitting under racing conditions. We need to be careful not to have a knee jerk reaction to this.

            The only thing which concerns me is the potential safety aspect of entering the pits under VSC. If I understood correctly*, they bypass the ETA/delta for a section before and after they pit. I would suggest making sure there is a timing point at both pit entry and exit so they don’t floor it at that point. This may not be the best solution, and it needs careful consideration, but it would seem to work to me.

          2. Sorry missed the * point

            * If I have misunderstood, I’m happy to be corrected.

          3. @drmouse
            I believe you to be correct as far as I also understand from what the channel 4 commentary team said though also could be wrong, ha ha.
            This is definitely something they should address and could help with the problem a little.

            But why do you think cars that pit under SC or VSC are always going to get an advantage? Currently they do nearly always get an advantage, but that is only because the way the rules are written, which, imo are wrong and do not promote racing. Yes, strategy is part of racing and team strategy is part of racing, and Ferrari used that brilliantly on Sunday*, however to gain an advantage because of something outside either teams’ control is wrong imo. Why should Hamilton be penalised having not put a foot wrong? (Yes, I know he has gained from VSC before such as in Spain last year but I would prefer him to have gained that time back by being better/faster, or forcing Vettel into a mistake rather than being gifting it). Why should Vettel get a massive advantage handed to him when he self-admittedly wasn’t driving his best and couldn’t get the car to work as well as Raikkonen?

            This is why I also don’t like all the cries for equalising the engines. Why? They have the same rules, one team did better. Why should the team that did the best then get penalised for not doing anything wrong?

            *kudos to them, though poor Raikkonen, the loser of the team again, but that was what was best for the team at the time to get a 1-3 rather than a 2-3!

          4. Why should Hamilton be penalised having not put a foot wrong?

            There is always an element of luck involved in racing. It cannot be eliminated, and IMHO it shouldn’t. It’s generally swings and roundabouts: If you lose out one race, you make it back in another, and events like these add excitement and drama to the event in a natural way (as opposed to artificial means like DRS or adding sprinklers).

            To take it further: Should the race be stopped and cars reset if someone, through no fault of their own, is crashed into? They are being “penalised having not put a foot wrong”.

            What about if it starts raining? The cars who are on the other side of the track have further to go before they can change tyres, and have been “penalised having not put a foot wrong”.

            What about a sudden wind change at the end of a straight, changing the balance and causing the car to crash? Or the weather is hotter than expected, which suits one car more than another?

            All these random events are part and parcel of going racing.

    2. All very very good suggestions. Unfortunately no one at the FIA is listening.

    3. John Toad (@)
      26th March 2018, 5:12

      There’s a simple solution to this’flaw’ in the rules:
      Close the pits during a VSC.
      A VSC is supposed to ‘neutralise’ a race, which in my mind means that the cars leave a VSC period in the same relative places and condition as they entered the VSC period.
      To my mind changing tyres under a VSC negates this and the pits should be closed for the duration of the VSC period.

      1. And when the VSC occurs for the last few laps of a race and a car hasn’t yet pitted?

        1. They pit, get a five second penalty and end up roughly where they would have.

  5. It is a little surprising that both Haas cars were able to make it to the track despite the team clearly knowing something was wrong immediately. You would have thought they would simply yell STOP! and get them to stop at the end of the pit lane. However I assume they were not quick on the radio and Grosjean simply stopped ASAP knowing that there was a safety issue with his car. However he could probably have just gone very slowly to the end of the short straight, took the right hand bend and I think there is an access road he could have stopped in.

    1. It is a little surprising that both Haas cars were able to make it to the track despite the team clearly knowing something was wrong immediately.

      I don’t agree it’s surprising at all, it’s happened many times before with other teams. It’s surprising for it to happen twice in the same race.

      1. I agree we have seen it before. However the Pit crew were immediately telling the pit wall that there was a serious issue when the other car had also had a wheel issue and had to stop. I would have thought they would have been on the radio straight away to grosjean.

    2. Damn… That was supposed to be a reply to RP (@slotopen) comment above..

    3. Timing. Guy puts wheel on in 2.fast seconds, make sure he is clear, Car is sent on it’s way, guy notices the wheel doesn’t look correct, tries to signal. Information goes through at least 2 people before it gets to driver.

      This is a sport where a second is valuable. Damn unlucky it happened twice.

      But some races teams lose two cars quickly because of engine failure. So not uncommon as you would think.

      1. From what i understand the wheel gun gives a signal to the “green light” computer. All 4 wheel-guns “ready” it turns green.
        No human interaction needed and it saves valuable time.
        If the wheel gun automatically gives this signal or it is a manually pushed button on the wheel gun i do not know.

        1. I don’t know about the first pit stop, but I noticed on the second pit stop the mechanic pointed the wheel gun into the air, which is the signal to show they’re done. He then appeared to realise there was a problem by which point it was already too late

    4. I don’t understand why they can’t just get back in the pits and get the wheelnut fixed, safety reasons? I’ve seen plenty of slow cars drive back with the pits with various issues over the years, broken suspensions, punctures, engine problems where the engine didn’t blow up yet etc., they just stay off the racing line.

      1. @esploratore Yes, safety reason. Limping car back home is permitted if they don’t provide hazards on the track. Unsecured wheels means it can go off at any moment so it was deemed as major hazard. If a car can cause any hazards to the track like oil spillage, they too will be asked to retire the car immediately instead of limping back to the pit.

        1. Ah, right, makes sense.

  6. Vettel fan 17 (@)
    25th March 2018, 22:13

    Very good analysis. Looks like holding Hamilton back before the VSC cost Mercedes the race, but as said in the article, it could have been a lot easier for them if Bottas hadn’t crashed.

  7. Hemingway (@)
    25th March 2018, 22:24

    The delusion is strong

  8. Good article.
    The only aspect that doesn’t convince me is the assumption that Hamilton’s gap was due to the software. He was steadily catching up anyway, and he didn’t just stop doing that because the software thought it was enough. The VSC window was a watermark that they were keeping an eye on, but they weren’t telling him to push until he reaches that mark, and then to hold the gap. He was quite simply faster than Vettel, and the moment he reached the predicted VSC window was no doubt a reassuring one, however one that didn’t really affect Hamilton’s pace. Grosjean’s stoppage just came at the wrong time, one lap later might’ve been too late.
    If Mercedes had had a crystal ball at their disposal, they might’ve been able to get Hamilton to squeeze out a few tenths more, so that he would’ve barely made it. But my impression is that this is a case of coincidence, not causation. The strategy software got it wrong, AND Hamilton lost the race, but not: Hamilton lost the race BECAUSE the strategy software got it wrong.

    1. Hamilton was driving to a delta to manage the tyres for a 40 lap stint. He was driving no faster than the team felt he needed to preserve as much tyre life as possible. It’s no doubt that, had Merc realised they were not out of Vettels VSC pit window, Hamilton would have gone much faster.

    2. they weren’t telling him to push until he reaches that mark, and then to hold the gap

      There’s a quote from Toto Wolff in the article that directly contradicts this statement:

      “We said ‘we have the VSC gap, maintain the VSC gap, slow down, we have three or four seconds’. We knew we had that. But we didn’t.”

      1. @jamesremuscat
        Intriguing. Turns out I was wrong.
        So, that’s how they take decisions? In that case, I can’t help but think they deserved that outcome, even if Vettel didn’t deserve to win that race.

  9. @keithcollantine Is the following scenario possible? Instead of going down the main straight at VSC speed, simply “take a short-cut” by going through the Pit Lane without stopping. I am thinking that such a scenario might actually work, where the Pit Entry and Exit causes the drivers to bypass several corners (e.g. Canada & Monaco).

    1. @ijw1 No I think the pit lane speed limit prevents that from working. They are usually alert to that kind of exploit: for example when the new pits at Silverstone was built they told drivers lap times wouldn’t be counted in qualifying if they pitted because it was potentially quicker.

      This wasn’t always the case: Ayrton Senna set the fastest lap in the 1993 European Grand Prix by going through the pits…

    2. @ijw1
      Not really. You still have to respect the pit lane speed limit, which is only 60 kph in Monaco. And even on tracks where the speed limit is 100 kph, you’re nowhere near fast enough to justify taking that road. The VSC lap times in Melbourne were just over 2 minutes, which corresponds to an average speed of over 150 kph. And that’s not accounting for slow corners, i.e. the cars still reach 200 kph or more on the straights without falling foul of the minimum times. You gain absolutely nothing by driving through the pit lane at a much slower speed, irrespective of the track.

    3. Vettel lost a lot of time to Hamilton by entering the pits. Before the VSC he was something like 11 seconds ahead. He came out of the pits just in front of Hamilton so it was obviously slower to go through the pits. The issue is that the cars on track are so slow that the gap was just enough to make it out in 1st. If he had pitted under a normal safety ar it is unlikely he would have come out in 1st as Hamilton would have been able to close the gap under the safety car conditions.

      1. @ lee1

        If he had pitted under a normal safety ar it is unlikely he would have come out in 1st as Hamilton would have been able to close the gap under the safety car conditions.

        I don’t think that’s quite correct. Safety Car conditions do not mean that the drivers can keep driving flat out until they reach the end of the queue. In fact, the conditions are much the same as they are under VSC conditions.
        Article 39.7 of the Sporting Regulations:

        In order to ensure that drivers reduce speed sufficiently, from the time at which all teams have been sent the “SAFETY CAR DEPLOYED” message via the official messaging system until the time that each car crosses the first safety car line for the second time, drivers must stay above the minimum time set by the FIA ECU at least once in each marshalling sector (a marshalling sector is defined as the section of track between each of the FIA light panels). In addition, any driver entering the pit lane at the end of his first or second lap after deployment of the safety car, must be above the minimum time set by the FIA ECU at the first safety car line as he enters the pit lane.

        As far as I can see, the wording in this article is identical to the wording in article 40.5, which describes the VSC procedure.
        I.e.: Every driver gets a minimum time to be respected, which is still easily fast enough to catch up with the Safety Car. The only situation during which there is no such restrictions is the situation when lapped cars are allowed to overtake, as this only happens when the track is cleared, and the primary purpose of the Safety Car shifts from safety to ensuring an orderly restart.

        The procedure during the first lap of a Safety car deployment is identical to VSC conditions. Consequently, the fact that the VSC was deployed at first didn’t affect Hamilton’s race differrently from a normal Safety Car.

        1. Thanks for that clarification, I had been wondering the same thing. At least in theory there could be different FIA deltas for SC vs VSC, though I don’t know whether they do this in practice. I’m sure in this case it was the same, being back-to-back. Bunch up the field more quickly at higher speed before the marshals go on track or bunch it up more slowly, perhaps with marshals already on track. Would depend on individual circumstances. You can’t ever legislate away the concept of luck though.

    4. It’s not allowed by the rules

      Drivers must not drive unnecessarily slowly, erratically or in a manner that could be deemed potentially dangerous to other competitors. Drivers may not pit, unless it is to change tyres. They are also not permitted to overtake, except if another driver in front enters the pit lane or slows with an obvious problem.


  10. All well and good! The optics are poor though. Perhaps adding a 5-10 second “no touch time” before any pitstop conducted while the VSC is deployed could neutralize this.

  11. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
    26th March 2018, 1:51

    The odds of the failures happening by accident and favoring the team’s engine manufacturer are absolutely zero.

    It’d be akin to someone firing a gun in the direction of a victim, the person dying, 10 cameras capturing the whole thing, the analysis showing that the bullet came from the gun that the person fired, the person admitting that they killed the person and then learning that the person had a heart attack and died a split second before the bullet hit him. These are the same odds we are talking about.

    I think we can all agree with the 100% chance that this was intentional and dismiss the 1 in a million chance that this was purely luck.

    F1 is becoming the most ridiculous sport in the world – it’s just all coincidence. What are the odds of 1 in a million things happening all the time in F1?

    If that were the case, all the drivers would be dead by now or at least missing a few arms, legs and heads and we’d begging for people to step into the car.

    1. We can’t all agree cause I don’t really think haas threw away such a result on purpose.

      Let me remind you about china 2017, giovinazzi crashed and helped the rival top team, hamilton was advantaged by the safety car that was brought out, not vettel.

      1. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
        26th March 2018, 3:16

        @esploratore But that’s completely illogical – the vast majority of points that Haas will win come from Ferrari. They would probably win 0 points without Ferrari, that’s what teams usually win that have been in F1 for as long as Haas has and they usually leave F1 with 1 career point if they are lucky.

        You think Haas managed to get to P4 and P5 today on their own?

        That’s not Haas in P4 and P5, that’s Ferrari. One would have to be insane to think that Haas could get there. Even McLaren can’t hit P4 or P5 and even Max in a Red Bull was having trouble with the Haas.

        1. Yeah, only that there’s 1 more vital aspect you seem to be missing in all your comments: MONEY. That Haas car may be mostly last year Ferrari, but they paid for it. Things are quite even between teams anyway, I mean I’m sure Haas shares some data with Ferrari etc, so Ferrari has their own share of benefits. Plus, as you mentioned, Haas was causing trouble to RBR, which… again… was/is good news to Ferrari. So, I really don’t see how Haas owe Ferrari much anymore after all these! Not to mention they are an American team, it was only the 1st race of the season… etc etc. Probably I would have considered this aspect something relevant if it was one of the final races and VET had a real shot at the champ. Then again, if Ferrari can buy any team to do their dirty tactics just because they sold them an old car… why risk your image, wins and money rewards like that – with just 1 race – and not buy/create their own second team and do something like that every race?!

          1. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
            26th March 2018, 13:06

            @mg1982 Haas was P8 last year in the WCC – based on the performance we saw yesterday, they stand to be much higher even with both failures. IIRC Horner is worried about the Haas cars which is very odd and he knows more than we do. Both Haas cars made Q3 and they were holding off a Red Bull and they can probably hold off a Mercedes which is the reason they are that quick – they can hold the cars off and allow Ferrari to win races like yesterday.

            So would you rather P8 or P5 in the championship with a chance to win podiums? Don’t forget that Haas was very upset with F1 last year and must have considered an exit.

    2. @freelittlebirds you have an interesting idea of absoulte.

      Besides, where did you get 1/10^6 from? Have you taken into account that e.g. tyre switches are done more in a rush during a race than the rest of the weekend? Besides, explain Giovinazzi crashing (and most seem to agree in such a way that it helped HAM despite the lack of a Mercedes engine behind GIO) a year before Sauber turned into Sauber-Alfa.

      > They would probably win 0 points without Ferrari, that’s what teams usually win that have been in F1 for as long as Haas has and they usually leave F1 with 1 career point if they are lucky.

      Which means Cooper, March, and Hesketh were simply impossible, as was the original, non-Brackley Mercedes F1 team. A bit pedantic there perhaps, I’ll admit, but even Force India managed to chase RAI for the win at spa at 1.5 years old, after their performance in 2008 (which imo sort of deletes whatever benefit they have of tracing back to the team that took 1-2 at spa a bit over a decade earlier).

      And of course that’s during a year when Ross Brawn somehow managed to inherit an awesome chassis and was left to put his name (and a Mercedes engine) on it. Why no Gribkowsky-esque case surrounding that?

      1. well that’s not how one uses the blockquote tag. oh well.

      2. Still, in all fairness I will say that I’d have been very surprised about the truth regarding SG 2008 or the intentional-ness of Suzuka 1990. But coincidences are more often than not just that in F1, though of course not always.

      3. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
        26th March 2018, 13:22

        @davidnotcoulthard March, Cooper and Hesketh? Really? I had to go to Wikipedia to find out when they competed…

        This is actually one of the things that I love about this forum!

        You’re right about the tyre switches being done in a hurry during the race which is why I actually only included the switches during the races. Yesterday most teams had 1 pit stop but some races they have 2 and in rain they may have even more (intermediates, wets and back to another tyre). Plus some cars come in because of punctures or they choose to have more pit stops.

        I estimated 2 pit stops per race but that might be wrong. I also overestimated the unsafe releases which, as another fan mentioned, are much more infrequent and rarely cause a SC.

        The odds of back to back for the same team are extremely low because you have to multiply the odds. This might not necessarily be mathematically 100% right but also the way that Haas dealt with the failures was extremely unusual and affects the odds. As many have pointed out, they could have stopped Romain and Kevin from leaving the pits or communicated the issue to them.

        1. they could have stopped Romain and Kevin from leaving the pits

          Come to think of it I’m starting to be a tad amazed at how often I feel it is that drivers with tyres fitted wrongly actually do end leaving the pits, only to soon retire.

  12. Moral of the story – Ferrari screw over Raikkonnen to give Vettel a strategic advantage.

    1. @pratyushp276 LOL! A convenient side effect indeed. Kimi looked to have the better of Vettel all weekend.

      1. Yeah, too bad he’s too weak and that’s just some random performance. Ferrari pitted him 1st for fresh tyres… still couldn’t undercut HAM. Too much for Kimi these days…

    2. Matteo (@m-bagattini)
      26th March 2018, 8:59

      @pratyushp276 You sacrifice your queen if you have to save your king

  13. Is there a way i can get the lap times of the middle order?

  14. Lennard Mascini (@)
    26th March 2018, 6:05

    I honestly why people are so fussed about things like this happening. We want the field to be close, we want unpredictability, we want upsets, yet when someone gets lucky and causes a major upset that no one would have foreseen at the start of the race, everyone is outraged. Make up your minds!

    1. Lennard Mascini (@)
      26th March 2018, 6:06

      *I honestly don’t understand

    2. Exactly. This made the race so much better. Otherwise Hamilton would have rode away with it and we’d have almost nothing to talk about.

      1. @deej92

        F1 is boring? Why don’t the FIA and Liberty understand the real reasont he iewership is falling in addition to the move to pay TV? Geez everyone on there are showing their ages!

        On a more serious note it’s not that often we encounter the very same person being so contradictive. I guess we all just want different things. Takign as a whole it’ll look like we can’t decide on anything.

  15. Tell you what, if this was a conspiracy then you need to nominate the HAAS pit crew for the Oscars this year because that was a stunning bit of acting.

    Come on, get real. Those mechanics weren’t pretending; you can see from their reactions once the car is dropped off the jacks, there’s immediate frantic waving, followed by a kind of expression of frustration and disappointment that simply can’t be faked.

    All the people above calculating the odds of unsafe releases are failing to factor in one important variable – the likelihood of a team having two instances of the same wheelnut/wheelgun issue in the same race. Actually that’s something you see all the time, particularly in the early part of the year while teams are still refining the cars. If there’s some issue, say thermal expansion, which is causing a part of the hub or the wheelnut to react in an unexpected way, then the chances are very high that you will see that issue more than once. And while the odds of them releasing the car in that condition twice seem unlikely, again you need to figure that if the problem manifests itself in such a way that the wheel, for that split second, appears to have gone on ok, then it’s entirely possible that you’ll get two unsafe releases. Especially for a less experienced team like HAAS who probably have less resource to focus on procedural stuff like how to address pitstop issues on the fly during a race. It’s poor incident management, for sure, and it cost them a very good finish.

    Anyway, all that aside, I think it’s entirely possible that Vettel could have won the race even if HAAS hadn’t had problems on that stop. As you can see above, Raikkonen pitted first, forcing Mercedes to pit Hamilton to cover off the undercut. But it became clear immediately that the undercut wouldn’t work – cars having pitted were going slower than those on older tyres. Mercedes reacted to Raikkonen before this had become apparent, but Ferrari would almost certainly have aborted any immediate planned stop by Vettel because at that point he could have gained time over Hamilton just by running longer. We can only speculate as to whether he could have bought himself a whole pit window, but even if he hadn’t, he could have pitted much later and been able to attack on much fresher tyres. As it goes, they never needed to go that way, because the Ferrari strategists realised that Vettel was in the window for a VSC pit over Hamilton, so when a VSC was deployed, they pulled him in immediately.

    I really don’t understand where all this consternation is coming from regarding pitting under the VSC and SC – this has been the case for as long as I’ve watched F1 (except for those years when the pitlane was closed) – it has always been preferable to pit under speed-limited track conditions, because you lose less time that way. There’s nothing new or surprising about this.

    1. It’s only people who think the earth is flat and Trump is president that see a conspiracy.

      1. I think Trump is President of the USA*, although not that the Earth is flat or that this was a conspiracy.

        * Saying nothing about whether he is any good as said President, but he was elected by the rules as set, inaugurated, sits in the White House etc.

  16. Bottas must feel some burden of responsibility here. We saw how hard he slumped in the second phase of last year, I’m going to go out on a limb and say his performance over the course of his year will be inferior to last and demotion beckons.

    Let’s get Ocon in that second seat for 2019 please!

  17. You’d think that after the SC debacle at the 2015 Monaco Grand Prix, Mercedes would have sorted this out.

  18. Excellent analysis ! Now I understand why the advanced strategy software of the Mercedes team considered Vettel out of the VSC window. The VSC & SC/pit lane speed limits doesn’t apply to the pit lane entry/exit (~ 200 meters) that isn’t considered as a racetrack nor a pit lane.

    Vettel was driving within the VSC delta time slowely then suddently ,when he entered the pitlane, he accelerated and then braked very hard to the point that he locked his wheels. He did the same thing when exiting the box, he accelerated after the crossing the limiter then braked hard again at the end of the white line.

    The funny thing is that all this happened while at Mercedes were pretty confident that Vettel will be out behind Hamilton. The strategy software confirmed that Vettel was out of the VSC window by nearly 3s. Could it be possible that the software was programmed to calculate the speed imposed by the VSC without taking into account the pit lane entry/exit area which can be taken at higher speeds.

  19. After first being dismayed by this turnaround, of Seb “gaining an unfair advantage” due to the VSC; instead, I am now happy to accept the result.

    After all that has been said and everything added up (or subtracted), it was a strategic gambol by Ferrari which paid off. Lewis simply unlucky following the plan, but also out on his own vs two Ferrari’s. Plus apparent errors from the Mercedes strategists.

    Initially I thought the whole thing unsporting and against the spirit of racing. Now I see it as quite the opposite. Typically brilliant exploitation of opportunity (and indeed serendipity) in F1; with consideration for just how narrow the margins are, both for teams and drivers.

  20. Great article Keith! I just got dizzy with some of the commentsLOL! Separate question: With all the talk of Mercedes “Party Mode”, do you have any indication that this same mode is used at times other than qualification? Such as the first couple of laps at the start, or for passing in selected situations?

  21. Ferrari bluffed Merc. Just before Kimi pitted, Lewis had started putting in some Hammertime laps. Can’t remember how much it was but I remember him being asked to do something like a 1:17 and he did better than what they asked. Meaning he had some serious pace left in his ultras. I think Ferrari saw this and realized Merc is going to beat them on outright pace and decided to force Marc’s hand. And it worked, albeit fortuitously.

  22. Good analysis, thanks

  23. Did anyone else notice that Lewis seamed to disagree with the team but not over the radio?
    Does he have some sort of disagree button on the wheel. Looks like he wanted to stay out but was overruled by the team. Are we going to get radio transcripts again this year?

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