Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Shanghai International Circuit, 2018

‘Nobody thought it was right’: Wolff explains why Mercedes didn’t pit Hamilton

2018 Chinese Grand Prix

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Mercedes executive director Toto Wolff explained why the team didn’t take the opportunity to give Lewis Hamilton a second pit stop during the Chinese Grand Prix – a strategy which won the race for Daniel Ricciardo.

The team left Hamilton on-track when the Safety Car was deployed in the second half of the race. Wolff said the team was unanimous in its view that Hamilton would be better off staying out and would be quick enough to keep the Red Bulls behind.

“We thought at the time that track position would be more than [enough],” he said. “You could see in the first stint there was no overtaking.

“Lewis’s tyre was a medium with at that stage barely 10 laps on. Our calculation predicted that the medium would last until the end and putting on a new soft, we thought, wouldn’t give you such a performance advantage. Much more than we expected.

“Now looking back it would have been for sure the right strategy to pit for the second soft. But nobody in the team, including myself, thought it was the right thing to do.”

Mercedes strategies faced criticism in recent races after Hamilton lost the lead in Melbourne and the team were unable to get their cars ahead of Sebastian Vettel’s winning Ferrari in Bahrain. Wolff denied the team is too conservative in its approach, and pointed out its strategy for Valtteri Bottas had given him a chance to win the race.

“We are very flexible,” he said. “I think we have a very good group of strategies. You can see that the undercut for Valtteri worked brilliantly.

“It becomes very complex if you have six cars in the frame for winning races instead of one or two. Suddenly there is so much more options open. Red Bull did a very bold call in pitting both of them for the soft. For them it’s the right thing to do and it proved to be 100% spot-on.”

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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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  • 36 comments on “‘Nobody thought it was right’: Wolff explains why Mercedes didn’t pit Hamilton”

    1. I know they only had seconds, but damn, a free pitstop, and no-one thought that was the way to go? – I’m assuming the computer was wrong showing Ves on ultras as the safety car came out, but surely a nice set of softs would have whipped the red bulls if they had stayed out and tried to one stop.

      1. *Surely they should know

    2. Well, I still think they were possibly too conservative in the last three races. In fact, Toto Wolff pointing to Bottas in Bahrain, he’s partly right, but wrong in that they kept him on a target laptime instead of him just attacking and seeing where he could get, might well have forced Vettel into losing the lead.

      And here too, while I think with Bottas they did the best they could (and I personally think this was a very good weekend from him), that’s exactly the issue: why use the same strategy with both guys, when they are in a different situation?

      That remains seemingly part of their issues – an apparent inability to think outside the box of with one, OR both drivers. Maybe they need to use more intuition and less pre-calculated strategies or something? Just like often when Nico and Lewis were fighting it out, it was often frustrating that the one behind couldn’t choose to use a different strategy to try to get ahead.

      1. Well, I still think they were possibly too conservative in the last three races.

        @bosyber – I think they’re being conservative with an eye on both the championships. Knowing the car is the strength, they hope that over the course of a season occasional losses due to a conservative mindset will be offset by points, particularly when one car is piloted by Hamilton.

        My large (and often wrong) gut tells me Mercedes are truly going to aim for no engine penalties, Ferrari are going to plan their campaign around one (which means they can turn their engines up that much harder), and Red Bull take each race as it comes.

        1. Oh, definitely, but given it has already cost them two wins, I’m not convinced they have the right balance there. Still, as Rosberg said on German RTL today (paraphrased and translated) ‘Lewis always had these down weekends – Vettel should have taken maximum advantage, because Lewis always comes back from them and then he will be unbeatable once again’, and Mercedes had some luck that Verstappen botched into Vettel and got him out of the game.

          1. Possibly cost them three wins – had Hamilton gone flat out after his stop in Australia instead of fuel saving Vettel would possibly not taken the lead under the VSC.

    3. I thought it was quite obvious given the pace when Bottas undercut Vettel. Another mistake by Mercedes calculations. Not as bad as Ferrari’s strategies though

    4. The graphic I saw showed they only had used (not heat cycled) Softs for both drivers which pretty much explains the decision very well.

    5. They couldn’t have done so even if they wanted, though, as Lewis along with Bottas and Vettel had already passed the pit entry before the SC came out.

      1. Yep, this point needs to be more prominent @jerejj – they’d have to go the 2nd lap, after already losing time behind the SC. Still, might have worked out okay given the guys behind (Well, not kimi, but he should have followed, clearly) pitted and given the pace difference from fresh(er) tyres.

        1. @bosyber that does not make sense to me. I did not see the live footage, but wasn’t Hamilton behind Verstappen when the SC came out?

          1. Hm @adrianmorse, I had in my mind he got pat when Verstappen stopped – but indeed, that was when he stopped under the SC … So, with Hamilton they could indeed have done it, had they been alert and wanting to.

            1. They were waiting for the supercomputer back in Brackley to give them a nod rather than on racing instinct. Lack of pace has dented their confidence massively. Gone are the days when it was just between Ros & Ham

    6. Massive error by Mercedes, best Hamilton could hope for was 3rd as it was, bringing him in would at worst been 4th/5th place and could well have been a win.

      With Bottas leading splitting strategies was the obvious decision.

      Easy to say with hindsight of course!

    7. Dropped the ball again on strategy, but it wasn’t all straightforward. Pitting only HAM, the obvious choice since he was running behind VER, would likely have seen him favoured over BOT, their lead car. Merc will likely win the WCC as RAI’s relegation pre-safety car suggests, but Merc haven’t a clue how not to run at the front. Indications from Shanghai are that Ferrari are edging ahead as a package as Merc and HAM puzzle on how to make the tyres work. The advantage they should have enjoyed in the cooler conditions of qualy didn’t materiaise. This might just prove a competitive season after all…

    8. Pitting Lewis Hamilton in a free pitstop for fresh tyres was a no brainer, at least for me. I think Mercedes are relying too much on calculations resulted from their strategy software. The calculations in general helps in giving the engineers a thorough understanding of what the perfect strategic decision might be. However the decision itself must be made by someone with a racing instinct in their pitwall. Someone à la Ross Brawn, oh wait…

      1. The calculations in general helps in giving the engineers a thorough understanding of what the perfect strategic decision might be. However the decision itself must be made by someone with a racing instinct in their pitwall

        Why they don’t understand this yet @tifoso1989 really baffles me

        1. @Dom it baffles us all. it seems that the comentators and fans are watching a different race to mercedes.

    9. I thought it was a no-brainer, couldn’t believe it when I saw Hamilton take the final corner onto the pit straight. Then I assumed I was obviously thinking about it wrongly, because some people who know far more about strategy than me had decided it wouldn’t work. Then I veered back towards my original line of thinking because both Red Bulls came in…

      Surely it was worth a gamble.

      1. Now I’ve seen the tyres available, I’m back to agreeing with Mercedes! RB had new softs, Hamilton only had used soft or new ultra.

    10. Mercedes strategist failed miserably again. While Australia can be attributed to software error on something that very hard for human to decide, this time and numerous other incident in the past is something that even viewers at home know instantly the right decision. It’s obvious the tires at best condition will be vulnerable at the end of the race. The only hope for them is to having some gap so at the end the attackers who on fresher tires ran out of laps before they can overtake them. However SC totally negates that gap. Worse, for Hamilton at least, he only losing the position to Ricciardo if he pits and no one else pits. It’s a no brainer. For Bottas (and Vettel) I can understand the stake is losing lead from 1st to 6th so staying out is reasonable gamble.

    11. Merc didn’t have a fresh set of soft tyres so it couldn’t have happened.

      1. How fresh did they have to be? Did you not see the RBRs pass him like he was chained to a post?

      2. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
        16th April 2018, 1:24

        Didn’t Merc have a set of ultrasofts – how many laps did he need to put in? 18?

    12. Sorry Toto but your calculations also cost you the first 2 races as well. Time to try less on a computer and more on the human brain and racing instinct. They had all to gain and nothing to lose. Worse case is Hamiltons tires falls off at the end and he ends up 3rd even 4th, but on the flip side they threw away a shot for a recovery win

      1. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
        16th April 2018, 1:25

        I think there’s a bigger issue at Mercedes – this reminds me of McLaren.

    13. I wasn’t making any “calculations” but when it saw RBR pit, I told my wife (who was focused on candycrush at the time) that they had just won the race. It was obvious. If you look at the final margin, and know that the second RBR actually won, its embarrassing to blame the result on “calculations.” It would not have helped Bottas, but Hamilton could have won this thing but for people jabbing at screens instead of watching the race.

      1. I agree. I mean, I’m sure Mercedes actually know a lot more about racing, but that’s three races, three races in a row, where instinct watching the race has proven right: Hamilton had to speed up to avoid been overtaken in the pits (Australia), Vettel was staying out (Bahrain), Red Bull’s tire switch has just won the race (China). In all three Mercedes could have averted losses or maybe won themselves. I don’t think this is sitting well with Hamilton. He seemed fine for the first race, but the lack of a racing instinct in the team has always unsettled him.

    14. Come on Mercedes…that was a free stop. Riciardo won that race and he was behind both Mercedes drivers when he made that pitstop during safety car period and initially lost position to Raikkonen.

      At least pit the 2nd car (Lewis) if wanted to play safe with the lead car (Bottas). How can “nobody in the team, including myself, thought it was the right thing to do” when i watching on TV from my chair thought it was a no brainer to pit at that point. Mercedes strategy guys have been really ordinary so far this season…and i am afraid with that its tough to win championships.

    15. I agree with the interpretation of earlier comments. For me 4 years of AMG dominance has led to some complacency. Excuses for the races this season seem to be the computer predictions vs. both Ferrari and RB who seem to be working in real time and jumpng at opportunity or gut reaction. I may bite my tongue however this seasons results for AMG seem to demonstrate that a precision engineering computer prediction approach following algorithms won’t win over competitors thinking on their feet and reacting decisively when opportunity is staring them in the face. Merc / AMG need as Toto says to get their act together and forget historic dominance and let great drivers like they employ actually race and not be computer puppets…yea I’m a long term LH and Merc fan but come on guys watch the race not the computers!

    16. I’ve been more underwhelmed by Ferrari strategies recently than Mercedes. Apart from Melbourne, they have been awful.

    17. Anyone can be a genius tactician with hindsight. Mercedes thought track position was more important, Brundell did, Ferrari did, I honestly did. I’m sure some people thought they should pull Hamilton in while watching it, but a stopped clock is right twice a day. It was a lucky guess if you called it in the race.

      There are times when it’s been the wrong move, Monaco 2015 anyone?

    18. Massive error.
      It was a free stop.
      Three races, Mercedes made mistakes in all of them.

    19. Will Buxton said in Paddock Pass that Mercedes were out of brand new tires and would have had to put used softs on. Is this confirmed?

    20. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
      16th April 2018, 1:23

      Why is everyone saying it’s a free pit stop? It would have most likely given Mercedes the win most likely but at what cost? Bottas would have lost his victory also partially earned by strategy and better performance over Lewis.

    Comments are closed.