Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes, Shanghai International Circuit, 2018

How Mercedes stunned Ferrari by jumping Bottas past Vettel

2018 Chinese Grand Prix

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Red Bull’s gutsy decision to pit both their drivers during the Safety Car period put Daniel Ricciardo in position to win the race.

Had it not been for that, the big talking point after the Chinese Grand Prix might have been the outstanding piece of strategy by Mercedes which got Valtteri Bottas into the lead.

Sebastian Vettel held a seemingly comfortable lead of nearly three-and-a-half seconds over the Mercedes driver 18 laps into the race. Ferrari believed this was enough that Vettel could pit on the lap after Bottas and come out ahead.

“We were quite sure we would have come out in front, but we didn’t,” Vettel admitted afterwards. So how did Mercedes pull off a switch of positions which arguably should have won them the race.

It wasn’t won on the in-laps. Bottas and Vettel both covered the final sectors in 47.5 seconds as they headed into the pits.

Bottas made up much of the time with remarkable speed after switching from ultra-softs to mediums – tyres which are three stages harder. On his out-lap Bottas set the fastest times of the race to that point through sectors two and three, 28.597s and 41.749s respectively, which slashed around 2.5s out of Vettel’s lead.

Mercedes were quicker in the pits, too. Bottas had the fastest complete stop of the race, almost a full second quicker than Vettel. Ferrari, in the wake of their disastrous pit stop in Bahrain, and with an enforced change in pit crew following the injury to Francesco Cigarini, perhaps had to leave a greater margin for safety.

But the stop was the smaller part of the equation. Mercedes’ stunning pace on new medium tyres was what made the difference. After the race Bottas indicated Mercedes knew exactly how potent their car would be when he was asked if he was surprised to have taken the lead from Vettel.

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“We knew that it is possible with this kind of gap,” he said – a telling remark given that he held Vettel’s lead at around the same level for five laps before pitting.

“If you get everything perfect, coming in, in the box, into the pitlane and all that. If you can switch on the tyres quickly, it’s possible. That’s why we stopped at this point.

“It was perfect timing from the team. I think it felt it was my quickest stop I’ve had with the team. So, everything just went really well. Good out-lap. So, we knew it was possible.”

It also points to how good the still win-less Mercedes W09 can be when the team hits its sweet spot. But Hamilton’s struggles on Saturday and Sunday shows they haven’t yet figured out how to hit it consistently.

After losing victory to Ferrari in Melbourne by underestimating how big a gap they needed between Hamilton and Vettel, this would have been a sweet way for them to reclaim their lost win. Unfortunately for Mercedes, it wasn’t to be.

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Quotes: Dieter Rencken

2018 F1 season

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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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  • 73 comments on “How Mercedes stunned Ferrari by jumping Bottas past Vettel”

    1. Just like Lewis in Spain last year.. And with this in mind, Mercedes should have had the idea that new tyres were clearly faster than older ones. The new mediums took out 2-3 seconds of the old soft tyres. So why did Mercedes continue to believe that track position was important leading to Lewis not pitting under the safety car?

      1. I guess Merc was to preoccupied with Ferrari to see the danger from RBR. When they understood what happened it already was to late. Ham was in the perfect spot when the safety car was deployed for entering the pits. There was more than enough time to make that decision, but Merc did not see the opportunity. For the second time on a row they lost it on missed strategy as a result of SC situations. Clearly a weak spot in the MERC strategist department.

        1. About Lewis putting under the safety car: I don’t think Lewis had any new softs left at that moment (that was said before the race on Dutch tv), so he wouldn’t have the advantage as the bulls had.

          About Vettel pitting to late. We were really surprised he didn’t come in right after the red bulls. We were thinking he threw away the win if Bottas would undercut him and it showed to be true. Very poor strategy from Ferrari

          1. @anunaki But it doesn’t need to be new softs. A fresh tires (new medium or used soft from Q2) its all he need. The pace of Ferrari and Mercedes at the end of the race is high 1:38 while Ricciardo set the fastest time on 1:35 on clear air. A fresher tires that can do mid 1:36 will fare much better on defense or overtake cars that don’t stop.

            1. SparkyAMG (@)
              16th April 2018, 11:59

              @sonicslv Lewis didn’t have any new Mediums left and a scrubbed set of softs wouldn’t have given him much more performance than his 10-lap old mediums, especially not compared to the fresh softs on the Red Bulls.

            2. He didn’t have mediums at all. So Lewis wasn’t able to do this at all yesterday

              As described above

          2. @anunaki Yes, that’s correct: Lewis didn’t have any new sets of the soft compound left at that moment nor even for the race beforehand. He (as well as his teammate) had a total of three new (unused) sets (two ultra-softs and the one medium set that he did use in the race) left for the race after qualifying.

            1. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
              16th April 2018, 14:52

              I feel like a broken record but why couldn’t Lewis go on the ultra soft?

            2. Because Lewis was already on ultra-softs. Anyone not using two compounds (or more) in a dry race gets a 30-second penalty. A pit stop is 17 seconds at least in China. Either way, Lewis would have been in a race-losing position.

            3. @freelittlebirds The take-home from this is that Hamilton’s real error wasn’t on lap 20 of the race. It was before qualifying (when he chose to use all the mediums in qualifying, thus denying himself the regulatory freedom to use them in the race).

            4. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
              17th April 2018, 13:42

              @alianora-la-canta Lewis started on softs and then switched to medium, didn’t he? Red Bull started on Ultras.

            5. @freelittlebirds Ferrari and Mercedes started on soft, you are absolutely right. Sorry for my error.

              So softs weren’t an option because Lewis was already using them and needed a one-stop strategy to get to the end without Ferrari simply end-running him by one-stopping themselves. The penalty for not using a second compound in a dry race is 30 seconds.

              Ultra-softs would have committed Lewis to a two-stop strategy, giving the same problem as the previous paragraphs.

              Mediums turned out to be too hard.

              Lewis was in trouble no matter what he did by that point…

        2. I’d like to see Lewis make those decisions sometimes. He could do an Alonso, make the call himself and just tell the team he’s coming in for new tires.

          1. But he didn’t have new tires available

            1. He had better tires available for the circumstances. And what was the downside? He would run out of tires at the end and get caught and slip back to fourth of fifth where he was. He was racing RBR for the win if he stopped. By not stopping, he was racing himself for fifth.

              Also, I haven’t seen any comment on this, but during the SC period Hamilton cued the radio to say, “Is it just me, or do the guys behind have new tires”? Sky did not play a response from Bonnington, if there was one. I suppose the only possible answer would have been absurd: “That’s true, but we think that you have nothing to fear from competitive cars restarting the race right under your wing, on brand new, faster tires, who won’t have to stop again.” Hamilton immediately saw how foolish it was not to stop. If Toto is saying that no one thought differently about not stopping, he is leaving out the most important opinion.

        3. The shock for me was how underprepared the Mercs were. It should have been obvious that there would be a safety car and obvious that a new set of softs or super softs would out pace their mediums.

          The officials were late to declare the SC, yet even with this delay the Merc were simply not prepared.

          I’d say their simulations are way too conservative. They either overestimated the mediums, or underestimated the softs. All of this seems to point back to how poorly they had Hamilton’s tires setup.

    2. Did Vettel suffer aero or tyre damage after being hit by Verstappen? I knew he was running slower then, but the graph above shows his pace nose-dived.

      1. @phylyp Yeah there was a bite taken out of the floor – you can see it here.

        1. Cheers, Keith.

        2. Vettel also mentioned that he had damage when interviewed in the pen after the race. It came up in either the Channel 4 coverage or Will Buxton’s post race show for F1.

          1. Cheers, @geemac – unfortunately, I missed those interviews. I did notice just now that FOM are uploading those clips to YouTube, so that is indeed a sea change from Bernie’s days. Buxton’s 30-minute segment is here.

            1. Those segments are fantastic, Buxton used to do them when he was with NBC and I’m glad he’s doing them for FOM now. He is a great presenter and the segment really sums up well what happened in the race. It’s “Ted’s Notebook” minus all the awkwardness and sensationalism…

            2. Agree with @geemac @phylyp, those videos are great. I’m starting to be interested in mid-field and back-field thanks to them: before Liberty overhaul in coverage, which includes a large availability of material on YouTube, I couldn’t tell one backmarker from another. Also, Will Buxton has the right “rhythm” for a 30 minute, over the internet show.

            3. It’s “Ted’s Notebook” minus all the awkwardness and sensationalism…

              @geemac – I couldn’t have put it any better.

            4. Will does a great job. On a similar note: The commentary on ESPN in the USA is now the SKY feed. These guys are nowhere near as good as Steve Matchet, David Hobbs, and Leigh Diffy were at NBCSN. Everytime something is happening on track the SKY guys start screaming like it is Armageddon! It reminds me of a goal in Soccer / Futbol. :) It is definitely going to take some getting used to.
              But one thing I do like is the types of cameras used for the SKY feed. They show daylight different than the HD cameras from NBC. They make everything look more realistic.

        3. Amazing that the effect was so extreme. I don’t like these floors anyway, IMHO the floor should be covered by the bodywork in the view from top.

    3. Small error in the article: “Bottas made up much of the time with remarkable speed after switching from ultra-softs to mediums – tyres which are three stages harder.”
      FER and MERC started on Softs and went to Mediums!

      1. +1!
        Or maybe there are ‘Softish, but not that soft’ and ‘Medium, but with a pinch of blood’ Pirelli compounds they haven’t told us about. ;)

    4. Not really the place for it – but thought I’d leave a question here nonetheless regarding the race…

      Amidst the chaos in the second half of the race, very little seems to have been said about Alonso’s move on Vettel, which I thought was frankly nearly as foolish as Verstappen’s. The duo are clearly alongside, with Alonso’s front wheel level with Vettel’s front wing, before Alonso chops across the corner onto the apex, with no regard for the Ferrari. I thought this was very careless and Vettel’s reaction time must have been mega to avoid contact.

      No word from the stewards, or any comment in any media I’ve found!

      1. They were fighting for low points, nothing bad happened in the end, so the stewards must have thought “why bother, just a racing incident”. And I kinda agree with them: let it go.

      2. @ben-n The stewards already posted the incident will be investigated after the race shortly after it happened. No further news means they decide no further action required (which I agree with) but the stewards definitely didn’t just ignore it.

      3. Don’t think there’s been anything said because there was nothing wrong with the move.

        It was just a matter of Alonso thinking to himself, ‘he’s fighting for a title, he’ll jump out of my way if I get my elbows out’ and being proved correct. He was entitled to do that. Equally, Vettel was entitled to stay there if he’d wanted to risk a collision.

      4. @ben-n
        Yeah, it was do or die. Typical Alonso, spends 50 laps being virtually invisible, but then bites like a piranha when he sees an opportunity.
        The stewards did “note” the incident, and a message to that effect was displayed near the end of the race. They apparently felt that there was no need for a full-blown investigation, consequently there is no such document.
        I think that’s an understandable (non-)reaction. It was a pretty tough racing manoeuvre, but Vettel’s battle was already lost (if you pause the video at 0:28, you can see he was already dropping back), so Alonso was arguably entitled to pick the shortest line.

        1. @nase

          “Alonso, spends 50 laps being virtually invisible, but then bites like a piranha when he sees an opportunity.”

          Far from it. He’s been driving relentlessly to be able to seize any opportunity if and when they arise.
          He bit like a Piranha at both the start and restart then visibly rang the neck of the slowest Renault power car.

        2. I think he made more overtakes than anyone else during the race, and jumped from 13th to 7th on pure merit. Maybe you were snoozing for 50 laps or so and just woke up in time for his move on Vettel.

          1. @todfod
            Dude … Maybe untwist your pants before you aggress me for something you’ve clearly misunderstood.
            I can assure you that I’ve watched every single lap of this race while keeping track of the timing screens and Alonso’s progress, amongst other things.
            I am by no means implying that Alonso’s performance was by any means underwhelming, in fact it’s the complete opposite. When I say ‘virtually invisible’, I’m referring to the fact that he tends to spend entire races virtually (i.e. almost, but not quite) unnoticed by the cameras, until he overtakes someone. Is that a bad thing? Hell no. Unless you’re leading the race, you’re only noticed by the cameras if you do something attention-grabbing. But 90% of that aren’t overtakes but mishaps such as locking up, going wide, spinning, etc.
            Therefore, the fact that Alonso tends to disappear from the broadcast while driving a very competitive race, is actually a compliment. Roughly 15 years ago, he developped a (back then) unique approach to racing characterised by long stretches of apparent passivity while not fighting for position, never overdriving his car when there’s nothing to be gained from it. But when a realistic chance of gaining a position comes up, he behaves like a piranha that smells blood, changing his modus operandi from seemingly calm constancy to punctual aggression. It is rare for see him to get involved in multiple-laps, multiple-corners fights for position when he’s the attacking driver. He usually sets up his opponent, strikes, and gets past. This makes him an extremely efficient driver.

      5. Both the quick reaction and Vettels tone on the radio immediately after the incident suggested he fully expected such a move from Alonso

        1. @mog
          Vettel knows it was due. He’s forced Alonso off before in the past. They both seem to have their little moan on the spur of the moment then just get on with it.

      6. Brundle commented immediately that he didn’t think FA was obliged to leave SV any more room than he did. If Max/LH was fair game in Bahrain, as was LH/Max yesterday, then there would be nothing to FA’s move on SV out of the ordinary.

        If you are ahead while exiting a corner, you don’t have to always leave the space. In fact, it is the preferred method to not do so.

      7. I’m not surprised nothing happened. The shape of the corner is not typical since it’s kind of a “s,” but the driver on the inside does not violate any sporting rules by continuing to the outside of a corner if he has the line. Where drivers run into trouble here is when they obviously, gratuitously leave their line to shove someone off. See, Rosberg vs. Hamilton in Austria.

        Vettel didn’t have to go off, he could have held his ground and seen out the consequences. A resulting crash would have been fairly called a “racing incident” IMO. Just as with Verstappen and Hamilton in Bahrain.

      8. I didn’t agree with the stewards ignoring the move entirely, but I suspect that after multiple problematic moves in the race, they were by that stage in “no harm, no foul” mode.

    5. While a cracking team effort from Mercedes, it’s about time people acknowledge Bottas’ innate pace and ability to make this work.
      On this occasion, easily on par with Hamilton at his best. It was total role reversal this weekend, with Hamilton playing the B driver from Saturday morning and on…

      1. It happened few times last year too (Russia, Monaco etc), so still a little too early to draw any conclusions if BOT improved his game. What seems a little more obvious, but still early, is that Ferrari closed the gap even more to Mercedes in Quali, while RBR seems to have closed the gap even more to the front runners in race trim.

      2. Can’t agree more with this. When Bottas monstered that outlap, his pace made the difference in the end. I’m glad I’m not the only one getting annoyed by fans failure to acknowledge what a great grand prix driver he is.

      3. Rubbish. Open your eyes mate. What you saw was Hamilton being micro managed by Mercs. It’s something they feel they need to do to create parity between the garages for co-operation later on in the season. This though ends up costing them.

        If the Mercs end up loosing the championship they will have weekends like this to blame. Hamilton didn’t suddenly become a poorer driver on a circuit he had previously been successful on. This only raises more questions about that SC. Had Hamilton changed to softs he would have won.

        Meantime Ferrari are focused on their lead driver.
        Btw Does anyone know if Hamilton has recommitted to Mercedes?

    6. And if memory serves (although it was early in the morning so I may have mis-remembered) didn’t Ferrari Pit Vettel 2 laps after Bottas? That was there mistake as far as I remember.

      1. @asanator I think they did, yes. I have no idea why on earth they waited for the gap to close before pitting.

        1. It felt like 2 laps, but says they pitted at the end of lap BOT=19 and VET=20. HAM did pit on lap 18 which certainly telegraphed Mercedes intentions.
          I also don’t believe Mercedes were so sure they could leap ahead, they might have guessed the extra speed on the tyres, but they couldn’t be very sure that they would be 1second faster in the pit stop. Surely if they had the pace Bottas should have close the gap before stopping to have a better chance.

    7. Mmmm… sorry, Keith, but the top 4 drivers started the race on Softs, and not on Ultras! The RBRs and the cars who qualified behind RBR started on Ultras tho. And in my opinion this is the main reason why RBR guys had a slightly better start, looked so good this race and managed to keep up with Ferrari and Mercedes… because they basically raced almost the entire race on faster and fresher tyres. So, in the first part of the race the RBR were on Ultras while Ferrari and Mercedes were on Softs, then the RBRs had to stop earlier and 10 laps (until SC was deployed) all top 6 runners were on Mediums, then the SC period happened and after restart Ferrari and Mercedes were on 10 laps old Mediums while the RBRs had fresh Softs. So, RBRs good race pace was more due to the fact that they had better and fresher tyres almost the entire race rather than suddenly being very competitive. I find quite impossible Ferrari to lose an 0.8sec advantage over RBR from Quali in race trim. Do not think that their party mode for Q3 is worth that much.

      1. If it wasn’t for that SC, the final part of the race should have caught RBR on 10 laps older Mediums compared to Ferrari and Mercedes, so things would have worse for them. Or, in case of 2 stops, should have caught the RBRs on fresher Softs but trying to recover a +20 second deficit. No matter how you take it, without the SC period, in the end the race should have been harder for RBR than it seemed at the start, almost sure none of the RBRs on podium.

        1. What 10 Lap older tyres compared to Mercedes. Mercedes stopped one lap after RBR.

          It would have been interesting to see how Kimi would have faired – he was the only one with fresher tyres (plus the safety car also helped the one droppers strategy eating up a few laps)

          1. Yes, this is great. More of this please, less about who called who a doo-doo head or who gave an apology or whatever.

    8. @keithcollantine, immense respect, I love this site, your work is unparalleled. Dieter Rencken is revelatory. Good job!

    9. Even before the stops I knew that Ferrari would not go for the undercut, and I was not surprised when they got jumped when it was known how potent the undercut was on this track.

      Ferrari has a new no-blame culture of late, but it’s high time their strategist got replaced. How many more times do we have to witness basic blunders like this.

      If they had pitted first, they would have stayed in the lead, the tyres would be good and he might even have held off Ricciardo or at least got 2nd like Bottas did. The points lost here could well have cost them the championship if it should be tight at the end, but there will undoubtedly be more strategy blunders by Ferrari to come I’m sure.

      1. I wouldnt be firing anyone, it is true they could have been the 1st to pit as Red Bull had so Merc needed to cover them. Ferrari apparently are as good if not better than Merc on tyres so they could and should of pitted earlier. Why they left Raikkonen to hang out and dry I have no idea it was neither 1 thing or the other, he also needed to pit as soon as Ricciardo and Hamilton behind him did. Early in the year so hopefully they learn from this and re focus for the rest of the year. There luck from Australia clearly evened out here as qell with the timeing of the safety car

        1. I think RBR were kinda forced to pit earlier because they were on Ultras, while Ferrari and Mercedes on Softs. As you know, softer tyre = better performance, but also that performance fades away a lot sooner. Also, the temps weren’t high enough to get max performance from the Ultras, otherwise probably the RBRs should have taken the lead in the 1st lap and lead the race until 1st pit-stop.

      2. I had the same impression at that very moment when I was watching the race. I thought they had their own strategy and won’t respond to RBR and Mercedes pit-stops = a longer stint on Softs. Dunno, but probably that was their plan – a longer stint on Softs, only that they got surprised by the performance difference of the Mediums, so they made a last moment change in order not to find themselves in just 5-10 laps time 1 pit-stop behind BOT. Or, they were about to pit VET too only that they thought that 4-5seconds advantage VET had over BOT meant VET can stay on-track 2-3 more laps to have a little fresher tyres for the 2nd part of the race. I really hope it’s 1 of the cases mentioned above and not just a plain stupid strategy mistake.

        1. Even crofty thought they were safe with 23 seconds after bottas pitted..but he made a monstrous final sector plus Ferrari being conservative in the pit time maybe trying to make sure everything goes alright and lose 0.3 or 0.5 instead of making a blistering fast pit stop and have a high risk of doing a kimi,

          1. Di Resta suspected as I (a regular Joe) that it would cost them the lead (and likely win), so how a strategist could not see it is just too weird. At least he should have realized it was too risky to just counter.

            Like Markp points out, Ferrari has just as good or better tyre wear than Mercedes, and with race almost half way, there was absolutely no reason not to pit first.

            What they did to Raikkonen was even more bizarre. I guess it was to use him as an overtaking opportunity for Vettel.

            1. This is not Monaco where a car on dead tires can hold up a fast car. And looking at the lap times, it seemed to me that Bottas was catching Raikkonen so fast that he had no prayer of holding him up unless he tried to close the door on him somewhere. And in the mean time, Bottas could open his DRS behind one Ferrari to blunt the effect of DRS from the car behind. Ferrari just looked silly in those first two stints.

      3. Over the last year or more, Ferrari seem to be dozing when it comes to tactical calls. Do they have access to the same data, both on the pit wall and back at Maranello? Maybe Italian IT infrastructure (web speed) is lousy, and maybe we understand that occasionally “conservative” is better than “opportunistic”, but SF appear to have made quite a few expensive mistakes. (But I’ll admit that sitting in front of a TV at half past three in the morning gives me one heck of an advantage ;=} )

        1. I believe they do have access to the same data – as most likely every team does. Nobody has as big a “strategy wall” in their home factory as Mercedes, but Ferrari has one too. Sometimes, it feels like both teams rely too much on their computers and not enough on their humans.

    10. Vettel was faster than Bottas on medium tyre too, he was following Bottas under 1.5 seconds after his pit stop, even befor Bottas approached Kimi. how do you say Mercedes winless car have superb speed on medium tyre?

    11. ” Bottas made up much of the time with remarkable speed after switching from ultra-softs to mediums ”

      @keithcollantine maybe I was asleep but Didn’t the top 4 started on soft and then switched to mediums?? And Redbull had the ultrasound at the start

      1. Ultrasoft ultrasound the corrector.. my bad

    12. The fact that Merc didn’t pit him while he was running behind VER, who pitted, must be part of the reason HAM looked so down in the dumps post-race. He was off it on Saturday and Sunday, but that decision by the team not to pit him must have stung. Where is the fire in the belly from Melbourne? He needs to step up his form or risk mounting the most pathetic WDC defence in recent memory. The last couple of races have not done him any favours on the contract negotiations front…

    13. I wasn’t surprised that Bottas prevailed on the undercut. From the middle of that stint, you could see that Bottas had pegged the gap to about 2.5s, which is where you want to be if you are quicker but don’t want to run off your tires in turbulence. If Vettel was “managing” the gap, it would have varied more as Bottas struggled to keep up. And if you have the car, you don’t “manage” a gap that requires everyone from the driver to the jack-man to execute perfectly to stay ahead.

      Also, it would be ironic if Vettel lost out because they were trying to manage a gap to a minimum-effort number, knowing that this approach by Hamilton is what allowed Vettel to win in Australia. I think they just got beat.

      1. @dmw Both Vettel and Bottas had quite some tyre deg in the first stint, much more than the cars behind them. Usually a 3-second gap should be enough to not lose the lead, but in this case Bottas’ fresh mediums were much faster than Vettel’s badly deteriorated softs. It seems Vettel’s mistake was to push too hard in the first laps of the race.

    14. Vettel helped precipitate the jumping ahead possibility for Bottas with his Schumacher-like chop on Kimi at the start. After chopping Kimi out of the way it opened the door for Bottas to move in right behind Vettel. With Kimi between them it is certainly feasible that Vettel could have had a larger lead over Bottas going into the pit stops.

      1. YES! I am surprised not many are talking about this. Vettel kinda screwed Kimi with the chop move. I didn’t understand why he did it. Having Kimi as a buffer changes the whole race for Vettel. I was also surprised Kimi didn’t say something about it. Vettel would of had another 3-4 seconds buffer if Kimi was his wing man. Bad move and I think it cost Ferarri as a team. Time will tell, but I hope they work things like this out ahead of time in the future. Forza Ferrari!

        1. @bullmello @twiinzspeed I doubt SV planned to do anything other than just keep in the lead after turn one. There is no way his swerve was planned to put Kimi behind VB. It was strictly to ensure he himself stayed out in front. SV would have had no control over the kind of start VB got, nor how he would have positioned himself for the first corner. If it turned out VB got second place after the first turn, that is just the way it is, from SV’s perspective. Of course it would have been better for SV, in hindsight, to have had Kimi follow him through for second, but that is nothing SV could have controlled from the start, and he just had to make sure he himself was where he needed to be…in first.

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