Mercedes assumed they would get second chance to pit Hamilton

2018 Austrian Grand Prix

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Mercedes has shed more light on the strategic error which cost Lewis Hamilton the lead of the Austrian Grand Prix last weekend.

The team’s technical director James Allison revealed they did not bring Hamilton in when a Virtual Safety Car period began during the race because they expected it would last long enough to bring him in on the next lap, after seeing what their rivals had done.

“It was a mistake,” said Allison in a video released by the team (below). “We made an error, we should have stopped him.”

“Strategy’s one of those really odd things where it’s incredibly obvious in hindsight what you should have done. Even my mum could do the right thing if she had the benefit of all the hindsight we have after the decision was taken.

“But at the time the strategist faces more of a dilemma and The person who is in the lead of the race always has the biggest dilemma of all because they have the most to lose. You don’t want to be the only one stopping and then find that all the guys behind you don’t stop ad then you’re tangled up behind them in the way you hope not to be.

“We thought the Virtual Safety Car would last for more than lap. So we thought we would see what happened to the guys behind us, see whether they stopped or didn’t stop, and then make our decision on the second lap.

“It didn’t last for more than one lap. It all happened in just one, everybody behind us stopped. We lost out hugely because they had a cheap stop, we had an expensive stop, and it was a big mistake. And one we would have paid a significant price for had we not subsequently had a DNF.”

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The team’s strategist James Vowles took the unusual step of coming on the radio twice to apologise to Hamilton at stages during the race. Allison explained why.

“You do sometimes hear James and it’s normally under unusual circumstances where we have a message that’s either subtle or difficult, where we need to get a message to the driver without the intermediary of the race engineer.

“The normal communication path is the strategist will tell the race engineer a message that is to be passed onto the driver and the race engineer will do that. Sometimes you want to avoid the ‘Chinese whisper’ of that, or the message is very, very important, or in this particular instance it was extremely personal.

“And in this particular instance it was James showing an extremely broad pair of shoulders, standing up and saying ‘that was my mistake, Lewis, and I’m sorry for it’.

“It was, I think, very characteristic of James, but also a measure of how this team operates, where people will hold up their hand when they make a mistake, knowing that the teams’ attitude to mistake is that they are things that we learn from rather than things that we then throw blame around or cause great polemics within the team.

“So it was a very good example of strong leadership by James trying to explain to Lewis what had happened and the importance of that message was that James wanted to give it personally.”

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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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23 comments on “Mercedes assumed they would get second chance to pit Hamilton”

  1. And now we know why Mercedes sucks at strategy. They don’t have a hindsight issue, they have a foresight issue.
    Dear Mercedes, These are the scenarios for future reference.
    No one had pitted and everyone knows that everyone needs to pit at least once. Your car is in first place.
    Scenario 1: You pit and no one else pits; you lose position but everyone else will need to pit during the race.
    Scenario 2: Everyone pits together. You only lose position if pit issue.
    Scenario 3: Everyone else pits at beginning of safety time and you pit later during safety time. You can lose position as you are not in control of the speed of racers out on course after their pit stop and as in Austria you can’t control how long the safety time is so it can end whilst you are in the pit.
    Scenario 4: Everyone else pits during safety time to get their 1 pit stop in and you never pit during safety time so you need to make your 1 pit stop during green flag racing.

    1. Scenario 5: You pit for soft tires you know wont reach the end of the race, without extreme management, and the teams behind you split their chances, and/or go agressive on their tires: you end up blocked behind the cars staying out, and their teammates going for a two stop, to hunt you down like the sitting duck you’ve become.
      Scenario 6: You come to the pits for a two stop scenario, but half the guys behind you come in for a single stop. You’re blocked again on your US /SS softer tires, while you need to make up time for your second stop. At your second stop you lose places but get back on track with the softest tires thus needing to be able to pass on track, with a car that doesn’t like to follow other cars…
      You want me to go on?

      1. Matteo (@m-bagattini)
        4th July 2018, 9:13

        What is this “two stops” thing you’re saying :D?

        Anyway, a few laps later Scenario 2 would be a no-brainer. I think they thought Scenario 5 was going to happen and defended from that.

        1. Two stops made sense due to the early VSC for those that started on the SS, if they had the US’s on stock during the VSC. That would give them a performance edge and with 54 laps to the finish, it would give them an alternate strategy, based on the VSC and giving an extra opportunity if another VSC or SC came up. It’s a gamble worth taking if you’re 5th or 6th in the 6 horse race !
          Of course the fastest way to the line is 25-30 laps on the SS and the rest on the soft, but we’re given a new deal on lap 17, and at that moment, the strategy has to be reset…

  2. Gary Stanley
    3rd July 2018, 18:33

    Merc appear to be particular weak on the strategic side when they are under pressure from other teams as they started being in 2017 from Ferrari and this year from Ferrari and Red Bull.
    Their strategic calls are unfortunately ultra conservative and thus will tend to fail – don’t see this changing anytime soon …….. :(

  3. I consider this an understandable mistake. Aside from what they say above, Mercedes could have easily been thinking they needed to run longer on the tires they were on, so that after they did make one stop they could make it to the end. I know that I was on the edge of my seat for Max for the last 20 laps as I was expecting his tires to completely give up on him near the end. LH’s tires should have done better for him than they did, being 11 laps newer.

  4. They should have asked Bottas to take his time getting out of the car! :p

    1. @eurobrun Do it too obviously though and people will start asking about how much involvement Flavio has in the team

      1. @davidnotcoulthard – ok, that had me laughing out loud!

        1. @davidnotcoulthard if it wasnt for nelson, we would never find out… it was very odd, and alonso being alonso, he never admitted to knowing this was planned… and his points were not effected if i remember… and speaking of the devil, alonso was the main guy who blackmailed mclaren! karma! :) as he said… was the reason behind his honda suffering… and he is still suffering…

          1. That’s true, he has never had a championship car since. But he may still get the the triple crown, I don’t think he will be in F1 next year

      2. @davidnotcoulthard
        Made me snort my cereal! :)

  5. Well mistake made and all that, but kudos James for copping it on the chin. Agreed this is brave leadership

  6. Is it just me or does Hamilton always come over the radio to apologise if he loses a position at the start??

  7. Well done to James Vowles owning up to it on the radio. But, I feel this wasn’t necessary and shouldn’t of had to say sorry just because Lewis was having a meltdown that in this unfortunate circumstance, it didnt go Mercedes way. You move on from it. After the race would of been better for James to apologies. As said in the video ‘Thats the benefit of hindsight’, its obvious after the VSC they should of come in, but thats racing.

    1. Really?

      You think he came on the radio because “Hamilton was having a meltdown”?

      Read the article first then consider this is the second occasion said strategist has done this exact same thing – this year…

      That’s without the remaining screw ups…

      If he was having a meltdown it was well placed but as it happens….

  8. To Assume, is to make an ASS of U and ME. So never assume.

  9. Over the past few years, they have not been required to make these calls.if this were 2016 they would’ve driven away and opened up the required gap. Now they really can’t afford to make these mistakes.

    1. The Skeptic
      4th July 2018, 9:04

      Exactly right. There are two factors which make these errors much more costly than in previous years:

      1. The opposition is much more competitive, and you can’t easily pull a gap
      2. The car is very sensitive when following other cars, making it hard to overtake once you are behind, unless you have a significant tyre offset.

  10. steve (@fandangopants)
    4th July 2018, 11:18

    Seems unfair and unsporting that the possibility to pit under full or virtual safety car conditions even exists in the first place – some drivers will always gain or lose out in these circumstances due to no fault of their own. Maybe it balances out over the course of a season, maybe not. Wouldn’t a better solution be to ban pitting under these circumstances altogether, or allow pitting but with a forced stop before work commences (like how pitting with a 5 second penalty occurs) – to make it equivalent to a pit stop during normal proceedings – to ensure that no advantage or disadvantage is ever gained or lost due to the luck of the safety car draw?

  11. James Allison better hope to god that his mum doesn’t read Racefans or he’ll be sorrier than James Vowles ever was! :D

  12. YellowSubmarine
    4th July 2018, 20:22

    Mercedes has shed more light…

    Mercedes assumed they would…

    Are team names singular or plural? Is it Mercedes are a team or Mercedes is a team?
    Shouldn’t the RaceFans House Style department make up its mind? Or should that be, make up theirmind?

  13. I had assumed at the time of watching the race that Mercedes didn’t pit Hamilton due to lack of time to make the decision.

    How long was it between the VSC being called and Hamilton being at the Pit entry (or far enough back from the pit entry for the call to box to be made, and be confirmed by HAM) – can’t have been more than what – 10 seconds maybe ?? Not much time to make a call, but then these strategists should be used to that. The following teams (Ferrari and Red Bull specifically) had a couple of more seconds to made a decision.

    Thinking on it now I suppose that if Valteri had a hydraulics failure the Mercedes team would have had some forewarning of the imminent DNF. Tyre degradation would have also been in their thinking – as evidenced by Ricciardo having to pit again.

    Yep. Mercedes cocked up.

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