Screenshot: Vettel passes the Mercedes

Mercedes: “Dummy” starts scheme in qualifying was “an enormous risk”

2019 Azerbaijan Grand Prix

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The ‘dummy starts’ Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas performed in qualifying for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix was “an enormous risk” which left them cutting it fine to start the final flying laps, says Mercedes motorsport strategy director James Vowles.

Hamilton and Bottas pulled over at the pit lane exit as they left to join the track for the final time in Q3. The pair were initially cagey about the team’s tactics in qualifying, describing it as a “clutch calibration”.

However team principal Toto Wolff later revealed the team had done it to ensure their drivers had the opportunity to run in the slipstream of other cars, which was worth up to four tenths of a second in Baku.

Vowles said this brought with it the risk that the drivers could have missed their opportunity to set a lap time, as happened to four drivers at the Chinese Grand Prix.

“Over the last few races you’ve been seeing what we would call almost a Mexican stand-off in the pit lane,” Vowles told Mercedes’ YouTube channel. “Everyone has their engines fired up and everyone’s looking at each other. But who’s going to go first to go out on track? They will be the car that effectively leads others and creates the tow.

“In Shanghai you saw that we left very late and other cars weren’t even able to do their lap because they were so keen on getting the tow that the flag came before they started their lap. In Baku we were very conscious that this effect could well dictate whether we were on pole or not .

“What we decided to do, therefore, was to send our cars out a little bit earlier which would pull the whole train of cars behind us. That worked. And then do a practice start on the left-hand side, simply so that we did not end up at the front of the queue, because we felt the effect was so powerful.

“This was taking an enormous risk. We only crossed the line several seconds before the flag as a result of this. But in this situation it worked. We pulled over to the left-hand side, other cars came past, Vettel led the pack and didn’t have a tow on this particular occasion, allowing our cars to get into a nice position behind competitors and benefit both from a tow and a good track position.”

Hamilton and Bottas were briefed carefully to ensure the tactics went according to plan, said Vowles.

“This sort of plan doesn’t go without quite a bit of discussion beforehand, especially with the driver,s to make sure they both understand, accept and agree the plan. Because for them it’s very different: You’re asking them to break up what is a normal routine of going out into qualifying three, a very high-pressure situation, and doing something different.

“We discussed it with the drivers in the morning, made sure that they completely understood what we may and may not do during qualifying, and again before they went out we briefed them so that they understood exactly what was required of them. And they did a fantastic job.”

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Mercedes’ team radio messages from the start of Q3

To Bottas: And Valtteri we’ll throw the dummy, so…
To Bottas: We’re going for the dummy at the start if I call it down the pit lane.
To Bottas: And remember it’s going to be just a pull-away.
To Bottas: Ah, sorry, I’m not going to tell you on the radio.
Bottas: Copy.
To Bottas: Ah we’re going for that plan.
To Bottas: We’ll go for the start.
To Bottas: Do not hold for long. As far left as possible.
To Bottas: OK let’s go.
To Bottas: Watch traffic exit.
To Bottas: Raikkonen the car ahead.
To Hamilton: Follow Valtteri out and be prepared to stop. Normal starting position, normal pull-away.
Hamilton: Marcus, EB2?
To Hamilton: Affirm.
Hamilton: Up to turn four?
To Hamilton: So just follow Valtteri out, and we’ll pull over for a start.
To Hamilton: So far left as possible, before the dotted line.
To Hamilton: And we can go again. Just normal pull-away.
To Hamilton: You’ve got traffic, all clear, go, go.
Hamilton: There’s a lot of cars ahead.
To Hamilton: Yeah no problem Lewis just focus on that gap ahead.

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