Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Hungaroring, 2019

Mercedes feared Hamilton wouldn’t catch Verstappen after strategy gamble

2019 Hungarian Grand Prix

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Mercedes were concerned Lewis Hamilton would be unable to catch Max Verstappen after bringing him in for an extra pit stop during the Hungarian Grand Prix.

Hamilton was put on a second set of medium in the second half of the race as the team tried to give him a lap time advantage which would help him pass the race-longer leader. However he did not gain enough time in the first laps after he pitted, which left Mercedes concerned he would run out of laps to catch Verstappen.

“We were very much in doubt because we knew we needed to catch up a second per lap,” said team principal Toto Wolff. “And there was a stage when Max was turning up the engine and he was matching Lewis’s time, a 19.5. And when [Peter Bonnington, Hamilton’s race engineer] told him that it was an equal time you could almost hear the disbelief in Lewis why we went for the second stop.

“But then somehow he put himself back in the right frame of mind. Probably we motivated him over the radio. One thing his father once said to me: There’s just one sentence you need and it’s ‘you can do it’.

“We knew that he could do it. And even if the plan had said we were just running out of laps we felt that by telling him that we would be catching him we would maybe help. And that’s exactly what happened.”

Wolff praised the strategy team for the decision to bring Hamilton in a second time and said it showed the team had learned from its mistakes in the German Grand Prix last week.

“It was a brilliant execution of the strategy team,” he said. “We discussed all variants in the morning and the two-stop seemed pretty much uncompetitive. But then they reacted in the right way.

“All the learnings that we took from Hockenheim with the radio discipline – the strategists working in the background would come up with options and then James Vowles evaluating them and then all of us giving the input – were great today.

“At that stage Lewis was catching up to Max and looked like he could overtake him on the hard tyre. But we were too marginal on brakes and we couldn’t continue to follow him in the way.

“The only option in order to avoid P2 was to take a risk in the hope that the medium tyre would create an offset. In the beginning it didn’t seem that it would. And from then on the moment Lewis sniffed the possibility there was no holding back.”

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25 comments on “Mercedes feared Hamilton wouldn’t catch Verstappen after strategy gamble”

  1. Can’t see why they doubted he’d do it. Significantly younger tyres, a faster compound, an opponent on worn and slower tyres, and an excellent car being driven by one of if not the best driver on the grid? It’d have been more surprising if he wasn’t able to cruise up and mug the Red Bull.

    1. I myself doubted he could in the early stages after the stop, ‘cos he wasn’t going as fast as he needed to. There was a time he was stuck on 15secs for a few laps too. But something clicked and he started eating the times and laps. Caught Max with 4-5 laps to spare. Incredible drive.

      1. The move to put Hamilton on Mediums may seem obvious now, but the Hards are still an unknown quantity, just how long could Verstappen keep them going at that pace? I guess the information will factor in future races.

        I’m still puzzled why Redbull didn’t then follow with the counter move of Softs. Had they done so, they would have come out with in seconds of hamilton on fresh tires which would surely have caught Hamilton and over taken him. In retrospect this was their only option.

        Did they have a new set of Softs, or were they out of options?

        1. Pitting for softs wasn’t an option. He just would have lost track position without getting much of a tire advantage. After Hamilton’s second stop Red Bull couldn’t really do anything other than hope for the best.

    2. Max was able to do mid 1m 19s on those tyres, Hamilton’s fastest lap was a 1m 18.5s so only a second quicker roughly and it took him a few laps to find that pace – it was certainly looking touch and go at times. I think the surprising thing for me was how good Hamilton’s typres looked when he caught Max, you’d expect wear to be starting to be an issue after 20 laps at that kind of pace. It was Max’s tyres getting slower that allowed Hamilton to win and Mercedes couldn’t predict that to any real degree of accuracy.

      1. @davidjwest
        Lewis’ ability to preserve his tyres while pushing Max to pit earlier in the first stint allowed Hamilton to win. Had Max pitted later, he would have cruised to a win on a one stop.

      2. To me it looked like the only question was whether Ham could catch up without taking too much out of his tyres. He could clearly catch Max if he could use up all the rubber, but then might have been unable to pass.

        I am not convinced Max chose the best way to use up his hard tyres. He perhaps would have been better to let Hamilton catch him a bit sooner while preserving the tyres enough to have a chance of fighting him off.

        1. Hamilton With DRS — I don’t think so. The only reason Hamilto didn’t get the job done earlier was his Brake concerns. With the lap running down, Hamilton would have taken the chance.

          There again im sure if push came to shove Hamilton would have sensibly settled for second place, knowing the real battle is for the championship. Still I’m please Hamilton made a race of it and went for the win, unlike Bottas who drove, it seems , simply to bring the car home.

          Today’s race was worthy of the title.

          { now imagine the race if he had simply gotten pole as expected ;}

          1. If Hamilton would have passed Max anyway, then RB really did get mugged by not bringing him in first. But I’m not at all convinced. There were only a couple of corners per lap to defend. Max could have used all his battery out of them and it would have Bernhard to pass even with DRS.

      3. Except that Mercedes had just pitted BOT with 40+ lap hards prior to HAMs stop so they had a very good idea what 40lap old hards were like….

    3. As they said in the article, for a few laps after he pitted Verstappen was matching Hamilton’s lap times, or only losing a couple of tenths. So at one stage it looked unlikely Lewis would catch up. This was because Max turned the engine up and was pushing his tyres, but he couldn’t maintain that pace. It’s usually not 100% clear when the tyres will hit a cliff because it changes based on conditions, driver technique and how hard the tyres have been pushed, so they weren’t sure when Max’s tyres would give up.

      1. Forgot to add, traffic also distorted the picture and seemed to affect Lewis more than Max in the early laps of his 3rd stint.

        1. Good point. Yeah Max had a clear track ahead of him at that point. Just as well there’s wasn’t an ‘Alonso’ on the track to hold Hamilton up.

          1. In the first attempt to catch max Ham was helped by a badly reacting Ricci. Ricci apologized after the race to max for holding him up. Max did not made an fuss of it though.

      2. Just before HAMs second stop, merc pitted BOT on 40ish laps hards. Looking at those, they would have therefore had a very good idea what shape Maxs would be in by the end of the race.
        It must have been part of their thinking.

    4. The gap stalled around 15 secs for around 2 or 3 laps.
      It definitely looked like it was the wrong call, but then Verstappen had a massive drop off and that’s when it started to look good.

      1. I’m not sure if verstappens tyres gave way or Hamilton started putting the pressure or the traffic in those first laps caused issue. Probably a combination of all three

  2. Because the times Max did was good enough to extend his racelaps which Lewis needed. If Max his tyres survived Lewis had no chance to caught Max. This was the chance they took.

  3. At one point when Lewis was clearing the traffic it looked like he might run out of laps. But in clear air Lewis made it work.
    Lewis had tremendous race pace. He might very well be sacrificing a bit of qualifying pace for Race pace and its paying off superbly.
    Another memorable Hungarian GP up there with Ricciardo 2014 classic.

  4. As soon as he cleared the traffic, there was no doubt that Lewis will win this one..

    1. It was still very refreshing to have drivers told to push pretty much the whole race.

  5. One of the biggest advantages of extra pit stop was Lewis was clear enough to car in front that it might have helped in cooling the brakes.

    1. I was thinking that too.

      Hamilton after his first go at Max, slowed down to save his tries and brakes, before he started to charge again.
      Then he came in when he was just a second or so behind Max.

  6. I thought that holding out some laps then going for softs would have been better.
    But now that I think about it with how fragile they are this idea is better.

    If only Hamilton got past in the scruff things would have been simpler for the strategists

  7. Everyone is forgetting that Merc screwed up by not pitting right after VERs pit. Hamilton also had that possibility but they lost their first opportunity there.

    Their second strategy was very risky and they were lucky that HAM did not screw up during that period.

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