Safety Car, Red Bull Ring, 2020

Mercedes “probably” should have pitted during second Safety Car

2020 F1 season

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Mercedes admitted they made a strategic error by failing to put Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton on fresh tyres during a late Safety Car period in the Austrian Grand Prix.

The team’s cars were running first and second when George Russell’s retirement on lap 50 led to the Safety Car being deployed.

“When you have two leading cars and you are first on the track these decisions become much more complex,” said Wolff after the race. “It’s always easier when you’re behind.”

“In hindsight, now, after the race, it would have been probably better to stop both cars and switch them to soft tyres,” he admitted. “But after the race you’re always more intelligent than whilst these things happen.”

Third-placed Alexander Albon took advantage of the opportunity to fit a fresh set of soft tyres and used them to attack the Mercedes drivers. He was in the process of overtaking Hamilton for second place when the pair collided, which led to Hamilton receiving a penalty which dropped him off the podium.

The team’s sporting director Andrew Shovlin gave insight into how the decision not to pit either car was made.

“We were not planning on coming in at that point,” he explained. “The way you work with the Safety Car decision is you don’t see it all on the TV and then get together and decide what to do. Every lap of the race, you’re pre-loaded to know what you are going to do. The drivers are pre-loaded to know that if there’s a Safety Car and they’re in the window, they just come in.

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“To be honest, with Valtteri, we could have got him in if he was in the window, but I don’t think we would have had time to radio him and I think would have missed it because it was marginal. But I’m pretty sure we could have got him in it if we were in the window.

“As it happens, at that stage, we decided that we didn’t want to stop. That decision is based on the loss to Albon for Lewis, for instance, where he would have dropped back.”

The feedback from Mercedes’ drivers at the time was that their hard tyres were in good condition. “Valtteri was telling us these tyres felt like new so we weren’t too worried,” said Shovlin.

“I think looking at how the racing panned out afterwards and the pace of the cars on fresh rubber, we may well conclude that we should have had both cars in the window. But it’s actually a decision that you sort of take before the incidents.

“The only real variable in the Safety Car is how many laps is it going to go on for? Because the rest of it you can judge at the time, you can make an estimate of who’s going to come in, who’s going to stay out, where are you going to end up. The big one, though, is, is it three laps, is it 10 laps? And that’s the one that you don’t know.”

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Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...
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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7 comments on “Mercedes “probably” should have pitted during second Safety Car”

  1. AJ (@asleepatthewheel)
    6th July 2020, 8:32

    The fact that they prefer to keep strategies equal for both drivers made it even more hard for them to arrive at a decision.
    With Albon having already pitted, a Merc double stack would have put them behind him, thus directly sacrificing their 1-2. Whereas pitting either one of them would mean upsetting the balance of strategies, while exposing the lead car to a fast charging Albon and the other soft-shot Merc itself.
    Thus a 1-2(4) would have probably yielded a 2-3, considering they couldn’t take the kerbs or push their engine much owing to the sensor problem. Albon retired later, but who would have known.

    1. They should have pitted at least one of them. I see that the safety car was called in the wrong time for them, as I think they were just past the pit straight. However, even if they would dropped behind Albon, I am sure they should have been able to overtake him, as Hamilton overtook him with ease in the first laps. Either way, it appears as if they were not too worried about damaging the gearbox sensors when pitting. Therefore, that was a bit bad from them, as there was no way Bottas and Hamilton could defend from Albon. I am sure if they were behind Albon, they could have still overtaken him.

      This was disappointing as a 1-2 was missed.

  2. Once again Mercedes messed up their strategies when they had to take a split-second decision, very much like two years ago at the same track. They are vulnerable when they can’t react to the other teams’ strategies.

    1. Tshifaro Nemukovhani
      6th July 2020, 10:22

      they could also have asked Bottas to let Lewis by to build a couple of seconds to stay on the podium and still allow VB to win.

  3. That was an excess of micro managing on their behalf, they still had the pace, I feel sorry for Perez though.

  4. I thought they clearly didn’t have the pace – Albon was all over Hamilton and surely would have been at Bottas had he got through.

  5. TBH I’ve noticed this conservatism for years. Mercedes, when they’re feeling ‘risky’, let it be known that they’re feeling ‘risky.’ It’s never spontaneous. So as soon as the curb-sensor issue came up in the race, it felt like they’d default into their maximum conservative mindset. Stay off the curbs, slow down, no racing between the drivers. Fine. Or fine-ish. It’s ‘understandable’ they wanted a 1-2 not a 0-0, but still, it’s racing we all want to see. But the problem is that when Mercedes go into conservative mode, they also tend to make strategy mistakes, like not pitting under the second SC. That was evident at the time – it’s not hindsight as Wolff is suggesting. Had Albon passed Hamilton safely, they’d have been looking at a 2-3 instead. And in the actual circumstances, it was a 1-5. So a poor decision. You can see why Hamilton in particular gets annoyed with their safety-first attitude, it’s not actually a winning instinct and it needs someone like him to push Mercedes into a better mindset.

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