Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Circuit de Catalunya, 2020

Hamilton tired of tyre management after flawless Spanish Grand Prix win

2020 Spanish Grand Prix review

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Given how persistently Mercedes play down their performance and talk up the threat from their rivals, Lewis Hamilton’s emphatic victory in the Spanish Grand Prix invited the interpretation that the team was never realistically under threat from Red Bull.

His eventual 24-second margin over Max Verstappen demonstrated that, despite the high temperatures which worried them after Silverstone, Mercedes had their rivals handled.

It would be easy to understate the quality of job Hamilton did. His team mate Valtteri Bottas fell from 3.3 seconds behind nine laps in, to 24 seconds adrift at the point he made an extra pit stop to grab the bonus point for fastest lap. While the fading threat of Verstappen accounted for some of that gap, Hamilton’s skilful management of his tyres also had a lot to do with it.

Not that he finds it a particularly rewarding way of going racing, as he made clear afterwards.

Bottas gets away badly

Mercedes swept the front row of the grid for the fourth race in a row. Perhaps the ban on ‘quali modes’ the FIA intends to implement before the next race will change that at Spa, but that lies in the future.

Daniil Kvyat, Toro Rosso, Circuit de Catalunya, 2020
Bottas lost two places at the start
With Max Verstappen third, this promised to be another scrap between two Mercedes and one Red Bull – possibly two, if Alexander Albon could get out from behind the Racing Points, which had bumped him back to sixth place.

But within seconds of the start it seemed we would get a two-way fight battle at best. Valtteri Bottas, second on the grid, made a sluggish getaway, as did Sergio Perez immediately behind him. Hamilton, Verstappen and Lance Stroll started much better from first, third and fifth, so perhaps the racing line side of the grid just had a little more grip.

Bottas moved to cover Verstappen, but was too late, and as he moved right found Stroll poking his nose alongside. Hanging tight to the dusty inside line, the Racing Point driver nailed his braking point and, to the dismay of Bottas, took third place off him. Perez nearly had Bottas for fourth on the inside of turn three, but Bottas was on the racing line, had the grip, and held the place.

Having stemmed the loss of positions, Bottas went after Stroll, and by lap five nailed him easily into turn one. The pink facsimile of last year’s Mercedes didn’t even move off-line in defence, which was less a surrender on Stroll’s part than a recognition of the futility of trying to hold back a much faster car with its DRS activated.

With that, the field split into its two constituent parts: The Mercedes pair sandwiching Verstappen, and the rest. By the chequered flag ‘the rest’ would be over 100 seconds behind the victorious Hamilton.

Verstappen’s Friday pace had spooked Mercedes, so Hamilton took it easy in the opening laps. He toured around in the low 1’24s, almost nine seconds slower than his pole position time from 24 hours earlier.

“He’s just driving super-slow,” complained Verstappen as he tracked the Mercedes. But on lap 10 Hamilton suddenly upped the pace – and the Red Bull driver couldn’t follow him. In five laps Hamilton more than doubled his lead to four seconds.

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Verstappen soon began making loud comments about the performance of his tyres. Red Bull, eager to keep him in the fight for the lead, were monitoring his growing gap over the Racing Points behind, hoping to pit him without falling behind them. “Who cares if they get in front, I’m easily faster,” urged Verstappen.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Circuit de Catalunya, 2020
Verstappen wanted his first pit stop sooner
Red Bull finally brought him in on the 21st lap and, in their eagerness to keep Verstappen on terms with Hamilton, treated him to the fastest pit stop of the race (they swept the top three places). But it was no use: Mercedes were able to leave Hamilton out two laps longer and, despite a sluggish stop due to a slow left-rear wheel change, maintain the lead.

Bottas came in on the same lap, but having been 10 seconds behind Hamilton beforehand was not disadvantaged by his team mate’s slow stop. The top three had now all traded their soft tyres for mediums, and briefly converged within five seconds of each other, until Verstappen’s tyres began to go off again. He had dragged Bottas 11 seconds away from Hamilton before finally pitting for fresh tyres on lap 42.

Bottas stayed out seven more laps before pitting, then came in for a set of soft tyres. Having rejoined six-and-a-half seconds behind Verstappen, the thinking was he would chase down the Red Bull over the remaining 17 laps. But he made little impression on his rival. Had his team chosen the wrong tyres?

“When we looked at the first stint, the soft tyre performed really well,” said team principal Toto Wolff. “We could extend the stint. The grip was there. It was the logical choice to go on the soft for the last remaining 15 or 20-odd laps. Nothing really indicated that the tyre wouldn’t perform. So that was not a mistake from the team because, on the contrary, the soft is the quickest tyre.”

Hamilton, who made his final pit stop two laps later than his team mate, demonstrated his feel for the rubber again, over-ruling Mercedes’ compound choice and insisting on a set of mediums. Wolff admitted Hamilton’s judgement was “impressive” under the circumstances. “He felt that the medium was the tyre that he wanted to have so he made that call.”

With that, Hamilton motored home to a dominant win. Verstappen collected a second place which might have gone to Bottas with a better start and/or strategy. Bottas made a third pit stop to take fresh tyres and secure the bonus point for fastest lap.

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More turmoil at Ferrari

Reflecting on Hamilton’s tyre call, Wolff added: “What I’m really happy about is that the open conversation and transparency that we have between driver and team. That is not something that’s obvious. There are teams where the driver calls the shots, there are teams where the engineering calls the shots, but within our organisation, we’re able to listen to each other and and come up with the best decision.”

Sebastian Vettel, Daniil Kvyat, Ferrari, Circuit de Catalunya, 2020
Vettel rebuffed Kvyat on his way to seventh
Not every team had the same reason to be pleased with their tactical calls. Ferrari again appeared to treat Sebastian Vettel’s race as an afterthought, even after Charles Leclerc had gone out with electrical problems.

Having originally told Vettel to push on his second set of tyres, planning to bring him in again, they then asked him if he could make his soft rubber last until the end of the race. This prompted an exasperated reaction from the driver, and after a testy exchange, a one-stop strategy was settled on.

The call paid off, though Vettel slipped to seventh by the flag. Stroll’s two-stopping Racing Point was one of the cars which passed him, and he took the chequered flag behind his one-stopping team mate. Perez, back in the cockpit following his Silverstone absences, was demoted to fifth behind Stroll after the stewards ruled he had been too slow to let Hamilton lap him.

Carlos Sainz Jnr also passed Vettel for sixth place, enjoying a better race after McLaren fixed his car’s cooling problem by fitting a new Renault power unit one race early.

Alexander Albon, Red Bull, Circuit de Catalunya, 2020
Albon discovered why no one else wanted the hard tyres
A despondent-sounding Alexander Albon collected eighth, two places lower than he’d started. He ran sixth until lap 16, when Red Bull put him on the hard tyre, a compound no other driver used in the race, and which some of his rivals described as “horrific”, “garbage” and “deserving no place on a Formula 1 car” after testing it on Friday. Whether they thought they might get him to the end of the race on the tyres, or if Albon was being used as a ‘guinea pig’ for his team mate’s pit stop four laps later, it left him stuck in traffic.

It didn’t even manage to go the distance, prompting a second pit stop on lap 39. Albon took the chequered flag half a second ahead of the driver he replaced at Red Bull 12 months ago, Pierre Gasly, after another excellent qualifying performance by the AlphaTauri man. Lando Norris collected the final point for McLaren.

Leclerc was the day’s only retirement – alarmingly, after completing two laps with his seat belt undone. The Renault and Haas drivers laboured on one-stop strategies, Romain Grosjean abandoning his after a spin. Kimi Raikkonen had probably his best weekend of the year so far, 14th being the limit of what the Alfa Romeo could do.

“I don’t think that’s what the fans want”

After the race, Hamilton described how he felt “in the zone” over the course of an impeccably-judged 66 laps of the Circuit de Catalunya. But he was coy about the exactly how he’d coaxed the best from his tyres.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Circuit de Catalunya, 2020
Hamilton was never seriously threatened
“The guys don’t know,” he chuckled. “I think I know.

“It was just in the management and the strategy that I chose in terms of when and where to push. How I was able to implement that was really not necessarily what the team initially thought was what we needed to do. But it was the execution that was just on point.”

There was a time, some years and scores of victories ago, when Hamilton’s critics asserted his key weakness was an inability to manage his tyres. That has been long forgotten over the course of his 88 victories.

But as he made clear afterwards, however well he has refined these skills, this hasn’t reconciled him to the current era of high tyre management.

“[It was] a serious amount of management today,” he said. “And I don’t think that’s what the fans want. That’s not what a racing driver wants to have to manage behind a car, multiple seconds behind, because the tyres are not good enough.”

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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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46 comments on “Hamilton tired of tyre management after flawless Spanish Grand Prix win”

  1. It just wasn’t Bottas who got a bad start just like in Hungary(one exception) everyone on pitlane side had bad starts.

  2. I really don’t understand these tires and strategies anymore: why was Bottas unable to catch Max – like at all, he stayed exactly 7s behind for 15 laps – and with 4 or 5 to go he started pushing for the fastest lap, a full 2 seconds per lap faster than Max (I’m talking about the fastest lap he did before pitting again with 2 laps to go).

    I mean, he clearly still had awesome pace in that car, why not do qualy laps to get as close to Max as possible… And even if the tires were shot when he got within DRS to Max, at least try something.

    1. Lapped cars in between Max and Bottas.

      1. for 15 laps?

      2. Yes, lots of lapped traffic and too many marbles from there terrible tires provided by pirelli. Pirelli destroy the racing in so many ways.

    2. why was Bottas unable to catch Max

      A superficial look at the lap times suggests that the gap was built over the distance. There isnt much to say that Max was consistently faster than Bottas but nevertheless both were lapping within tenths of each other. It was a slow burn. And as already mentioned, backmarkers would have have had a definite influence.
      I also think Bottas’ comment on the black livery and overalls shouldnt be put aside. All drivers would have felt it but we heard only Bottas’ complaint and he did lose 3kgs (i dont know what the normal is). So maybe his discomfort in the cockpit also had an effect on his lap-times.

    3. Bottas these past 2 years has the worst strategies. like hungary, looks like sabotage, just how bad it is.

  3. Yep that’s what fans want Lewis, magic tyres.
    Quali lap after quali lap with no Deg.
    Great racing to watch faster car pull away from slower car.

    1. It’s not “magic” to create a tire that can keep up with a modern F1 car. Regulations aside I’m confident any reputable tire manufacturer could produce a tire that would give us flat out laps for an entire race, or at the very least give consistent performance right up to the moment where a tire change is required.

      But is that best for the sport? Hard to say. There’s got to be some synthetic strategy element introduced to make for a really good competition, otherwise it’ll most races would be a qualifying procession. I personally think that element should be refueling, but the FIA thinks that’s too dangerous.

      1. So make a race-worthy tyre and mandate minimum number of stops, or better still, bring back refueling along with a decent race tyre so the cars run much lighter, that will spice up the strategy & the show

    2. it is a case of “having everything yet, still not providing the kick” that is how flat f1 is these days, since 2010.

  4. Get off the grass Lewis, you love playing the tyre game.
    Red Bull totally played you at your own game last race so grow a pair and own up to it.

    I love all these little psychology battles by the way ;)

    1. Red Bull totally played you at your own game last race so grow a pair and own up to it.

      Ahem. He already did- went away, worked out his weaknesses in Silverstone, came back and decimated the Red Bulls at the next race. You just want a reason to have a go at Lewis despite him making a valid point (in victory I might add) about these %$@! tyres.

      1. Easy to manage and decimate, when there is no teammate pushing you like in Silverstone.
        Also care to explain why the races with @#*” tyres rated so highly then?

        1. @Jay

          You really wanna start talking about Hamilton not having a competitive team mate? Atleast Bottas turns up sometimes. Albon can’t even beat the junior team’s cars so please.

          Also care to explain why the races with @#*” tyres rated so highly then?

          Not all of them are highly rated. We can start from Bahrain 2012 if you want. But when you compare the so called “snooze fests” with high tyre management vs the drama this type of tyre brings, the ratio of excitement is much lower compared to non excitement.

      2. Ahem. He already did- went away, worked out his weaknesses in Silverstone, came back and decimated the Red Bulls at the next race.

        WHOA -Remarkable. Thank the Lord for Lewis!
        Perhaps everyone else at Mercedes should just be thrown aside like the pointless scum that they are!

      3. I think the credit goes to Mercedes, and Pirelli
        In Silverstone the Mercedes had troubles with the temperature, in related with the tyre-pressure, and softer compound.
        Don’t know what the tyre-pressure was in Barcelona, but the tyres were of a harder compound, which is better for the Mercedes.
        All they talk about is the temperature and the tyres, but there is more to it, I think.

        And the argument, why only Lewis, why wasn’t Bottas much quicker… I think he was quicker than Max, but it’s Barcelona… and Bottas simply is no Hamilton

    2. “grow a pair and own up to it”.

      Seriously, what the _ are you on about sometimes.

  5. And if Hamilton had said this after the Silverstone defeat- imagine how many people would be having a meltdown. Never been a fan of these chewing gum Pirellis. Even the great Fernando Alonso described them in expletives. Debates have been had on who exactly is to blame- the FIA spec sheet rtequirement or Pirelli themselves. I don’t think Pirelli are incapable of producing hard tyres that degrade gradually a la Bridegestone era. But it does seem that fast degrading, non-exploding and safe tyres is trying to square a circle. I really do think they should just give them the hardest tyres possible and let them kane it lap after lap. Already there is enough management on the engine side- don’t need to add tyres in there as well.

    1. Nothing Hamilton does will keep the never-Lewis crowd at bay. If he walked around handing candy to babies, they’d hit out at home for encouraging the careless consumption of sugar by minors.

  6. The words tyre management should be bleeped during the race broadcast, they are way more offensive than any supposedly bad words that normally get censored.
    I’m actually curious to know how many times it tyre management was uttered on Sunday… must be close to once per lap average.

  7. It’s completely embarrassing what Pirelli is bringing to the track this season. What the hell are they trying to prove? Some driver will die if Pirelli is allowed to remain in F1. Yes I do know that as a Formula One expert. F1 can’t risk their future on the most God awful racing rubber fans across Earth have yet seen. Shame shame shame on Pirelli for treating F1fans like this. Wake up before the name Villeneuve is forever attached to such sad rubber

    1. Predicting a driver will die is not only inappropriate, but silly considering the drivers aren’t even pushing and therefore in some ways driving more safely. I’m not saying the tyres are great, but pirelli are designing rubber to a spec requested by f1. It’s not really the tyres that need to change, but how teams choose to deal with them, conserving tyres will always be the fastest way to the line considering the time it takes to pit, maybe mandatory pitstops are the correct approach

      1. Or add a shortcut to the track a driver can take following a pitstop to reduce the penalty for them so you only lose 10 seconds say which would encourage more stops and aggressive strategies.

      2. you consider tires shredding or deflating as safe?

  8. Hamilton should have worked out that he needed to preserve his tyres after driving over the line with a blown tyre in the first Silverstone race.

    Is it really a masterclass if you’ve got a car with a one second per lap advantage over the field?

  9. You are correct, that’s ALL they were babbling on about, rather than dissing Lewis for telling it like it is have a look at the average race rating here, around a 4/5 which in my opinion is generous.
    Three cars on the lead lap, a frigging PR disaster. Even qualifying has become a stay in bed bore.
    Couldn’t possibly be the tires could it?

  10. “rather than dissing Lewis for telling it like it is’,
    @ ..that was not directed at you X1Znet……

  11. “ There are teams where the driver calls the shots”
    Yes Toto, that’s exactly what Lewis did yesterday. No open discussion or tit for that, he put his foot on the floor and said: “You’re not putting me on the softs.” Which is literally a driver calling the shots. And who can blame him after all the times his engineers went against his wishes and made the wrong call.
    The man, who basically did nothing but buy himself in at the right time and the right team is clearly suffering from a hard case of the “bigger than Jesus” syndrome and every time he opens his mouth lately, more dribble comes out.

  12. I’ll bet if just you put on a 2006 Bridgestone or Michelin tyre on a 2020 car you’ll immediately go faster (despite of the grooves), you are able to push for longer than one lap and you still have some deg to enable multistop races.
    Ok, I’ll probably loose my bet but the Pirelli ist just not good enough. Too sensitive and fragile.
    So bring back a second tyre supplier and let them push each other to find the best balance between peak performance and durability.
    It’s F1. It should be about competition and striving for the fastest race time.

  13. Just look at those front tires. There is nothing more that needs to be said. Bringing home tires like that is the winning formula? Please.

    Like driving on piece of molten lava, at 5-10s off quali pace. Enough was said about this, still they persist. Pirelli designed to degrade tires have only given us a few memorable races when there were 4-6 pitstops per car. Those were interesting, other than that, F1 teams mastered it, in their clinicaly efficient way, boring way, by driving slowly.

    1. Hmmm… Those front tires in the pic look like they’re covered with klag, picked up after cruising around off line on the cool down lap ??

      1. Yeah that’s just pick up

  14. So was Lewis purposely holding up Max for him to ruin his tires, then gently pull away on his fresher tires. Sounds like that’s what the first part is insinuating. I guess vettel used to just fly away in clear air when he was winning, but on these tires you just ruin the guys tires behind you for a few laps and you win. Not sure which is better.

    1. I think Mercedes are clearly harder on the tyre than Red Bull so they cruised to gently heat the tyres to a point they were in a stable window and then pushed harder. I suspect Vertsappen’s tyres were not worked as hard and hence he was suffering graining due to lower temps and being outside the ideal working window for his car.

      Ultimately its the poor operating window of the tyres that is spoiling the racing rather than any deliberate Mercedes ploy. There is also no way Lewis would try to help Valteri get past Verstappen, he’s the only real threat to his title this year.

  15. wasn’t only last weekend Lewis was saying 1 stop races were boring?

    So he wants a tyre that you can push hard on and the grip level stays the same BUT only lasts a third of the race, when the performance presumably just drops of the cliff but does so in a safe manner where the trye doesn’t fail?

    Sounds an awful lot like what the FIA asked for following the excitement in a certain race in Canada in i believe 2012 or thereabouts

    Well guess what Lewis… Pirelli have spent 8 years trying to make that tyre and they haven’t come close yet! We have tyres that don’t (often) fail, we have tyres that only last a few laps & we have tyres that can drop of a cliff, but you simply can not have all of that and the tyre NOT be affected by push hard on it… I doubt even Harry Potter could conger up a tyre that could do all that TBH

    So I dont blame Pirelli for failing at this, but I do blame them for suggesting it could ever be done in the first place, because they are the professionals and they should have know it was impossible. But please, please, give up on the idea and make a decent fricking race tyre!

  16. Gifted Muppet could always ask his team to set up the car to be easier on tyres but a few tenths slower.. hes got nearly two seconds to play with

  17. I don’t know, I would not care at all for having slower lap times, I would happily trade it for being less aero sensitive.
    But I’m really bothered with seeing these big gaps between quali laps and race laps. Even Bottas did 7-8 seconds slower for many laps compared to Lewis’ quali lap (1:15), Ricciardo nursed the “softs” so much that he did 1:24’s for a long while (as the start of his second stint), after some minutes it became very likely that he tries to do that with 1 stop. I became really keen on checking whether it was the hardest 3 compounds brought to this race. They never really bring the softest 3 compounds to any race except Monaco, even at the Hungaroring they had C2,C3, and C4.
    While at Austria they gone quite much yolo for the fastest lap, which was only 3seconds off the quali lap (ok that’s a very short and quite fast circuit on the other hand, but still), this contrast perfectly shows how much they managing the pace.
    I had been embarrassed with this, because that shows how much performance reserve is left in these reliable cars. Zhey can just pull a 1.5-2 seconds faster lap out of the hat after a complete race distance, with a car what is likely running quite hot by that time.

    I naively guess that this narrow operating window and chemical grip and heat degradation can be originated from a common root. So even if they would slightly harden or slightly soften all compounds it would be at about the same. And harder tyres were rejected by teams, to save money for development against the new aero formula, so the only option would be softening a bit (to something like C0.5, C1.5, C2.5, C3.5 and C4.5 where for example the new C4.5 would be exactly halfway between the current C4 and C5). But as C1 and C2 is already barely used except quali and fastest lap efforts, C0.5 could be binned and 3 of the remaining 4 could be brought to the races in the usual manner depending on track and temperature. That would move it a bit towards 2stop strategies.
    Or they could forget this chemical grip and heat degradation thing, and that might allow a wider operational window and more pushing, but as they turned down the change this year, likely they would turn that down for the next 1-2 years too, so likely none of these are going to happen in the close future. But at least they are not talking too much about the reverse grid races currently :P

    1. Actually that bothersome low gap between quali and race’s fastest lap occurred at Hungaroring, not at Austria: 1:13.447 vs 1:16.627 at that quite technical circuit, I’d say thats quite small, that’s at about a quali lap for a weaker entrant. But at Catalunya the gap was only 2.6 seconds, and at the British GP 2.8secs (fastest lap set by Verstappen, so not even by the usually very fast and reliable Mercs). These gaps feeling so small, if we forget about the reliability requirements of current F1.

  18. AJ (@asleepatthewheel)
    18th August 2020, 4:33

    How many ‘Grand slams’ is Hamilton going to lose out on just because super-slow Bottas pits for fresh tyres in the end for FLAP?
    I, for one, feel it is one of the most prestigious records, because it speaks of your consistency throughout the weekend (yes I know the W11 is a rocket ship), and to lose out on it because of the FLAP point rule is a shame.

    1. He has a car one second per lap quicker than the field and should be able to beat his teammate by 30 seconds by race end. No reason why Hamilton can’t pit to do a fastest lap.

  19. Tyre management is as good a skill over the length of a grand prix as going even faster.
    Also leading the pack in a competitive machinery and mostly running in free air does not affect tyre as much as those who are competing for places behind. So this logic of being tired does not make sense.

  20. Overlapping 17 cars twice is what the fans want.

  21. The tires are not the problem. The problem is money. Over the decades the amount of money some teams are spending have become beyond obscene. Now we have a situation where one team has the equivalent of a billion dollar stealth fighter and other teams have the equivalent of a spitfire. Both are impressive on their own, but in a thousand fights, the results are going to be the same and very boring to watch a thousand times. It would almost be more exciting for all the teams to gather all their money in a big pile and cover it with their special fuel and set it on fire. The winner is the one whose pile makes the most smoke.

    1. So who is this one team? Seems to me there are three teams with similar budgets. And the one who has had the most money down the years has probably been the worst performer of the three

  22. Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya is known to exacerbate F1 current era’s shortcomings, it has happened before. And we can go 180 with euphoric reactions when there’s a little action during the remaining of the season. In the end, Hamilton is right. F1 has become a sport which is the closest to watching paint dry. For years drivers can’t push because they need to nurture their tire deg. Why would that relevant in F1? Race strategy, with pit stops or refueling in the past was fun. Tire managing is just boring. A sport of who can burn less rubber, which new fans would want to watch that ?

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