Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Imola, 2020

Why Hamilton’s rivals think he would have won without the Virtual Safety Car

2020 Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix

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Lewis Hamilton’s victory in the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix was achieved thanks to a long first stint which gave him the opportunity to jump into the lead.

The timing of a Virtual Safety Car period played into Hamilton’s hands perfectly. It meant he was able to pit, lose less time, and come out comfortably ahead of Bottas. But had the VSC not been deployed, would he have been able to?

While team mate Valtteri Bottas held the lead from pole position at the start, Hamilton fell to third place behind a fast-starting Max Verstappen. He took the lead when his two rivals pitted – Verstappen on lap 17, Bottas in response the next time around.

Hamilton then reeled off a succession of fastest laps to edge clear of Bottas. His team mate was carrying debris which he picked up at Tosa on lap two, which had been left from a first-lap collision between Sebastian Vettel and Kevin Magnussen.

He extended his lead over Bottas and Verstappen to more than 28 seconds. As far as his rivals were concerned, the tipping point had been reached. Even if he pitted under green flag conditions, assuming he had a normal pit stop, the lead was his. “We are one second unsafe,” Bottas was told by his engineer.

Max Verstappen was told the same. “With Valtteri’s pace ahead Lewis has now jumped us,” said his race engineer.

“Did he pit already or not?” asked Verstappen. “Not yet, he just has a pit stop over us,” he was told. “And Valtteri.”

Then Esteban Ocon’s Renault stopped at the exit of Acqua Minerali with a suspected gearbox problem. As had been recent practice, this was initially covered by a local yellow flag, then a VSC period was triggered while the car was removed.

Luckily for Hamilton, this coincided perfectly with his positioning on the track. Hamilton was in the second Rivazza when his race engineer Pete Bonnington told him to pit due to the VSC. The period ended just as he was heading back to the track.

There was further drama to come between then and the end of the race. But once Hamilton had the lead his rivals were always going to struggle to take it from him. Regardless of the VSC, he had done enough to earn it, and ultimately his 93rd career win.

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2020 Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix

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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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75 comments on “Why Hamilton’s rivals think he would have won without the Virtual Safety Car”

  1. The facts won’t stop a good conspiracy theory.

    1. What Conspiracy theory?

      The fact is up to the crash, Hamilton needed 27 secs to pit and was just on the limit, 26 something secs.
      At the start of the yellow flag when Bottas and Verstappen had to slow for that flag, Hamilton then had 28 something secs. The VSC then made it a formality. By this point his rivals knew even if Hamilton came out just behind them, he would have had the advantage. As it happens the VSC gave the first position to Hamilton.

      Looked at another way, Bottas once again played the wingman, holding up Verstappen.

      1. @Ajaxn Other commentators are claiming that the VCS was deliberately deployed (presumably by the race director) to favor Hamilton and ‘gift him the win’ – whilst ignoring the fact that Bottas already had debris under his car and Max had a generally slower car, or at least was unable to overtake the hobbled Mercedes.

        But again, why let facts get in the way of a good conspiracy theory.

        1. Even though I am a Hamilton fan and Mercedes fan, it appeared to be that they deliberately deployed it at the perfect time to “manipulate” the results. Once I saw Ocon stopped, I thought:” hey, this should be an easy VSC right away, as his car was close to the track.” However, the VSC was called some time after, which made me think during that period why they were not deploying it, and once I saw it deployed, along with Hamilton’s position on track, I was shocked that it took them that long. What made it a little more obvious, was that the VSC period ended when he just was going out of the pitlane…

      2. On the pitlane channel, they said the average pit stop loss was 26.7 seconds, if I remember correctly. Hamilton was at 26.964 at the moment Ocon pulled off the track, so safe-ish before the flag.

        1. He was about 28.5 ahead when the vsc waa deployed

          1. Correct Kasim. It may even have been a little more at one point 28.7 or 28.8. Will have to re-watch the timing and see.

      3. Not quite correct. Re-watch the race if you can and you will see.
        Hamilton needed 26.5s to ensure his position after a pitstop (assuming no delays in the pits).
        He had pulled out a tad over 28.5s BEFORE the VSC was issued. He already had enough in his pocket due to his fastest laps after Max/Bottas pitted.
        As the article said, both Red Bull and Mercedes told their drivers as much.
        The VSC just served to give Hamilton a nice 4.2s cushion which he built on. This was later eroded after a full SC.
        Even if Hamiltons stop has been slow and he came out behind Bottas, he would have won anyway.
        Max was able to pass Bottas so Lewis surely would have done anyway under DRS. Bottas had an ailing car and Lewis was on 11 lap newer tyres.

    2. Its not even about conspiracies. For me its about us (the viewers and fans) having even the small suggestion of a close battle between the two of the them, taken away from us yet again.
      Even if it was just for one lap while HAM warmed up his tyres and ultimately came to nothing, to not even have that is what sucks the most in F1 right now.

  2. The 15-second VSC was a bit questionable as Ocon’s car wasn’t in a danger spot and right in front of a hole, so should’ve been manageable by merely yellows or double yellows. The full SC, on the other hand, was fully justifiable due to the position of Max’s car and the appearance of marshals and recovery vehicle on the runoff, so this time, nothing questionable in this regard.

    1. The yellow flags affected Bottas and Verstappen more so than Hamilton, it gave Hamilton an extra 2 seconds to 28 something secs. This means even without the VSC Hamilton would have just come out in front.

      Remember this came about because of Hamilton pace. He was driving a second a lap faster than his rivals, as Bottas was hampered by car damage and Verstappen failed to manage an over-take.

      1. You can also say back markers helped Bottas too as it slowed Lewis down. So i say its equal

  3. With Bottas handicapped and Verstappen stuck behind him, Hamilton would have definitely taken the lead. The VSC made things easier and siimpler.
    Red Bull by pitting Verstappen early they essentially pulled Bottas into the pits with them and that let Hamilton loose to do whatever he wanted.

    1. It also looked to me like vestappen was working for Hamilton strategically by opening up either the over cut or the reverse stint strategy for Hamilton.

      I was also unsure why verstappen could not manage the undercut if bottas’ damage was so bad. Right after the stop he was all over bottas but before bottas gapped him easily.

  4. He wa ahead about 28.9 seconds at one point there so vsc made no difference

  5. lexusreliabilty?
    1st November 2020, 14:50

    Valterri wouldn’t have won with a wounded car given he damaged it running over debris.
    Verstappen wouldn’t have won given he abused his tyres and they exploded.

    Ricciardo getting a podium is what’s called outperforming the car- not Max being consistently third in a Red Bull that is still being developed (while Merc have stopped) and has a half a minute advantage over the midfield- nevermind his dismal team mate who did a Vettel spinning on his own while under pressure from behind. Perez in that seat next please- overtook Albon for the seat next season. Might not trouble Max in qualy but over a season he may well prove to be more of a formidable challenge than people think.

    For me Danny Ric is the driver of the day.

    1. Yeah. What Redbull wouldn’t do to have Riccardo as their other driver. They really dropped the ball there.
      Quality drive by Riccardo, quality decisions by his team.

      1. lexusreliabilty?
        1st November 2020, 15:15

        @Ajaxn
        Well said. I have never rated Horner as a team leader- think back to Turkey 2010, Multi 21, Baku 2018 etc etc. When Hamilton and Rosberg were squabbling in Malaysia 2013- Brawn laid down the law. When Hamilton and Rosberg were crashing (Belgium 2014, Austria 2016, Spain 2016) Wolff and Lauda went hard on both drivers and threatened them with their seats. It seems Horner just turns a blind eye to whoever is the favoured son at Red Bull and clearly Ricciardo felt he was underappreciated- especially given the financial offer Red Bull offered before he jumped ship. Now they can’t find a competitive driver who can finish on the same lap as Max, nevermind challenge him.

        1. I also think they have way too high expectation of their second junior driver. Even Max RB seat was under threat early on.

  6. Jose Lopes da Silva
    1st November 2020, 14:51

    It was clear that Hamilton had already jumped them. And I watch the RTL German stream, not speaking or understanding german. What’s the question?

    1. Good for you, because be aware that whatever RTL say the opposite will happen xD

    2. Just out of curiosity on the driver radio speech-to-text, is that still in English or do they try to translate it into German?

      Going back to your point, on balance of probability (I reckon 90%+) Hamilton had the jump on Bottas. The VSC made it a certainty.

      1. It’s still English. I guess it’s the the same all over the world. They (try to) translate it orally but only from certain drivers (Mercedes, Verstappen, Vettel and sometimes the cars he’s racing).
        It’s like having Crofty paired with his even more clueless evil brother – both with an unhealthy fixation on German cars and drivers – only interrupted by estonishingly long ad breaks.
        (Sorry for the rant, but although F1 TV can be frustrating at times I’ve never regretted to subscribe…)

        Back to topic. I thought as well, that Hamilton had it in the bag anyway and would rejoin a second or two ahead…
        What I didn’t understand was that the gap to Bottas was around 4 seconds only after he pitted.
        Shouldn’t the pit stop under VSC have saved him a little more than 2 or 3 seconds compared to a normal stop? What am I missing? Did they increase the VSC speed limit?

        1. VSC was out for only 15s or so rather than a whole lap or longer. It ended while Hamilton was still in the pit lane so it didn’t save him as much time as it could have.

  7. yea i agree the safety car would make no difference.

    But the damage on Bottas’s car holding Verstappen close to him, then allowing Hamilton to build a gap in free air basically gave hamilton 2 places. Had Bottas not had damage, Hamilton showed he could not pass Verstappen, Bottas likely will have been able to build 5+ seconds on Verstappen or so and although hamilton will have had much fresher tyres than Bottas by the end of the race, I think the overtaking difficulty, plus the challenge form Verstappen will have made it hard for him to beat Bottas, even if he had a pace advantage. Bottas was pretty unlucky today, and so was Verstappen.

    1. @thegianthogweed I disagree because I think Hamilton could have extended that stint longer (Mercedes had just mentioned +10 laps to him, maybe more was possible), potentially allowing him to switch to softs at the end. Or build even more of a gap before pitting at least. There was no guarantee Verstappen would beat him at all.

    2. lexusreliabilty?
      1st November 2020, 14:58

      Bottas was unlucky but not sure I agree about Max. I mean who else destroyed their right rear tyres? Only Russel had more of a brainfart today. Even Horner was clutching at strwas trying to find an excuse.

      1. That damaged right rear tyre is consistant with the direction of the circuit and Max’s habit of cutting the corrners to try and keep up. This is one circuit where diving down the corners didn’t pay off. He might also have picked up some debre.

    3. Bottas was still trying to win the race, he wasn’t holding up Verstappen for Hamilton.

    4. @thegianthogweed In reality, Verstappen picked the wrong strategy and dragged Bottas down with him. Bottas was unlucky (also because of the damage), but Verstappen had only himself to blame.

  8. “FIA is stopping me”

    1. FIA stole two races. That’s a fact.

    2. Straws, clutching, at.

  9. Why was Hamilton allowed to offset his strategy when that isn’t “how Mercedes do business” ?

    1. Because it’s different to a normal situation. In a straight fight between Bottas and Hamilton that would always and has always been the case. However, they were working to get Hamilton ahead of Verstappen and would have managed it even without the VSC. They turned what would have been a guaranteed 1:3 into a probable 1:2. (The subsequent overtake by Verstappen and retirement were not really foreseeable).

      1. Also, it is compound use upon which Mercedes restricts deviation from the team strategy. Stint duration is by and large at the driver’s discretion; the team isn’t going to meddle with a driver who is still confident in his tires nor stonewall one who isn’t. But when a driver asks for a compound different from that set in the team strategy, the answer is generally no unless there is an extra-team threat or circumstance.

  10. Bottas floor damage was the main factor that slowed him down to that huge gap, so Lewis would have still had that huge gap for pittingand won.

    Also one of Max tires exploded and ended his race so he would not have been a threat either.

  11. Hamilton had a lead of 28 seconds, safety car or not he would have won due to Bottas’ floor damage.

    Even if Bottas didn’t have floor damage and there wasn’t a safety car Hamilton would have still won it, lets not kid ourselves here…

    1. Even if Bottas didn’t have floor damage and there wasn’t a safety car Hamilton would have still won it, lets not kid ourselves here…

      Only because they put Hamilton on a contra strategy after not allowing Bottas to do that in the past. Hamilton was in third and had nothing to lose so the team lengthened his stint in order to jump Bottas.

      If Mercedes lengthened Bottas’s stint to jump Hamilton we’d be hearing all kind of conspiracy theories right now.

      1. You are wasting your time speaking the truth. All the Hamifosi want to hear is good things said about Lewis Hamilton. They do not have a brain cell between them.

        It is as clear as day we know it, Hamifosi know it, Bottas knows it and Lewis knows it that Mercedes favor him over Bottas and have been favoring him since Rosberg came to the scene. It’s so cheap and costs nothing to say there is no number 1 driver. If that were really the case they would earn the same pay.

        Mercedes actively strategized to get Hamilton in front of Bottas, by going long they opened the safety car window for Lewis and the option to go onto the softs.

        We have seen it time and time again Mercedes giving Lewis a new strategy when behind Bottas but never the other way around as we saw just last week. Mercedes have ordered Bottas to not race Lewis Germany

        Bharain 2017 ordered Bottas to let Lewis through

        Next Race in Spain 2017 left Bottas out to dry on old tires so he could slow Vettel

        Baku 2017 Even Hamilton asked the team to slow Bottas so Vettel could get dirty air. Have you ever heard Bottas ask the team to ask Ham to slow to give Verstappen dirty air?

        2018 Germany Ham 1 Bottas 2 Bottas had fresh ultra softs and was faster. Mercedes called him off.

        Russia 2018 Bottas 1 Ham 2 they gave the order to swap.

        Silverstone 2019 they gave Ham a different strategy to go long just like today leaving Bottas open to a safety car.

        Singapore 2019 ordered Bottas to slow so he wont pass Hamilton. Have you ever heard Merc give an order like that to Lewis to save Bottas from losing a position.

        Silverstone 2020 they were 2-3 but gave Ham a different strategy had fresher tires then said on the radio you are free to race. That same freedom was not given to Bottas Germany 2018.

        Then of course today.

        The only time Bottas was given a call in his favor was Italy 2019.

        I may have missed some but that is 8-1 to Ham. I guess 8 is equal to 1.

        1. A long list of nonsense, but let’s just pick one:

          Singapore 2019 ordered Bottas to slow so he wont pass Hamilton. Have you ever heard Merc give an order like that to Lewis to save Bottas from losing a position.

          Yes, Austria 2020 and that cost Hamilton a lot of points.

          1. A silly response as expected. Clutching at straws and you know it.

      2. Bottas has been allowed to go long in several races in the past. They still left Hamilton and Bottas on the same tyres.

      3. You’re getting close to what I truly meant ;)

      4. Hamilton was not on a different strategy. He was able to keep life in his tires, hence the longer stint. No driver is going to pit simply because the teammate ahead pits. That makes no sense.

        In previous races, if Bottas was able to conserve his tires, he would have done longer stints. Bottas even says this in the post race interview.

    2. Very probably, but without the exquisitely timed VSC we would have watched at least a bit of a battle, with LH coming out of pit lane right in front of VB and MV with cold tyres. A minor mishap in the pitstop and LH would have exited the pitstop behind them, and probably would also have won in the end, but at least MV would have seriously defended (VB is a lost case at that). As it happened, it was all too easy and mind-numbingly boring.

  12. This just shows Red Bull need another driver.

    It is like fighting with one hand tied behind their back.

    Mercedes could strategically ensure 1 Red Bull does not win.

    Enter Perez next year, or Hulkenberg next race.

    1. Whoever ends up in the second redbull, i hope challenges max atleast as good as bottas does to hamilton. Or better than that. That way hopfully we can get more interesting races next year. I have a feeling redbull and mercedes will be a bit closer than this year. Maybe ferarri will be able to challemge for podiums at some tracks next year too

  13. I can’t imagine if Bottas was the one who was last to pit that Mercedes would go to the alternative strategy of running a long first stint to jump Hamilton.

    Total stitch up today by Mercedes after last week ignoring Bottas’s wishes to go onto alternative tyres to Hamilton in the final stint.

    Bono was in hysterics as if the championship was on the line if Hamilton didn’t stay ahead of Bottas.

    The most dominant car of all time, Hamilton has ran away with the championship, but still engineer ways to benefit Hamilton at the expense of Bottas every opportunity they get.

    1. Obviously you have not been watching the races these past few years, you only react to the results.
      Bottas has been allowed to run long several times in the past when he had good tyre life.

      1. Can you name which races when he was behind Ham they ran him long and opened up strategy options for him against Ham?

        Its so easy to say “Bottas has been allowed to run long several times in the past when he had good tyre life.”
        Name the races you speak of.

    2. Total stitch up today by Mercedes after last week ignoring Bottas’s wishes to go onto alternative tyres to Hamilton in the final stint.

      Not at all. Mercedes entertains deviations in stint length, not so much compound use. Bottas is as free to make use of this detail as Hamilton in executing his races. Yet because he’s often the first front-runner to exhaust his tires, his deviations from the team strategy are blunted on mitigating his inferior management. Going onto the soft wasn’t even a good idea, as it’s now widely known to have been the worst compound of the race. Better yet, Perez and Ocon exemplified the futility of using it as Bottas intended through Gasly and Sainz disposing of their respective challenges. On old mediums.

  14. Of course Lewis was going to win. Max tried the undercut to pass Bottas but it didn’t work. Ones he was stuck behind Bottas’ damaged car again Lewis could easily jump them.

    Ones again Max had to fight two Mercedes on his own. Hopefully there will be a better driver in the 2nd redbull next season

    1. @anunaki So you say it was a given that Verstappen would pick the wrong strategy?

  15. Hamilton was lucky today had he been leading it would likely have been him getting a damaged car.

    As it was he won because Bottas damaged his car. Regardless of VSC or whatever.

    1. I think he would have still won without Bottas’s damaged floor, talk less of the VSC.

      Without the damage, Mercedes would still have covered the attempted undercut by Red Bull, and Hamilton would still have gone longer into the race.

      He won today mainly because of his now obvious vastly superior race pace and tyre management. It is not like Bottas had floor damage in the last two races or a VSC influenced results, is it?

      1. Hamilton couldn’t get it done on the same strategy so they put him on a no lose contra strategy. At worst he’d stay in third, at best he’d jump Verstappen and Bottas without having to do it on track.

        1. Being half a second a lap faster is not enough for overtaking on this track, but it is for going for the overcut. That’s the brilliance of Hamilton. To understand how to win the race and then execute that plan. An insight not only you lack, but also Verstappen and Red Bull it seems.

          1. Bottas assumed that his team would play fair and put Hamilton on the same strategy as they always do to him.

            I can remember the howls last year when Vettel was allowed to run longer in Singapore and jump Leclerc. Suddenly it’s all fair when Hamilton becomes insubordinate and decides his own strategy.

            As long as they let Bottas run an alternative strategy when he has nothing to lose while behind Hamilton it’s all good.

          2. Sorry, Vettel got the undercut in Singapore to jump Leclerc, but my argument stands.

        2. Mercs already knew Bottas was slower because of the damage he was carrying…and due to that, he couldn’t pull away from Max and that gave RBR the opportunity to undercut him and they took it. Now, if the Mercs hadn’t reacted with Bottas on the next lap, then probably Max would have taken the lead, managed his pace and tyres better, with no need to push hard and therefore no tyre blowout and the Mercs would have lost the race. So they had no choice but to react when RBR pitted Max and once Bottas emerged in the lead, they knew he would inevitably (and unintentionally) hold up Max because of the debris/damage he was carrying, which according to their numbers, it was costing him about 0.75s per lap…and I believe they knew it was a matter of time before Max passed him…so in the meantime, Hamilton was told to unleash the beast and primarily try to jump Max, which is important given that they’ve calculated that sooner of later, Max will pass Bottas.
          With the damage and loss of performance on Botta’s car, Merc calculated he was out of equation for the win and therefore the primary target for the overcut was / had to be Max.
          So IMO, if Hamilton had pitted on the lap he did without the VSC, then I think there he would have emerged between Bottas and Max…and all he needed to do was defend against Max on the next 2 laps whilst his tyres were firing up and then Bottas would be easy pickings given his damage and loss of performance afterwards.

          So with Bottas driving a damaged a car, Hamilton would have won with or without the VSC. VSC made it risk-free!

  16. Pitting during VSC should be banned and VSC should take full laps. I.e. should last either 1 entire lap, 2 entire laps etc.

    1. The vsc made no difference to the top 3 result.

    2. Why do you hate Hamilton?
      In your opinion has he ever driven well and deserved any of his 93 wins?

  17. Likely would have come out ahead if the pit stop had been fine, but the luck of it all is amazing. It’s like you knew before the race started that Bottas would get unlucky and Hamilton lucky.

    1. @balue Yeah keep pretending it’s luck.

      1. @f1osaurus Which means in your mind it must have been divine intervention for the blessed one to make Bottas hit the debris to slow his car down, and have a VSC for the seconds Hamilton is around the pit entry when he needed to pit.

        Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse..

        1. @balue Well the debris might have helped. The VSC most certainly did not.

          It’s not just this case, you are pretending Hamilton always has luck, yet the reality is that he keeps pushing his opponents and keeps actually beating them.

          Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse..

  18. He was lucky today, but I think he would of won anyway. Give him a bit of space and forget it, he’s gone

  19. He probably would have had a second or two on Bottas after a normal pit stop, but that’s assuming he nailed the in-lap, Mercedes nailed the stop, etc. Of course, it’s highly likely they would have, but there would be more pressure/intrigue in that scenario.

    It boggles my mind that F1 allows pit stops under VSC. It has spoiled so many races and will continue do so. F2 has recognised that it can give an enormous advantage and thus do not allow stops (or rather, do not count them as the mandatory stops). Why doesn’t F1 do the same and prohibit stops during these periods?

  20. Luckily for Hamilton

    How is this “luckily”? Yet another race which he had in the bag on merit where the haterz can now pretend it was only because of a lucky VSC or SC.

  21. Luckily for Hamilton

    How is this “luckily”? Yet another race which he had in the bag on merit where the ostriches can now pretend it was only because of a lucky VSC or SC.

  22. Well said, good reasoning

  23. It wasn`t the plan for HAM to pit on that lap because he was getting through the traffic so quickly. HAM had a 28.5 (possibly as much as 29.1?) second lead over BOT when the VSC was called. The time lost during a pitstop is 27.0 secs, so theoretically HAM would still have taken the lead without the VSC. However, if no VSC was called, because he was still approx` 0.7 secs per lap faster than BOT, he would surely have delayed his pitstop by a further 4 or 5 laps, possibly more, and would have extended his lead to approx` 33 seconds before finally pitting. He would then have emerged in the lead with a very comfortable margin of about 5 secs.

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