A frustrated Lewis Hamilton was mystified by a strategy which saw him start and finished seventh in Monaco despite two drivers retiring ahead of him.
Hamilton’s weekend began to go off the rails long before race day. According to the team’s strategy director James Vowles, Hamilton “was actually very happy” when practice began on Thursday, out-pacing team mate Valtteri Bottas and setting the third-quickest time overall.
But by qualifying two days later the tables had turned, Hamilton profoundly unhappy with his car’s balance as the track temperatures slipped from 50C to the mid-thirties. “Half a second’s a lot of time,” said a worried Hamilton on the radio when he checked his deficit after his first run. Despite further car changes, that gap was still there when the qualifying hour finished.
“We just weren’t able to get ourselves into the right working regime with the tyres and one of the drivers was just slightly happier than the other,” Vowles explained. “But neither [was] really working the tyres as effectively as we should.
“We tried a number of set-up items but one of the issues that you have in Monaco is that it is a confidence-builder. You need laps, you need consistent laps, you need confidence that the car is giving you everything you want out of it.
“If you can carry just a kilometre an hour or two more speed through turn one, two, three for example you generate just another temperature level, another degree or two which then gives you more grip through the next sequence. Conversely, if you don’t have confidence in the car and you don’t trust it, you go down the spiral in the other way and you lose grip.”
Unable to rectify that problem before the race, Hamilton lined up seventh on the grid. Despite pole-winner Charles Leclerc failing to take the start and Bottas, who also started ahead of him, dropping out before half-distance, an increasingly frustrated Hamilton could only finish where he started.
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Laps 1-21: In the queue
With Leclerc failing to take the start, Hamilton immediately moved up from seventh to sixth. It was the highest he ran all day.
As early as lap 16 Hamilton was being asked for a “balance check” to provide feedback on how he wanted his front wing angle to be adjusted in the event of a sudden pit stop. At the previous Monaco Grand Prix a Safety Car period provoked teams to pit even earlier for their one stop of the day.
There were no such disruptions this time, however. Max Verstappen dictated the pace at the front of the field, Hamilton circulating some 15 seconds behind.
|2||Bonnington||So Vettel car behind Gasly, one second ahead.|
|2||Bonnington||Gasly 1.2 ahead, Vettel 1.8 behind.|
|2||Bonnington||Verstappen leading doing 17.5.|
|3||Bonnington||And DRS has been enabled.|
|3||Bonnington||Gasly 1.6 ahead, Vettel 2.4 behind.|
|4||Bonnington||And Gasly 1.5 ahead, Vettel 2.7 behind.|
|5||Bonnington||And Gasly, 1.6 ahead, 2.4 behind Vettel.|
|6||Bonnington||Verstappen doing 16.9.|
|6||Hamilton||It’s hard to follow.|
|6||Bonnington||Copy that last message, Lewis just keep management up, there’ll be opportunities later.|
|6||Bonnington||Gasly 1.6 ahead, Vettel 3.1 behind.|
|7||Bonnington||Gasly 1.8, Vettel behind, 3.5.|
|8||Bonnington||And Gasly 2.1, Vettel 4.5.|
|9||Bonnington||Lewis, if you can, let us know about the tyres.|
|9||Bonnington||And Gasly, 1.8, Vettel 5.4.|
|10||Hamilton||Gaps opening up behind a lot?|
|10||Bonnington||Affirm, six seconds, Gasly, 1.3 ahead.|
|11||Bonnington||And Verstappen has just been told to pick up his pace. Last lap was a 16.9. See what he does this lap.|
|11||Bonnington||Gasly 1.4, Vettel seven seconds behind.|
|12||Hamilton||These guys are super-slow ahead.|
|12||Bonnington||Lewis can you go menu dash position five, position five when you can.|
|13||Bonnington||And Gasly 1.6 ahead, Vettel, 6.5 behind.|
|14||Bonnington||And Gasly 1.9 head, Vettel 6.2.|
|15||Bonnington||Gasly at 1.9 and Vettel 5.8 behind.|
|16||Bonnington||Lewis can you give us a balance check, balance check.|
|16||Hamilton||Plus one hole.|
|16||Bonnington||And if you go menu dash position six, dash position six.|
|17||Bonnington||Gasly two ahead, 5.5 for Vettel.|
|17||Hamilton||The guys ahead of him pulling away quite a lot.|
|17||Bonnington||So we’ve got Verstappen at 13 seconds, Norris is just picking up the pace. He’s 16.1, Verstappen a 15.8.|
|18||Bonnington||Gap to Gasly at 1.8.|
|18||Bonnington||Gasly at 1.8, Vettel 5.6.|
|19||Bonnington||Lewis think about just increasing lift and coast turned 10 and turn three, just for the casing and brake temp.|
|19||Bonnington||Gap at 1.1.|
|20||Bonnington||And Gasly 1.6, Vettel 4.5.|
|21||Hamilton||It’s just so slow in front.|
|21||Bonnington||Lewis can we go HPP default zero one, HPP default zero one when you can.|
|21||Bonnington||Gasly at 2.1.|
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Laps 22-30 A gap opens up
Before the race began Mercedes discussed an ‘early’ first pit stop potentially around laps 18 to 20. Hamilton didn’t come in until lap 30 partly because there weren’t gaps behind him. At one stage he was told he would be pitting “pretty soon”, but wasn’t called in for eight more laps.
Eventually a gap behind them began to open up. Mercedes’ inclination at this stage was to leave Hamilton out and attempt to ‘overcut’ rivals ahead, a strategy which tends to work well for faster cars which qualify ‘out of position’, as successfully practised by Perez in the same race.
But with Pierre Gasly ahead of them staying out despite having a sufficient gap behind to emerge in, Mercedes realised they had to initiate the days’ pit stops.
“Relative to Gasly, we had been behind him all of that first stint and clearly we weren’t going to be able to overtake him on track,” Vowles explained. “There is only two possibilities: there is an ‘overcut’ whereby he stops first and you go longer, and an ‘undercut’. That’s very typical, and that’s all the choices we had available to us.
“The problem with an overcut is that doesn’t exist until Gasly stops. He has to stop to present an opportunity for us to have free air in front of us. He already had a gap to traffic behind, the same gap that we put Lewis into and he wasn’t taking it, which means he wasn’t terribly convinced that they had to stop first, they were waiting for us to stop. I am fairly confident had we waited a lap or two they still wouldn’t have stopped.”
|22||Bonnington||Okay Lewis, it’s all going to start happening pretty soon, I think. Gaps are starting to appear.|
|23||Bonnington||So Gasly at 1.9.|
|23||Hamilton||Do I need to close up?|
|23||Bonnington||Not just yet. Let’s just hold station.|
|23||Bonnington||Lewis can you move HPP switch to position one, just at the default.|
|24||Bonnington||Gasly at 1.7.|
|25||Hamilton||Seem to be losing power down the straights.|
|25||Bonnington||Okay, copy, looking into it.|
|25||Bonnington||Gap to Gasly at 1.5.|
|26||Bonnington||Lewis it won’t be long now. So just close that gap up, 1.3 at the moment.|
|28||Bonnington||Okay Lewis we’re seeing some…|
|28||Hamilton||Can I undercut him?|
|28||Bonnington||We’re just keeping an eye on the gaps behind.|
|28||Bonnington||Lewis we’re seeing other cars drop off with the front left graining, but then it cleans up, pace returns.|
|29||Bonnington||Lewis so it won’t be long.|
|29||Bonnington||Okay Lewis box opposite Gasly, box opposite Gasly.|
|29||Bonnington||Start mode 11, out-lap, critical.|
|30||Bonnington||Watch yellow line on exit.|
L30-32: The early stop backfires
Gasly pitted on the lap after Hamilton and the Mercedes driver failed to find enough pace on his new tyres to ensure he came out ahead.
“It wasn’t an easy undercut, but it was an achievable undercut,” said Vowles. He admitted the team were slightly in the dark about whether Hamilton would be quick enough to jump ahead of Gasly by pitting before him.
“In Monaco, compared to other tracks, we don’t really have enough information to properly define that. The hard tyre wasn’t used in [second practice], last time we used it was in [first practice] on Thursday and there was no data from 2019 so it’s a little bit of interpolation, a lot of interpolation in fact, as to what would have happened with that hard tyre on the out-lap.
“As things ended up, Lewis came out under two tenths behind Gasly, it was incredibly tight and close but we were wrong, we didn’t undercut. The difficulty of warming that hard tyre on the out lap was such that we didn’t complete it.”
|30||Bonnington||So Gasly in the pits now.|
|31||Hamilton||How am I still behind him, man? Come on.|
|32||Bonnington||May have traffic on pit exit. Valtteri is out race.|
|32||Hamilton||What just happened guys? I just lost two places.|
|32||Bonnington||Copy Lewis. Just reviewing it now.|
Laps 33-37: Gasly costs Hamilton more places
Hamilton pitted with three seconds in hand over Vettel and four over Perez. Yet both used the very ‘overcut’ Mercedes hopes to wield in order to gain places from him.
They also got ahead of Gasly, whose slow pace compromised Hamilton badly. The pair started laps 31 and 32 separated by less than half a second.
“Gasly, when he came out, didn’t have Lewis’ pace,” said Vowles, “he was several seconds off and he pulled Lewis back relative to Vettel who, whilst he wasn’t quick, he was quick enough to get the overcut on both of those drivers.”
|33||Hamilton||I don’t understand, guys. Saved the tyres to go longer. You had me stop before everyone.|
|33||Bonnington||Yeah copy Lewis, understood last message, need to review that. Go to strat mode seven when you can.|
|33||Bonnington||Lewis we’re under threat of losing position to Perez as well. Sorry about that.|
|34||Hamilton||I’ve lost position to Perez?|
|34||Bonnington||He is yet to stop. Currently doing 14.6.|
|36||Hamilton||Okay so what finishing position is it looking like I’m going to have then?|
|36||Hamilton||Got me just…|
|36||Bonnington||Currently P7 Lewis, P7. And all cars ahead have stopped now.|
|37||Bonnington||So Perez is up ahead?|
|37||Bonnington||Affirm currently Perez P4.|
Laps 38-66: Missed messages
Part of the reason Hamilton was so frustrated with his strategy was he was under the mistaken belief he would have been in a much stronger position had he not pitted when he did. “I didn’t really have any tyre deg today,” he said after the race. “I was just stuck behind [Gasly].”
However during the race it was pointed out to him that his first set of tyres were badly worn on the rear when he pitted. He appears not to have heard this message, much as he missed an earlier one on lap 32 telling him his team mate had retired.
Radio communications are not always clear, and around a lap as busy as Monaco it’s easy for drivers to miss messages.
On this occasion Hamilton was being told there hadn’t been sufficient life in his tyres for an ‘overcut’ strategy to be particularly effective.
“He had done a really good job of saving his front tyres, they were in a quite good state,” said Vowles, “but the rear wasn’t, the rear was somewhat akin to where Valtteri’s was and that would have been a problem.
“Extrapolating a bit because obviously none of us know, I think we could have done a couple more laps but certainly we wouldn’t have done ten more.”
|38||Bonnington||So Valtteri out the race, problem at the pit stop.|
|42||Bonnington||Lewis first sets were rear-left limited, rear-left limitation.|
|44||Bonnington||Gasly opened up to 3.1.|
|44||Hamilton||There’s no point getting any closer.|
|44||Bonnington||Okay, copy. Gap at 3.5.|
|49||Hamilton||Where is everyone in front of the Gasly? He is so slow.|
|49||Bonnington||Vettel, 4.2 ahead of him.|
|49||Bonnington||Gasly at least half second off the guys in front.|
|58||Hamilton||There’s just no grip if you get too close.|
|58||Bonnington||Okay copy that Lewis. 20 laps remaining.|
|65||Bonnington||Lewis we had track limits at turn 10 last lap. Current race situation, we have a free pit window behind, Stroll is about three seconds outside of that.|
|65||Bonnington||Stroll currently on used soft, that gap may disappear.|
|65||Hamilton||Well, what’s your plan?|
|65||Bonnington||Nothing at the moment we’re just keeping you updated. We’re going to have a look in a few laps time.|
|66||Hamilton||Well, don’t miss the opportunity to get fastest lap because I need that point. We’ve already lost a ton today.|
|66||Bonnington||Copy Lewis, yep, also opportunities around late Safety Cars.|
Laps 67-71: A risky bid for a bonus
Although Hamilton knew his team mate had retired, he wasn’t aware that it had been due to a problem at his pit stop, where the team failed to remove his front-right wheel. Had he known, he might have been less eager to return for a second set of fresh tyres to ensure he claimed the bonus point for fastest lap.
“I didn’t know what happened to Valtteri,” said Hamilton. “I had no clue until I got back.
“I didn’t even know he had stopped, I hadn’t heard he had stopped until quite late in the race, I just missed the message. But even then I didn’t know why he stopped. So for me it was just let’s not sit around and at least get this one extra point to minimise the damage.”
|66||Hamilton||There’s hardly anything left in these damn tyres.|
|67||Bonnington||OK, Lewis, if we close the gap up to Gasly, just give us a maximum margin, it won’t be long.|
|67||Bonnington||And box box, box box.|
|67||Bonnington||So just watch the yellow line on exit. You’re going to have a Verstappen as the car behind. We don’t need to do the fastest lap immediately.|
|68||Bonnington||We have 10 laps remaining.|
|68||Hamilton||So you’re going to have to do it immediately?|
|68||Bonnington||You don’t have to do it immediately. Do not have to do it immediately.|
|68||Bonnington||If we just can just have a little bit more pace we can close the gap to Gasly.|
|69||Bonnington||We have Verstappen four seconds behind, we don’t want to let that gap drop too much, otherwise we’ll get blue flags. Currently doing 14.8. He’s on a 35-lap used hards.|
|69||Bonnington||Seven and a half seconds ahead until three back-mark cars.|
|70||Bonnington||Tsunoda three and a half ahead, got Tsunoda three and a half ahead. After him Latifi, then Russell.|
|71||Bonnington||You are the fastest man on track.|
Laps 71-78: Nothing to celebrate
Locked into seventh place, even taking the bonus point for fastest lap couldn’t stop Verstappen from taking the points lead away from him. With nothing to celebrate, Hamilton stayed after he took the chequered flag.
|71||Hamilton||What’s the goal now?|
|71||Bonnington||Get through this backmarker traffic and then there’ll be time for another fastest lap attempt, we can give you the PU mode for that.|
|74||Hamilton||Am I at risk of losing that point?|
|74||Bonnington||We don’t think so, the threat has dropped. You’ve got a 13 second gap ahead. If we did want to go again, it would be strat nine.|
|76||Bonnington||And two more laps.|
|End||Bonnington||Okay Lewis that’s P7, it’s been a tough day mate, sorry about that. Been a bit of a shit weekend all round. But we’ll come back stronger. Just need to do an autopsy on this one and learn.|
|End||Bonnington||If you go to strat one please mate.|
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