Mercedes “don’t fully understand” reason for pit call which cost Hamilton win

2021 French Grand Prix

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Mercedes’ head of trackside engineering Andrew Shovlin admitted the French Grand Prix was a race the team should have won.

Lewis Hamilton took the lead of the race on the first lap but lost it when he made his first pit stop. His championship rival Max Verstappen came in on the lap before and, despite having been three seconds behind Hamilton before his pit stop, took the lead.

“It is annoying because I think we could have won the race,” said Shovlin. “I think we could have had two cars on the podium and we’re in a championship where we can’t really afford to let these opportunities go by the way we did today. But they weren’t easy decisions at the time that they came up.”

Shovlin said the team’s strategic models indicated they were far enough ahead of Verstappen not to need a pit stop when the Red Bull driver came in.

“We thought, when we had just over three seconds to Max, we were safe from the undercut. And that wasn’t the case.

“Even now we don’t fully understand why our models were telling us that we would have been okay. So clearly, there’s something we need to go off and understand there.”

Failing to pit Hamilton on the lap after they brought Valtteri Bottas in probably cost them victory, Shovlin admitted. “If we brought Lewis in the lap after Valtteri – whether Max would have followed us in I don’t know – but if we’d done that, I think that would have put us in a decent position.”

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Later in the race Verstappen made a second pit stop and was able to catch and pass Hamilton before the finish. Shovlin says that strategic option was less likely to work for Hamilton, as it would have meant coming out of the pits behind Verstappen’s team mate Sergio Perez.

“Converting Lewis to a two-stop wouldn’t have worked the same because Max only just got us, and we would have had to get through Sergio and of course, that’s going to be more difficult for Lewis than it was for Max.

“So really it was just that we thought we were okay. We couldn’t have been any further up the road, Lewis had gone flat out in that first stint, but it would just be stopping him a lap earlier.”

The defeat shows Mercedes cannot afford to make strategic errors, said Shovlin.

“We’ve got a good, good race car. We showed that today. I think we’re lacking a bit in qualifying. But in terms of the race on a normal circuit, we are able to put them under pressure.

“But we know that to do that to win races, we’ve got to be next to perfect. And there’s plenty of things that we can go away and reflect on and say that we didn’t do a good enough job.

“We’re pretty good at being brutal with ourselves and analysing it and we’re going to do that for a couple of days and hopefully come back in Austria stronger.”

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2021 French Grand Prix

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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
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50 comments on “Mercedes “don’t fully understand” reason for pit call which cost Hamilton win”

  1. “Converting Lewis to a two-stop wouldn’t have worked the same because Max only just got us, and we would have had to get through Sergio and of course, that’s going to be more difficult for Lewis than it was for Max.”

    Not even a mention of the fact that Verstappen had to go through Bottas. Or even putting Bottas on a two-stop to maximize their win chances or even block Verstappen from doing the same. For Mercedes Bottas is just a non-entity.

    1. Yes, a bit strange that comment. You could charitably say that, as the RB was faster on the straights, it would be easier for Max to get past Bottas than it would be for Lewis to get past Perez, but you probably need to say that bit out loud.

      1. Well, but there was a difference there @balue, @red-andy. Had they come out behind Perez, who went longer on his first stint, they would have come up behind him at a point in the race where his tyres were still good, instead of coming across Bottas on tyres that were 2 laps older than Hamiltons and completely shot when Max and later Perez went past.

        And that is even without the expectation that Perez might be harder pass than Bottas in general.

    2. Weird indeed.
      And both on Saturday and Sunday Bottas was closer to Hamilton than Perez to Verstappen.
      Mercedes had all the strategic options with a fast car and solid driver pair yet still they blew it.

    3. What a load of rubbish. The Red bull is the fastest car at the moment, that doesn’t detract from Lewis’s ability. He is still able to get more out of the car than Sergio. Mercedes were losing out by around. 3s on each straight. You just have to look at the timing screen /speed trap to prove that. I don’t know where RB have found this large advantage over last year, where they had a far inferior engine.

      Reply moderated
    4. @balue the difference is that Bottas was on the oldest tyres of all, whereas Perez had extended his first stint and would have had tyres capable of defending.

    5. @balue To be fair, Bottas was the earliest stopper of the three so would have had much older tyres than Perez by the time they came up to overtake him. Perez I think stopped 9 laps later so the tyre delta would have made him much harder to pass for Hamilton, than Bottas was for Verstappen. And also the Redbull had the better straight line speed for passing. I do think he had a point here.

    6. I’m about to quote the same thing but with notes that clearly Shovlin rated Checo higher than Valtteri.

      1. It’s no secret to anybody that Chico is very wide and Bottas on his bicycle is never a big obstacle.

  2. It must be clear to Toto by now that having the best car is no longer a guarantee for success.RB has provided Max with a car that comes close enough to the Mercs so Max can close whatever is left on the table. Toto knows now that he needs George. First if all he needs him for the WCC. But since this race he also sees he needs it for the WDC since Lewis is no longer the strongest man in the field. So he will need to see what George can do vs Max

    1. Catalin Mihai
      21st June 2021, 9:12

      I think that RBR has the best car now…

      Reply moderated
      1. Max and that RBR are the fastest now. New tire and wing regulations failed to change that.

        Now we can see how Lewis does in a real title fight. He did not seem to hold Verstappen behind much.

      2. Without a doubt

        Reply moderated
      3. Not so. Different tracks suit each car better. The RBR might have been quicker in a straight line here but the Mercedes would have been quicker in one-lap race pace. Its close though I’ll give you that

        1. alex Agreed. I’m still taking it one race at a time. RBR went with a lesser downforce option that helped them on the straights and while taking a snippet of a quote from LH saying they’re “three and a half tenths quicker on the straights” does not mean he means at all tracks on all straights all the time for the rest of the season.

          So whereas LH has enjoyed utterly dominant cars in the past, Max now enjoys a car that is sometimes faster depending on the day and the session and the circumstances. But of course it favours LH fans and LH himself to claim Max/RBR are faster and make it sound like that is written in stone now, so that any success against them appears herculean. The fact is it is still Mercedes that are the dynasty and the defending Champs and so have earned their due as the ones needing toppling. Max/RBR are the ones still climbing the mountain to try to knock the dynasty off the top.

          One race at a time, for one never knows what is going to happen in a race, and that is why they don’t hand out the big trophies until the math dictates it. I remain stoked for Max/RBR’s chances, while being ever leery of LH/Mercedes for they have earned that over the past 7 years.

          1. @robbie – Red Bull takes three poles in a row and isn’t the fastest car. Got you.

        2. NoT sO. diFfeRenT tRaCKS Suit EAch CaR bEtTEr. the rbr MIGhT HAVe beeN QUICkEr iN A STraIgHt lINe here but thE mERCEDeS WouLD haVe BEeN QuIckER IN OnE-lAP RaCe paCE. ItS CLOSE ThougH I’lL GiVe YoU tHaT

          Enemy Warning: An Enemy Has Been Detected. The tactical force will hunt you down.

    2. Indeed, I don’t see why all these people say red bull is faster, red bull is only faster on street tracks in all conditions, and they’re over with already, and in general in qualifying, while mercedes is faster in general in race pace, and all remaining tracks are closer to this race, spain etc. than baku and monaco.

      Who knows, maybe red bull could be faster in a race like monza with this speed advantage.

      1. Maybe spa too but that has a twisty section as well.

  3. Bottas was decent this weekend, but the problem is that Mercedes only think about strategy for one car and it’s not clear at the moment if that would be different from Russell.

    You saw how Red Bull put Mercedes under pressure with both a 2 stop and a more ideal 1 stop with a longer first stint. Mercedes ran the exact same strategy on both cars and so Bottas was in dirty air for pretty much the whole race.

    1. Indeed, you don’t even need hindsight to know that Mercedes made a mess out of their strategy.
      They could’ve:
      – Leave Hamilton out on an ideal 1 stopper and use Bottas (after the failed undercut) to chase Verstappen to force a 2 stopper.
      – pit Hamilton the lap after Bottas to keep track position. And split the strategy later on.
      – before the early Bottas stop use Hamilton to close up the top 3 to guarantee the Bottas undercut to work.
      – when chasing Verstappen commit to a split strategy; 1 car chase Verstappen and even hope to undercut him, leave the other car out of dirty air to safely go to the finish (Bottas was strong enough to do the chasing bit).

      I’ll use this as my application letter.

    2. So, what were they supposed to do with Bottas?

      First of all, it was clear that Bottas suffered more tyre deg, both in first & second stint. Mercedes then called him first, since they thought he could jump Verstappen. It turned out that they couldnt because of slower tyre heating of the car compared to Red Bull.

      After the stop Bottas relatively early dropped off from Verstappen & Hamilton tail. Should they have pitted him at that moment? If Red Bull were commited to two stop already they would simply box Verstappen to cover Bottas (the gap between the two & again Mercedes being unable to bring tires to life quickly meant they would succeed in that) & then only thing left would be for Verstappen to hunt down Hamilton on a one stop.

      Since the RB eventually pitted Verstappen without any incentives from Mercedes side, we can assume they would cover Bottas & only difference would be that Verstappen would have to do few more laps on the tyres to the finish – possibly slightly increasing Hamilton chances of the win.

      Or do you see anything else they could have done with Bottas? In my opinion he just did not have the pace. The only time he looked quick were the few laps after the pitstop, but that was caused by Hamilton being stuck behind Verstappen (who either saved his tyres at that point or RB did not quite have the pace on the Hards but had the straight-line speed to protect the lead anyway).

      1. After the stop Bottas relatively early dropped off from Verstappen & Hamilton tail.

        ???? He was 10 laps within 3s of Verstappen, many laps closer to Hamilton than the latter to Verstappen.
        Only then he opened the gap, just before Hamilton opened the gap to Verstappen; probably to save the tyres, but that was way too late by then.

        1. Last lap when he was truly close to Verstapen (1.4 sec) was lap 25. I think even Mercedes strategist could have predicted that he could not cover so many laps on one set & more importantly as was already mentioned he would have to go through Perez who only pitted on lap 23 (had fresh tyre set). If Bottas should have any chance of passing Perez there would have to be a difference in their tyre age (10-15 laps ideally) & therefore 2nd stop for him was only on the cards latter on, but by that time he could not threaten Verstappen.

          1. Last lap when he was truly close to Verstapen (1.4 sec) was lap 25.

            ????
            You seem to miss that a certain driver (Hamilton) was between Bottas and Verstappen, hence the slightly bigger gap.

            Bottas was chasing from lap 19-28, and ruining his tyres whilst doing so. For what?
            – he should have (been instructed to) kept a healthy gap like Perez did at the start (even if that was not by choice) and save his tyres for the end of the race;
            – or Hamilton should have (been ordered to) let him pass to attack Verstappen (and Hamilton could save his tyres a few seconds behind them). In this case he should follow Verstappen into the pit or (hope to) pit 1 lap earlier for the undercut.

            I’m not very impressed with Bottas on many occasions; but there is little he could have done differently yesterday other than to call for a different strategy (which he did).

          2. Of course Hamilton was there. (and please stop using the question marks, it seems that their sole purpose is to dehonest from the start what I have written before you even present your arguments)

            I thought we were discussing potentional different strategies for Bottas. If we are talking about what Bottas did during lap 19-28 (as you say) I am not really sure Mercedes had any reasons to instruct him to push on Hamilton. Hamilton was pushing on Bottas while Bottas seemed to do everything to put pressure on Hamilton. It seems to me what Bottas did there was his choice (the possibility of overtaking Hamilton) & maybe he could have backed off earlier but he didnt. But if you suggest he just backed off – then he would still end up 3rd or 4th so how would that change his situation?

            But if you suggest that Hamilton (few points away from Verstappen in standings) should have let Bottas (some 60-70 points behind Verstappen) pass – so that he (Bottas) could attack Verstappen or just close on him & pit for second time & attempt undercut, then either way it was not feasible.

            The first scenario was never on the cards, Hamilton had good pace & was on the back of Verstappen pretty much all the time. The fact he could not overtake him was different issue all together (and frankly with the experience of Bottas racecraft I believe he would not mount larger challenge to Verstappen than Hamilton did).
            The second scenario was also not possible, any early attempt of undercut would simply place that Merc driver (be it Hamilton or Bottas) behind Perez on fresh tyres & that would be it – the driver would spent rest of the race on 4th position.

          3. sorry meant “Hamilton was pushing on Verstappen”

    3. The problem is that Bottas ruined his own strategy by flat spotting his tyres. So he had to pit instead of going to the optimal length for his first stint.

      They could have switched to a double stop after he was forced to stop too early, but that would have meant that Bottas had to overtake Perez. Which is not something that Bottas is likely to do.

      Maybe George isn’t so bad at race pace and then these issues would arise.

    4. Really strange that Mercedes cannot comprehend why the undercut worked wonders for Max… Peter Windsor knows, we know so why doesn’t Mercedes know?

      Max took 7 tenths off Lewis on the in-lap and more than 2 seconds off Lewis on the out-lap..and 0,2 standing time. That adds up to 2,9 seconds…

      1. Mercedes knows what happened. They don’t know why their models predicted differently.

        Reply moderated
      2. Yes Windsor knows now. AFTER the fact. Mercedes estimated BEFORE the race that it would be less of a difference. So that’s why they were surprised.

  4. God, this championship is exciting

  5. At least Shovlin is acknowledging they have a fast race car, which is something Lewis and Toto are keen to downplay.

    He is an engineer after all.

    1. Toto literally said exactly that after the race to Sky.

    2. So when Toto said after the race we had the faster car, that was him downplaying they had a fast car?

      1. Wow, if even toto says they have a faster car, it makes it even more baffling that some people here say red bull is faster, I mean, toto is the master of downplaying their own strengths.

  6. They first stop is a case where common sense would have trumped any strategic models they had. Pitting Lewis the lap after Bottas would have guaranteed he kept track position over Verstappen. Verstappen was always likely to pit since all drivers were reporting greater tyre deg than expected and choosing not to would have lost him position to Bottas.

    Even if their model was correct, it left them little margin for error. With the undercut Max would’ve cut that 3 second deficit to say 1 second, meaning Lewis coming out of the pits on cold tyres with Max in his DRS range. It would have put him under unnecessary pressure even if they had a good stop. And of course Red Bull are typically faster and more reliable than Mercedes during pit stops so and any small delay on Lewis’ stop would have cost him the lead too.

    I understand their decisions later in the Grand Prix since Perez prevented them going for Max’s 2 stop strategy but the call on the first stop was just a sloppy unforced error.

  7. The reason is that they were too reliant on the data from free practice and didn’t properly take into account how the morning rain affected the track and the effectiveness of the undercut.

    This is what happens when you stare too much at screens and data centres instead of getting a feel for the conditions from human experience. Don’t get me wrong, engineering is the most important aspect of F1 of course, but sometimes you need to know when to not trust the data.

  8. Have the Mercedes team been drinking the Ferrari koolaid?

    They’ve been making some fairly unusual mistakes this year and mistakes like yesterday’s generally cost championships when your car isn’t miles better than the competition.

    It seems they’re panicking a bit now they’ve realised that RBR actually got it right (finally) from the start of a season.

  9. Adam (@rocketpanda)
    21st June 2021, 11:41

    Kinda felt they were so preoccupied with thinking through all the different ways to win they dithered and let it slip away. Perez being close enough to cause them a headache, the undercut being more powerful than they realised and their car – while strong, not being quite strong enough to drive away from the Red Bull on pure pace left them confused with options. I think sometimes they’re so used to just driving away at the front of the field or their car is so strong they’ll just blow past the opposition that when they actually need to strategically fight they choke.

    I still don’t get why, when Bottas said he needed to two-stop, they didn’t just gamble with him and do it? Sticking both cars on the same strategy was only going to ensure it both worked or both failed. But then I guess it was because Bottas asked.

    1. I still don’t get why, when Bottas said he needed to two-stop, they didn’t just gamble with him and do it? Sticking both cars on the same strategy was only going to ensure it both worked or both failed. But then I guess it was because Bottas asked.

      ^^^^This!

      Mercedes (and I say this as a team fan) seem hell bent on too cautious on strategy and enforcing mirrored strategies for both cars. RBR have never seemed to be afraid of running split tactics. Mercedes need to get with the programme otherwise we’ll see a lot more of this snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. With Checo on board, RBR know they finally have someone who gives them tactical options as he can seemingly eke tyre out for way longer than anyone else.

      Ironically by not giving Valtteri the 2 stop option they not only dumped him from the podium they cost him a potential win and a very reasonable chance at a Mercedes 1-2.

    2. @rocketpanda

      I still don’t get why, when Bottas said he needed to two-stop, they didn’t just gamble with him and do it?

      It was the obvious thing to do, but they were probably afraid he might take points off Hamilton.

    3. @rocketpanda It would have put Bottas well behind Perez who was on the faster one stop strategy (which almost every driver used). Mercedes would have contemplated if Bottas would be able to catch up a full stop on Perez and then overtake. Do you seriously think Bottas would overtake a competitive car?

      Bottas flat spotted his tyres and ruined his own race. In doing so actually realized a chain effect that also caused Hamilton to lose a place.

  10. “Even now we don’t fully understand why our models were telling us that we would have been okay. So clearly, there’s something we need to go off and understand there.”

    It is called the “Max factor”, now that he has learned to channel his anger into amazing fast drives. Despite a relative slow Red Bull pitstop, 2.3s versus normal 1.9-2.1 Max maximized his in lap and took full advantage of the new tires (Red Bull can heat them up quicker) and all energy on the pit straight to be ahead when Lewis exited the pits.

    1. Exactly. Coming from a computer geek with decades of experience, what the geeks at Mercedes failed to model in their system is the fact that Max screwed up at the start and had extra motivation to get the lead back. Apparently the Mercedes model doesn’t show competitors turning it up to 11.

  11. Ooof. I think both drivers were telling the pit wall that the strategy wasn’t going to work. I’m not sure why their input was discounted and ignored. Both of them said they would need two stops. Lewis even said they should pit before Max stops his second time so they can try to keep to the old racing strategy of “be the first to make your last stop” and defend against the more-powerful-than-expected undercut. Mercedes strategy seem to not be able to adapt on the fly. Barcelona was a notable exception but by and large the team don’t seem to be able to adapt their strategies on the fly as unexpected events occur (either the undercut being more powerful than modeled or safety car coming out when it wasn’t expected, etc.).

    1. @g-funk Yeah fair comment and it makes me wonder if they simply couldn’t correlate what the computer model usually tells them with what all the drivers were immediately experiencing which was the unexpected tire deg. Like they hung on a little too long to the model in favour of what the drivers were actually feeling, like the model was still the more reliable source of info.

      1. @robbie Yeah I hate to stereotype but it seems they are more engineers than racers and are too reliant on what their models suggest than what the driver in the seat is telling them is happening. The problem is that the models have been created by humans and are only as good as the input data. But what the drivers are saying is new, fresh data and should be weighted more heavily.

        1. @g-funk Yeah especially when it was very new fresh data from the track having been rained on. And wind varying in direction and gust level must be awfully hard to model for as well as that can change for the driver by the lap or even part lap.

  12. “Euhhh, gee boss, we don’t know what happened.”

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