Practice showed Hamilton’s fightback will be “tougher” than Mercedes foresaw

2021 Turkish Grand Prix

Posted on

| Written by

Mercedes weighed up the possibility of changing Lewis Hamilton’s engine – and taking the inevitable penalty – at a later round in the championship.

However the team eventually decided to switch his internal combustion engine at this round as they liked their chances of being able to make up lost places on race day. As they have only changed his engine, he will move back 10 places on the grid; had further parts been changed he would have started from the back as championship rival Max Verstappen did in Russia.

As the team’s head of trackside operations Andrew Shovlin explained, doing so at a later round at a track which suits them less well than Istanbul – such as the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico – would have made it harder for them to regain positions.

“It’s difficult because you could look at it and say Mexico, normally Red Bull are very strong there, the Honda’s a strong power unit, would we resign ourselves to the fact that we can’t beat them? But equally, if you’re not competitive, then it’s harder to fight through the field.

“This is a circuit that we thought the car would work well at and give us a good chance of attacking. But the midfield is fast now so it’s quite difficult to overtake anywhere.

“But it’s more that philosophy of do you do it where you don’t think you’re going to be quick or do you do it where you think you’re going to be quick? On Sunday, we’ll find out whether we’ve made a good decision or not.”

While Friday’s practice times will have been affected by unknown fuel loads, Charles Leclerc’s rapid lap in the afternoon left Hamilton concerned the SF21 will be difficult to overtake. Fortunately for him, he should only have one of them ahead of him on the grid, as Carlos Sainz Jnr is starting from the back with a fresh engine.

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

Nonetheless Mercedes are well aware that their estimation of how easily their other car would make progress from the rear of the grid at the last race provide optimistic. Valtteri Bottas has taken engine change penalties in the last two races but having raced from last to the podium at Monza he was on course to finish a lowly 14th at Sochi, just two places higher than he started, when late rain gave him a chance to reach the top five.

Shovlin said the opening phases of the race will be crucial. “Whether we can get Lewis back on the podium, that’s often defined [by] what happens in the first stint, whether you can pick off some of those cars because throughout that stint the race leaders are always getting away from you.

“In Sochi it was very difficult to predict how well we’d get through traffic. It was difficult just because we were understeering in the final sector and that made it quite hard. You look at the race, though, that Valtteri had in a Monza and he did a great job.

“Probably the hardest thing to simulate is really how closely can you actually follow? Can you sit in someone’s gearbox without killing the tyres, without losing so much downforce that you can’t stay there? That’s the bit that’s really difficult to to predict.”

Practice gave Mercedes mixed signals: The W12 ran well ‘out of the box’, but passing looked tricky.

“Overtaking is pretty hard,” Shovlin admitted. “It’s often a bit more difficult in the free practice sessions, because you don’t run long stints on the tyres, you don’t get that differences in degradation building up. So on that side [Friday’s] indication is probably it’s a bit tougher than we would like. You don’t always get what you want.

“But what we’ve also seen is that the car is working really well. Both drivers have had a strong day, which is good because as much as the drivers’ championship draws everyone’s focus to what’s going on with Lewis, with Valtteri the objective is quite clear that we need to get pole and we want him to win the race.”

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

2021 Turkish Grand Prix

Browse all 2021 Turkish Grand Prix articles

Author information

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...

Got a potential story, tip or enquiry? Find out more about RaceFans and contact us here.

10 comments on “Practice showed Hamilton’s fightback will be “tougher” than Mercedes foresaw”

  1. I’m sure he’ll still gain positions & eventually finish at least P4 or within the top 5.

  2. The car looks amazing on this track. I dont expect any issues and a podium is likely. Good decision to take it here.

  3. Rob (@realnigelmansell)
    9th October 2021, 7:54

    If I was Merc I would be most worried about the increasing chances of rain. Their biggest weakness has been difficulty heating the tires, and this could be a factor today and tomorrow. At the same time more chaos on Sunday will be good for Hamilton provided he can avoid it (which he usually does)

  4. Bot, Max, Ham – minimum expected. Red flag, etc. Ham for the win.

  5. They’re not just quick over 1 lap, they also have the race pace it seems. Add to this the high probability of a 2 stopper (so 2 chances of undercutting) I don’t see how there is not everything to play for for Hamilton. After fp2 I don’t see RBR on the first row. Maybe they’ll have something of a breakthrough overnight?

  6. Mr Shovlin!
    Mercs “sandbagging”?
    Well goodness me!!!! :) :)

  7. The continued spinning that the RB is the quicker car seems in the bin at least.

    Now it’s ‘difficulty to overtake’.

    Merc are sandbagging champs.

  8. If anyone has ever believed anything Mercedes said on a friday then they have other issues

  9. I hope they fit the hardest tyres on lweis car for d race make him go long and gain places due to others pitting first. The track has immense grip so the hardest tyres shudnt be an issue. As long as the tyres dnt get destroyed. By the time he is able to open up some gaps to the others.

  10. Jeez, they are a second faster than the midfield and half a second on the front, with a top speed advantage on a track where passing is relatively easy, and then they come out with this? It’s like Mercedes have become compulsive liars.

Comments are closed.