Lewis Hamilton played a decisive role in the strategy call which likely cost him a higher finishing position in the Turkish Grand Prix.
As Hamilton explained, he expected the track would dry out sufficiently that everyone would need to pit for slicks later in the race. He hoped to keep his intermediates alive until then.
Those who switched to fresh intermediate initially experienced a long period of graining which slowed them down. After that the tyres came good and their lap times began to fall.
But once the likes of Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and others had been through that phase, it soon became clear Hamilton’s decision was not going to pay off.
Hamilton’s complete radio communications from lap 32
|32||Bonnington||So Alonso exiting the pits now. He’s going to be five seconds ahead.|
|32||Hamilton||Are we racing Alonso?|
|32||Hamilton||What tyre is he on?|
|32||Bonnington||Alonso has taken new inter. We’ll keep you updated how that looks.|
Fernando Alonso, a lap down following a pair of incidents at the start, was one of the first drivers to pit for a second set of intermediate tyres. He came out of the pits a short distance ahead of Hamilton.
Once that situation had been explained to Hamilton his radio fell silent for the next few laps while he closed in on Sergio Perez. He tried to pass the Red Bull, but was unsuccessful, and lost around five seconds to the cars ahead.
This meant he had fallen out of Verstappen’s pit window – i.e., far enough behind that his championship rival could pit and come out ahead. Red Bull quickly brought Verstappen in to put him on a new set of intermediates and keep his position ahead of Hamilton on the track.
Hamilton told his team to bring him in before Perez to “undercut” him, but this proved impossible, as the Red Bull driver came in the next time he reached the pit lane entrance. Hamilton was therefore still out on his original intermediates while both Red Bull drivers had taken new rubber.
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|37||Bonnington||So the traffic on exit of pit lane, Verstappen leaving the pits, new inter.|
|37||Bonnington||So Verstappen two seconds ahead.|
|37||Hamilton||How’s he come out ahead?|
|37||Bonnington||Yeah Lewis so we dropped a chunk of time just battling with Perez.|
|37||Hamilton||Make sure we undercut Perez, yeah?|
|37||Bonnington||We do have traffic in our pit window.|
|38||Hamilton||Tyre is okay.|
|38||Bonnington||Copy that Lewis. We’ve got Vettel on medium, he is struggling.|
|38||Hamilton||Yeah, we’re a while away.|
|38||Bonnington||So Vettel car ahead on medium, he is struggling.|
|38||Hamilton||I can’t see my right rear so you check it out.|
|38||Bonnington||Copy, we’ll have a look.|
|39||Bonnington||So Alonso ahead is traffic. Right-rear looks okay from pictures.|
Unsure whether the track would dry out sufficiently for slicks, Mercedes were now in a position where it seemed the only way they could gain a strategic advantage over Red Bull was to stay out.
“The track was drying, we didn’t know when it would dry or if it wouldn’t,” said Hamilton. “We [didn’t] know if it was going to dry or not, but it was slowly getting drier.”
“We could have maybe stopped earlier,” he added, “maybe when I caught Perez maybe we could have could have stopped. But at that point, you just had no idea if it would have been dry or not.”
|40||Bonnington||Blue flags for Alonso. Verstappen the car ahead of him. Verstappen doing a 35.0.|
|40||Hamilton||It’s hard to keep temperature in these ones.|
|40||Bonnington||So Leclerc currently P1, he hasn’t stopped. He’s 15 seconds up the road and going to try and run to the end.|
Race leader Valtteri Bottas also pitted around the same time. This temporarily promoted Charles Leclerc into the lead.
Mercedes called Hamilton in three laps after his team mate, but he was eager to press on in the hope of gaining a strategy advantage by staying out. He remained convinced the track conditions would improve enough for slicks to be an option.
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|41||Bonnington||Leclerc at 34.6. Valtteri 34.0.|
|41||Bonnington||Box, box. Box, box.|
|41||Bonnington||New inter is the way to go. Under threat from Gasly…|
|41||Hamilton||I don’t think it is, man.|
|42||Hamilton||Is it much quicker?|
|42||Bonnington||We have Ricciardo 33.5.|
|42||Bonnington||We also have Gasly coming into our window mid-33s.|
|42||Hamilton||It feels like we should stay out, man.|
|42||Bonnington||Okay, we’ll stay out one more lap. Give us a bit more thinking time.|
|43||Hamilton||Not far off dries.|
|43||Bonnington||Okay copy Lewis we won’t react yet. Just keep in mind Gasly is five seconds outside our pit window.|
|43||Hamilton||We’re just going to lose a lot of time.|
|43||Bonnington||Copy. We’re staying out, staying out. So Perez 15 seconds behind, he’s a 34.8 so no threat at the moment.|
|44||Hamilton||Okay. For sure the grip’s not great, but it’s drying up.|
On lap 46 Bottas passed Leclerc and the Ferrari driver succumbed to the inevitable, pitting for fresh intermediates. That put Hamilton third, but Mercedes were beginning to realise it couldn’t last.
“I was third at one stage and hopeful that I would miss a stop,” Hamilton explained. “[When] everyone else did that inter switch, I was hopeful that if there was another one for slicks that would gain me positions.”
|45||Bonnington||So we’ve got 14 laps remaining.|
|45||Bonnington||Last lap Perez was a 34.9. Gasly 34 [unclear].|
|45||Hamilton||Will these tyres last ’til the end?|
|46||Hamilton||It’s drying up.|
|46||Bonnington||Copy Lewis, yeah we’re just debating if these will last into the dry.|
|46||Bonnington||Leclerc a 35.5, looks like he’s beginning to struggle a little.|
|46||Bonnington||Tsunoda ahead is traffic.|
|46||Bonnington||Perez was a 34.5, Gasly 35.0.|
Perhaps Mercedes were hoping that Esteban Ocon, the only other driver still running on his original set of intermediates, would dive for the pits, fit slicks, and begin reeling off quick lap times. But he stayed out until the end.
Finally Mercedes realised Hamilton’s tyres were dropping off at a rate which threatened to drop him even lower than the fifth place he’d been in before the Red Bull drivers pitted. On lap 50 he was told that crucial threshold had been reached.
“Suddenly we were seeing that those places that we lost by doing the stop, we were going to lose anyway on track, to Perez and to Charles” explained the team’s head of trackside operations Andrew Shovlin. “And there was even a risk that was growing from behind if you really sort of dropped off the curve.
“So it was really just a case of cutting our losses and not getting too greedy. Prior to all that, we were running fifth, at the end of it we were running fifth because those two scenarios of ‘it transitions to dry’ or ‘you can get to the end’ didn’t look realistic.”
|48||Bonnington||So Leclerc has pitted, Leclerc has pitted. So now P3, 11 laps remaining.|
|48||Bonnington||So Perez is 13.5 behind, last lap was a 33.7.|
|49||Bonnington||And Lewis if you could update us on the tyres.|
|49||Hamilton||I mean, I’m sliding around but it’s okay so far.|
|50||Bonnington||Okay Lewis we’re just monitoring the gaps, we’ve got Gasly doing 33.6, we’re still three seconds safe to him.|
|50||Bonnington||Okay Lewis so we think we should box this lap, this will be our last chance before we lose the gap to Gasly. We’ve got eight laps to go.|
|50||Hamilton||Are you sure? Okay.|
|50||Bonnington||Okay copy, box box, we have you pit confirm.|
|50||Hamilton||This lap’s pretty good.|
|51||Bonnington||Okay just caution with the white line on exit.|
|51||Bonnington||So Gasly at three behind, three behind, six ahead to Perez.|
Having had Verstappen in his sights at one stage, Hamilton was obviously frustrated at dropping back again. He had been eager to stay out on his original tyres. “It was frustrating at the time because obviously I could see second and then all of a sudden I’m back in fifth,” he admitted.
|51||Hamilton||Shit man, why’d you give up that space?|
|51||Bonnington||It looks like we were going to lose the position anyway. That’s just six seconds ahead to Perez and Leclerc.|
|51||Bonnington||So 34.6. Fastest lap is a 31.9.|
|52||Bonnington||We think this’ll be a good lap for fastest lap so you can take strat five if you need it.|
|53||Hamilton||What position am I in, man?|
|53||Bonnington||Currently P5. Leclerc was a 36.0 last lap.|
|53||Hamilton||We shouldn’t have come in, man.|
|53||Hamilton||Got massive graining, man. I told you.|
|54||Bonnington||Okay copy, Lewis. We were losing time to Perez but we’ll chat about it later. Got Gasly car behind 1.7.|
|54||Bonnington||Gasly at one second.|
|54||Hamilton||Leave it alone, man.|
|58||Bonnington||Okay Lewis so one more lap, it’ll be strat mode five.|
|59||Bonnington||So that’s P5. Sorry about that but we’ll have a chat to you, talk you through the call. Strat mode one please.|