Sergio Perez, Red Bull, Istanbul Park, 2021

Analysis: Why Mercedes can “live with” Hamilton’s Turkish GP points loss

2021 F1 season

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On paper, the Turkish Grand Prix was a setback for Mercedes, in that Lewis Hamilton lost the lead of the championship.

By failing to select the best tactical option in tricky conditions, the team believes it missed a chance to bring Hamilton in third instead of fifth. Five precious points therefore slipped through Hamilton’s fingers, without which he’d be just one point behind title rival Max Verstappen.

But on a weekend where the team opted to fit a replacement engine to Hamilton’s power unit, and therefore take a 10-place grid penalty, they largely limited the damage.

“For Lewis, the absolute view of Turkey is that he lost one point more than Max did in the previous race in Russia with a similar engine change, which we can live with,” said team principal Toto Wolff.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Bahrain International Circuit, 2021
Red Bull’s performance advantage peaked at the season opener
Of course, Hamilton was not able to see the big picture when he chided the team over the strategy call over the final laps at Istanbul Park. “The relative view when you’re in the heat of a race is to always want another position, to score more points,” said Wolff, “that’s who we are as racers and we wouldn’t want that competitive intensity any other way.”

As pre-season testing indicated would be the case, Mercedes has been in a close fight with Red Bull all year. But since being stung by their rivals at the season-opener in Bahrain, where Verstappen was almost four-tenths of a second quicker than Hamilton despite a less-than-perfect qualifying lap, Mercedes haven’t been as far behind their rivals since.

Blue: Mercedes faster; Green Red Bull faster; Grey: Difference unrepresentative

The picture didn’t look good for the reigning world champions at mid-season, where Red Bull forged ahead, flattered somewhat by back-to-back races being held in Austria on a circuit which played to their strengths. But Mercedes’ Silverstone upgrade brought them back into contention.

Mercedes have come on strong since Silverstone
Since then Mercedes have either been ahead or only fractionally slower. Red Bull deserve credit for taking maximum advantage of the slender performance advantage they have enjoyed at times since then, measured in hundredths of a second. This was particularly true at Zandvoort, though in the case of Spa they can also thank the weather gods and the FIA’s controversial decision to award points for a race that never happened.

Over the last three rounds Mercedes have had a clear upper hand. In once case, Sochi, the raw performance figures obviously flatter the scale of their superiority. Had Verstappen not taken a grid penalty for a power unit change, and therefore set a more representative time in practice, the difference would likely have been in the three-to-four tenths range seen at the other two races.

Even so, this is an encouraging sign for Mercedes that they now have a modest but vital performance advantage on F1’s more conventional tracks. They’ve even betrayed a hint of confidence seldom seen among the careful expectations management: trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin admitted the W12 “looks like a car that can win championships”, which arguably wasn’t the case at mid-season.

With Hamilton’s engine change out of the way, Mercedes will go into the final rounds hoping that pace advantage will swing the points advantage back his way again. They’ve already increased their constructors championship lead to 36 points, the highest it has been all year. Their hope is that trend may soon be seen in the drivers title fight too, while Red Bull look to tracks which might suit their car better to keep Verstappen ahead in the title fight.

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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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25 comments on “Analysis: Why Mercedes can “live with” Hamilton’s Turkish GP points loss”

  1. “We are convinced, we’ll win the WDC. We can live with it.”

  2. I think the whole ‘massive Red Bull advantage’ in Bahrain has been overplayed. It was actually Hamilton who made a mistake on his qualifying lap (he set a yellow middle-sector on his final run as a result of an oversteer moment in Turn 9 – losing probably two tenths’ worth), whilst Max’s lap was peachy (three purple sectors and no obvious errors on the onboard). Mercedes were a lot closer to RB than many people speculate – Hamilton did a heroic drive to win and Max made a small but costly error – but the very fact that Hamilton was in that position in the first place was because the Mercedes was quick enough to keep close to the Red Bull during the first stint and force an early pitstop through the threat of an undercut.

    1. Indeed. Merc was on backfoot in preseason testing (partly genuine, partly Merc traditionally sandbagging), but they caught up quickly.

      On race pace particularly. As we saw in Portugal and Spain they were back on top already on racepace.

      They just had a lot of offweekends. Didn’t get the setup right at all in Baku.
      Bottas got it right in Monaco but Lewis not.

    2. Never believe Toto’s lies.

      1. 100%. I don’t believe a word that comes out of his mouth. It’s frequently not true.

  3. For Lewis, the absolute view of Turkey is that he lost one point more than Max did in the previous race in Russia with a similar engine change…

    I most respectfully disagree with Lewis. If that is the view he has of the Turkish GP then he’s walked away from that race without learning the important lesson: he was the one that made the decision on when to pit the car, not the team. If he’d pitted when they first asked him to then a podium finish was plausible. If he wants to win the World Drivers’ Championship then he must trust the team to make the right strategy calls.

    1. I disagree for a totally different reason.
      Indeed they ‘only’ lost 2 points (WDC). But they also had an ‘opportunity loss’ as both circuits (and Monza) were Mercedes tracks.
      And this is even more painful as RBR took a forced full grid penalty, whereas Mercedes only took 10 places in a race of their own choosing. It doesn’t make a difference in the points (maybe in the PU components freshness department), but it must hurt a bit more.

      1. Even Mercedes has admitted they likely lost 5 points there

    2. Yeah, but in some cases it really helped when he decided otherwise. Therefore they usually give a thought to each others opinion when they decide on a strategy. Pitting earlier was also a big risk for other teams, they didn’t know what was going to come out later and it worked for their advantage. If a safety car or sudden dry track situation came up lewis could have been in a really good position to win.

  4. Although the ICE is the main component of the PU, it must also be noted that Red Bull was able to get fresh components for all their PU components, instead of just the ICE. So Mercedes did not exactly get the same benefit.

    1. They choose to change only the ice and take only 10 places.

      1. That’s my point. They only took 1 new component (albeit the most important one). And Red Bull had a back of the grid start, Hamilton was able to start 9 places further up and finish 5th in what would have been a guaranteed win. And now, Red Bull have a new MGU-K, MGU-H, Energy Store, Turbo etc. which Mercedes chose not to take.

        1. Agreed, not sure why Wolff was claiming that Hamilton’s engine change was similar to Verstappen’s when it clearly wasn’t. The guy can’t help lying.

  5. The picture didn’t look good for the reigning world champions at mid-season, where Red Bull forged ahead, flattered somewhat by back-to-back races being held in Austria on a circuit which played to their strengths. But punting Max into the barrier at Silverstone brought them back into contention.

    FTFY

    1. What on earth does FTFY mean?

      1. Tommy Scragend
        20th October 2021, 7:35

        Fixed That For You.

    2. But punting Max into the barrier at Silverstone brought them back into contention.

      …and what brought them even more into contention was in Hungary when Bottas played bowling in turn 1.

      1. Yes, ultimately silverstone is the most costly.

  6. You could well add Hungary to that fix. Those two races were a key pivot in the championship, coming at the same time as Mercedes began to unlock more pace in their car.

    1. expoloding tires in Baku didn’t help either… The lead should have been much bigger, as Max most likely lost 3 GP wins this season by no fault of his own (maybe only Silverstone is debatable as I think he could have done more to avoid it).

      1. as Max most likely lost 3 GP wins this season by no fault of his own

        Baku, I get.

        Which other wins are you saying?
        1) Bahrain – Verstappen had chances to win, may be you can blame Red Bull pit strategy for why he was behind in the 1st place. But that is bit of a stretch
        2,3) Portugal, Span – Red Bull too slow
        4) Baku – Granted
        5) Silverstone – Mercedes was 3 tenths ahead in qualifying and had searing pace in spite of that 10 second penalty. I doubt a Red Bull win was possible then anyways.
        6,7,8,9) Hungary, Italy, Russia, Turkey – Red Bull too slow

        1. Yes, baku aside he didn’t lose obvious wins, both hungary and silverstone seemed unlikely, BUT if the collision hadn’t happened in silverstone he’d fight for it, it’s not like you just pass verstappen easily, especially after those first 2 laps, that’s why hamilton tried all he could early on.

  7. Rob (@realnigelmansell)
    20th October 2021, 6:55

    As Toto has said, all that really matters is whether there’s another dnf. This is the end for either driver, they basically have to win every other race if this happens. With no dnfs I give the edge to Hamilton but I’d be surprised if one big mistake from either driver doesn’t decide it. But this also depends on whether Mercedes really does have bigger advantage now

    1. I’d be surprised if one big mistake from either driver doesn’t decide it.
      So the points lost at Silverstone & Hungaroring were big mistakes? No, sir they were deliberate puntings by the Merc people and the penalties were ridiculously ineffectual, typical MIA/HIA stuff.
      It is was up to me I’d take retaliation in my own hands. Like “Another punt and we nuke Bradley”, just saying.

      1. I think the comment was discussing the situation from here on in to the end of the season, discounting what has happened before now

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