Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen, Circuit of the Americas, 2021

Mercedes believe win was possible if they pitted Hamilton earlier

2021 United States Grand Prix

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Mercedes would have had a better chance of winning the United States Grand Prix if they’d brought Lewis Hamilton in for his first pit stop much earlier, according to its trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin.

However he admitted it would have been a bold call to surrender the lead Hamilton had gained by passing Max Verstappen at the start. The team struggled on the medium compound rubber in the opening laps of the race and were unsure how well their hard tyres would cope with the following stints.

“Realistically, the options to win the race probably boiled down to retaining the lead after the very good start that Lewis made by stopping early,” said Shovlin. “That would have [been] maybe going as early as lap eight.”

Verstappen made his first pit stop on lap 10, while Hamilton came in three laps later. Shovlin said the team could only see in retrospect that a more aggressive strategy had been possible.

“Given that we were struggling on the mediums on such a short stint, we’d have never been brave enough to do that [pit early], just to hold the lead. It would have felt like we were going to compromise the whole race.

“But as it happens, I think we could have gone for an early stop, we could have made the finish. But it would have just been a case of pull the trigger early and then hope for the best, see whether Lewis can keep Max at bay.”

Mercedes began the weekend strongly, lapping almost a second faster than any other car in first practice. Shovlin said this was due to a combination of their power unit modes and the track conditions, and the latter turned against them as the weekend went on.

“We did look good,” he said. “And if we’re being honest, we thought that we were looking in very good shape.

“However, we knew that we were running the PU quite turned up at that point, so that was flattering us. And also, we could see that Max didn’t really get a lap in properly. He had a lot of issues with traffic and things.

“So we were probably overly – maybe optimistic is the wrong word, but we thought we’d started the weekend well.”

From second practice, however, Red Bull were slightly quicker than Mercedes. “What we saw in FP2 was a more clear picture of where our place actually was,” said Shovlin. “It wasn’t really that we were making bad decisions on set-up but as it got hotter and as it got a bit windier we were struggling more.

“But that FP2 picture I think was the one that we really saw through Saturday and Sunday. That was the real indication.”

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2021 United States Grand Prix

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34 comments on “Mercedes believe win was possible if they pitted Hamilton earlier”

  1. Earlier indeed to avoid getting undercut, although what might’ve happened later is another matter.

    1. They should have pitted Lewis directly in lap11 behind max. That way Lewis would have been in the undercutrange for the 2nd stop.

      1. He actually was anyway so i was surprised they didn’t try for the final stop instead going long.

        They had such pace in a straight line they would of likely held the lead

      2. Correct. I was surprised they didn’t…the argument that they were keeping an eye on Perez seems moot, since Perez is not in the run for the WDC and thus would always have been sacrificed for Max…Lewis needed to finish ahead of Max, not ahead of Checo.
        Bizarre Merc strategy yet again!

  2. I believe it’s not the first time we’ve seen this after-race headline for Mercedes this year. Interesting to see how the team operates (both strategy and engine-error-wise) now they’re under real (outside) pressure and if they can improve in the remaining races.

    Opinions seem to switch rather fast from race to race, between ‘Merc has the upper hand’ and ‘Red Bull has this in the bag’…let’s see how the next race pans out. It’s all very close, we’re very lucky to witness this season :)

    1. Indeed Mercedes strategy always seems great after the race when playing the what/if game.

      1. To be expected. Their hindsight is even better than 20-20.

  3. Calling the doctor after the patient has died is becoming the norm with Mercedes these days

  4. I really don’t see how an earlier pit-stop would have helped Lewis. There was very high degradation yesterday. Look at how Max’s tyres went off in his 2nd stint (1st stint on hards) and Checo’s in his 3rd stint. Horner mentioned that they actually thought of a doing a 3-stopper at one point!!

    Red Bull did a very risky strategy, only because they wanted track position early on in the race. Had Max held lead at start, Red Bull would have probably pitted later on, probably at the times that Lewis actually pitted, as that seemed to be the most optimal strategy in terms of overall lap time.

    1. They are basically saying they would reverse Lewis and Max’s situations after the first stint. Pit Lewis pre-emptively during both pit-windows, meaning Redbull do not have the chance of the undercut, then that forces Max to go long and have to make an on-track overtake later in the race. But Perez could have been a complication because as others have noted – Redbull would have run him long and tried to use him to block. I personally don’t think that would be a big factor though because when either team has tried to do this in the past it usually only costs the chasing car around a second or so. It is too hard to defend when there is around a 20 lap tyre delta.

      So I agree that in hindsight the early stop for Lewis was the best chance for victory, but if they weren’t confident they could make the tyres last then i can understand why the wouldn’t risk it.

  5. Probably true, and harsh on Hamilton, who did everything right – start, pace, tyre management. Track position was key, and Verstappen’s third stint pure tyre-whispering. Hamilton couldn’t have done any better, but it wasn’t enough.

  6. The only reason why Hamilton was able to make up time was because he was on much fresher tyres. If they had been on similar tyres then Verstappen would have just run away.

    1. If they were on similar tyres he’d have been right behind Max as he was all race as he’d not have lost time on worn tyres while Max had fresh ones afte pitting.

      You underestimate Lewis.

  7. If they had pitted Hamilton earlier RB probably would have Perez go long the first stint and hold up Hamilton to defend Max his lead position. Altough we didn’t see much of Perez in the race he still played a crucial role to limit the options of MB.

    1. I think this was for sure part of the decision making for the first stop. Bottas was nowhere and RBR had 2 cars. A bit of a role reversal there as now RBR had the option to dictate instead of Mercedes

  8. I think they did what they could, I seen the issue as a two against one problem. I think if Bottas had gotten a better start RBs tactics would have had to have been very different. He may have been able to stay inside of Verstappen’s pit window.

  9. I don’t see how they could have won this. Redbull seemed faster, on both tires. It looked like Ham was better on hards but it was just fresher rubber I think. The biggest problem for Mercs however is aero philosophy of RB. They can follow and if Max had Lewis’ strategy he would have been able to overtake Ham. The fact Max was able to follow Ham for 10 laps shows how much pace he had. Had Lewis pitted earlier, he would have a) been stuck behind leclerc and Perez b) unleash Max into clean air and allow him to set even better times.

  10. Jelle van der Meer (@)
    25th October 2021, 9:46

    Mercedes was faster on the hard tire and Red Bull faster on the medium tire.

    Max pitted earlier than needed on lap 10, his tires were still good so if Hamilton had pitted on lap 8 I am not sure Hamilton would have gained on Max in the following laps without doing damage to his tires like Max did in the first 2 laps after his pitstop. So if Lewis had pit on lap 8 I think Max would have been able to pull a gap in 4-5 laps big enough to pit and stay ahead of Lewis and as bonus be on fresher tires.

    I believe Mercedes should have pitted Lewis 3-4 laps earlier for his 2nd pitstop, that would have meant the gap after the pitstop would have been less and giving Lewis more laps to catch and overtake Max.

    Lewis was 11.2 seconds ahead at end lap 37, 4 laps earlier that was 15.7 seconds. Lewis did 24 & 19 laps on hard tire, 20 and 23 would have been better.

    1. 👍🏿Agree with you to the lap!

  11. petebaldwin (@)
    25th October 2021, 9:55

    Max pitted much earlier than expected (both times) so I don’t think there’s a lot Mercedes could have done. He didn’t even come out into free air so it’s not like they had a gap to drop into – he had to pass two cars.

    Once it was done, Mercedes gambled on the fresher tyres being enough to get into DRS range but a combination of the Mercedes being poor in dirty air and Max keeping enough life in the tyres to fight back meant Lewis didn’t quite have enough at the end.

  12. « Leave it to me, bro »

    1. Leave me to it, bro 😎

  13. There was two possible different strategies for both. Mercedes could have switched to hards earlier, hence the “sliding” comment by Verstappen. Loose the bad tyre and push, push, push.

    RBR could have called Verstappen in for a third stop for softs when he had a 9sec lead, and let him do 10 almost-qualy laps on low fuel. If he could do 1’33 on Q3, maybe he could pull 10 laps at 1’37…? Of course that meant traffic and having to overtake Hamilton on track. Too risky.

    In the end, the faster car/driver combination of the day won. Next track It may be another combination. It’s been like this since March. And it’s goood!

    1. In the end, the faster car/driver combination of the day won

      Not really… lewis had the better start and the faster car. As shown by his pace througout the race.
      But the lack of a decent strategy in a two against one situation ( Red Bull is used to) hampered lewis.
      Lewis did all he could but was unable to succeed.

      1. How did Lewis have the faster car?

        There are 3 points of comparison:
        1) Qualifying: Clearly, Red Bull was faster.
        2) Race, Medium tyres: Red Bull again was faster. Max himself said several times on radio that lewis is sliding a lot.
        3) Race, hard tyres: We cannot make a direct comparison as they never had the same tyre age with Lewis having fresher tyres than Max. But inspite of the fresher tyres, Lewis’ inroads into Max were never large enough (for laps when both didn’t encounter trafffic). Also, Max made his fastest lap on Lap 52, where his tyres were 32 laps old. Lewis made his fastest lap on lap 41 when his tyres were 3 laps old. And final gap between their fastest laps is 6 tenths in favor of Lewis. So does 29 laps of tyre life advantage and 11 laps of fuel disadvantage equal to 6 tenths of overall advantage? Very very difficult to say with certainty who was faster on hards

        But in the 1st 2 scenarios, we can clearly see who was faster.

        1. Lewis was a lot faster on the hard tires as the data on this site shows. Please look first.
          Lewis had the fastest lap by a margin as a result of this faster car.
          RBR only on mediums was able to follow lewis and probably was faster if max stayed on his first position.
          So to sumup ;)

          Lewis had a faster start.
          Lewis was faster about 70% of the race
          Lewis fastest lap by a margin.
          Lewis chasing max with a big delta.

          It was a very daring strategy and a excellent performed undercut ( lewis lost aprox two seconds in the outlap compared with max, pure on racecraft) and an excellent drive from both drivers.
          In the end the greater speed did not brought the desired outcome for mercedes. Not sure if they were able to match this aggressive strategy Red Bull did. Its not in Mercs dna to take those kind of risks.

          1. Faster at certain stages and covering the race distance in the least time are not the same. Hamilton was faster at times because he sacrificed going slow early on in a longer stint one to be able to go faster later. On net, over the distance, rbr was faster, if only just. Indeed at the end verstappen could respond to Hamilton’s closing speed by going faster in s1 which showed he was not at all out of tires.

          2. I am sorry, I do not agree with this conclusion at all.

            As I said above, Lewis’ fastest lap was on 29 lap fresher tyres than Max, even if you account for the 11 lap fuel disadvantage, his final gap to Max was only 6 tenths. How is either of us in a position to say Merc was faster?

            Data on hard tyres is difficult to read as they never had the same tyre age. And tyre age matters more when degradation is high.

  14. Masters of the obvious.

    The same mistake they made in Baku and Paul Ricard.

  15. If Mercedes and Lewis do not win their championships it will be due to a number of things but definitely their trackside strategy this year has been sub-par and has contributed to a number of race losses from making the wrong call on tyres before the race to not recognizing the power of the undercut (several times now). They just seem not able to be able to read the data about track and race conditions as well as the other teams.

    1. That’s because they lack experience. They have not exactly been ‘in the mix’ but way ahead of it for the last 7 years.

      1. @Mayrton, but Williams who have been way behind the mix for just as long as Merc have been ahead of it seem to get their strategy calls right more often than Mercedes do. Granted, they have less riding on the results and can afford larger gambles but it still seems like Mercedes is in the bottom 3 or 4 teams in terms of strategy.

  16. Think the cars were quite equally matched and a few details decided the race in favor of redbull.
    The undercut with a superb outlap which gave Max an extra 3 secs of space. The second pitstop was slower by 1 sec and the outlap was still .3 faster

    A tiny mistake by lewis in the turn just before the Haas was in the way. Which gave max a drs and lewis didn’t get drs because of 0.084 sec denying lewis at least a chance to get past max in the last lap.

    Awesome racing by both driver though. Loved it.

  17. Mercedes will likely go for the ultra-agressive strategies from now on since they have the top speed advantage, and track position will see them through even if Red Bull is faster as they were on the mediums now.

    Red Bull should see this coming and plan accordingly, even if the rest of the races are one stops. Interesting chess game with the strategies. It all depends where the 2nd drivers are of course, but at least there’s hope now that Perez will not be lounging in the midfield as he has been for much of the season.

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