A fortnight ago Mercedes nailed their strategy, helping Lewis Hamilton to another wet-weather victory in Sochi. It was a call that secured his 100th Grand Prix win and also gave him back the championship lead from Max Verstappen.
The communication in Turkey on Sunday did not go quite so well. Starting from 11th and having made it up to third before his pit stop, Hamilton finished fifth and was vocal in questioning his team during and after the race. Essentially, he believed he could have finished the race without pitting for new tyres. His team didn’t, and made him come in for new rubber with eight laps remaining.
It is always notable when a driver questions their team so boldly – especially a driver/team combination as successful as this one. With Verstappen finishing second, it was a five-point swing that put the Dutchman ahead in the championship again.
Was Hamilton right in this instance? Should Mercedes have been bolder in their strategy? Or was the decision so marginal as to make no real difference?
Why Mercedes played it safe
The weekend was all about championship damage limitation for Mercedes. Starting 11th after a 10-place grid penalty, a good outcome would have been Hamilton losing just a few points to Verstappen. Something better was possible and this probably triggered Hamilton’s discontent, especially given the superiority of the Mercedes to the Red Bull and the damp and miserable conditions.
This helps put Mercedes’ decisions in context. They wanted to match the strategies of those around them as drivers started to come in for fresh intermediate tyres around lap 40. In short: copy Verstappen, get as close to him as you can. Take no real risks, even if the potential reward is a win, in a close championship and at this late stage.
True, in staying out there was the potential for Hamilton to stop once to change onto slick tyres – if the track dried enough – then enjoy a significant pace advantage and win the race, but that would have meant taking on a large burden of risk. When Hamilton eventually pitted, his car was instead fitted with new intermediate tyres.