On the first Wednesday to follow an F1 Grand Prix event, Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team streams their ‘Race Debrief’ on social media. This week was the turn of ‘Race Debrief Italy’. In the presentation, we learnt such nuggets of information as to why Sir Lewis Hamilton was so slow at the start of The Sprint; how the seven-time champion is feeling following the collision and…that Mercedes’ Trackside Engineering Director Andrew Shovlin only had one pizza and two curries during the weekend. The real highlight of the debrief though, was to hear an explanation as to why Lewis Hamilton pitted earlier than expected despite being on the hard tyre compound.
The content generated for the race debrief comes from questions submitted through twitter and Facebook by fans of Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team. The past week, race fan Linda Jafta asked what many a Mercedes fan had been pondering:
“Why did Lewis come in so early considering he had Hard tyres compared to the rest?”
Ahead of the start of Sunday’s Italian Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton had chosen the hard tyre compound. The theory behind the decision was that it would allow the current F1 Drivers’ Champion an opportunity to run longer in the Grand Prix than his rivals. Such a bold move had to be made by Hamilton due to his underwhelming performance during the previous day’s Sprint qualifying.
As a result of being slow off the line in the Sprint, despite having started in second, the outcome heavily influenced Sunday’s tyre choice. Once the penalty for an engine change had been given to Valtteri Bottas (the victor of Saturday’s Sprint qualifying) Hamilton would start Sunday’s race from fourth.
Due to being further down the grid than planned, strategy was key hence the decision for longer running. However, as explained on the ‘Race Debrief’ by Mercedes Chief Strategist James Vowles, this strategy was quickly abandoned.
The pace of F1 Drivers’ Championship leader Max Verstappen and (eventual Italian Grand Prix winner) Daniel Ricciardo was such that Mercedes knew that on a hard tyre compound - Hamilton would not be fast enough!
"The Medium tyre was degrading, you could see Verstappen and both McLarens were really starting to drop off in terms of lap times," Vowles explained. “Lewis' Hard tyre would have provided him a little bit more resilience to that but even so, he'd been pushing very, very hard for 20 odd laps and that tyre wouldn't be in the freshest state possible.
"Cars started to stop as you would imagine. Ricciardo first to cover the win, Verstappen then came in and Lewis just on that lap overtook [Lando] Norris, because his Medium tyres also dropped off. We hadn't seen a single lap from Lewis yet in free air, so it is important to understand how quick we could really go, so we left Lewis out for that one lap.
"In that time, the time that Verstappen had stopped and Ricciardo had stopped, it became glaringly obvious that they were incredibly quick, that there was degradation on the Hard tyre and we would not be quick enough to keep pulling them out of our pit-stop window. They in fact would come straight back in, so there was literally a window of opportunity that was then and there and that was it.
"It was a window where Verstappen and Norris were caught behind [Lance] Stroll, who had yet to stop, for Lewis to come in. Had we waited, there is no doubt that they would have easily closed back up into Lewis' pit window and now you are committed to a very long stint on the tyre that is clearly suffering at that stage."
Sunday’s race collision between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen needed several things to align to even happen in the first place. For this reason, many people believe fate played a part and as many a comment on social media says - the ‘Race Gods’ wanted it to happen.
For Verstappen to be alongside Hamilton into turn one, at any stage after the lights went out, required: a change of strategy by Mercedes; a slow pitstop from Red Bull Racing and a slow pitstop from Mercedes. Having seen Red Bull Racing keep Verstappen stationary in the pits for 11 seconds, the Mercedes team was originally hopeful that they could get the jump on the Dutchman when Hamilton pitted. But that’s the thing with best laid plans, they don’t always come to pass.
"Now, we had a prediction that we were going to come out nicely ahead of them," Vowles added. "Unfortunately, suffering a small issue in the pit-stop, as did Verstappen, the opportunity was created simply because Verstappen had a poor pit-stop as well, and that meant that instead of clearing both Norris and Verstappen, as you saw, we came alongside.
"Either way you take opportunities like that, we knew the Medium tyre could go to the end from that point and that is our direct rival in the championship."
Mercedes-AMG Formula One Team clearly recognises that Red Bull Racing is the constructor to have the best chance to take the title from them for the first time in 8 years. As such, Sunday shows that the form of the charging bull impacts strategical decisions for the Silver Arrows. Whereas before the Brackley-based team would have been taking the initiative with a strategy, it now appears that they have to respond to another team’s moves instead.
All of this guarantees a closely fought battle through the remaining (planned) eight races of a gripping 2021 season. First though, is the question as to whether Lewis Hamilton is in a well enough condition to be able to race at Sochi? This was asked on the race debrief, and the answer was a positive one:
“He’s doing well, he [Lewis Hamilton] has a sore neck…but he’s got a bit of time to recover and has Angela, his physio, with him.” Explained Andrew Shovlin.
The final concern following Sunday’s collision was whether there is long lasting damage to Hamilton’s W12 warranting any changes. Fortunately, the team reassured fans that although the rear wing is quite badly damaged and there is also superficial damage around wings and floor, the power unit and gearbox appear ok.
All of this means, that Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team and Red Bull Racing’s teams and drivers are ready to lock horns once again as a gripping 2021 F1 Drivers’ Championship and Constructors’ Championship prepares itself for a duel in Russia. Strap yourself in – it could be a classic.