Mercedes scored yet another double podium finish at the Hungarian GP, with both George Russell and Lewis Hamilton enjoying what was clearly a much-improved W13, which could genuinely fight with F1’s top two teams at the moment, Ferrari and Red Bull.
Speaking on the team’s ‘Race Debrief’ on social media, Trackside Engineering Director Andrew Shovlin said the double podium at Hungary is “particularly satisfying” because it was down to pure pace and didn’t rely on misfortunes for Ferrari or Red Bull, praising the work done by the team to constantly improve the car from its poor starting point in March.
“This last one was particularly satisfying because we weren’t relying on the misfortune of anyone dropping out with a reliability problem. The car pace was also very good, and it is always nice to have a good race before you go into that period of holiday.
“The most satisfying thing though is to see where the car is in terms of pace now in qualifying and in the race. We had a lot of ground to make up from the start of the year, we've been working really hard trying to bring bits to every race and it is really satisfying now to see that we are racing with the Ferraris, with the Red Bulls right to the front.”
As for the race strategy, Shovlin said the team had analysed the performance of the hard tyre on Friday practice, and given the cooler and damp conditions on Sunday, decided not to use it on Sunday, steering it away from any thoughts of doing a classic Medium-Hard one-stop strategy.
“The only way to do the one stop was to do a Medium and a Hard and on both of those stints you’d need quite a lot of management to get to the finish. We tried the Hard on Friday, it didn’t have good grip and in the cooler conditions that we had on Sunday, we expected it to be even worse.
“There was a good comparison of a one stop versus a two stop from teams that only had one Medium tyre. So, the Alpines decided to do the Medium-Hard one stop, Lando [Norris] did a two stop, Soft-Medium-Hard, and he was able to beat them but the big reason for that is that on the two stop you spent less time on that Hard tyre and the Hard tyre was the slowest tyre on the day.”
Shovlin explained that the decision to start Lewis Hamilton on the Medium tyres, as opposed to the Softs for pole-sitter Russell, was due to different priorities regarding track position, and it was ultimately the correct one. It allowed the seven-time champion to extend his second stint and push for the victory in the closing stages of the race:
“We looked at each case separately. With George we wanted him to be out front leading the race. The conditions were quite tricky, there was a bit of rain in the air, it looked like it was quite cold, could be quite slippy and that Soft tyre would give him the best chance of getting off the line cleanly because to keep George's hopes of winning the race alive we had to be leading that first stint.
“The argument with Lewis was quite different, we had that DRS problem in qualifying that had meant he was well out of position so the Medium tyre gave him better range, it allowed him to overcut, we could go longer and that put him on fresh rubber at the end of the race and ultimately that's what allowed him to have that pace that could take him all the way to P2.”
Shovlin explained the team’s upturn in form on Saturday compared to Friday practice was due to several factors, with the main problem being car balance – the balance between oversteer and understeer – as well as a cooling problem. He said the team “didn’t know” if it would be able to fix all its problems, and that it was “very exciting” to see the pace its fixes produced in qualifying:
“We had to make a lot of changes overnight. We talked on Friday about some of the things we had done that had taken us in the wrong direction on setup. So, we lost the car balance, it became a mix of oversteer and understeer that the drivers were struggling with, we’d lost overall grip and then on top of that we were managing a system problem that meant we had to run a little bit more cooling than we would normally and also that was affecting our deployment.
“So, overall, there were quite a few things that contributed to it. We didn’t know that we were going to fix all those, we knew why we were doing each individual change, but it was very exciting to see the pace that both drivers had on Saturday in qualifying.”
Shovlin said that while Hamilton’s issue with DRS in qualifying cost him a chance of winning the race, his starting tyre would have meant Verstappen would have a strategy advantage starting on the Soft compound, having the benefit of the undercut throughout the race. However, Shovlin believes Hamilton could’ve won even from P7, had Verstappen lost more time in his spin or if the rain hit the circuit earlier and harder:
“The big regret is that we had that DRS problem right on his only new tyre in Q3. Had we got both on the front-row, we would have been in a good position to control the race. If you actually look at how it plays out strategically though, it would have been very difficult for Lewis and that comes down to the start tyre. With Max having started on the Soft, he had two Mediums to go to, to finish the race and that meant he could stop earlier and was always going to be able to do a more effective undercut on Lewis than we could have done to defend.
“So that's the main thing on a strategy point of view, we don’t think we missed any opportunities but there were other incidents. Max had that spin that cost him very little. Had that been more of an issue Lewis could have been in contention at the end. Had there been a bit more rain, Lewis was hoping for that to come a bit sooner because his tyres were in good condition. But overall, we need to make the car a little bit quicker and we certainly need to make sure that we’ve got the DRS fixed in qualifying,” he concluded.
The haul is growing. 🏆😍 Let's keep the momentum building after the break, Team. 💪 pic.twitter.com/NJaJWE1YxU— Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS F1 Team (@MercedesAMGF1) August 2, 2022