Grand prix

How the Mercedes F1 pit call that angered Hamilton played out

The seven-time world champion wanted to try and go to the end of the race without stopping for a fresh set of intermediate tyres, but his Mercedes team were at odds with Hamilton, believing he was at risk of losing his third place if he did not come in.

Hamilton’s frustration with Mercedes was clear during a heated exchange with race engineer Peter Bonnington in the closing stages.

“Box box, new inters are the way to go,” came the initial message from Bonnington on lap 42 of 58, to which Hamilton replied: “Why? I don’t think it is, man.”

Having initially fought against Mercedes’ instructions, Hamilton eventually pitted with eight laps to go.

In doing so, he surrendered his third place in the pits and dropped behind both the Red Bull of Sergio Perez and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, much to Hamilton’s displeasure.

“F**k man, why did you give up third place?” Hamilton responded angrily, before going on to ask: “What position am I in man?”

When informed he was now fifth, Hamilton snapped back: “We shouldn’t have come in man. I told you!”

Mercedes hoped Hamilton would have the pace to reclaim the lost places on track, but rather than attack Leclerc and Perez’s, the last laps of the race instead turned into a defensive mission to fend off Pierre Gasly’s AlphaTauri with Hamilton running into problems getting up to speed on his new tyres.

“Gasly at one second,” Bonnington informed, to which Hamilton sharply responded: “Leave me alone, man!”

Max Verstappen finished second behind Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas to move back into the lead of the world championship.

At the point Hamilton was running third, he would have limited the damage to just one point. As it turned out, Hamilton now finds himself facing a six-point deficit to his main rival in the world championship going into the last six races of the season after the Red Bull driver enjoyed an eight-point swing.

Asked whether he believes he could have reached the end of the race without pitting, Hamilton told TV crews: “Well, [Esteban] Ocon’s did, I heard, so I assume they probably could.”

Hamilton admitted to being unsure whether his tyres could have ultimately gone the full 58-lap distance, something F1’s tyre supplier Pirelli doubted would have worked.

“The tyres are bald so you don’t know how far they’re going to go,” Hamilton told Sky. “So there’s definitely the worry of the life of the tyre.

“But also, I wasn’t really that fast at the end there. I was struggling, had low grip. Not really sure why. But then all of a sudden I’d have not such bad pace. But I was losing performance to the guys behind.”

Did Mercedes get it wrong?

Hamilton believes in hindsight that Mercedes would have been better off either stopping earlier, or committing to staying out.

“Probably in hindsight, I should have either stayed out or come in much earlier,” he explained. “Because when you come in with eight laps to go, you don’t have time to go through the graining phase of that [intermediate] tyre on a drying track.

“So then I went through this whole sliding phase where I nearly lost more positions. So it’s frustrating, but it is what it is.”

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff explained that the team was holding onto the hope that Hamilton could save a pit stop by staying out until the track dried enough to switch onto slicks, rather than intermediates. But that crossover point never arrived.

“It’s quite interesting because the intermediate obviously looked really scary but we thought that we could maybe hang out there and finish third with not stopping or if a dry line appears, maybe even going onto a soft tyre until the end,” he told Sky.

“So that we balanced between pitting, taking it very conservative fighting with Leclerc and Perez on the track for P3, or taking a little bit of a gamble but either winning or finishing third. And then we saw Leclerc dropping off and then Lewis started dropping off and it was clear we wouldn’t make it to the end.”

Speaking in a later media call, Wolff revealed that Mercedes was concerned about potentially suffering “catastrophic” tyre failure had Hamilton tried to make it to the end.

He ultimately concluded that the right decision would have been to pit Hamilton earlier, mirroring what his rivals – Leclerc aside – did but described it as a “very close call”.

“I think in the car it’s always very difficult to assess your position in the race,” Wolff explained.

“We could have either played it very conservative and pitted him when Verstappen and Perez pitted and then fight it out on track and probably come out behind Perez and fight for P4, P3 on track.

“The other thing was to try to go long and either transition to a dry tyre or just not stop anymore.

“So, there were two possible options that sounded quite good because finishing fifth, where we were, obviously we would have done that because Gasly was far away.

“Then unfortunately the pace just dropped off much quicker than we would have needed in order to stay third or even fourth or even fifth. We almost lost the window against Gasly and then we decided ‘OK that’s not going to happen and let’s pit and consolidate fifth’.

“So I think in hindsight now we would have pitted 10 laps earlier and fought it out on track probably and finished third and fourth but there was much more to gain from the other, more dynamic, variant.”

With Hamilton and Verstappen and Mercedes and Red Bull so evenly matched, fine margins look set to decide the 2021 title race. So will Mercedes come to regret Turkey?

“The whole season swings back and forth,” Wolff said. “We make mistakes together, we win together. We have had much bigger swings in the past with lost opportunities.

“In the end we lost eight points to Red Bull with the grid penalty, whereas Red Bull last week were happy with a seven-point loss. So it’s going to be very tight until the end.

“DNFs are going to make a big difference and that was the consideration today, and not three or four or five-point swings.”

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