During the 2015 Mexican GP, we had a glimpse again into the significant margin of the Mercedes dominance over the field. Granted, Ferrari decided not to show up and Sebastian Vetel briefly traded lap times with the Mercedes following his second stop, though his tyres were about 10 laps fresher than either Hamilton’s or Rosberg’s.
Mercedes had decided the race would be a one stop race before the off, though simulations showed that a two stop strategy would deliver an almost similar race time – albeit the risk of traffic and safety cars had to be considered.
Nico Rosberg managed to retain his lead form the off, through T1 and then beyond the first lap. However, the gap between him and Lewis Hamilton never exceeded three seconds. Hamilton would put in a quick lap to close the gap and Rosberg responded keeping his team mate out of DRS for all but one laps of the race.
This was a controlled drive by Rosberg and it appeared he managed the life in the soft tyre during the first stint to perfection. Given that the timing of the first pit stop was his call, the German pitted at the end of lap 25 having put in a previous lap time of 1:23:316. Lewis attempted the undercut, and pressed on for two laps more, however his last flying lap before pitting was a mere 1:23:506 and Rosberg delivered a similar time on his new prime tyre which was not yet fully up to speed.
The team reported Rosberg had 10% life left in the tyre and given Hamilton’s performance after Rosberg stopped, the life in his soft tyres was almost done too. The procession toward a Mercedes 1-2 then began as both drivers built up a lead of more than a pit stop over the Red Bull of Kvyat running in third place.
Then on lap 46, Rosberg stopped for another set of prime tyres, and the commentary teams were thrown into confusion. Did the German have a problem? Were his tyres on the way out? What was for certain is Lewis sniffed a chance to reverse the order of the weekend and yet again put one over on his team mate.
As it transpired, Mercedes were just playing it careful. Tyre wear for a one stop race was marginal for both drivers and the spectre of Vettel’s attempted final stint in Spa was still fresh in the minds of the strategists back in Brackley. Rosberg claimed the switch to ‘plan B’ irritated him at the time, “I was in a good rhythm… and there are always risks with pit stops,” the German said after the race.
Hamilton was told to stop on the lap after Rosberg, however Lewis chose to question the team’s decision.
Lewis eventually relented, but told the team “check those tyres and let me know” – the implication being he felt he was being robbed of a chance to beat his team mate. Whether Hamilton would have obeyed the team ‘instruction’ had the drivers’ title still been open is an interesting matter to contemplate given his actions in the Hungarian GP in 2014.
However, the team call may well have cost Lewis a real crack at beating Rosberg. On lap 52 Vettel’s miserable race came to an end in the wall and the safety car was deployed. Had Lewis ignored the team instruction, he would have been able to pit under the safety car and at the restart his tyres would have been several laps newer than Rosberg’s.
Mercedes control their drivers tightly following a number of on track incidents including using extra engine power modes, along with the incidents in Hungary and Spa last year. The Mercedes “rules of team mate engagement” tome was penned by Paddy and Toto. Its design is to predict all possible areas of on-track conflict between the Mercedes team’s two drivers and codify how the plethora of scenarios can be overcome without incident.
This rule book was described by Niki Lauda during this year’s Australian GP, as being of biblical proportions and includes provisions for Nico and Lewis to be offered the decision of when to do their final Q3 runs on an alternating GP weekend basis.
Mercedes claim they ‘let the driver’s race’, but does forcing Lewis Hamilton to switch tyres in Mexico really Belie this claim?
Do you the TJ13 jury think Mercedes were right to force Hamilton to stop in Mexico?