During Friday free practice in China, the analysis showed that there was barely ‘a fag paper’ between the top three teams – Mercedes Ferrari and Red Bull (excuse the UK specific colloquialism), and yet Mercedes came out on top.
One of the reasons for the win was a step improvement in setup on Saturday having lost out on Friday’s practice to Ferrari on the straights of Shanghai. Yesterday TJ13 reported that Ferrari on Friday were a full 0.7 seconds ahead on the straights, and just about held on throughout the medium and low-speed corners making them challengers to win on Sunday (read more).
Mercedes somehow managed to bring up their top speed, not just by their engine which from our report actually seems limited for the number of full-power deployments per weekend (read more), but by reducing their drag on the straights whilst maintaining an advantage in the twisty bits. This was achieved in spite of having to revert to their older wing on Friday.
Incidentally, it appears that in a big to extract more speed on the streets of Baku, the next Grand Prix, Honda have brought forward a development to increase power by a significant margin (read more on that here). Apologies, I digress… back to China –
During the race, Mercedes had several strategies, two stop was safer and was only marginally slower and possibly the best as they’d locked out the front row, and in the end, that’s what they opted for.
The below diagram shows Mercedes own pre-race prediction, the one stop was the fastest IF they could manage their tyre wear. And that is always the biggest worry for Mercedes in China traditionally. Had they needed to preserve their tyres more, the one stop would’ve surely enabled Ferrari to challenge.
In order to make a two-stop work during the race, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff put forward another high-risk tactic that worked, luckily for them, and that was to double pit their drivers. This also meant that Wolff wouldn’t upset their five-time Champion Lewis Hamilton.
Wolff explained during the evening after the Chinese Grand Prix why they had to resort to a potentially disastrous maneuver:
“We had to do this because otherwise Valtteri would have come under greater pressure from Vettel.
“We thought – with his stop at the end of the 35th lap Vettel could undercut us. With a normal race, we’d have to bring in Valtteri to react to Vettel’s tyre change.
“But with that again Bottas could undercut Hamilton. And we didn’t think that was fair to Lewis.
“So we both got in at the same time. We knew that the gap between Hamilton and Bottas allowed such a maneuver, if everything went well.”
Andrew Shovlin, the chief race engineer claims that it was Wolff himself who came up with the idea:
“It was Toto himself who suggested this. There was a short discussion between our chief strategist James Vowles and sports director Ron Meadows.
“Ron checked whether the distance between Lewis and Valtteri’s cars was large enough for Bottas to lose only a moderate amount of time, and whether our team could be ready fast enough to handle both cars.
“We had to carry the tyres for two cars into the pit lane. James has the last word, and he said – we’ll do it”
Andrew Shovlin continues: “The tricky thing with double stops – you hardly practice anything like that in practice because you have more important tasks.
“We usually try to avoid double stops. Because if you have a problem with the first car, it also affects the second car.”
The stop of Bottas was even faster than that of Hamilton. Although the Finn had to line up behind the Brit, his time loss was only half a second.
Impressive stuff from the World Champions.