Mercedes AMG F1 have been in relative chaos during the current 2022 Formula One season. Having delivered the W13 car at the launch in February which was ‘revolutionary’ with its slimed down side pods and new aero approach for the 2022 car design regulations, the team has failed to deliver the performance we have been accustomed to over the past 8 years.
At the Dutch GP Mercedes made a strategy mistake. At the final safety car they were prepared to leave both drivers out on worn tyres while Red Bull immediately decided to pit Max Verstappen for fresh rubber.
This was the same mistake the Mercedes team made in Abu Dhabi when Lewis was left to defend the final lap against Verstappen who had pitted under the safety car for fresh rubber while Lewis was left on worn tyres.
In Zandvoort it was George Russell who called for a pit stop under the safety car for new soft tyres whilst the team remained silent over pitting either driver.
Conversely Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes clearly assumed that Red Bull would not stop for fresh rubber and chose to retain track position over the Dutch driver.
The result? Verstappen, Russell and LeClerc who all pitted for new tyres blew past Lewis at the restart.
Hamilton was at his most vociferous over on pit radio the decision as he realised his P1 or P2 had been lost as he trailed home on fourth place.
“I can’t believe you guys fucked me, I can’t tell you how pissed I am,” was one of several abusive messages Lewis delivered to the team as he slipped down the field.
Yet clearly Toto Wolff got hold off his star driver following the chequered flag because Hamilton came out sweetness and light in the media pen interviews.
“I really was hopeful that we could get a one-two together as a team, especially as we’ve not had a great year, an up-and-down year, we’ve not had a win since Brazil,” Lewis told the assembled media.
“So it was finally there within our grasp, but then of course the safety car really didn’t help and I was on the edge of breaking point with emotions.
“My apologies to the team because I don’t even remember what I said – I just lost it for a second.
“But I think they know that it’s just so much passion and I want to look at it as a glass half-full.`
Hamilton continued with his newly found upbeat assessment of the race in Zandvoort.
“We came here, struggling from the last race, we were fighting against the Red Bulls today. We were quicker than most [teams] at many points.”
“Without the safety car I think we would have been challenging them for the win at the end on the one stop, which I don’t think the others could do.
“So there are so many great things to take from it. The car was finally working.
“If this can be the same in future races we’re going to continue to breathe down their necks and we’re going to get that win.”Lewis’ team boss was ready with an explanation as to why the strategy saw their 7 times world champion abandoned on a strategy that was inevitably going to see him outside the podium.
The reality of Lewis and the Mercedes team decision not to give him fresh tyres was he was always doomed to a non-podium finish despite the double dutch talk from Toto Wolff who in vain tried to explain the strategic decision.
“It is highly emotional for the driver, you are that close to be racing for the win and then you’ve been eaten up, so it is clear that every emotion comes out,”
“You, as the driver in the cockpit, you are alone and you don’t see what is happening. We discussed at the moment, are we taking risks for the race win? Yes, we are taking risks.
“He had a tyre that was five laps old, the medium, holding position was the right thing to do. At the end it didn’t work out for him but I’d rather take the risk to win the race with Lewis rather than finish second and third.
“Lewis was ahead, so you always have a little bit longer with the call [for those behind]. You can do two things; you can either pit Lewis and lose track position against Verstappen and leave George out screwed, or you can pit both, screwed. So it was worth taking the risk.”
Wolff argued the team and Lewis took the risk of bot pitting Hamilton because their goal was the win, rather than a guaranteed P2 and P3. Yet his argument doesn’t hold substance.
Hamilton as in Abu Dhabi was never going to hold off Verstappen on newer tyres and as Nico Rosberg observed, the only hope of making this strategy work was to also leave Russell on the same strategy.
Russell could then gain the DRS from Lewis and potentially hold Max Verstappen on the new soft tyre at bay for longer while Hamilton gained tyre temperature for the ultimate defence against Max.
In reality Mercedes had decided not to pit their drivers for new tyres, it was only at Russells insistence they split the strategy.
This clearly was the wrong call because both Verstappen and LeClerc would have passed them both and the best Mercedes could have hoped for is P3 and P4.
Wolff claimed the team decided they were going for the win, rather than a safe P2, P3 – which is nonsense. Given they are hunting down Ferrari for P2 in the constructors title the percentage call to pit their drivers and secure P2/P3 would have been the right one to make.
Yet the PR spin of ‘risking it all for the win’ was the line Toto chose to take.
In TJ13’s opinion this was merely a post event excuse for failing to pit their drivers and secure maximum points – and revive the ghosts of Abu Dhabi.
The irony of it all was it was lap #44 where the VSC was deployed that allegedly ‘screwed’ Hamilton’s race.
The reality was in the new F1 car design era, 1 stopping strategy is always doomed to fail because track position is no longer king. Being on the right tyre at the right time is more important because the cars can now overtake.