Mercedes have explained the difficult strategy dilemma that led to Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel beating Lewis Hamilton at the Australian GP.
Hamilton led last weekend’s season opener in Melbourne from pole but fell behind Vettel following the round of pit stops.
Ferrari managed to leapfrog their rivals by delaying Vettel’s pit stop for six laps longer than Hamilton’s. The Brit was also held up after his stop by the Red Bull of Max Verstappen.
Highlighting the intense strategy involved in pit stop decision making, Mercedes chief strategist James Vowles said they had miscalculated by thinking that Red Bull would pit Verstappen sooner than they did in order to undercut the Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen ahead.
“If we stop, we knew we were going to drop behind Kimi and Verstappen, but if we’re suffering degradation, they should start to see a little bit as well at that point in time,” said Vowles.
“We’re not going to be likely to overtake in all likelihood against these cars, but there’s an interesting circumstance that appears – if we stop, Verstappen has an opportunity to beat Kimi into P4.
“The reason why? Ferrari have to keep Kimi out which means if Verstappen stops, and there’s a little gap behind him around about lap 20 appearing, that gives us free air to push up to the back of Kimi and maybe that will create the circumstance we need in order to win this race.
“So a very difficult decision and in the end I decided to go for it. I believe Verstappen would stop and he didn’t in the end and you saw what happened: 0.6 seconds, that was all that separated us and Vettel coming out of the pits.
“If Verstappen had stopped just one lap before we would have won that race.”
Hamilton led Vettel by 1.9 seconds at the end of lap 13 but by the time Hamilton pitted the Ferrari had closed that down to within one-second DRS range.
“A slow track to start, that’s normal for Melbourne, and then we started to push – Vettel responded. We started to push [again], Vettel responded,” said Vowles.
“Then around about lap eight we told Lewis ‘right, let’s really get the hammer down now and see whether we can build this gap’ and Vettel responded straight away.
“In fact, what ended up happening is we started to see a little bit of degradation on the tyres and Vettel came back into our [pit] window. So this became a critical point in the race.”
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