The controversy within Mercedes in the middle of the race last weekend made many spectators think that Lewis Hamilton had lost many valuable points when following the direction of the home team.
Faced with the opportunity to finish in the top 3 or even win, Lewis Hamilton has repeatedly rejected advice from Mercedes when they remind him to change tires and when to change tires. Hamilton started in 11th place but by the time the race was only 15 laps, the British star had risen to fourth and could see rival Max Verstappen right in front of him.
Verstappen went to the pit to switch to new intermediate tires and Hamilton, despite having worn tires, still kept the pace. Under those circumstances, it’s not uncommon for Hamilton to turn down a pit request. The home team’s reminder, according to Hamilton, is “still a risky choice”.
If the British driver does not change, his tires can hold long enough to finish on the podium. In this case, if the track dries quickly at the end of the race and the drivers have to return to the pit to switch to dry-weather tires, then the chance of victory is even within Hamilton’s reach. However, this choice is risky as Hamilton’s tires can lose significant traction in the last laps and he could plummet to sixth or even seventh place. Or a tire could blow out from wear and force him to give up – worst case scenario.
But if Hamilton goes to the pit, he will definitely drop to fifth. There will be a chance to finish fourth or maybe even third, but risky overtakings will determine success or failure. “If I don’t change the tyres, you don’t know if I’ll hold my position, but I’m a risk taker so I’d like to take the risk. It’s hard to give up something when you don’t get a look. overall,” Hamilton said.
Mercedes gave Hamilton a few minutes to weigh the pros and cons and make his own choice. But in the end they called about the pit. The British driver then finished fifth and was eight points behind Verstappen, who now leads one of the tightest title duels in years by six points with just six races remaining in the season. .
Who was right? Should Hamilton stay to the end, betting the tires will work and he can keep third? Or should the British driver listen to the home team and go to the pit as soon as they ask for the first time, 10 laps before Hamilton actually goes to the pit?
Even looking back at racing, it’s hard to be certain of the correct answer, though with nearly 15 years of experience in F1 and seven world championships, Hamilton’s racing intuition is arguably one of the best. The most valuable weapon Mercedes has in this team’s tactical arsenal.
At about 20 laps, the track is gradually drier, there are still some sections of the road with rain, but there are very few puddles left. The fact that it stopped raining was not enough to switch from a rainy tire to a normal tire. So some racers delay changing tires to wait for the road to dry completely before returning to the pit. In the case of returning to the pit early to switch to normal tires like Sebastian Vettel (Aston Martin), he encountered a disastrous race when he had to return to the pit one more time to return to using rainy tires.
The rain subsided to drizzle and completely stopped in the second half of the race, but the track never really dried up. Assuming that an intermediate tire is capable of draining 30 liters of water per second from the track surface when it is traveling at 300km/h, one would expect that 20 cars with four tires each would be fast. quick drying of the track, but that didn’t happen in practice.
Before the race, the Mercedes computer model predicted the track would be dry on lap 10, while Hamilton himself predicted the road would start to dry on lap 30. However, after 58 laps, the road was still not ready for the race. normal tires, making tactical calculations much more complicated.
At this time of transition, changing to a new tire is also difficult when the operating temperature range of the tire in the rain is lower than that of a normal tire. The super-soft compound on the intermediate tire has “granulated” on the surface, meaning that the top layer of rubber rolls into tiny balls that stick to the tire’s surface instead of splashing out onto the track. For the first few laps, the racers will struggle to achieve performance until the problem is solved, the rubber on the tire surface starts to smooth and then bring out its true performance.
Therefore, the problem of controlling the temperature of the tire when changing a new tire causes a headache for racers, in many cases the tire surface has become grainy after only a few rounds of new tire change and the performance declines rapidly. Two drivers changing tires at this time, Charles Leclerc and Hamilton, both struggled with this problem, leading to them being nearly overtaken by their opponents behind. However, after only a few rounds, they all passed the challenge.
Overall, when looking back at the race, the right time to stop the tire is between laps 35 and 42, when Red Bull called Verstappen and teammate Sergio Perez, and Mercedes called Valtteri Bottas to the pit. Before Perez returned to the pit in lap 37, the Mexican driver fought fiercely to hold Hamilton and hold on to fourth place. After Bottas and Verstappen’s pitfalls, they remained ahead despite temporarily handing the lead to Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, who ran impressively in third for more than half the race.
When the race is only 18 laps, the gap in the top 4 is only 15 seconds. Hamilton is only three seconds behind Verstappen and both are about the same speed. At this point, Hamilton and Leclerc both found they had more than enough power to maintain the starting tires until the end of the race. So when Mercedes first called for the pit, it was not uncommon for the British driver to refuse. However, the situation quickly reversed after a few rounds.
Suddenly, Leclerc’s tires began to deteriorate rapidly and Bottas after a few laps of stability with the new set of tires soon shortened the distance and easily overcame the opponent to regain the top position when the race was only 10 laps. Hamilton has yet to change the tyres, but now Mercedes believes the game is settled. Hamilton’s tires were pitted and the German team feared they would soon fail.
Some of the racers’ tires were worn out and Pirelli immediately advised the teams not to run the starting tire until the end of the race. Mercedes knew they were in the middle of the line and now had to adopt a recovery strategy soon so they decided to call Hamilton in for a tire change.
They still let Hamilton go free for the next few laps in the hope of a safety car, but time passed without incident on the track. Mercedes finally asked the British driver to pit with still a chance to finish in fifth place, ahead of the potentially dangerous Pierre Gasly. They found that the longer the delay, the greater the risk of breaking the battle.
Around this time, Mercedes also correctly concluded that Hamilton’s current intermediate set of tires would not be able to complete the race. Monitoring the temperature, they could see that the British driver’s performance was rapidly declining, and looking at the tire with the naked eye, they could start to see some of the core part of the tire rising above the left front tire. The white threads in the core become visible when there is no more rubber on the tire surface and it is clear that Hamilton is at risk of not only deterioration in performance but also possible tire failure.
Hamilton finally finished the piston while running 3rd on the 50th lap, when the race was only 8 laps. At that time, the British driver was slower than Perez by one second per lap, but led by 12.5 seconds. But in the next laps, even though Hamilton had new tires, the Mexican driver still ran faster each lap by about a second.
Had Hamilton not changed his tyres, he would have had to defend with a 10 or 11-second advantage over eight laps against a car that was two seconds faster each lap and a Leclerc not far behind Perez either. This will be a huge challenge even if Hamilton’s tires don’t degrade in the next laps.
A real-life example of a racer who managed to maintain the starting tire until the end of the race was Esteban Ocon, who suffered a severe drop in performance by 3-5 seconds per lap in the last few laps. After the race, Ocon and Pirelli admitted the French driver had too much luck to be able to finish so safely.
After returning to the track with a tire change, Hamilton still had a chance to take fourth place from Leclerc, but things did not go well for him. Hamilton’s tires quickly became grainy in the next laps, instead of chasing Leclerc, the British driver fell behind and tried to keep a safe distance with Pierre Gasly in the back.
Even after talking to the engineers, Hamilton seemed unsure if they were making the right call. “You have to listen and rely on the advice of the home team and accept the choices they make and hope it’s the right choice,” he said after the race. “I always say that we win and lose as a team. I listened today. Should I not change the tyres? Who knows if it’s right or wrong? Some people have fallen deep and panic in the area. the last stage. If I don’t change the tyres, I’m not sure I’ll hold my position.”
Mercedes chairman Toto Wolff said: “There were two options that sounded pretty good. Unfortunately, the rate of decline was much faster than expected. We were about to fall under the threat of Gasly and us. forced to go to the pit to keep at least 5th place. If we had to do it again, we would have played 10 laps earlier and fought on the right track and probably finished third or fourth.”
Chief engineer Andrew Shovlin said Mercedes’ goal is to ensure safety and minimize risk: “Lewis is always looking at what’s ahead and what’s best he can get and we won’t. expected nothing but disappointment in 5th place. He understood the reason. It was just disappointment. There was a time when he thought he would be on the podium but it didn’t come true. The decisions made are rational and in a championship war you must avoid risks and eliminate losses to the maximum extent.Although these decisions are difficult, you must be strong and you have to do them to be safe.”