Mercedes have concluded Sunday’s Turkish Grand Prix acted as damage limitation in their title fight with Red Bull, adding Lewis Hamilton would have “fallen out of the points” if he had opted to stay out on his used intermediate tyres.
Hamilton, recovering from a 10-place grid penalty due to an engine change, had fought his way to third when Mercedes called him in to pit for new intermediate tyres.
But with a drying track, Hamilton was reluctant to risk a potential two-stop strategy, and ignored the team and opted to stay out, with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc also hanging on to the tyres he started the race on in second.
But with the Ferrari’s wear too much, Leclerc pitted, with Hamilton and Alpine’s Esteban Ocon the only two opting against fresh tyres.
At 51 laps, Hamilton’s tyres eventually wore down too far and the Briton eventually conceded and changed for new tyres, rejoining the race in fifth, losing two places thanks to the team’s late pitstop.
Hamilton was heard frustrated on the radio, complaining of graining to his race engineer Peter Bonnington, and questioning why he didn’t know he would lose two positions.
Toto Wolff explains why eight-point Turkey swing wasn’t a priority
When told he was fifth Hamilton replied: “We shouldn’t have come in man… I told you.”
Verstappen’s second-place finish meant he regained the lead of the championship from Hamilton, with a six-point lead heading to Austin.
However, after crunching the numbers, Mercedes trackside engineer Andrew Shovlin has revealed had Hamilton continued, he would’ve dropped out of point-scoring contention.
“If they stabilised at the point that we brought him in, and they remained completely consistent there to the finish, we think he would have lost the place to Sergio [Perez], but he would have stayed ahead of Charles [Leclerc] who finished P4,” Shovlin said during the latest episode of This Week with Will Buxton on Motorsport TV.
“But that scenario is to say there is no more degradation, and it’s quite clear the tyres were dropping.
In hindsight, both Hamilton and boss Toto Wolff agreed the Mercedes driver should’ve pitted earlier, instead of running the risk of a DNF.
Yet once Hamilton ignored the initial call from race engineer Bonnington, it became about the team “cutting their losses”.
“It becomes a bit of a gambler’s dilemma where you know you haven’t done the optimum thing already by that point, but how do you make the best of the remainder of the race?” Shovlin said.
“It was looking increasingly like stopping for another set, even if you’ve got to go through the graining, was going to be the best-placed finish and the safest thing to do.”