Mercedes would have had a better chance of winning the United States Grand Prix if they’d brought Lewis Hamilton in for his first pit stop much earlier, according to its trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin.
However he admitted it would have been a bold call to surrender the lead Hamilton had gained by passing Max Verstappen at the start. The team struggled on the medium compound rubber in the opening laps of the race and were unsure how well their hard tyres would cope with the following stints.
“Realistically, the options to win the race probably boiled down to retaining the lead after the very good start that Lewis made by stopping early,” said Shovlin. “That would have [been] maybe going as early as lap eight.”
Verstappen made his first pit stop on lap 10, while Hamilton came in three laps later. Shovlin said the team could only see in retrospect that a more aggressive strategy had been possible.
“Given that we were struggling on the mediums on such a short stint, we’d have never been brave enough to do that [pit early], just to hold the lead. It would have felt like we were going to compromise the whole race.
“But as it happens, I think we could have gone for an early stop, we could have made the finish. But it would have just been a case of pull the trigger early and then hope for the best, see whether Lewis can keep Max at bay.”
Mercedes began the weekend strongly, lapping almost a second faster than any other car in first practice. Shovlin said this was due to a combination of their power unit modes and the track conditions, and the latter turned against them as the weekend went on.
“We did look good,” he said. “And if we’re being honest, we thought that we were looking in very good shape.
“However, we knew that we were running the PU quite turned up at that point, so that was flattering us. And also, we could see that Max didn’t really get a lap in properly. He had a lot of issues with traffic and things.
“So we were probably overly – maybe optimistic is the wrong word, but we thought we’d started the weekend well.”
From second practice, however, Red Bull were slightly quicker than Mercedes. “What we saw in FP2 was a more clear picture of where our place actually was,” said Shovlin. “It wasn’t really that we were making bad decisions on set-up but as it got hotter and as it got a bit windier we were struggling more.
“But that FP2 picture I think was the one that we really saw through Saturday and Sunday. That was the real indication.”
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