Lewis Hamilton’s tussle with Carlos Sainz and his subsequent trip over the Abu Dhabi kerbs did not contribute to his season-ending retirement, revealed James Vowles.
Hamilton found himself racing against Sainz for position at the start of the Yas Marina race, the two fighting through Turn 6 with the Mercedes driver squeezed, running off the track and clattering over the kerbs before cutting the corner at Turn 7.
Although he emerged ahead of Sainz, he was told to give the position back to the Ferrari driver, which he did, only to retake it immediately with the help of DRS. A “cheeky” move said the Spaniard.
But as Hamilton continued, he told Mercedes a few times that “something’s up with the car” and that “the floor is broken”.
He would later retire from the race having been running up in fourth place, his first-ever season in Formula 1 without a single race win.
Vowles was asked in the Mercedes Abu Dhabi debrief whether that earlier incident with Sainz played any part in the seven-time World Champion’s DNF.
“Short answer: No,” the chief strategist replied. “There was surprisingly little damage from that first lap incident.
“The Bib, the area under the car did take a massive impact as a result of it and that won’t be good. The front wing endplate again had a knock but, generally speaking it was fine aerodynamically.
“What happened at the end of the race is actually a loss of hydraulic pressure and had no relation or no bearing to that first lap incident.”
Hamilton had confirmed after the race that the Bib had taken a hard knock, costing him performance.
“Basically we’ve got a Bib right under the seat, at the front of the floor and I think that took a big hit,” he said, “so I think that might have fallen back a little bit and when that happens you just lose a little bit of performance.”
Track position was behind Hamilton’s one-stop strategy
While many of those Hamilton was racing, such as Sergio Perez and Sainz, went with two-stop strategies, Mercedes put Hamilton on a one-stopper. He pitted after 18 laps on the medium tyres and swapped to a set of the hard Pirellis.
For his team-mate George Russell, Mercedes went with a different strategy, the two-stopper, with the 24-year-old going medium-hard-medium.
Vowles explained that given the Brackley squad’s fight with Ferrari over second place, they felt track position would be vital.
“Our goal in Abu Dhabi was to do everything we could to really finish second in the Constructors’ Championship,” he said.
“And to do that you have to finish in front of Ferrari. Easier said than done when you are qualifying behind them and when truthfully in the race our car pace wasn’t there.
“But we saw with Lewis that his degradation was actually very good on stint two of the race when we switched to the hard tyre. Obviously stint one wasn’t.
“That cost him a tremendous amount of time and you saw that, he went backwards, initially it looked like we could bring the fight to Ferrari and then he fell backwards very quickly. And what it also did is that we brought the stop forward near enough for that second stint.
“But on that second stint the degradation with Lewis was low as it was for a few other cars up and down the grid. It wasn’t the same for all cars, there were a few cars with higher degradation and in Lewis’s case the one-stop meant that he would gain track position over Sainz and George.
“But for us really getting one car ahead of the Ferrari our only opportunity was to go for that one-stop. On the two, Lewis would have been ahead of George but behind Sainz, similar tyres, similar age, similar car pace and nothing really could have happened.”