Mercedes have said that Max Verstappen managed his tyres to perfection at the United States Grand Prix.
With just 1.333s separating race winner Verstappen and second-placed Lewis Hamilton as the chequered flag waved in Austin, Texas, there was a lingering question surrounding the timing of Hamilton’s second stop which provided him an 18-lap window to hunt down his title rival.
But, Mercedes’ motorsport strategy director, James Vowles, has said it was not really a case of whether Hamilton could have boxed slightly earlier, it was more to do with how well Verstappen looked after tyres having pitted eight laps before the seven-time World Champion.
In Mercedes’ post-Austin debrief, Vowles revealed that Verstappen’s tyres only began to fall off on the last lap. Had that have happened one or two laps sooner, then he feels that is where Hamilton would have emerged the winner in Austin.
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[Had Lewis pitted] one lap or two laps earlier he still, end of race, would have tyres that allow him to approach Verstappen but I doubt it would have allowed him to overtake,” Vowles said.
“We can’t control what Verstappen’s degradation is and where he falls off the tyre curve.
“Now, he was predicted to fall off the tyre curve and he did but he only did that on the very last lap of the race.
“Had that happened a lap or two earlier, I think you would have seen a different race result, but they managed that last stint very well and dropped the level of management in corners as Lewis got closer to them to make sure he had the tyres remaining for those last few laps.”
Vowles also painted the picture of what would have happened if Hamilton did indeed pit slightly earlier than lap 38 for his second stop.
He explained: “If we had gone a lap or two earlier a few things would have happened. Verstappen would have been closer on pit exit.
“He is on fresher tyres, so for every lap he has been going relative to Lewis he is actually pulling just a little bit of a gap on track and when Lewis stops, he has to push back into back up, he has to basically catch back up to Verstappen and if the gap is too large, let’s take it to an exaggerated level, 15 seconds, he will use all his tyres back up closing that gap down and there is nothing left in the race.
“So that’s where the compromise lies, what you want is to find the lap that minimises the gap on exit and maximises the differential therefore end of race.”