Mercedes have admitted they got the Hungarian Grand Prix restart wrong – by not sending out Lewis Hamilton on slick tyres.
After the race had been stopped following a first-corner melee triggered by Valtteri Bottas on a damp circuit, the Hungaroring had dried out considerably when the time came to get going again.
Like all of the other remaining runners, Hamilton, who was leading, went out for the formation lap on intermediate tyres. But while he headed to the grid to line up, everyone else dived into the pits to change to slicks.
The seven-time World Champion took the start all alone and by the time the mistake had been realised and he pitted at the end of the next lap, he found himself at the back of the pack.
Hamilton was unable to work his way into a position to challenge leading duo Esteban Ocon and Sebastian Vettel for the rest of the race and ended up third on the road – but that may end up becoming second if Aston Martin fail in their appeal against the German’s disqualification for a fuel infringement.
After the race, Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff said it had been “absolutely the right thing” for Hamilton not to pit at the end of the formation lap – but the team’s trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin conceded they had made a mistake before that.
“When we left the pit lane, at that point we were talking about do we go on slicks because we could see it was drying out and that’s really the decision we got wrong,” said Shovlin, quoted by GP Fans.
“The mindset though, given the situation in the race there and with our competitors, was one of not making a mistake by slipping off or getting tangled in an accident, so we decided to be cautious and go on the inters.
“It was very surprising to see the entire field on the inters and then more surprising to see the entire field peel off behind us.
“But when you are the first garage, you have the disadvantage that as you come in and do your stop, you then have a train of cars following you in who all have pit boxes further down the pit lane and then you have to try and find a gap you can launch into.”
When all the other cars pitted, there was a collision between Kimi Raikkonen and Nikita Mazepin that ended the Haas driver’s race and Shovlin added: “You saw incidents where people were crashing in the pit lane.
“Looking at it and knowing there was no way Lewis could ever build a five-second gap on a formation lap because everyone is trying to bunch up and get in, we think we would have been best case in P6 on the road, worst case P10.
“But it would have still been messy or risky, which is why we go back to the real mistake being that we should have rolled out of the pit lane on dry tyres, as should everyone because then you don’t need to make the stop.”
With Bottas, Sergio Perez, Lando Norris and Charles Leclerc out of the race on lap one, and Max Verstappen severely compromised with a damaged car, it had appeared an ideal chance for Hamilton to bag a comfortable win and maximise his World Championship advantage.
“It was unfortunate and we had an easy opportunity to win the race which we failed to take,” admitted Shovlin.
“But we were all in agreement that we got it wrong together, so nobody is being blamed for it. It’s one of those lessons you learn from and in this industry, you try not to make the same mistake twice.”