Mercedes open up on challenges of ‘craziest’ race in Jeddah

Henry Valantine
Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton close-up shot. Saudi Arabia, December 2021.

A close-up shot of Lewis Hamilton at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. December 2021.

James Vowles said in his 20 years of in Formula 1, the weekend in Saudi Arabia was the craziest he has seen while on the Mercedes pit wall.

The race was full of drama from start to finish, with two red flag periods and several Virtual Safety Cars punctuating a heap of on-track action in between it all.

Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen made contact while battling for the lead and Valtteri Bottas managed to gain a podium finish on the final dash to the line by nudging ahead of Esteban Ocon.

When the weekend was taken as a whole, Vowles – sitting next to Andrew Shovlin in Mercedes’ post-race debrief, took stock of just how unpredictable everything ended up being.

“Both of us have been around 20 years in the sport with a travelling role,” said chief strategist Vowles. “This entire weekend, when you include qualifying, which was intense and reasonably complicated, and the race which was very, very unpredictable, full of incidents as you saw from start to finish and really difficult to stay on top of as a team – I think this might be the highest.

“That includes wet races where it’s turned wet in the last few laps. It’s just the intensity from start to finish in this entire weekend was incredible.”

Hamilton was not happy when he spoke over team radio in the first red flag stoppage, as Mercedes had opted to bring him and Bottas in to pit while still under Safety Car conditions, but this later turned into a red flag and handed Verstappen the lead of the race at that time.

Vowles said that was all part of the “gambling” that takes place on the pit wall, and defended the team’s move to double-stack their drivers at that point in the race.

“We’d highlighted before the race that the hard tyre was just the best tyre. That tyre could do 40 laps of the race without question,” he elaborated.

“With the Safety Car appearing when it did on that early lap, you can go to the end of the race, you don’t have to incur another pit stop loss and there was going to be nearly zero degradation on that tyre, so it made absolute sense to stop – unless you thought there was going to be a red flag.


“But that’s gambling. We’ve done that in the past where it’s clear that there’s definite barrier damage.

“But in this particular circumstance, it was borderline or it looked as though the barrier was going to be okay and the car could be cleared.

“So in that, what you do is make sure you stop your car.”