The Azerbaijan Grand Prix was another story of Mercedes domination and helping them along the way was a dummy move on Ferrari heading into the final Q3 laps on Saturday.
Getting a good tow had a huge effect on the best potential lap times and Mercedes ensured that Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton did not end up at the front of the pack by performing dummy moves – heading out of the garage only to pull over at the end of the pit lane exit for what the two drivers called “clutch calibration”.
But the true purpose eventually became clear and Mercedes chief strategist, James Vowles, has gone into significant detail about the whole process. A process that was an “enormous risk”.
“Over the last few races you’ve been seeing what we would call almost a Mexican stand-off in the pit lane,” Vowles said in Mercedes’ Baku debrief.
“Everyone has their engines fired up and everyone’s looking at each other. But who’s going to go first to go out on track? They will be the car that effectively leads others and creates the tow.
“In Shanghai you saw that we left very late and other cars weren’t even able to do their lap because they were so keen on getting the tow that the flag came before they started their lap.
“In Baku we were very conscious that this effect could well dictate whether we were on pole or not .
“What we decided to do, therefore, was to send our cars out a little bit earlier which would pull the whole train of cars behind us. That worked.
“And then do a practice start on the left-hand side, simply so that we did not end up at the front of the queue, because we felt the effect was so powerful.
“This was taking an enormous risk. We only crossed the line several seconds before the flag as a result of this. But in this situation it worked.
“We pulled over to the left-hand side, other cars came past, Vettel led the pack and didn’t have a tow on this particular occasion, allowing our cars to get into a nice position behind competitors and benefit both from a tow and a good track position.”
Vowles also praised Bottas and Hamilton for doing a “fantastic job” throughout the whole process.
He added: “This sort of plan doesn’t go without quite a bit of discussion beforehand, especially with the driver,s to make sure they both understand, accept and agree the plan.
“Because for them it’s very different: You’re asking them to break up what is a normal routine of going out into qualifying three, a very high-pressure situation, and doing something different.
“We discussed it with the drivers in the morning, made sure that they completely understood what we may and may not do during qualifying, and again before they went out we briefed them so that they understood exactly what was required of them. And they did a fantastic job.”