Mercedes explain unusual Lewis Hamilton strategy call in Italian GP

Thomas Maher
Monza: Lewis Hamilton drives his Mercedes through the first chicane at the Italian Grand Prix.

Monza: Lewis Hamilton drives his Mercedes through the first chicane at the Italian Grand Prix.

Mercedes’ Andrew Shovlin has revealed the thinking behind an unusual strategy decision taken on Lewis Hamilton’s side of the garage at Monza.

Hamilton was one of three cars to start Sunday’s Italian Grand Prix on the hard compound tyre, with the seven-time World Champion the highest-placed of the trio as he lined up in eighth place on the grid.

Hamilton proceeded to race his way to sixth place overall, coming in just over 20 seconds behind teammate George Russell, who ran a more conventional strategy by starting on the medium compound from fourth on the grid.

Why did Mercedes choose the hard tyre for Lewis Hamilton’s first stint?

Running to Lap 27 on the hard compound before diving in to take on the mediums for the remaining 23 laps, Hamilton’s offset strategy meant he was able to cut his way through the pack in the closing stages of the race.

Mercedes’ trackside engineer director Andrew Shovlin has detailed the thinking behind the unusual strategy decision.

“We do a lot of simulations and look at the scenarios where we start on medium and hard,” he explained in the team’s Italian Grand Prix debrief.

“One thing we were seeing with the hard was the potential upsides were actually bigger.

“Lewis’s chance of getting a very good result was increased if we offset strategy and went for that hard tyre. The other consideration with Monza though is, despite those really long straights, it’s actually very hard to overtake.

The reason is that, when you are running a very small rear wing and you trigger the DRS, there isn’t a lot of drag to lose because those small wings are very efficient.

“The DRS effect at Monza therefore is less than half of what it is at most other circuits. That’s the principal reason that overtaking is difficult if you don’t have a difference in tyre age.

“Lewis’s entire strategy on the Hard tyre was about generating that difference in tyre age to the other cars. We were able to run him longer, and he was then on a fresh medium at the end of the race when all the other cars – the McLarens, the Williams, and Alonso were on their older Hard tyres.

“That was enough to generate the overtaking delta that he was able to get through.”

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Safety Car intervention possibility added weight to hard tyre choice

Another major point in the logic of the strategy call was the possibility of a Safety Car intervention. While junior categories had plenty of interruptions from the Safety Car due to various incidents and accidents, F1 ran smoothly aside from a pre-race mechanical issue for Yuki Tsunoda’s AlphaTauri.

“There were points in the race where a Safety Car would have been very beneficial to Lewis,” Shovlin explained.

“That would have been if all the medium runners had already come in and he was still out on his hard tyre not having stopped. Ultimately, that didn’t happen and, at the end of the day, the sixth place that Lewis achieved was the best possible result.”

With the first start being aborted due to Tsunoda’s stoppage during the formation lap, Shovlin revealed that there was never any desire to change away from that strategy call, even if the rules had permitted.

“If it is just an aborted start you must keep the tyres fitted to the car,” he said.

“Race Control can decide if the weather has changed or if it’s a longer delay that you are allowed to do that. They would have then delayed the start and messaged the teams to let them know that they were able to change tyres.

“Would we have wanted to change? No, we wouldn’t because what we were actually trying to achieve was an offset to most of the field to try and make sure Lewis was on a different strategy. We were quite pleased to see that the vast majority of the cars were all starting on the Medium because that was the key ingredient to his race to work.”

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