Mercedes’ chief strategist James Vowles says that, in hindsight, the team made the “wrong” call on Valtteri Bottas’ strategy in Spain.
The Finn lined up on the grid in P2 behind team-mate Lewis Hamilton, and although less than a tenth separated them in qualifying, the race was a different story.
A poor start left Bottas down in P4 early on, and although he worked his way back up to P3 and fitted the soft tyre at his second stop, he was unable to put any pressure on Red Bull’s Max Verstappen ahead.
“Once Valtteri was back in P3, we were reviewing options, and there were really only two on the table,” he said in Mercedes’ Spanish GP debrief.
“The first is to go longer, force Verstappen into an early stop, make sure he covers you and then go much longer than him, and do an overcut and overtake on track.
“The second is obviously the undercut, the one that is most known about. But to do that you need to be very, very close to the car in front and on the first stint, we simply weren’t there. We were dropping off the tyre curves and we weren’t able to get close enough to Verstappen.
“Understandably so, Valtteri had been fighting through traffic to get up to that point and had lost a little bit more of the shine outside the tyre. On stint two, there was an opportunity for an undercut, a very small one. It appeared for a lap and that was it, and it was very marginal to take a medium and then undercut.
“But it existed, we debated it, it was definitely an option that we went through on the pit wall, but there were also options we felt by going longer, and it was really balancing those two.
“There was a bit of a distraction of a thunderstorm that was taking place nearby and the concern as to whether that could maybe push across the circuit. All of that combined meant we left that opportunity on the table and went for the long stint.
“Wrong decision I think, in hindsight, I think we had an opportunity to undercut, just on that one lap around lap 39. Either way, Valtteri did a sterling job trying to recover, and did a brilliant job getting back into the P3.”
Vowles added that he was confident Bottas could make inroads on Verstappen after his second stop when Bottas went onto used soft tyres on Lap 48. Verstappen had pitted on Lap 41 for mediums.
So the fact that Bottas didn’t find the pace to close the gap was a “surprise” to Vowles.
“At the end of the race when Verstappen took the medium, it made somewhat sense to also offset ourselves on compound to him,” he said.
“The temperatures had come down, the track was cooling, and we felt it could give us our best opportunity.
“But the reality is, on the model, both the medium and the soft looked like we had an opportunity to overtake and pass him. As Valtteri got back out, we were surprised that the times weren’t quite where they needed to be and Valtteri was having to do a lot of protection of that tyre to stop it overheating.
“More than we had anticipated and ultimately, the pace wasn’t strong enough with that tyre in order to get the overtake.”