Toto Wolff thinks that, had his first-lap incident not taken place, Lewis Hamilton would have been in the mix for the race victory in Spain.
Hamilton came to blows with Kevin Magnussen at Turn 4 when the Haas driver tried to pass him around the outside, which left both drivers with damage and having to crawl back to the pits, with Hamilton suffering a puncture.
This dropped the seven-time World Champion well down the field and more than half a lap behind as he exited the pits, which led him to even question whether or not he should retire from the race just a few laps in.
But he worked hard to climb back towards the pack and made gradual progress through the race, rising as high as P4 after passing Carlos Sainz late on, before dropping back to finish fifth – 14 places higher than he was at the end of the first lap.
Mercedes team principal Wolff was thrilled with how Hamilton climbed through the field, and that his race pace was right up there with the Red Bulls once they made adjustments to the W13 in the pit lane.
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“I think on the first stint, we need to look up how we managed the tyre it looked like, okay, we have no chance to actually follow the pace,” Wolff told Sky F1.
“Even without DRS, Max was able to overtake with a new tyre. But then somehow the car flipped in terms of performance.
“We saw Lewis storming to the front with same-age tyres and then we realised there’s something to learn here, and then suddenly we unlocked the potential by just tweaking things on the [pit] stop.”
Both Hamilton and George Russell were forced to heavily reduce their speed in the final two laps of the race, with a supposed water leak in their power unit causing potential for a retirement, had they not done so.
This allowed Sainz to retake fourth place from Hamilton at the end, but the Mercedes boss thinks the issue should not detract from the quality of Hamilton’s drive.
“We saw this growing during the race it was not clear whether we would finish and at the end it was literally just making it over the line,” Wolff said. “We’re not sure [if] we damaged the engine.
“It’s always the call when you basically lost the race to decide what’s the benefit of continuing, but I think as a driver, as a driver’s perspective, you know that you are like, ‘that can’t be possible, I’m 50 seconds behind the leaders.’
“But it’s still valuable mileage, we are never giving up anyway. And at the end, I mean, his race pace was stunning here. He would have raced for the win.”