Motorsport Strategy Director, James Vowles, answers Russian Grand Prix queries from fans, ranging from why Mercedes started their drivers on Pirelli mediums, how Valtteri Bottas fended off Charles Leclerc, how Lewis Hamilton won the race and other insights from Sochi.
Highlights of Vowles’ debrief:
“After Leclerc stopped and fitted that soft tyre… [the order was] Mercedes, Mercedes and Leclerc on the Soft. At the restart, it was clear we were going to be in a certain amount of pressure and trouble from the Ferrari.
“They’re extremely quick in a straight line and especially on the run down to Turn 2. With a DRS that opens several laps after the safety car, we thought it would be incredibly difficult to hold onto that position to the end of the race.
“Valtteri didn’t make a single mistake. He didn’t lock up going into Turn 2, he defended in every corner as needed, he was continuously going up and down on the energy systems in order to maximise his speed down into Turn 2. He did it perfectly.
“Leclerc backed off several times, you would’ve seen that to cool the tyres and have another opportunity, build his battery back up and attack again. And every time he did, Valtteri responded with the same switches on his side, dog-fighting to the end of the race and did a perfect job.”
“Valtteri had done such a good job defending to Leclerc behind that Lewis was able to look after tyres and keep them in a very, very good state. Towards the end of the race, as he required all the pace from the car and the engine to do his times, the tyres were in such a good state that he was able to deliver quite a competitive fastest lap as a result.
“Going into the race we expected that soft tyre to be a little bit more fragile then it was but, in reality, the degradation was very low on both the soft and the medium and that reduced the opportunities that we had.
“Had the soft degraded a lot, like Friday, we would have had plenty more to play with. It would’ve meant around about lap 15 or so, that soft tyre from the Ferraris would start to fail a bit more and would come back towards us and they’d have had to stop earlier, creating more of an offset.
“It did not, so once they were able to go a fair amount into the stint, now we were reliant on the soft tyre transforming our car and making it work better but, even so, we would have been behind Ferraris.
“Had there been a late safety car and all the cars bunched together, that fresh soft may have provided the difference. While we did not have necessarily the track position on them, if we were tucked up behind them, I think that tyre would’ve restarted very well.
“Indeed, one of the reasons why Leclerc stopped and fitted that soft tyre instead of staying on that medium was he had concerns about how it would restart.
“The reality was, though, I think it would have been incredibly tough to take points of Ferrari in a straight fight without a VSC or a SC. I think we would be third and fourth and Ferrari would’ve won that race.”