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Mercedes admit Mexico tyre choices were wrong

lewis-hamilton-mercedes-w13-mexico pitstop f1

Mercedes strategy boss James Vowles admitted what we all saw during the 2022 Mexico City Grand Prix, the once serial winners in Formula 1 messed up the maths once again and scuppered a good chance to win the race on Sunday.

In the end, Red Bull’s Max Verstappen cruised to an unchallenged victory, his 14th of the season, crossing the line some 15-seconds ahead of Mercedes and their seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton denied their first victory of this year.

In a nutshell, Red Bull opted to start the #1 car on Pirelli Softs and then changed to Mediums, which won them the Grand Prix while Mercedes went for Mediums and then bolted on Hards which cost them the race.

In the post-Mexico Mercedes team debrief, Vowles explained the rationale for the ill-fated strategy: “We decided that track position was more important at that stage and furthermore we had some data from [Nicholas] Latifi that had already stopped and hard wasn’t terrible.

“So we opted to stop, put Lewis on the hard tyre and go towards the end of the race under the hope that potentially Verstappen was going to drop off that medium curve much as we did see degradation at the end of our stint,” added Vowles.

While starting on Mediums may have been an inspired choice, after all McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo made them last 40-plus laps, but Merc did not know that, and thus pitted their cars early despite both Hamilton and George Russell wanting to stay out on the softer tyres.

But those calls, which were ignored, turned into proper moans when they realised the strategy blunder was in progress and there was no turning back, by bolting on the Hards so soon, the deposed World Champions, snookered themselves.

Lewis and George knew the strategy was going to fail once the Hards were bolted on

PALMER: Could Mercedes have beaten Verstappen in Mexico City with bolder calls from the pit wall? | Formula 1®

Regarding Russell’s lost opportunity, Vowles amitted: “With George, there was a lot more opportunity to really keep going long and fit the soft tyre and that was the plan. It was what we had discussed before the race and it is what we discussed live during the race with George as well.

“We carried on the stint and what we could see is that actually relative to Perez and Lewis, George was starting to lose a lot of time, that medium tyre really just struggling at the end of its degradation stint, you would have heard George come on and really start to give indications about that as well.

“The question now was given we were struggling on the medium tyre after just 30 odd laps would the soft tyre really make the stint required.

“It was a hard choice but we decided on balance stopping and fitting the hard tyre would probably bring us a better result in the belief that if we are struggling on the medium tyre here Perez probably won’t make it to the end of the race and they need to stop one more time.

“That in hindsight was a wrong decision and I think if you look back and you look at [Daniel] Ricciardo we should have just kept going. Yes, there was degradation and it was getting more and more but we wouldn’t have to have gone much further before we could fit the soft tyre.

“What the result would have been I am not sure but I think it would have been a better race than what we did.”

“So, first of all I pick up the term aggressive. By starting on the medium, which is a big difference relative to both Ferrari and Red Bull, that is sort of aggressive in many forms because you are doing something very different to them.”

Mercedes believed that Red Bull would be a faster race car

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - OCTOBER 30: Sergio Perez of Mexico driving the (11) Oracle Red Bull Racing RB18 leads George Russell of Great Britain driving the (63) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team W13 during the F1 Grand Prix of Mexico at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez on October 30, 2022 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images )

With that in mind, Vowles pointed out: “Doing exactly the same thing as they were doing probably won’t lead to a race win but starting on the medium, if the soft degrades more than we were expecting it to or the medium degrades more than we expected to so a one stop is just simply not possible anymore.

“That now means the medium/hard one stop creates an opportunity that wouldn’t have been there otherwise.

“As for why we didn’t split them on the grid, we had two cars in a strong position and felt that actually we could weaken ourselves by splitting them as it was it probably would have been George on the soft and who knows whether he would have kept that position or not but had he dropped back having a car on soft behind one on medium creates complications.

Vowles: I think George should have been on the soft

Russell says cautious start cost him P2 in Mexican GP

“The next element of it is why didn’t we split them later? What would it change?” questioned Vowles. “I am not sure at this stage, what I can say though is rewind the race what would we do differently? We wouldn’t split them but we would have started both on soft.

“I don’t think it would have made a dramatic difference to where Lewis was, he would have finished second but George definitely lost out at the start of the race and I think the extra grip may have helped him to hold on to the position there.

“So second or third may have been possible and we definitely would have been close to Verstappen on how we were racing,” concluded Vowles.

Mercedes have at times made some strange strategy calls (not as often as Ferrari it must be said) over the years, the only difference is that, now, with a relatively below-par car, set to that quixotic strategy, they were doomed from the start.

In the past, their dominance allowed for such errors to go unpunished but the Mercedes W13 is not delivering the performance they are used to and thus exposing the team’s strategy failings, as was the case at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez.

After dominating the past eight years, with 17 F1 titles collected during the period, this year has seen that mighty streak end as Red Bull have already claimed the 2022 F1 constructors’ title while Mercedes lie third, 40 points behind Ferrari with two rounds remaining.

Neither Russell or Hamilton have tasted victory this season, while Red Bull have claimed 16 wins out 0f 20 possible so far, while Ferrari have four to their name.