Lewis Hamilton believes Mercedes got its tire strategy wrong ahead of the United States Grand Prix that ultimately cost him victory and a chance to wrap up the drivers’ championship.
Mercedes — like Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo — advanced through Q2 on the supersoft tire on Saturday, ensuring all four drivers started on that compound. Kimi Raikkonen was on the ultrasofts and made use of the extra grip to take the lead into Turn 1, and polesitter Hamilton believes the qualifying strategy proved costly as a two-stop strategy saw him finish third.
“My strategy was the same, because I wanted to win the race,” Hamilton said. “We were on pole position, same straightforward approach going throughout the weekend but in strategy they were talking about different scenarios as we do every weekend but there’s a different feeling, for sure, with the performance and decisions that were taken today as opposed to previous races but I don’t think we needed to make any changes.
“I don’t know why they would not want to win the race. I think they did want to win the race, it just didn’t play out the way that we had planned and I think it already started from Q2. I think that tire was the wrong tire to start on.
“We had already seen, a long time ago, Kimi starting on a softer tire — I think it was in Austria. We already knew there was a big difference between the start performances on these different tires, yet we fell for something that we already knew was potentially not the way forward and obviously lost position to him, and then wasn’t able to keep up because he had clean air and a better tire.
“There was definitely a lesson learned for us and we’ll definitely go to the drawing board but performance-wise it wasn’t our greatest weekend. But we’ve had some incredible weekends this year and still to get a third, I’m still grateful for that — but naturally starting first and finishing third is never a good thing.”
With Vettel spinning early in the race and dropping down the order, Mercedes informed Hamilton of his title rivals positioning and the championship leader admits he also considered the title picture when going wheel-to-wheel with Max Verstappen late on.
“Honestly, I was trying to win the race but you look at (Raikkonen and Max Verstappen), they’re not fighting for a championship, so I had to be very very careful how I navigated around them. Championships are not won by fighting and making silly mistakes.
“I went through that corner, I gave (Verstappen) way too much space just to be sure that I didn’t get clipped, for example, didn’t get taken out because I didn’t know if he would understeer into me or could be aggressive. I didn’t know. If that was me and Seb, for example, I would have been a lot more tighter and more aggressive if we were fighting for the championship, but there was no need.
“The key was that I at least finished ahead of Seb and for me it doesn’t matter when you win the championship as long as you get it done. Ultimately we wanted to win the race today and I think going backwards two steps is not a good result but as I said, you can’t win them all, you can’t always get them perfect.”
With Vettel finishing fourth, Hamilton now only needs to score six points in Mexico to win the championship regardless of where Vettel finishes.