Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff says Lewis Hamilton’s driving saved his team after a strategic error left the championship leader on the wrong tires in the Monaco Grand Prix.
Hamilton had been leading from pole position when the Safety Car was deployed just 10 laps into the race, and Mercedes – along with the rest of the top six – pit both drivers. While Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas were put on the medium compound, Max Verstappen and Sebastian Vettel switched to the hards, and Hamilton soon struggled with the softer of the two compounds and found himself under race-long pressure from Verstappen that culminated in the pair making light contact at the Nouvelle Chicane in the closing laps.
“I just had a chat with James (Vowels, chief strategist) and yeah it was obviously the wrong call,” Wolff said. “We thought the tire would make it to the end, and it didn’t. But he (Hamilton) saved us, his driving really saved us. Something which we really need to analyze.”
Bottas picked up a puncture when he exited the pits alongside Verstappen, enforcing an immediate second stop for hards, but Hamilton completed the rest of the race on the mediums. Wolff says Mercedes did not appear to be taking a significant risk in opting against the hard tire when the Safety Car was deployed – especially with rain in the air making a softer tire preferable – but insists Hamilton’s complaints about how hard his car was to drive were fully understandable.
“What we’ve calculated is that the medium would make it, if we changed through lap 15 or 16, it would make it to the end with the right management,” Wolff says. “Being in the lead, that was a pretty straight strategy. It didn’t even seem like a huge stretch.
“We realized, with 20 laps into the race (stint), that on the left front some graining appeared. He started to complain about the understeer from the graining, and it was clear that it would get very, very difficult to make it to the end.
“So we had quite some discussions about the tire lasting another 40 laps, and I was reminded that it was only 20 laps on a normal circuit. So, I calmed down a bit! But everybody knew that it’s going to be a huge stretch. I believe that probably 20 laps to the end, he had, like, zero percent rubber left on the tire. He had understeer in the low speeds – you could see it around Loews; the car wouldn’t turn.”