The weekend of the Saudi Arabian GP was difficult for the whole team Mercedes, but particularly disastrous for Lewis Hamilton. The seven-time world champion got his car setup completely wrong in Saturday’s qualifying, only managing to get a disastrous 16th time that led to his sensational elimination during Q1. Having climbed back to 14th place on the grid due to the forfeits of Schumacher and Tsunoda, Hamilton then reached the finish line in tenth place, a placement enough to scrape together a championship point.
In the plans of the Brackley team it would have been possible to climb up to sixth position in the standings, but to complicate the ascent of the # 44 was the strategy. After kicking Hamilton off the grid on hard tires, Mercedes’ plan was to keep that kind of compound for as long as possible and then use the medium tires in the last, short, stint. The English could also have exploited the Virtual Safety Car – let race management enter the track between laps 38 and 41 to remove Alonso and Ricciardo’s cars – to minimize stopping times. But bad luck played a key role.
The two cars forced to retire in fact both stopped near the pit lane, forcing the Race Direction to close the pit lane. This prevented the vice-world champion from making the scheduled stop. “The chronology of events meant that there was no way for him [di fare la sosta sotto VSC] – has explained Andrew Shovlin in the usual Race Debrief published by Mercedes on its YouTube channel – when Lewis was entering the pit lane they closed it. After they removed the cars they removed the Virtual Safety Car and reopened the pit lane. As it all turned out, there was no way he could get back into it“.
The Mercedes engineer also explained that Brackley’s strategic plan was to create enough space for Hamilton to stop and then be able to get back on track in front of the two McLarens. “I think we could have stopped around lap 39-40 – Shovlin explained – but the intention was above all to stay ahead of the McLarens. At that point we would have found ourselves fighting with Valtteri and the two Alpines. Our predictions were that we would have enough pace to beat them on the track. This would have allowed Lewis to finish sixth“, He concluded.