During the second half of this past Sunday’s Turkish Grand Prix, the majority of the front-running drivers started to pit for a new set of intermediate tyres with around 20 laps left to go, but Hamilton felt his tyres were still good enough to go to the end.
But that changed and Mercedes decided to pit him with only eight laps remaining when the reigning champion started to lose time to cars chasing him. At the time, Lewis was in third place but lost the spot to Sergio Pérez and then another one to Charles Leclerc after changing tyre set. He then started to be pressured by Pierre Gasly for P5 but did not give in.
It was then that Hamilton expressed his frustration on the team radio, saying that he “shouldn’t have come in” and that he could’ve fought with the worn tyres until the end. Action that was taken only by one driver: Esteban Ocon.
The French Alpine driver finished on P10 without ever stopping for a fresh set, but he was uneasy by the damage his tyres had at the end, believing that if the race had one more lap, he would’ve had a puncture.
Andrew Shovlin, Mercedes’ trackside engineering director, pointed out that the slowdown in Ocon’s lap times by the end of the race proved the risk they had if they have kept Hamilton out.
“If you look at Esteban, he got overtaken by Lance [Stroll] about five or six laps from the end, and he finished 17 seconds behind him,” Shovlin said.
“That’s how quickly you fall off. That’s what is in our mind, it’s not just if we can keep going at this pace.
“Esteban lost a further two seconds in that short run to the finish, and that’s where it goes wrong.
“We’ll go through it and check, but we’re fairly certain we would have lost those two places, if not been at risk from more.”
The Frenchman’s lap time suffered a drop-off of more than 3 seconds per lap in the last few laps. Ocon managed to keep P10 but just narrowly, as Antonio Giovinazzi, who was behind him, felt he would’ve gone past the Alpine driver in just one more lap.
Before switching tyres, Hamilton’s lap times could be compared to those of the drivers who pitted before, but after going through the graining phase and started to lose time, Mercedes had to act.
“I think 10 or 11 laps to the end, or 12 laps to the end, we thought that his laps times were actually quite strong,” said Mercedes’ team boss Toto Wolff.
“They were like Perez behind him, 34.6, 34.7. And then suddenly it started to drop off.
“When Perez brought his intermediate into the window and went through the graining phase, we were losing 1.5 seconds or 2 per lap, and it was clear that we were going to lose that position, probably [also to] Leclerc, and also Gasly.”
By dropping off to P5, Hamilton also lost the championship lead to contender Max Verstappen. The Dutchman is currently leading by just 6 points going into the next race: United States Grand Prix.