F1 - Tecnica

Hungarian GP | Analyzing the brilliant Mercedes' strategy

The Hungarian GP may have been dull beside for the Hamilton-Verstappen fight over victory. Nevertheless a key role was played by strategies. Sweat has been flooding off the pitwall crews' foreheads in many of the teams for the entirety of the race.

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Hungarian GP | Analyzing the brilliant Mercedes' strategy
Fuente imagen: via Twitter, @LewisHamilton

Among the top teams, let's start with Ferrari.
We heard on the radio Ferrari first sticking on "Plan A" (likely a double stop strategy) with Charles Leclerc. Few laps later Riccardo Adami, Sebastian Vettel's pit engineer, confirmed to the german driver that "Both cars are on plan B". 'Plan B' has probably been the strategy applied to Leclerc: the Monegasque, struggling with degradation on his first set of tyres, had a one stop race, switching from the medium compound he started the race on to four hard white-painted tyres.
Vettel though, once he found himself in clean air, felt his tyres were still good and started lowering his lap-times. It may have therefore been a driver call to go on a different strategy. The #5 would be no new to strategy calls, as we also witnessed last week in Germany. 'Plan C' was subsequently submitted to the German driver: a one medium-soft stop strategy that provided him with a great comeback on Charles Leclerc and with a podium finish under the checkered flag. In order to do so, Sebastian had to massively stretch his first stint (39 laps) and at that point the datas collected from McLarens' soft-compound run were enough to give him the certainty of a doable rush to the finish line.


Despite the huge pressure on their shoulders, Red Bull's strategiests made the best calls possible. Lewis Hamilton still managed to overtake Verstappen in the end, but there was really nothing that the strategy could have done on that.
Max Verstappen's lead was threatened by an unexpectedly huge amount of tyre-wear just twenty laps into the race. Moreover, having Hamilton just 1.4 seconds behind meant that an undercut by Mercedes would have provided the #44 with the lead of the race. But a stop at that point was not an option: the gap over the Ferrari cars was just not enough to leave the pits in front of them. This scenario came to an end on lap 25: both Verstappen and Hamilton finally had enough time to stay in front of Leclerc after a pitstop. The options were: A) to stay on track and give Hamilton a free undercut chance that would have cost Red Bull the victory, or B) dive to the pits in order to maintain virtual track position advantage.
The choice was of course to pit Verstappen. The gap between Hamilton and the Dutchman was then down to 16 seconds, with 20 seconds required for the tyre-changing procedure.
Mercedes was the forced to keep the car on track and go for a different strategy by stretching their first stint.

When Lewis pitted on lap 31, he was on the same hard compound as Verstappen but with six laps less on those tyres. The hunt took place and the fresh rubber brought Lewis on Max' gearbox in a few laps time. The Brit tried to overtake the Dutchman in any way possible, even around the outside of superfast turn 4. Lewis went wide and by the time he closed once again the gap, both his tyres and his brakes were overheating.
At that point the brillancy of James Vowles shone: an overtake was for sure something doable in the long run but not so certain. Another missed move would have overheated the car even more and most likely would have took a victory chance away from the Silver Arrow. The car needed fresh air but they had no data to be sure of the outcome: on lap 46, an out-of-pace Valtteri Bottas was used as a guinea-pig. The Finn came to the pits to put on a new set of medium tyres and the pitwall saw his times getting then really quick. But the window was closing: waiting for another couple of laps wouldn't have provided Lewis with enough time for the comeback.


Taking a massive gamble, Hamilton was called back to the pits on lap 48. The team didn't have a new soft rubber so they had to send him back on track on a medium set.
At that point there was nothing Red Bull could do: Max could only stay on track and try not to get caught. Stopping on the following lap would have meant ending up behind a quicker Hamilton, stopping earlier was just not an option since a faster Mercedes with fresher rubber would have been unreachable even on new tyres.
Mercedes' timing was just perfect: Lewis got quickly rid of traffic and chased down Verstappen gaining even two seconds per lap. A 20 seconds gap was taken down within 15 laps only by 'The Hammer' that managed to take the lead with just three laps to go.

Hamilton's performance was outstanding by driving 20 qualifying laps in a row, but this victory possibly wouldn't have come without such a brilliant call by Mister Vowles.

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