If you’re here, you probably watched the Monaco GP. Which means you’ve seen the horrendous race Mercedes ran that day, that caused them to lose the lead of both championships.
Now look, everybody makes mistakes here and there. It’s a part of life, and it’s a part of F1. However, some mistakes are so large and so devastating, that they cannot go unmentioned.
So today, you and I are going to figure out exactly how the Silver Arrows messed up so bad in the Principality. Let’s dive right into it.
Wrong Car, Wrong Place
In one of my earlier posts, (ironically referring to how Red Bull was losing both titles), I compared Red Bull’s RB16B to Mercedes’ W12. One of the well known differences between the two cars is how they treat their tyres.
The Red Bull is quicker to heat up the tyres, but is much harsher on them during a stint. On the contrary, the Mercedes is much better at nursing the tyres, however, it takes quite a bit of time to warm them up. This is one of the reasons why we saw the Mercedes doing several warm up laps in qualifying, while all Red Bull needed was a single outlap, and they were already dropping purple sectors.
And on a track where position is everything, being able to bring your tyres to optimal performance quickly is a great strength in quali.
As we saw in Monaco 2019, it doesn’t matter who has more life in their tyres. Lewis Hamilton held off Max Verstappen for the entire race, on Mediums that he claimed were truly “dead”. And seeing how close Max was to him during that final stint, it’s safe to he probably wasn’t exaggerating.
So Mercedes’ tyre management advantage serves no purpose here in Monaco.
Red Bull was not the only team with an advantage on the streets of Monte-Carlo. Ferrari, who if you remember, finished 6th in the constructor’s last year, managed to lead the timing tables in FP2, and carried their unexpected pace into qualifying, where Charles Leclerc finished on pole and Carlos Sainz in P4.
Not gonna lie, when I saw them at the top of FP2, I was overjoyed, but soon after I wondered if they cheated.
I don’t think they did, mostly because of the repercussions they faced last year, but if they were cheating, I feel like most of the grid would protest and have the FIA do something about it.
So although nothing is confirmed, we’ll give Ferrari the benefit the doubt. Because for Charles and Carlos’ sake, I hope that car is legal and can compete for several seasons to come.
These weren’t the only problems the Silver Arrows faced on Saturday, as confusion over the setup for Lewis in qualifying led to the, let’s be honest, atrocious lap he put in that saw him start in P7, behind Pierre Gasly and (technically) both Ferrari’s.
If you don’t know, a car’s setup is small changes the team can make to their car that will increase performance in one area at the expense of another. (e.g higher downforce at the cost of straight line speed). The catch is, teams have to finalize these decisions by the start of qualifying, because after that, no major setup changes can be made (this is essentially parc fermé). The Mercedes crew got this all wrong for Lewis in Q1, which led to him not feeling confident in the car, and starting with the midfield.
A Highly Questionable Race Strategy
Now I’m no race strategist, but I think you and I can agree that what they did with Lewis was child’s play compared to Red Bull making five places with Sergio Perez.
I genuinely believe Mercedes has borrowed Ferrari’s strategists for their past two races in Monaco.
Already starting from a bad position with Lewis, the key to getting a good result was track position. What I think they should have done was keep Lewis out for a while, and once the pack starts pitting, have him do some qualifying-like laps in all the clean air to get ahead of the midfield, so that once he pits, he can come out with the leaders.
This did not happen.
Although Lewis seemed to be thinking this too, as he was nursing his tyres behind Pierre Gasly with a plan to go long, Mercedes decided to try an undercut on Pierre, hoping to get ahead of him quicker that way. They brought Lewis in for his stop, threw on the Hard tyres, and sent him out to do some quick laps.
Now remember what I said about the Mercedes struggling to warm up tyres?
Combine that with the fact that these are Hards, and Monaco is not a good circuit for heating up tyres.
AlphaTauri probably noticed this too, thinking that since Lewis won’t be able to gain any time with those tyres on an outlap, they can have Pierre match Lewis’ pace on his old Softs, bring him in, and keep him ahead of Lewis.
And unlike with Mercedes, this did happen.
Pierre came out ahead of Lewis, much to the champ’s frustration, and stayed ahead of him for the entire race, with him and his team taking advantage of the crucial strategy mistake Mercedes made with Lewis.
But hey, at least they still have Valtteri Bottas in the race, right?
Yet Another Pit Stop Problem
Mercedes was unable to use a race strategy with Valtteri, because they could not finish the man’s pit stop.
When he came in for his stop to try to undercut Max, the pit crew could not get his Right Front off the car. And since they can’t run only one set of tyres for a race, they were forced to retire the car, while all Valtteri could do was watch.
Mercedes Designer James Allison gave his take during an interview on what he believes happened during the pit stop.
“We call it machining of the nut… It’s a bit like when you take a Phillips head screwdriver and you don’t get it squarely in the cross of the screwdriver and you start to round off the driving face of the screwdriver slot.
“Then you simply can’t take the screw out of whatever it is you are trying to take it out of because you’ve no longer got the driving faces.
“A very similar thing happened with our pit stop. If the gun starts spinning and chipping off the driving faces of the wheel nut, then in quite short order, given the violence and power of the gun, you can end up with no driving faces and you just machine the nut down to a place where there’s nothing left to grab hold of.”
“And that’s what we had today.”
In short, Mercedes welded a wheel to a car in the middle of a race.
Pit stops should be something a world championship winning team has mastered. Instead, it’s where they seem to make fools of themselves, compared to the other midfield teams that do a much better job. Another factor to consider is that their rival, Red Bull, literally holds the record for the fastest pit stop of 1.82 seconds. This is clearly their weakness, and something they really need to get in check before the coming races.
By no means do I feel bad for Mercedes. They messed up, and they have problems that need solving. The thing is, I, as well as you, want to see this championship go down to the wire, both teams and drivers pushing each other to their limits. This won’t happen unless the teams settle for nothing but the best.
If anything, we should feel bad for Red Bull, because after being humiliated on live TV, Mercedes, Lewis and Valtteri are going to give it everything in the coming races. The question is, will Red Bull, Max, and Checo be able to fight back? We’ll have to wait until Azerbaijan to find out.
What do you think? What could Mercedes have done better? Is Red Bull dismantling them as a team? And who will come out on top when we go to Azerbaijan? Shoot me an email, send me a message, or just leave a comment down below, because you know the deal, I love hearing from you! And if you enjoyed this post, make sure to drop your email below so that you never miss a update from The Late Brakers!
I’ve been Miles Stewart, and I hope you have a much better day than Mercedes did in Monte-Carlo. I’ll see you in the next one, take care!
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Cover image source: (Formula1.com)