Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton feels the problem with their strategy started in qualifying when they decided to start on the supersoft tyre in Formula 1 US Grand Prix.
Hamilton had a good launch initially to be ahead of Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen but the Finn then powered through to take the lead having the inside line in Turn 1. Immediately, Raikkonen could build on a gap on the ultrasoft compound.
Hamilton, on the other hand, was already struggling on the supersoft compound. A VSC period for Daniel Ricciardo pushed Mercedes to stop early at the end of Lap 11 itself as they switched on to the soft compound.
It was then evident that Mercedes were on a two-stop strategy as otherwise Hamilton had to do nearly 40 laps in hot conditions. At the same time, Ferrari seemingly stuck to a one-stop strategy as Raikkonen extended his first stint until Lap 22.
Post his stop, Hamilton had already caught up Raikkonen in the fight for lead but the Finn managed to defend on the older tyres still to eat more of Hamilton’s tyres. As a result, the British driver had to pit on Lap 37 for another set of soft as he fell behind in fourth.
Despite attempts, he could only manage to gain one place of teammate Valtteri Bottas as he finished close behind Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen in third. Post race, Hamilton questioned Mercedes’ tactics and felt the starting tyre choice should have been ultrasoft.
“My strategy was the same, because I wanted to win the race,” said Hamilton to the media. “We were on pole position, same straightforward approach going throughout the weekend but in strategy they were talking about different scenarios as we do every weekend.
“There’s a different feeling, for sure, with the performance and decisions that were taken today as opposed to previous races but I don’t think we needed to make any changes. I don’t know why they [Mercedes] would not want to win the race [and think of the title].
“I think they did want to win the race, it just didn’t play out the way that we had planned and I think it already started from Q2. I think that tyre was the wrong tyre to start on. We had already seen, a long long time ago in the year Kimi starting on a softer tyre.
“I think it was in Austria. We already knew there was a big difference between the start performances on these different tyres yet we fell for something that we already knew was potentially not the way forward and obviously lost position to him.
“Then [I] wasn’t able to keep up because he had clean air and a better tyre. There was definitely a lesson learned for us and we’ll definitely go to the drawing board but performance-wise it wasn’t our greatest weekend.
“We’ve had some incredible weekends this year and still to get a third, I’m still grateful for that but naturally starting first and finishing third is never a good thing.” The strategy from Ferrari caught both Hamilton and Mercedes out.
During the period of VSC, Hamilton was told to do the opposite of what Raikkonen does. The British driver thought Raikkonen will absolutely pit since he was on the ultrasoft compound. The Finn nearly bluffed him into it as well but he stayed out.
This forced Hamilton into the pit which became a crucial factor in the race as the German team officially committed themselves to a two-stop strategy with Ferrari opting to stick with the one stop and save time being in the pit.
“The call was ‘Box, Do The Opposite [to Raikkonen]’ and I thought that he was going to box,” said Hamilton. “He pulled in and then crossed, then I had to come. [I thought] I wished I had stayed out. It is what it is.”
Both Hamilton and Mercedes’ Toto Wolff admitted that pace wise the car wasn’t as strong as the two Ferraris. Wolff reckoned that Vettel would have won the race had he not have the spin on Lap 1.