After a relatively sluggish start to 2018, Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport‘s chief race engineer Andrew Shovlin has said that the team’s first 1-2 finish of the season is a “great reward”.
Lewis Hamilton extended his lead at the top of the Drivers’ Championship to 17 points with victory at the Spanish Grand Prix – his third at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya – whilst Valtteri Bottas eased to second place after Sebastian Vettel and Scuderia Ferrari‘s decision to pit under the Virtual Safety Car failed to have its desired effect.
Mercedes looked strong all weekend, happier on the amended Pirelli tyres introduced for this weekend due to worries about excessive wear and tyre temperatures. Hamilton took a blistering pole position with Bottas perched in second, the Brit able to stretch his lead out comfortably before his sole pitstop. Shovlin paid tribute to the work behind the scenes in what has been a testing start to 2018 for the reigning world champions.
“We’re absolutely delighted with the way the weekend has gone here in Barcelona,” beamed Shovlin. “Both Valtteri and Lewis have been on top form and the car has been reliable and very fast. We’ve not had an easy start to this season but everyone has stayed focused and worked incredibly hard to take the fight to Ferrari and Red Bull. Today was a great reward for everyone’s effort.”
Shovlin added that Bottas losing a place to Vettel at the start did not help Mercedes’ cause, with the Barcelona circuit notorious for its limited overtaking opportunities. The decision to pit the Finn two laps after Vettel was down to the difficulty in getting the medium compound up to optimal working temperatures. However, a slight error at the stop ensured that Bottas rejoined behind the scrapping Vettel and Kevin Magnussen. Despite projecting a two-stop race, Bottas and Hamilton both managed to extend the life of their mediums to the end.
“The day didn’t quite go according to our plan, Valtteri lost a place to Vettel off the line and whilst he had good pace, it’s very difficult to overtake here and on tyres of the same age we couldn’t get close to a passing position,” Shovlin explained.
“We were expecting a two stop race today and when Vettel stopped on lap 17 we hoped to be able to overcut taking advantage of poor warm-up on the medium. We lost a bit of time at the stop and that was enough to put us back out behind Vettel and also Magnussen.
“We were assessing our options against Vettel once we saw that we didn’t have the pace to pass but when he stopped on the VSC, the best strategy was to run the to end and Valtteri did an amazing job of managing the tyres over 47 laps, the longest stint anyone made during the race.”
According to Shovlin, formerly of Honda, Hamilton was theoretically capable of stretching his first stint beyond 26 laps but Mercedes took no chances with the sizeable gap he had created. Shovlin resumed to say that the Barcelona track suited Mercedes’ package and suggested that the conditions “flattered” the W09‘s performance.
“Lewis was able to control the race and whilst we could have gone longer on that first stint, the front tyre was quite worn and we decided to stop as a precaution as there was no real threat from behind,” he said. “This put Lewis behind [Max] Verstappen but we knew he had to stop so there was no urgency to pass.
“As with Valtteri, a one stop became the best strategy to defend the lead from there and managing the tyres and the pace was the goal from there to the finish. This was a track that suited us very well in the winter tests and it may be that today we were flattered by the circuit and the conditions.
“However, the continued efforts of everyone in Brackley and Brixworth have played no small part in today’s success.”
Shovlin cautiously previewed the upcoming Monaco Grand Prix in a fortnight’s time, saying that the principality race can pose problems for the best cars. It was a race where Mercedes had no answer to Ferrari and Vettel’s challenge in 2017, ending a run of four successive Monaco wins for the team.
“The next races are very different tracks, Monaco in particular, and to win there is difficult even when you have a great car.
“However, we are really enjoying being part of this championship, it is driving everyone to deliver their very best and we go to the next races planning to do just that.”