Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport Chief Race Engineer Andrew Shovlin hailed a “dramatic” Italian Grand Prix, adding that the team were lucky Sebastian Vettel did more damage to his own race than Lewis Hamilton‘s in the controversial first-lap collision.
Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas started in third and fourth, having been beaten by Scuderia Ferrari drivers Kimi Räikkönen and Sebastian Vettel in qualifying. A good start by the Mercedes drivers saw them close the gap to the Ferrari drivers through Curva Grande, with Hamilton close enough to attempt an overtake coming out of the third turn.
Turned into the second chicane Hamilton and Vettel were side-by-side, with Vettel on the inside and Hamilton making a daring overtake on the outside. As the two rounded the fourth corner Vettel found himself understeering, hit Hamilton, then found himself facing the wrong way. This worked out very well for Mercedes, especially, says Shovlin, as they were lucky Vettel only damaged his own car.
“We certainly didn’t expect today to go the way it did but we knew if we could put them under some pressure, opportunities for the win would start to appear.
“The first lap was quite dramatic, we had good starts with both cars and Lewis was able to put himself into really good position into Turn 4 nosing ahead of Vettel. We were lucky that he did more harm to his own race than ours and we didn’t have much damage to the car.”
With Vettel out of the picture the race quickly became about Hamilton and Räikkönen. Whilst the Brit seemed happy sitting in the Finn’s slipstream, he was unable to make much of an inroad into Räikkönen’s lead and close up to make a crucial overtake – leading thoughts to drift towards tyre strategy. Ferrari, seemingly punishing their tyres more, opted to pit first – crucially fitting new tyres eight laps earlier than Hamilton and coming out behind his team-mate Bottas.
Hamilton used both the last bits of pace from his old tyres and all available grip from his new tyres to blitz the gap between him and Räikkönen, with Bottas doing wingman duty and holding up his fellow countryman. This left Räikkönen on old tyres and without much of a defence, allowing Hamilton to easily overtake and drive off into the distance (and the eventual race win).
This strategy had actually been planned ahead of the race, said Shovlin, who added that coping with blistering tyres in warm conditions had been a priority at Brackley in the last seven days.
“The race with Lewis and Kimi was interesting and one that we had covered in the morning strategy meeting. They couldn’t leave the pit window open, but it meant we were able to create an offset on tyres that in the end won us the race.
“The tyres were on the limit and the work to understand the blistering we suffered in Spa helped today, the strong end of stint pace with both cars was a testament to the hard work that has gone on at the factory over the last week.
“Both drivers did a brilliant job today and looked after the tyres very well. Valtteri had a tough battle with Verstappen but once we knew that Max had a penalty, there was no point in continuing to attack him so we backed off knowing we had secured a podium.”
Turning his attention to the next race in Singapore, Shovlin said that whilst the the team “are under no illusions” about how hard it will be to win, he’s hopeful that the mixture of the Mercedes car, team and drivers will be enough to keep them in the Championship.
“We’re in Singapore next and that is a track that hasn’t been kind to us over the years so we are under no illusions that it will be a difficult challenge. However, we have a good car, a fantastic team and two great drivers so we will be doing everything we can to keep our championship leads intact.“