Mercedes ‘doesn’t fully understand’ how Verstappen undercut Hamilton
The Mercedes Formula 1 team does not “fully understand” how Max Verstappen was able to undercut Lewis Hamilton in the French Grand Prix.
Hamilton inherited the lead at the start of the race when Verstappen ran wide unchallenged at Turn 1 and went on to control the opening stint, pulling a three second gap to his main rival.
Red Bull reacted to Valtteri Bottas becoming the first of the leaders to pit on Lap 18 by calling Verstappen in on the next tour. A stunning out-lap from Verstappen enabled him to sneak ahead of Hamilton when the Mercedes driver re-emerged from the pits a lap later.
Mercedes was not banking on the undercut to be so powerful, with all of its modelling simulations pointing towards Hamilton being able to retain his lead following his pit stop.
A strategic masterstroke from Red Bull to commit Verstappen to a two-stopper opened the door for the Dutchman to overtake the one-stopping Hamilton for the win on the penultimate lap of the race.
While Shovlin acknowledged that it would have found itself in a “decent position” had it pitted Hamilton immediately after Bottas came in, he insisted that a two-stop strategy was unlikely to work.
The last-gasp defeat promoted Mercedes strategy chief James Vowles to apologise to Hamilton, saying: “This one’s on us.”
When asked why Mercedes opted not to pit Hamilton before Bottas, Shovlin replied: “Because it was uncomfortably early to go to the end. Also, the concern on Valtteri’s car was that he was getting an increasing vibration, that was getting worse and worse every lap.