Mercedes took a gamble that could turn into calamity for Lewis Hamilton – iNews

Artificial Intelligence or human intuition? Mercedes backed their pitwall calculator over the seven-time world champion at the Turkish Grand Prix and as a result saw Lewis Hamilton drop two places from third to fifth, shipping five points as a consequence.
It was a devilishly tricky gamble that might have cost Hamilton whichever way the coin flipped. But that is not how a racer thinks. Not this one, anyway. Sensory perception trumps science all day long in variable conditions when Hamilton is at the wheel. Few feel the car beneath them like Hamilton when rain is in the air.
As he saw it, third place was his to claim, an outcome that would have sent him to the United States Grand Prix in a fortnight just one point adrift of Max Verstappen. As it is, the advantage in the tightest championship race for 15 years has swung the way of Verstappen to the tune of six points with half a dozen races remaining.
Next race: United States Grand Prix – 24 October
Not a calamity yet, though if it becomes one in a season of marginal gains, the mathematicians at Mercedes HQ might want to give Hamilton a wide berth at the Christmas party.
F1 results: Valtteri Bottas wins Turkish GP 2021 as Lewis Hamilton fumes at bungled Mercedes strategy
The Istanbul day dawned murky and wet, scattering showers across the circuit that would mean a whole race run on intermediate tyres. Hamilton had been quickest all weekend but a new engine cost him a 10-place penalty, pushing him back to 11th on the grid from pole. He would make up six places before hitting the back of Red Bull’s Sergio Perez at the point in the race when the tyres were right on the edge.
As those in front started to pit for fresh rubber with 20 laps to go, Hamilton stayed out and was eventually sucked into third place behind team-mate and race leader Valtteri Bottas and Verstappen. Initially the Mercedes pit wall were minded to bring in Hamilton in sequence but he resisted the call. “Why? I think we should stay out man,” he said when the instruction to box was made. “Ok, one more lap thinking time,” replied the logicians.
The pit wall were frantically crunching the numbers. The algorithms told them that Hamilton could not hold on to third on ageing tyres. Hamilton, on the other hand, was intuiting the conditions, feeling performance through his hands on the wheel. At this point Charles Leclerc, who had also stayed out, was struggling to hold off Bottas for the lead. Hamilton seemed content to be in a Red Bull sandwich in fourth, temporarily gaining on Verstappen whilst pulling away from Perez.
The dynamic changed when Bottas reclaimed lead with 11 laps to go, Leclerc’s inability to contend with the extra grip of the Merc’s fresh boots through turn one forcing a rapid recalculation all round. Ferrari’s response was to pit Leclerc at the end of the lap. “How are the tyres?” asked the Mercedes pit wall of Hamilton. “I’m sliding around but fine,” he said. What the pit wall knew and Hamilton didn’t were the times being set by the Red Bulls in front and behind, not to mention Bottas at the head of the race.
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The computer was telling them that Perez was too quick and would catch him. With seven laps to go the pit wall flicked the switch. Hamilton agreed this time assuming he would not lose any places. His mood would change quickly once the truth was out. “What position am I in, man?” he asked tetchily. P5 was received like a smack on the hooter. “We shouldn’t have come in. I told you, man,” he said.
The move might have been even more costly. Hamilton now had Pierre Gasly and Lando Norris at his rear on tyres bang in their performance window. With the tension gathering the Mercedes pit wall advised Hamilton of the shrinking time difference to the rapidly approaching Gasly. “Leave me alone man,” Hamilton said, his faith in science shot. His engineers knew the new tyres would come back to him eventually, but the luxury of time had gone.
On the plus side, Mercedes had given Hamilton a quick car all weekend, the performance deficit to Red Bull at the start of the year now erased. Mercedes have won the last two races. In Russia a fortnight ago Hamilton took seven points out of Verstappen to reclaim the lead in the championship by two points. In Turkey Hamilton surrendered eight to Verstappen to trail by six.
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It’s oh so tight, but it won’t rain on Hamilton’s parade every Sunday.
*Fastest lap
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