Ahead of this weekend’s Mexican Grand Prix, it looked as though tyre degradation and graining would play a pivotal role – and it did, just not in the way that anyone expected.
Teams expected the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez to punish tyres, but warmer conditions and the absence of rain meant drivers were able to push tyres harder and longer – something that benefitted Mercedes, but was detrimental for Ferrari.
As strategies unravelled during the race, a bold decision by Mercedes to place Hamilton on an extra-long one-stop ultimately allowed the Briton to take his tenth victory of the season.
On the other hand, front row starters Ferrari had to settle for second and fourth after putting their drivers on strategies that would’ve been bold on Saturday, but ended up being relatively conservative in Sunday’s surprising conditions.
“For Lewis and Valtteri, everything went really perfectly, while maybe we were just a bit unlucky,” Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel said.
Vettel, like Hamilton, opted for a one-stop strategy, but he was majorly undercut by Hamilton, who pitted on lap 23. Vettel didn’t stop for hard tyres until lap 37.
“We didn’t get it so wrong today. It was simply a case of not believing that the hard tyres could last so long.”Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel.
Hamilton’s final stint on the hard tyres last 48 laps – and he alluded to how “long” it felt in his immediate post-race interview. “We stopped pretty early, and honestly I thought it might have been too early,” he added later.
The Mercedes victory in Mexico appeared to be a by-product of unexpected track conditions, which lowered degradation and graining, bringing the one-stop strategy into play.
Formula 1’s official tyre supplier Pirelli had predicted after qualifying that a two-stop would be the fastest strategy. In the end, the top three drivers only stopped once.
Polesitter Charles Leclerc finished the race in P4 after opting to follow the more conservative two-stop. “Starting a race from pole and not finishing first is always disappointing,” he said. Leclerc had led the opening stint.
“This unexpected behaviour of the tyres is probably the main surprise today.”Ferrari Team Principal Mattia Binotto.
Pirelli Head of Racing Mario Isola said the high temperatures and lack of rain “tipped the balance back towards one or two stops, rather than two or more.”
Just a day earlier, Pirelli had suggested some soft-tyre starters would need to stop three times to get to the end.
Mercedes engineer Andrew Shovlin agreed with the points made by Pirelli’s Isola. He commented post-race the warmer conditions “seemed to help the tyres” and subsequently put a one-stop strategy “back onto the table”.
“Both drivers did a brilliant job managing the tyres and both had really good pace in the race,” Shovlin said.
The victory was the 100th victory for Mercedes in Formula 1. 91 of those victories have been achieved since 2014, while the other nine came between 1954 and 1955.