Damage sustained from his first-lap crash with Max Verstappen in the British Grand Prix would have forced Lewis Hamilton to retire without a red flag stoppage, Mercedes has revealed.
Hamilton attempted to pass pole-sitter Verstappen for the lead on the opening lap, but the pair collided at Copse Corner, resulting in a heavy impact for the Red Bull driver, while Hamilton continued in second place.
An initial safety car period was followed by the race being suspended to allow marshals and track workers to repair the damaged barrier and recover Verstappen’s car.
During the red flag, Mercedes began inspecting Hamilton’s car and found an issue with the left-front wheel rim, allowing them to repair the damage in the pitlane.
Mercedes trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin believes without the race being stopped the team wouldn’t have detected the damage from the incident, which would have proved terminal.
“We’d failed the rim where we had the contact at the front left, so that would’ve been a DNF had it not been red-flagged,” Shovlin said, as quoted by Motorsport.com
“But the rest of the damage was actually remarkably little. It was a tyre temperature sensor that had got knocked loose so it was waggling around but, amazingly, it’s the least important part on the front wing and it was the only one that broke.”
Hamilton was deemed at fault for his collision with Verstappen and handed a 10-second time penalty, but recovered after a late-race charge to catch and pass race leader Charles Leclerc two laps from the end.
Shovlin said Mercedes’ strategy had predicted Hamilton would overtake Leclerc on the penultimate lap, and noticed a “switch” in seven-time world champion’s mindset when he realised the win was within reach.
“From our planners during the race which are forecasting it live, we were looking at catching him with two laps to go,” Shovlin explained.
“When we thought it was on was probably five laps into that, you normally see the drop on the tyres and you could just see Lewis holding this eight-tenths advantage to Charles every lap.
“Lewis just wasn’t dropping off and the balance was happy. And, to be honest, with Lewis, you can hear it in his voice in what he’s saying on the radio.
“You just get this switch where he knows in his head he’s going to do it today and, to be honest, it was really nice sitting on the pitwall just watching that final stint unfold because it was a great and well-deserved win.”