Mercedes says its decision to not pit Lewis Hamilton for dry tyres prior to the standing restart at the Hungarian Grand Prix was in hindsight the “wrong choice”.
Following an early red flag period after the multi-car pile-up on the opening lap, drivers completed a formation lap before the second standing start in Hungary.
As the lead car, Hamilton continued to the grid, but in bizarre scenes was the only driver to line up in his grid slot, with everyone else peeling into the pits to switch from intermediates to slick tyres.
It left Hamilton to complete an entire lap on a drying track, with Mercedes calling the seven-time world champion in to the pits to change to dry tyres where he would rejoin at the back of the field.
Speaking after the race, Mercedes Formula 1 boss Toto Wolff defended his team’s decision to take the restart, believing it was “100%” the right call.
But having taken time to go over its performance at the Hungaroring, Mercedes technical director Mike Elliott admits it should have boxed Hamilton at the restart.
“You have to bear in mind those decisions are really, really tricky,” Elliott said in Mercedes’ post-race debrief video.
“We agonised over what tyre to fit at the very start of the race, as it turned out the inter was definitely the right choice because it started raining on the lap to the grid.
“We agonised over what tyre to fit after the red flag and clearly all of the cars fitted inters. And on that lap to the grid, even though all the drivers had fitted inters, clearly others decided to change their mind and we should have too.
“But the reality is it’s actually more difficult for us as a team than it is for the other teams. When you are the front car, you can’t see what everybody else is doing. You are the lead car.
“When you are further back in the chain, you can see what others have done and you can change your mind accordingly. You can use that new evidence to your advantage.”
Part of Mercedes’ dilemma over whether to pit Hamilton was the fact its pit box is located closest to the pit entry, which they felt could have delayed the British driver.
Elliott also explained Mercedes was wary of being involved in a collision, as seen when Alfa Romeo released Kimi Raikkonen into the path of Nikita Mazepin.
“The second problem for us is that we have the first pitbox in the pitlane,” Elliott said. “So, as we’d have come into the pit lane and we’d boxed, all the cars would have been pouring past and it would have been very difficult for Lewis to get out and that would have delayed us.
“The second problem with that is if we had tried to force our way out into the pitlane we could have collided with another car and we actually saw that happen in that sequence of pitstops.
“What we were looking at is, what is the best strategy for us? And actually, we were thinking that we wanted to be conservative with that. Our main rival was further back and what we needed to do was to not make a silly mistake and end up crashing into another car.
“As it happened, we would have been better off pitting, even if we had to wait to the back of the queue.”
Mercedes believe Hamilton would have dropped to around sixth place had it decided to pit him along with the rest of the grid.
Hamilton would recover from 14th to finish third on the road, but after Sebastian Vettel’s post-race disqualification would be promoted to second place, seeing him reclaim the lead in the drivers’ standings for the first time since the Spanish Grand Prix.
“It’s quite difficult to know because it really depends on trying to find a gap in the pit lane to get out of your pit box,” Elliot said.
“We think P5, P6, maybe something like that. But probably as I said before, really, the bigger risk for us was colliding with another car in the pit lane trying to force our way out and we would have had to have been conservative.”