Mercedes won’t change strategic approach for Russian GP
Strategy was the major talking point in Singapore. Sebastian Vettel got it spot on and was catapulted into a winning position. Mercedes got it wrong and missed out on a podium. Unsurprisingly, ahead of the race in Russia this weekend, the Silver Arrows faced questions on their approach...
Last time out in Marina Bay, Mercedes opted to run Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas long in the opening stint, with Hamilton - who had been running second, behind race leader Charles Leclerc - being undercut by eventual winner Sebastian Vettel and Max Verstappen as a result.
It’d be a brave man who puts his house on any one on these three teams
A disappointed Hamilton, who finished fourth, said after the Grand Prix that he felt he 'could have easily won' if Mercedes had opted for the undercut approach he said he'd pushed for ahead of the race.
So having dissected what happened in detail in the days that followed, will the Silver Arrows be more aggressive in Sochi?
“Not necessarily,” said Mercedes tech chief James Allison. “I think everybody tries to play the strategy like a game of poker. You try to line the odds up in your favour, you can’t make the winning move at every turn – you just try to do the thing that, nine times out of 10, is going to play out correctly.
“And that’s not really a matter of aggression or being passive, it’s just trying to figure out what is the best likely outcome,” he explained.
Part of the problem for the strategists in Singapore was the power of the undercut, which Ferrari's Laurent Mekies said 'surprised everybody'.
“The thing that surprised Laurent also surprised us, which is just the dramatic power of the undercut," said Allison. "Had we better anticipated that, it would’ve been clear also to us [to stop as early as Vettel],” said Allison.
As for Russia, it’s anyone’s game, and all bets are off according to Allison - even though Mercedes have won every Russian Grand Prix to date.
“We were taken aback by the pace of our competition [in Singapore]," he explained. "It’s an annoying business, Formula 1. You can think you’re going to be good and find that you get a whipping..."
After FP1, where Hamilton finished fourth and Bottas fifth, Allison said: “It’d be a brave man who puts his house on any one on these three teams because it looks pretty challengingly close at the front.
“We’re going to have to work well in FP2 and FP3 to be able to do well in qualifying and in the race.
“And at the moment it’s too difficult to say whether or not that’s going to happen, which I guess is fun for everybody else but a bit more stressful for us,” he said.
Perhaps Red Bull are just out of the equation as Verstappen and Alex Albon have five-place grid penalties for Sunday, but the picture ahead of Saturday's qualifying is far from clear.