‘We gambled, we lost’ – Wolff explains why Mercedes stuck with one-stop strategy in France
Mercedes’ hopes of winning the French Grand Prix were undone by Red Bull adopting a surprise two-stop strategy – but why didn’t the Silver Arrows try the same thing at Paul Ricard? Team Principal Toto Wolff explained all after the scintillating race.
While Max Verstappen stopped twice, Sergio Perez was the factor that stopped Mercedes going for a similar strategy to Red Bull, Wolff said on Sunday. Perez ran a one-stop strategy, pitting seven laps later than Valtteri Bottas, eventually passing the Finn, and was in eyeshot of Lewis Hamilton by the end of the race. The Mexican’s presence meant that if Mercedes had pitted either Hamilton or Bottas, they would likely have relinquished a position to Perez.
“The fight between the three cars [Verstappen, Hamilton and Bottas] was intense at the front and then you had to opt for continuing with the one-stop or the two," he said. "Two-stop was a danger for us because Perez was in the way. We got it wrong today.”
He added that Mercedes were hoping that Perez would receive a five-second penalty for what they saw as a potentially illegal pass on Bottas on Lap 49, and therefore kept the Finn out just in case, rather than pit him for fresh tyres for an attempt to take the bonus point for fastest lap. In the end, the stewards ruled Perez's move was legal.
“Well, we thought maybe Perez gets a penalty for overtaking outside of the track limits, so we said stay within five seconds, so it was really balancing between that penalty and maybe getting Fastest Lap. So we gambled; we lost,” added Wolff.
In the end, it was Verstappen who got the Fastest Lap bonus point as none of his rivals could risk a pit stop with the top four split by just 14.6 seconds at the end of the race. Regardless, Wolff pointed at the Lap 18 pit stop, when Verstappen stopped and undercut Hamilton, as the reason for Mercedes’ loss on Sunday.
“We lost the race at the stop,” he said. “Thinking that we had enough protection against the undercut, which we didn’t. We had a solid three-second gap to protect against the undercut and that wasn’t enough… and from then on, we were on the back foot.”
Looking ahead to the Austrian double-header at Red Bull’s home circuit where Mercedes hope to win their first race since the Spanish GP, Wolff said Mercedes needed to “learn” from Red Bull’s pace in France.
“Lots to learn, because we need to understand – I mean, they are doing phenomenal out-laps – why did we misjudge the undercut? Maybe something we need to look at,” he concluded.
The Silver Arrows are now 37 points behind Red Bull while Hamilton is 12 points behind Verstappen in this nailbiting battle for supremacy.