Lewis Hamilton could have finished the Turkish Grand Prix last Sunday without stopping, but he would have finished below the fifth place he ended up with, his Mercedes team said in a debriefing on Wednesday.
Seven-time Formula 1 world champion Hamilton had wanted to go the distance on intermediate tires after finishing 11th on a wet afternoon due to engine penalties, but ultimately pulled out of third place.
The race cost the Briton the lead in the overall standings as Red Bull’s Max Verstappen gained a six-point lead after finishing second behind Hamilton teammate Valtteri Bottas.
Hamilton angrily questioned Mercedes’ tactics at the time, but the team’s technical director, James Allison, said the outcome would have been worse had he not followed instructions.
“In all likelihood we would have come to the end of the race on a set of tires, capable of moving smoothly,” said Allison.
“The question is how fast would we have been? And the proof is quite clear: we would have been very slow.
“Lewis’ lap times were starting to deteriorate lap by lap and even if he would have reached the end of the race, the pace would have been pretty dismal by the time he arrived.”
Allison said the optimum in hindsight would have been to stop around the 36th or 37th lap, while the 41st would have been “kind of a fourth-place stop.” Instead, Hamilton continued for nine more laps.
At that point, the prediction was that he would finish seventh or eighth without stinging.
“You can see why, if you play a hand of poker like that, you’re going to pick the best option and the best option for us, having missed the previous call, was to come in and get that fifth place,” Allison said.
He added that it was difficult to see the team’s pace in Turkey, with Bottas dominating in the race and Hamilton the fastest in practice and qualifying, as criteria for the future.
“It was a very good performance, the car was very well balanced, we didn’t seem to suffer as much from understeer which was quite common in the pit lane this weekend,” he said.
“But I don’t think you can read that automatically in future races.”
Allison said reliability, pit stops and weather will all be future factors, but Mercedes has a fighting chance.
“It is an exciting season and these recent races should make it a season that will be considered for many years to be one of the classics of F1,” he added.