Why Didn’t Mercedes pit Hamilton at the start of the race?
Amongst the chaos of the Hungarian Grand Prix was one of the weirdest sights in F1 history: Lewis Hamilton on the starting grid at lights out all by himself. It was a sight that begged the question, just how did we get here?
Written by Morgan Holiday, Edited by Haneen Abbas
After several lap 1 incidents, the race was red-flagged, and the cars returned to the pit lane. By the time the debris had been cleared and it was time to restart the race, the track which had previously been wet dried out significantly. All 20 drivers were planning to start on the intermediate tyre, but by the time they had started the formation lap, it was clear the track was too dry. And so, before the lights went out, all the drivers remaining in the race went into the pits to change tyres. Well, all the drivers but one.
Hamilton was the sole driver to take the start from the grid and not change from the intermediate tyre, a choice that immediately cost him. Having to pit a lap later to get rid of the tyres that were not going to work on a basically dry track, he dropped to the back of the pack. While Hamilton eventually fought his way back to finish on the podium at the Hungaroring, the race win would easily have been his had he and Mercedes not made the strange choice to not pit before the restart.
Of course, Hamilton would have been the first driver with the opportunity to enter the pit lane, and while all the others on the grid would have seen the cars before them parading into the pits, Hamilton would not have had that advantage. All the same, it was clear to see that the track was drying fast and would not be in the right conditions for the tyre everyone had on.
When asked about the decision, Mercedes Team Principal Toto Wolff said “I think it was 100% the right decision and I stand by it. In the end, you need to make the call out there and judge whether it’s dry enough or not. I thought that within one lap, it couldn’t possibly dry up as it did, and in the end, you have to take it on the chin that it was the wrong outcome.
“But the decision was right. We calculated that he would have come out sixth with the train of cars going into the pits. Now you are more clever, but it is what it is.”
Is Wolff right to claim it was the correct decision when it cost Hamilton a win that could mean the difference in winning or losing the championship? It’s easy to say with hindsight that their strategy didn’t pay off, but should Mercedes have been making gambles in the first place, with both the constructor’s and the driver’s championship on the line?
In the end, despite Hamilton’s poor strategy, he finished P2 after Vettel’s disqualification, putting him back in the lead of the driver’s championship. The first lap chaos ruined Max Verstappen’s race and yielded him only 1 point. Going into the summer break Mercedes leads both the drivers and constructors championship, leaving Red Bull on the back foot.