Why Mercedes Didn’t Gamble on a Different Strategy to Beat Red Bull at the Abu Dhabi GP

Published 12/18/2020, 5:19 AM EST
Formula One F1 – Bahrain Grand Prix – Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain – November 29, 2020 Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton celebrates after winning the race Pool via REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed


For a team that has redefined dominance in the modern era of F1, Mercedes weren’t at their imperious best in Abu Dhabi. For just the second time this season, none of their cars took pole in qualifying. They could not do much to trouble the Red Bull of Max Verstappen in the main race either.

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For Sunday’s race, both Mercedes drivers lined up on the grid on medium tires. However, just a few laps into the race, it began to degrade. At the same time, it wasn’t providing any substantial gain per lap in comparison to the hard compounds.

Formula One F1 – Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates – December 13, 2020 Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton in action after the race Pool via REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed

Hence when the Racing Point car of Sergio Perez suffered an engine failure on lap 10, both Hamilton and Bottas were called for a double-stack pit stop.

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Chief Strategist James Vowles explains the team’s decision

Explaining the decision to fit the hard compounds on both the cars, Mercedes’ James Vowles said, “Out of all the tires, there was only one that was really performing very well on the race run. And that was the hard tire; it was very durable. Our models predicted that you could nearly run them the whole race distance bar a few laps.”

“We knew that hard tire could go to the end and you’ll never make up that deficit in time that you will gain as a result of the VSC,” he added.

However, it begs the question as to why the team did not split the strategies with two different cars. At least, one of them would have been among the race leaders. However, as the Chief Strategist points out, they would need to pit eventually for the mandatory stop.

On losing the lead in the race, he said, “Had we stayed out with Lewis or Valtteri, we would have been in the lead of the race. No doubt about that. But both Red Bulls would have had the edge on us. They would have been on a tire that was actually better.”

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Does this signal an end to Mercedes’ dominance for next season?

Formula One F1 – Turkish Grand Prix – Istanbul Park, Istanbul, Turkey – Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton crosses the finish line to win the race REUTERS/Tolga Bozoglu

No, don’t let this result deceive you. This is just a small blip in the road for a team that strives for excellence. Perhaps one can forgive them for taking their foot off the pedal with both World Championships in the bag.

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Expect them to come charging again next season.

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Bharat Aggarwal

755 articles

Bharat Aggarwal is a sports analyst for EssentiallySports, covering Formula 1 and NBA. A Delhi University graduate, Bharat has multi-year experience in sports writing, having closely worked with the content strategy aspect as well. Bharat Aggarwal supports Manchester United, Lewis Hamilton, Cristiano Ronaldo, Rafael Nadal, Dirk Nowitzki, Sachin Tendulkar, Ayrton Senna, Kristaps Porzingis, and Dallas Mavericks.

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