The team and driver errors that caused Hamilton’s retirement

2007 Chinese Grand Prix

Lewis Hamilton, McLaren, Shanghai, 2007McLaren and Lewis Hamilton were left blaming themselves after a poor call on race strategy forced the championship leader out of a race for the first time this year.

While McLaren accepted their mistake in not bringing Hamilton in, the Briton apologised for losing control of his car on the way into the pits.

But when they analyse the mistakes that led up to his retirement from the Chinese Grand Prix they will recognise a series of missed opportunities to avoid the DNF.

Hamilton built up a lead very quickly in the opening stages with a series of quick laps:

Lap 2: Hamilton 1’47.6 – Raikkonen 1’48.5 (+0.9)
Lap 3: Hamilton 1’47.6 – Raikkonen 1’48.1 (+0.5)
Lap 4: Hamilton 1’46.3 – Raikkonen 1’47.1 (+0.8)

This continued up until the final laps before Hamilton’s first stop on lap 14 – Hamilton taking up to 1.2s per lap off Raikkonen (on lap six). But when Hamilton made his pit stop it was clear his front-left tyre was in very poor condition.

Raikkonen waited until his fuel load was lightest before he set his quickest laps – which were all fastest laps of the race up to that point:

Lap 15: Raikkonen 1’45.0
Lap 16: Raikkonen 1’44.3
Lap 17: Raikkonen 1’43.8

When Raikkonen pitted on lap 18 his tyres were in visibly better conditions than Hamilton’s had been – despite starting with more fuel, covering more laps and setting faster laps. Not only that, but he came out of the pits having cut Hamilton’s lead to 4.1s from 9.0.

It’s easy to be wise after the fact, but at this stage McLaren must surely have been alert to the fact that Hamilton was getting marginal on tyres. Nonetheless, Hamilton kept pushing:

Lap 20: Hamilton 1’43.8 – Raikkonen 1’44.3 (+0.5)

By this time several laps had passed since the last of the rain and some drivers further down the order had switched to dry weather tyres. Wurz set a new fastest lap on the 23rd tour on standard grooved tyres.

Up front the leaders were all on worn wet tyres and Hamilton’s plight was becoming clear – he was 1.6s slower than Raikkonen on lap 26 as the rain began again. Twenty seconds further back was Alonso, whose tyres were in even better condition having spent most of the race thus far stuck behind Felipe Massa.

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Hamilton’s plight would have been familiar to Alonso – because exactly the same thing happened to him at Shanghai last year. Alonso wore his wet weather tyres out too quickly, had to pit for fresh rubber, and fell behind those who were able to continue on the same worn but hot tyres.

But as the track became slippery once more Hamilton’s situation was looking dire. Raikkonen caught Hamilton and, after a lap and a half of frantic defending by the Briton, passed him. Now Alonso was zeroing in on his team mate:

Lap 28 Hamilton 1’55.6 – Alonso 1’53.6 (-2.0)
Lap 29 Hamilton 1’55.3 – Alonso 1’51.6 (-3.7)

Lap 29 was the critical moment for Hamilton. He was unable to put Jarno Trulli’s Toyota a lap down, his right rear tyre was showing visible signs of damage, he’d been carrying a heavier fuel load for longer than anyone else, and his team mate was 3.7s faster than him. Yet McLaren kept him out:

Lap 30 Hamilton 1’56.8 – Alonso 1’49.1 (-7.7)

Finally the sight of Hamilton losing 7.7s in one lap pushed McLaren into action and the Briton was called in.

He got within one corner of dragging his car into the pit box where fresh dry weather tyres were waiting. But he took a fraction too much speed into the corner, the destroyed rear tyres refused to follow the front wheels around the bend, and the McLaren ground pathetically to a halt in a gravel trap scarcely much wider than the car.

Afterwards Hamilton avoided blaming the team for the bad call and apologised for losing control of the car on the way into the pits:

The tyres were finished, and these things happen. I’m sorry for the team, but I can still do it.

The team accepted responsibility for their mistake. Martin Whitmarsh said:

Quite simply we didn’t call him in. I think with hindsight we left him out a lap too long and I think his tyres were pretty worn.

The weather was pretty changeable at that time and we wanted to make sure that we weren’t taking any risks and that we had to cover Kimi. In the end it was decided we had to come in, but at that stage it was frankly a lap too late.

It was our decision. We were getting the weather information and it was coming and going. We didn’t want to come in and get on the wrong tyre. We took it one lap too long and we regret that now.

It’s the second time Hamilton has found himself on the wrong tyres this year – he switched onto dry weather tyres too early in the European Grand Prix. Was this a risk too far on a day when second or even third place could have made him world champion?

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28 comments on The team and driver errors that caused Hamilton’s retirement

  1. oliver said on 7th October 2007, 11:41

    The Ferraris are better able to take care of their tyres, thats the advantage they’ve had all year. The Mclaren is faster over a single lap sometimes, but shred their tyres more often. Thats why you always see the Mclaren running on the harder of the two tyres when the Ferraris can make do on the softer.

    I have a feeling one more lap and Hamilton would have lost his tyres and probably end up in the gravel, as it turned out, he just converted a team error into his own error

  2. Maybe someone inside McLaren team is on Alonso’s side after all? Strange with all the machinations that have been going on that the team could not see what even James Allan noticed!!!!!

  3. Magnus said on 7th October 2007, 12:55

    Of course they knew the tyres were marginal, but they had to stretch them as far as possible to be able to fuel up enough and switch to dry tires at the pit stop. Had Hamilton driven more sensibly, especially towards the end when he was screwing around with Trulli for no reason, he would probably have been on the podium and have his championship all but secured. Now Alonso can take the title by winning in Brazil and Hamilton no better than 3rd, which isn’t all that impossible.

  4. Andy J said on 7th October 2007, 14:55

    It did seem a set of weird decisions by Hamilton & McLaren… I understand exactly what Magnus is saying in the previous post, but it’s almost as if the team & Hamilton lost sight of the fact he didnt need to take any unnecessary risks. Had he finished above Alonso, he’d have won it, or failing that, finish close behind & make it easier in Brazil. As it stands now, the title is wide open….. Poor day for McLaren…

  5. If Hamilton had of slowed more coming into the pits he would have made that corner, as it happens inexperience has caught him out!
    He shouldnt have been going all out for the win, he had the margin to play it safe.
    Its the 1st time he has been under real pressure this year and he cracked, lets see how he copes in Brazil, come on Rai & Alsonso, coz I couldnt listen to ITV biased commentators if he wins!!

  6. Andy J said on 7th October 2007, 15:28

    One thing that struck me, I thought the current school of thought on these new tracks was to have tarmac run off areas. Typical that there should be a bit of piddling gravel in an area where they’re only supposed to be going slow anyway…

  7. oliver said on 7th October 2007, 15:52

    Andy I was really amazed too at having a gravel trap in there and funny thing i never noticed it all these years until Hamilton pointed it out, the silly thing about it is that, a driver could beach the car there and be partially on the track there by blocking the pit entry which im sure can lead to a red flag or something, and it really is so narrow goin into that pit.

    Magnus, the reason they gave for not stopping earlier was race control was expecting rain i think at the time, you can just see how the wrong set of tyres can ruin a race like Webbers.

  8. I have to say I was (for the first time) impressed by Hamilton today. Not by his driving – which was bonkers – but by the way he avoided laying blame on the team when “interviewed” by ITV.
    Although he did then confuse me by saying “I could see the canvas on my tyre” and then two sentences later “my mirrors were dirty so I couldn’t see my rear tires”.
    Can’t wait for Brazil, I confess to hope something goes wrong – I think we might get to hear James Allen cry! I’m rooting for Kimi now, I don’t desperately like him, but at least he’s done nothing but race this year, if you see what I mean.

  9. varun said on 7th October 2007, 17:49

    The true driving skill of lewis are out………… Lewis S****…….

  10. Nathan said on 7th October 2007, 17:54

    Kirk, I agree. I want Kimi to win too. Out of the 3 contenders left I think he is the best driver. In fact, I reckon he’s probably the best driver not to have been world champion in the modern era.

  11. oliver said on 7th October 2007, 18:00

    Well he wasnt interviewed while the race was still goin on but after he had parked the car and taken a good look at it, so its often easy to mix the past with the present. Its also safe to assume from seeing his front tyres, he probably expected the rear tyres to be just as bad if not worse, so a visual confirmation at the end of the race just only solidyfies any mental image he may have made.

  12. His front left was pretty marginal as well so he could easily have been talking about that. It confused me as well, but I guessed that he didn’t realise how bad the rears actually were. Maybe that’s added to the surprise going into the pits.

  13. another lewis fan said on 7th October 2007, 19:58

    I guess that was inexperience showing from hamilton which is to be expected at some point but at least he did’nt do an alonso and throw his toys out of his pram even experienced drivers make mistakes what about alonso crashing into the wall at fuji that should’nt have happened to an experienced driver, but Those of you who dont want hamilton to win championship are you british?why is it that some of you love to see a fellow brit fail?

  14. I am sure that the team did not ask him to drive to the gravel. He may be great, but he was still a rookie driving one of the best car that uses some part of Ferrari’s information

    Comment for another Lewis fan:

    Because he is British then the rest should support him? Are you also supporting Stepney’s conducts? He is british as far as I know……

  15. oliver said on 7th October 2007, 21:02

    Ironic twist, Stepney didnt get promotion, got disgruntled.
    Alonso expected promotion, got disgruntled.
    Stepney gave Mclaren dossier.
    Alonso gave FIA email.

    Anyway, I’m still of the view, that the only Ferrari Intellectual property on the Mclaren, is the Vodafone logo on their sidepods

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