Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Hungaroring, 2014

How Mercedes ended up in a team orders crisis

2014 Hungarian Grand PrixPosted on | Author Keith Collantine

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Hungaroring, 2014With the drivers’ championship almost certain to be won by Lewis Hamilton or Nico Rosberg, Mercedes’ treatment of its drivers has come under fierce scrutiny for signs of anything that might tilt the playing field in favour of either one of them.

That seemed to happen during Sunday’s Hungarian Grand Prix, when Hamilton was told to let his team mate past – an order he controversially, though perhaps not surprisingly, chose to refuse.

Mercedes have generally avoided putting their drivers on significantly different strategies because that can create exactly this sort of tension. They ended up doing so in Hungary because they hedged their bets on which was the best strategy for their drivers.

The Vergne problem

By lap 31 Rosberg had spent more than half his race stuck behind Jean-Eric Vergne’s Toro Rosso. With the track drying out and opportunities to overtake growing ever scarcer, Mercedes gave up on the possibility of Rosberg making a pass stick on the track. As they approached the pit lane he was told to take the opposite strategy to Vergne:

Lap From To Message
32 Tony Ross Nico Rosberg So box, box, box, but do the opposite to Vergne.

At this point, with 38 laps remaining, Mercedes could have put Rosberg on the medium tyre and run him until the end of the race. Toro Rosso had embarked on that plan with Daniil Kvyat two laps earlier.

But they may have doubted the tyre could last that long. It turned out they would have had good reason to, as Kvyat struggled horribly with his tyres at the end of the race.

It’s easy to look back on race strategies with the benefit of hindsight and say that one route was obviously the better choice. It wasn’t clear to Mercedes at the time, and that’s partly why they ended up putting their drivers on different plans – something they have tended to avoid doing in previous races.

Another reason why that happened was that Hamilton had seized the initiative in the following laps. He was shaping up to pass Sebastian Vettel when the Red Bull driver helpfully spun out of his way. He then attacked Vergne and pulled off the move which had eluded Rosberg – a quite brilliant one on the outside of turn four.

Crucially, that also put him far enough of Rosberg that he would stay in front of him when he made his next pit stop:

Lap From To Message
36 Tony Ross Nico Rosberg Lewis is in front of you if he boxes now. He’s safe to you.
37 Peter Bonnington Lewis Hamilton OK Lewis, so we have Nico on our pit window. Zero on our pit window.

Hamilton jumps Rosberg

Hamilton’s tyres still had more to give, so he kept on pushing:

Lap From To Message
38 Peter Bonnington Lewis Hamilton OK Lewis, so one more lap. One more lap.
38 Lewis Hamilton Peter Bonnington I could probably eke out another one or two laps at this pace.
38 Peter Bonnington Lewis Hamilton OK, just go for it, Lewis. Go for it. Do as much as you can.
39 Peter Bonnington Lewis Hamilton OK, you’re in a good place. So we’re boxing at the end of this lap. Box at the end of this lap.
41 Peter Bonnington Lewis Hamilton So we’re going to the end, Lewis. We’ve got 31 laps remaining. All we need to do is keep Alonso within ten seconds. He’s currently at 4.7.

Because Hamilton pitted seven laps later than Rosberg, Mercedes faced a different scenario when deciding what to do with his strategy.

Since Rosberg had come in Vettel and Vergne had also pitted for medium tyres and would clearly be running to the end. Doing the same for Hamilton offered the opportunity to consolidate the places he had gained on them – and Rosberg.

Go ad-free for just £1 per month

>> Find out more and sign up

Mercedes split the strategies

Race strategy at the Hungaroring typically revolves around the sheer difficulty of overtaking. Even with two DRS zones (one of which was shortened slightly this year, reducing its effectiveness) passing remains very difficult. This was easy to forget in the first half of the race when the track was damp, but as it dried in the second half there were far fewer passes throughout the field.

Therefore at the Hungaroring there is greater value in being in front of a rival compared to having newer tyres than they do. Recall how last year a frustrated Vettel was climbing all over Kimi Raikkonen’s tail as the race ended, the Red Bull’s fresher tyres unable to tip the balance in his favour.

This was why Mercedes felt the best option for Hamilton was to make a final pit stop, put on the medium tyres and run to the end – splitting the strategies between their drivers.

“We put Nico on a three-stop strategy and Lewis on a two-stop,” Paddy Lowe explained afterwards. “This caused an interaction which we explained as best we could to each driver.”

This “interaction” was, of course, the controversial moment when Hamilton was told to let his team mate past. Although Hamilton later said he was “very shocked” by the order, he had a clue it was coming soon after his second pit stop when he was alerted to the difference between their strategies:

Lap From To Message
42 Peter Bonnington Lewis Hamilton Nico is the car behind. He is on soft tyres.

“Why is he not letting me through?”

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Hungaroring, 2014Mercedes’ decision to put their drivers on different strategies created a new tension. In order to maximise the potential result for the team, the logical thing to do was have Hamilton let Rosberg pass him at the earliest opportunity. That would put Rosberg in a stronger position at the end of the race.

This is fairly routine when two drivers are on different strategies. At the Nurburgring last year, Rosberg was told to let Hamilton pass for the same reason – and he complied within a couple of laps.

But on Sunday it was clear to Hamilton that letting Rosberg past could undermine his chance to stay ahead at the end of the race. Given the pair are locked in a tooth-and-nail fight for the championship, and that Hamilton was poised to finish ahead of his team mate despite his race being scuppered for the second week in a row by a car failure in qualifying, how many on the Mercedes pit wall seriously expected him to comply with the order?

Tellingly, from the messages that were broadcast it seems Hamilton only received a few requests to move over. And unlike when similar scenarios have unfolded at other teams – such as Red Bull in Malaysia last year – it was never escalated beyond the race engineers to more senior team staff.

After the race Rosberg pointed out he had not asked for Hamilton to pull over, but on the radio he made sure the team knew he thought it was time for his team mate to get out of the way:

Lap From To Message
47 Peter Bonnington Lewis Hamilton OK Lewis. Gap to Nico one second. He’s on the [soft] tyre. He has one more stop, so don’t hold him up.
48 Lewis Hamilton Peter Bonnington I can’t imagine these tyres lasting another 20 laps.
48 Peter Bonnington Lewis Hamilton So the softs did an equivalent of 24 laps – albeit from damp conditions – so wear shouldn’t be an issue.
48 Peter Bonnington Lewis Hamilton So there’s free track behind Nico. You don’t need to use the tyres up defending against Nico.
51 Nico Rosberg Tony Ross Why is he not letting me through?
51 Peter Bonnington Lewis Hamilton OK Lewis, if you let Nico past this lap, please. Let Nico past on the main start/finish straight.
51 Lewis Hamilton Peter Bonnington I’m not slowing down for Nico. If he can get close and overtake, then he can overtake.
51 Peter Bonnington Lewis Hamilton So stay in torque mode-zero, Lewis. And if you can let Nico past into this braking area.
52 Nico Rosberg Tony Ross Why is he not letting me through?
52 Tony Ross Nico Rosberg He’s had the message, Nico. He’s had the message.

Clashing priorities

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Hungaroring, 2014When Hamilton and Rosberg thrilled us with their wheel-to-wheel fight for victory in the Bahrain Grand Prix earlier this year, Mercedes did what they could to make it a fair fight. They put that commitment to fairness in jeopardy in Hungary by deciding to split the strategies between their two drivers.

But despite what the Sunday night strategists say, it was not obvious which was the better option to take. These same people would be fulminating with rage had Mercedes put Hamilton on a three-stop strategy only for him to get stuck behind another car as Vettel did last year.

There are reasons why Mercedes should have considered putting Hamilton on the more aggressive strategy. They could have anticipated Fernando Alonso trying to make it to the end on a set of soft tyres and the difficulty he would cause. And as Hamilton had further sets of unused soft tyres available he was the best-placed of their drivers to make a more aggressive strategy work.

But we only know with hindsight how quickly Rosberg was able to catch the front runners, which is what makes his strategy look better in retrospect. And had both Mercedes drivers been on it, Hamilton would not have been contributing to the slow pace of the leading trio, and they wouldn’t have been caught as quickly.

Nor was the order to Hamilton proof that Rosberg’s interests take priority over his – or, to adopt the tiresome mantra of the conspiracy theorist, that partisan ‘Germans’ at Mercedes are favouring their ‘German’ driver.

Rather, this was an object lesson that it’s not always possible for strategists to simultaneously do what’s best for the team and what’s best for each of their drivers. With Mercedes’ position in the constructors’ championship increasingly secure, now is the time to reaffirm their commitment to ensuring their drivers race on an equal footing.

Radio transcripts by @WillWood. ‘Lap’ refers to the lap on which the message was broadcast.

2014 Hungarian Grand Prix

Browse all 2014 Hungarian Grand Prix articles

Image © Daimler/Hoch Zwei

136 comments on “How Mercedes ended up in a team orders crisis”

Jump to comment page: 1 2 3
  1. PMccarthy_is_a_legend (@pmccarthy_is_a_legend)
    29th July 2014, 15:39

    Hardly a crisis. Mercedes is actually managing the situation pretty well actually, much better than previous teams in a similar situation (Ferrari, Red Bull I am looking at you). Especially when you take into account this is the very first year this group of people are faced with this a situation where they have the dominant car with two of the best drivers in the grid. Kudos to Mercedes.

    1. i don’t know if Ferrari… at least they were quite overt to the number 1 number 2 status within the scuderia… and as for redbull… well, they’ve spent a ton of money into Vettel, it’s obvious they going to prefer him over webber who is an “outsider”. and that’s the tricky part of Mercedes, right? the heads on daimler, most certainly would want to have a German champion… but they’ve spent 100millions on lewis.. .

  2. Excellent article @keithcollantine ! Thoroughly enjoyed it . All points comprehensively analyzed .
    What stood was to me was this:

    But we only know with hindsight how quickly Rosberg was able to catch the front runners, which is what makes his strategy look better in retrospect. And had both Mercedes drivers been on it, Hamilton would not have been contributing to the slow pace of the leading trio, and they wouldn’t have been caught as quickly.

    Something that none of the proclaimed math experts usually consider.

    1. Well that’s why they pay the strategists and engineers the big bucks!

      You’re telling me they wouldn’t have a clue how much quicker the Softs were? Hell I even knew after practice that the Primes were useless as a race tyre around this circuit!

    2. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
      29th July 2014, 16:10

      Contrary to popular belief, hindsight in F1 is not 20/20 as any change may have unforeseen effects that cannot be accounted for.

  3. Merc wanted a merc to win , thats it !
    They were not in that likely position ,
    They rolled the dice ,
    It didnt work for either driver ,
    This is not Nico V Lewis ,
    This is Merc trying to beat everyone else , into the ground .
    Merc want 1-2 races , every race ,
    Hungry didnt work ,
    Merc changing stratergies so one driver “doesnt” win is rubbish

  4. I’m not slowing down for Nico. If he can get close and overtake, then he can overtake.

    Fair and square.

  5. They could have anticipated Fernando Alonso trying to make it to the end on a set of soft tyres and the difficulty he would cause.

    I disagree with this. No one can anticipate what others might or might not do with their strategies. As a team, you want to maximise your chances for a win. And the best way to maximise that chance is to split the strategies. Why put all your eggs in one basket? Hamilton’s strategy would have worked just fine hadn’t it been for that one very brilliant driver, Alonso. Had Hamilton managed to overtake Alonso, Ricviardo would not have been able to catch Ham in time.

    1. I think there was a radio message where they confirmed Alonso was going to the end. The fact they told Hamilton to stay within 10 seconds shows Merc were expecting Alonso to be quicker on the soft tyres than Hamilton on the mediums, and expected Alonso to pit again. The fact that Hamilton was able to close the gap with the slower tyres was impressive. And Nico wasn’t closing Hamilton down particularly quickly either; Nico lost at most 2 or 3 seconds being behind Hamilton and wouldn’t have made it past Alonso before pitting again anyway.

    2. @maksutov

      I disagree with this. No one can anticipate what others might or might not do with their strategies.

      Teams do keep an eye on what their rivals are doing, particularly those close by, such as Alonso in this case. But I would agree Mercedes didn’t have long to suss out this particular situation because Alonso made his last pit stop on the lap before Hamilton.

      He had just gone 29 laps on the soft tyre, however. And even though some of that was behind the Safety Car and in damp conditions, given that there were 32 laps to go and track position is so valuable at the Hungaroring, I think they could have anticipated that’s what Alonso was trying to do.

      1. @keithcollantine
        I see your point about them not having long to suss over things when they made the call. But I was screaming “NO” at the television when I saw what they did. The US feed cut away for a commercial so I missed the actual tire change. But at lap 37 when they cut away, Lewis was over 30 seconds and 8 places in front of Nico. This made Lewis strategy obvious in my mind right then.

        If the soft tires with a three stop was the right strategy for Nico to maximize his chances, then SURELY it could do nothing but put Lewis in an even better position. He would get the same soft tires and come back out over 12+ seconds and X positions in front of Nico with the newer tires, better position on track and the same strategy.

        Those factors should have overridden any other consideration in my mind. The only way you could say it wasn’t right was if they thought they had screwed the call on Nico and both cars were doomed with that strategy. Then it’s possible to say Merc were hedging their bets and trying to make sure at least one of the cars finished towards the front with a split strategy. But Merc should be maximizing each driver based on what they’ve done in the race and not putting one in a position to lose to the other based on team strategy.

        They’ll clearly win the constructors title by over 300 points so they should have already shifted focus and make sure both drivers have their best opportunity to prove themselves for the WDC now. They do NOT want to be in the position where it looks like the team favored one driver. I do not think that’s what they were doing…but they need to be careful of the perceptions to the public and more importantly to their drivers at this point.

  6. For me it was a no brainer that the soft was the right tyre for Lewis to use. As he went in for that stop I was thinking to myself he can probably make it to the end without stopping again as his soft tyres are new, but we know Lewis prefers to push hard, so a 3 stopper would probably work out quicker, and then they went and put the mediums on and that’s when I started shouting at the tv :|

  7. Ken (@myxomatosis)
    29th July 2014, 16:44

    “I’m not slowing down for Nico. If he can get close and overtake, then he can overtake.”

    @KeithCollantine Why are you (and every media outlet) saying he ignored the order when your own transcripts say he showed a willingness to comply? I just find that really odd in an article that’s been otherwise written with such nuance.

    1. @myxomatosis Because Mercedes did not say ‘let Rosberg past if he’s close enough’, they gave Hamilton an unconditional and specific instruction:

      Let Nico past on the main start/finish straight.

      (With the reservation that we only hear what gets broadcast.)

  8. Its worth mentioning that, I think, Hamilton sped up when he was told to let Nico through. So the gap went from about .7 to 1s. I think Lewis said to himself I’ll break away from DRS and tell the team to tell Nico to get closer. Furthermore, given that Niki Lauda is close to Lewis, Lewis probably thought he would have an ally anyway

  9. Thank you Keith, for this level-headed analysis. The Sunday night strategists (me included) ought to take notice.

    I still have one question; did Mercedes believe Rosberg or Hamilton was on the better strategy when Lewis got the call? If they believed Rosberg’s was worse, as you imply were they therefore correctly second-guessed by Hamilton?

  10. I think there was one more factor in play. The Mercedes staff went into the race with two aims: Make sure Rosberg wins and Hamilton ends up as close to the podium as possible. After the first SC the scenarios they prepared were useless, they were frantically trying to adjust and then at lap 35 they were too stuck in “Nico for first, Lewis up” train of though to start afresh with “LH and NR are now running the same race”. While it may be easy to recognize such thing for someone on the outside, it’s been observed in many cases that the overall atmosphere can have a big influence on how people process information.

    1. That is a fair analysis. Thanks.

  11. @keith

    “Therefore at the Hungaroring there is greater value in bring in front of a rival”

    “bring” -> “being”

  12. Very good article! Thanx!

  13. Outstanding article Keith, and some really thoughtful discussion, this is truly the place to go for F1.

    A question, we have in the past seen a darkened room in Woking full of bright young things watching and calculating what the next move should be, Mercedes used to have the almost telepathic racing brain of Ross Brawn, but now, who calls the shots? Where are they, at the track or back in the UK somewhere, is the whole thing simply plugged into a bit of software with live updates? When you take away the race engineers what are all those guys on the pit wall doing?

    I too raised my eyebrows when the mediums went on Lewis’s car, and that was from a truncated BBC view, an odd decision given the only positive from Lewis’s Saturday was a garage full of unused ‘softs’.

  14. Anthony Acosta
    29th July 2014, 20:18

    I was quite frankly under the impression that Nico had engine concerns coming out of P2 long run . Mercedes was telling him the engine couldn’t take the strain of a lower gear ,not higher, lower gear in turn 1. I was really waiting for his car to melt like Hamilton’s did.

  15. Anthony Acosta
    29th July 2014, 20:24

    When was Nico even close enough to pass Lewis. Lewis would have had to drop .2 to.4 for Nico to even begin to have a go at passing Lewis. I really don’t see where there is even a controversy.

  16. This article put some things into perspective for me, as a “Sunday night strategist” myself if I’m honest. However, I still don’t understand why Mercedes didn’t think that running one set of softs until the end was a viable strategy, or at least better than the mediums. Hamilton himself did a 30+ lap stint on softs while behind three other cars spewing hot dirty air at the tyres, while on a slippery greasy track that would have had the cars sliding more than later on when the track had rubbered in, AND while he was heavier on fuel. Even if the mediums would have lasted longer than the softs, surely the durability and pace of the softs during Lewis’ middle stint would have persuaded them to go down that route?

  17. I think the issue I have with all this fuss is that if at the time that the strategy calls were made Mercedes genuinely didn’t try to favor one driver over another then I can accept that, I find it very hard to believe that Mercedes would deliberately hamper either of their drivers especially one of such huge marketing appeal as Lewis. But personally I think toto should have chosen his words with a lot more care, as ultimately the statement that Lewis cost nico a win implies that the pit wall chose Nicos strategy purposefully at the time to give him the race win over Lewis rather than as an attempt to maximize both drivers opportunities.

    Very soon after the race toto was very clear that in his opinion if Lewis had let nico past he could have won with the inference being “but we do forgive Lewis for not being a team player in the heat of the battle?”
    Perhaps it would have been more honest and more gracious and less damaging to the team dynamic to also acknowledge that in hindsight we also realize that our strategy call today keeping Lewis on the medium tyre actually may have cost Lewis a possible win and we put both our drivers in an awkward position, where one of them was forced to disobey a team request in order to protect his own championship chances which have already been compromised by having to compensate for potentially devastating car failures in qualifying for two weekends in a row and as well as a less than optimum reading of his chances of the victory in this race and the best strategy to achieve this as the race unfolded.

    If Mercedes aren’t careful how they handle this I can see Lewis taking a punt on an early return to a honda powered mclaren team with his mentor Ron back at the helm and maybe a little less interference in how he goes racing.

  18. It's Hammertime
    29th July 2014, 21:06

    Mercedes have a lead of 174 points. They are effectively crowned the 2014 WCC. Why don’t they do the decent thing, hire a separate strategist, stop sharing the drivers data, and let them race? Or better still, fuel the cars up, brief the driver beforehand, and just kill the team radio altogether? If indeed they are impartial to who becomes WDC, this would be fair, and equal.

  19. Saturday 26th July, post qualifying.
    Nico: “Also I would prefer to be out there battling with Lewis, that would give me the maximum adrenaline rush. It won’t be a gloves-off battle with Lewis but I am still very, very happy.”

    Be careful what you wish for Nico.

  20. WOW! I never figured @keithcollantine for a Mercedes apologist. Sorry, but that’s the vibe I got from the article. It seemed like an attempt to justify Mercedes’ actions. You didn’t criticize them one bit. Yet you had no problems having a dig at anyone who might feel differently about the way the GP panned out. Was this even necessary:

    “These same people would be fulminating with rage had Mercedes put Hamilton on a three-stop strategy.”

    “Nor was the order to Hamilton proof that Rosberg’s interests take priority over his – or, to adopt the tiresome mantra of the conspiracy theorist, that partisan ‘Germans’ at Mercedes are favouring their ‘German’ driver.”

    You formatted this article like it was an objective analysis of the race, but it is far from it. Mercedes did not need hindsight to do the right thing. There was no big difference in lifespan between the softs and the mediums, but the softs were significantly faster. I’m sorry but the hindsight argument does not apply in this situation. A three stop strategy won the race, why would we be fulminating? Of the top four finishers, only Hamilton touched the mediums. Of the top seven, only Vettel and Massa used mediums. We know Williams were struggling for pace, so it makes sense for them to play the long game. Vettel had that spin which wrecked his race. Vettel should of ran mediums for his final stint, if he had any new ones left. Perhaps he only had scuffs left and went to brand new mediums.

    The bottom line is mediums were to be avoided if you had the pace. There was no reason for Mercedes to race like a Ferrari or a Williams. Hamilton was charging through the field the whole race. Mercedes effectively stopped him from using the cars true pace and instead manage the tires for 30 laps, while trying to catch Alonso who was on faster tire with clean air, that wasn’t degrading any faster!

    Mercedes effectively backed Hamilton into Rosberg by giving him medium tires. Which is exactly what happened. You should be more critical of Mercedes than giving them the “hindsight” cop out.

    1. Germany was a totally different. You cannot compare that with what happened Hungary. That interaction took place on lap 12-13 and Rosberg was no near Hamiltons race or performance. Rosberg ended up 9th(1pt) that race and Hamilton finished 5th despite the severe tire deg Mercedes faced. Yet, you portray that event here like it was a relevant previous situation where positions were swapped and Rosberg complied.

    3. If Hamilton had been given equal support for a win rather than a “good result” from the pitwall, the consensus is that he would have won! Fans and F1 journalist agree on that. Pitting him for a third time would have dropped him to around 4-5th. Hamilton was ahead of Rosberg, so why was he given the subprime strategy and Rosberg the winning strategy? You don’t need hindsight to figure out that he was not going to close down the gap to Ricciardo and pass him on medium tires. They were too slow. And if he was given the 3 stop strategy and fail to convert it to a win, trust me no one would be fulminating. Journalist and fans can continue to ridicule and try to discredit those they have labeled as “conspiracy theorist” but the events of the Hungarian GP gives more cause for suspicion. The argument that they pay Hamilton too much to do this won’t hold up much longer, if the same pattern continues in the second half of the season.

    1. @sudd I’m not an ‘apologist’ for anyone – I read the race as I saw it. Nor do I ever make claims about being ‘objective’, so don’t try to put words in my mouth.

      Journalist and fans can continue to ridicule and try to discredit those they have labeled as “conspiracy theorist” but the events of the Hungarian GP gives more cause for suspicion.

      The events of the Hungarian Grand Prix give more cause for suspicion that, as elsewhere, conspiracy theories flourish among those with a limited grasp of a particular subject. For example:

      You don’t need hindsight to figure out that [Hamilton] was not going to close down the gap to Ricciardo and pass him on medium tyres.

      Hamilton did not need to close down the gap to Ricciardo in the final stint because he was already ahead of the Red Bull. That was why Mercedes had put him on medium tyres, to give him the advantage of track position, as I wrote in the article, most of which you seem to have ignored. You are making the assumption that had Hamilton been behind Riccairdo and on the same tyres as him, Hamilton would have been able to pass him easily, even though his experience with Vettel earlier in the race indicated otherwise.

      1. @keithcollantine, Fair enough. My mistake for assuming you would be objective. I guess we all have our bias’.

        I have no doubt that Hamilton would have passed Ricciardo in the end if he was on the same tire strategy. The reason Hamilton couldn’t get around Vettel was because the track was still wet offline. For most of that part of the race, everyone just held their positions, no one was over taking until the track dried up a bit more. We all know the speed, driveability/power delivery advantage Mercedes. Vettel was doing a great job to accelerate out of the final corner as fast as possible. Put the pressure was eventually too much and ran over the wet curb.

Jump to comment page: 1 2 3

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

All comments are moderated. See the Comment Policy and FAQ for more.