Mercedes chief racing engineer Andrew Shovlin explained Lewis Hamilton’s strategy during the Imola race. The reigning world champion drove a longer first leg than Valtteri Bottas and Max Verstappen, pit-stopped during the virtual safety car and returned to the track as a leader.
Andrew Shovlin: “During the first segment, we closely followed Max Verstappen. It was obvious that he could pose a threat to Valtteri, so we told Valtteri to attack with all his might and try to create a gap. We wanted the lead to grow to two and a half seconds, which would be enough time to prevent clipping.
Thus, we could wait for Max to make his move first, and around after him to make his pit stop and hold the position. If we did not have such an advantage, then we would have had to make a pit stop early and go a very long second segment.
By the time Max went to the pits, we already knew that Valtteri would go to the pit stop round later. In fact, we discussed this option back on Sunday morning before the start, because we wanted to think over the options for action when Max goes to the pits, being behind us.
After that we focused on Lewis, who, after the pit stops of Max and Valtteri, took the lead, and tried to come up with the best strategy for him. In his case, the right decision was to try to extend the first segment. If we immediately called Lewis into the pits, he could return to the track not only behind Valtteri, but also behind Max.
Staying longer on the track has two benefits. Firstly, if a safety car appears on the track or the virtual safety car mode is activated, then after the pit stop you will remain the leader. Secondly, due to a later pit stop, you can get an advantage due to fresher tires at the end of the race, but it must be borne in mind that the opponents who stopped earlier will be ahead.
In Imola, an unusual situation was due to the fact that the side plate of the front wing of a Ferrari got stuck in the car of Valtteri, which caused him to lose speed. Thus, Lewis went faster than Valtteri and Max. We decided to leave him on the track to see if this speed advantage was enough to create enough time to get back ahead of them after the pit stop. “