Hamilton rues pit call but Mercedes boss Wolff backs team decision

By Sports Desk October 10, 2021

Lewis Hamilton cut a frustrated figure over Mercedes' decision to pull him in for a pit stop late in the Turkish Grand Prix.

Hamilton seemed determined to finish the race in the rain in Istanbul on the same set of tyres, turning down several calls for him to pit.

Finally, on the 51st lap out of 58, Hamilton – who at the time was in third place having started 11th on the grid due to the 10-place penalty he took into the weekend for changing engine – heeded his team's call to come in to switch onto intermediate tyres.

Yet as the seven-time world champion came back out, he had fallen to fifth place, much to his annoyance.

"Why did you give up that place?" Hamilton questioned over the radio, as he was forced to hold off Pierre Gasly to finish fifth, behind Charles Leclerc, Red Bull duo Sergio Perez and Max Verstappen and Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas, who cruised to his first race victory of 2021.

Esteban Ocon finished within the top 10 having not changed tyres at all, and Hamilton was in a prickly mood when interviewed by Sky Sports.

Asked if he was aware he would drop down two places when he went into the pits, Hamilton said: "I didn't know at that time, I could probably have assumed that I would.

"The guys were only 15 seconds behind, it's a 24-second pit stop so I knew that I'd lose perhaps one."

Of the initial tyres potentially lasting the whole race, Hamilton added: "Ocon's did I heard so I assume they probably could.

"The tyres are bald so you don't know how far they're going to go so there's definitely the worry of the life of the tyre but also I wasn't really that fast at the end there.

"I was struggling, had little grip, not really sure why. Then all of a sudden I'd have not such a bad pace but I was losing performance to the guys behind."

Hamilton acknowledged he may have made an error not coming in for a pit earlier in the race, when Mercedes initially advised, but he believes the wrong call was made to switch so late.

"In hindsight I should have either stayed out or come in much earlier," he said. "When you come in with eight laps to go you don't have time to go through the draining phase of that medium tyre on a drying track.

"So I went through this whole sliding change where I nearly lost more positions. A bit frustrated but it is what it is. 

"It felt good to be in third and I thought if I could just hold onto this it's a great result from 11th. Fifth is worse, but it could be worse."

There was an eight-point swing in the championship title race, with Verstappen now six ahead of Hamilton heading into the United States Grand Prix in two weeks' time.

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff, however, insisted the correct call was made.

"[Pitting earlier] would have been better than what we ended up with. But it was measured and in the car, he didn't see how much he was dropping off. It was clear that had he stayed out then he would have lost out to Gasly," he told Sky Sports.

"The correct call would probably have been taking it very conservative and pitting when everybody else pitted for the inters, coming out behind Perez and Leclerc and fighting with them for P3. That was probably correct, but that is only with hindsight."

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    While Verstappen stands on the cusp of glory, Red Bull star Verstappen said his approach would not change.

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    "Like I've done the whole season, there's no change in that," Verstappen, 24, told reporters about his approach in Jeddah for the first Grand Prix at the circuit.

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    Verstappen continued: "It’s just been of course a great year for us. We had a lot of good moments and it's more enjoyable. Last year was pretty boring for me, because basically all the time I was just in third… to be in this title fight to the end I think is very impressive from our side.

    "And of course, I'll try to keep enjoying the last two races. It doesn't matter where we end up; we've had a really, really good season as a team."

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  • Championship hangs in balance as Hamilton seeks third straight win in Saudi Arabia Championship hangs in balance as Hamilton seeks third straight win in Saudi Arabia

    One of the most memorable Formula One title races in history could be settled this weekend as Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton continue their thrilling 2021 battle at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

    A high-speed street race in Jeddah will become the 76th circuit to host an event in F1 history and could be the scene of Verstappen being crowned world champion for the first time.

    Verstappen takes an eight-point lead to Saudi Arabia and after the event there will only be 26 left up for grabs in the Abu Dhabi season finale.

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    Hamilton has launched a stunning late-season charge in his bid to win an eighth world title that would take him above Michael Schumacher for the all-time record but still finds himself with little margin for error.

    Should Verstappen win the title, it would be the first time a championship has been decided at a debuting circuit since 1981 when Nelson Piquet was crowned in Las Vegas.

    There is also a scenario where the two drivers could, fittingly, go into the last race of the season tied.

    If Hamilton wins while setting the fastest lap and Verstappen comes second, the top two would be level going into the final event for the first time since 1974, when Emerson Fittipaldi did battle against Clay Regazzoni.

    It has been an incredibly consistent season for Verstappen, who has nine wins, nine pole positions and finished in the top two for 16 of the 17 races he has finished.

    Verstappen could earn a 17th podium in Saudi Arabia that would equal the record jointly held by Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and Schumacher for the most in a single season.

    But victory is all that really matters to both drivers on Sunday, with a brand-new circuit containing 27 corners – the most on the F1 calendar – set to play a huge role in determining the outcome of a dramatic season.

    LAST TIME OUT

    Hamilton celebrated consecutive Formula One wins for the first time since May in the first-ever edition of the Qatar Grand Prix.

    Verstappen limited the damage despite a five-place grid penalty due to a yellow-flag infringement in qualifying, impressively recovering to finish second.

    The Dutchman also took the extra point for the fastest lap, assured of beating Hamilton to that feat due to a late virtual safety car following a series of punctures.

    That outcome set up a tantalising final two races of the season in Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi.

    The two title rivals were joined on the Losail podium by Fernando Alonso, the two-time champion's first top-three finish since 2014.

    Valtteri Bottas, running in third, suffered a puncture as he attempted a one-stop strategy and ultimately retired, while Sergio Perez questioned Red Bull's call to bring him in twice as he pursued a podium.

    The Mexican could not catch Alonso and had to settle for fourth place, ahead of Esteban Ocon and Lance Stroll.

    WHAT TO EXPECT IN SAUDI ARABIA

    With all the momentum behind him, Hamilton goes into the race at Jeddah Corniche Circuit as the favourite for victory, a result which would put the record eighth title within his grasp.

    But for Verstappen this event is the first of two opportunities he will have to be crowned world champion. Even a small mistake from either driver at this stage could prove pivotal and the stakes could not be higher.

    Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff said their W12 car is performing better than it has been all season ahead of the event, with Red Bull under pressure to bounce back.

    The constructors' championship is also up for grabs. Red Bull have closed to within five points of their rivals, while Ferrari are looking to lock up third place ahead of McLaren.

    Aside from the championship implications, the debut of the fastest street circuit on the calendar at another new F1 venue should be intriguing.

    F1 have revealed average speeds are predicted to be over 155mph with top speeds almost reaching 200mph in what could be a spectacular night race under the lights.

    TOP FIVE OPTA FACTS

    Hamilton history – The Briton has become the F1 driver with the most seasons (eight) that contain at least seven victories, surpassing Schumacher (seven seasons).

    Maiden Mercedes – The team have won the race and taken pole position in the last five circuit debuts in F1. As well as in Qatar time out, it also happened in Sochi (2014), Baku (2016), Mugello (2020), Portimao (2020).

    Pole position – If Mercedes claim pole it will be their fourth in a row and best run of the season. However, Red Bull have had the better of qualifying this season, as Hamilton and Bottas combined (eight) have fewer poles than Verstappen alone (nine).

    Max milestones – Should Verstappen be crowned world champion, he will be the first Dutchman to achieve the feat, the first non-Mercedes driver to do it in the eight hybrid era years and the fourth-youngest in history at 24.

    Perez progress – While Verstappen's team-mate will not be thrilled to sit fourth in the standings, he has still collected nine points more in 20 races for Red Bull (190) than his predecessor Alex Albon did in 26 races (181) for the team.

    CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS

    Drivers

    1. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 351.5
    2. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 343.5
    3. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) 203
    4. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) 190
    5. Lando Norris (McLaren) 153

    Constructors

    1. Mercedes 546.5
    2. Red Bull 541.5
    3. Ferrari 297.5
    4. McLaren 258
    5. Alpine 137

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