A virtual safety car incident during lap 44 of the Marina Bay Grand Prix – prompted by Alpine driver Esteban Ocon‘s vehicle failure near pit exit – offered the Mercedes team a tactical advantage to alter their race strategy. The unexpected halt allowed the two Mercedes drivers to pit and switch to medium tyres for the remaining race.
This strategic move aimed at advancing the Mercedes drivers ahead of the ultimate winner, Carlos Sainz from Ferrari, and the second-place finisher, Lando Norris from McLaren. Both Sainz and Norris were on an ageing set of hard Pirellis, thus Mercedes aimed to capitalise on their tyre degradation.
However, the gamble didn’t entirely pay off. Sainz cleverly decelerated, allowing Norris to utilize the Drag Reduction System (DRS) for defending against the pursuing Mercedes. In a twist of fate, the race ended with a crash involving George Russell and Lewis Hamilton secured a third-place finish.
Toto Wolff, the team principal of Mercedes, lauded the audacious move, acknowledging that he ‘loved the call’ from the team strategists and the drivers. He acclaimed the risk, boldly stating that it is a gamble he would endorse “every day of the week”.
“The attempt to win the race was bold, but worth it,” Wolff stated. “Our strategic decision could have resulted in either a second and fifth place finish, or at best, the top two podium positions. And even though we fell short this time, it revealed the potential in our strategy.”
The Mercedes principal further emphasized his faith in the decision, affirming, “It was the right decision. If we had settled, we might have ended P2 and P5 – or P2, P4 perhaps. But our quest was victory.”
The pre-race strategies of the team were chiefly informed by simulations that considered potential interruptions – virtual and physical safety cars. Even though the win eluded them, Wolff was convinced that the W14 – a car he often referred to as a “surprise box” throughout the weekend – demonstrated commendable performance.
“I’m content with the overall performance,” Wolff retreated. “We were solid throughout the weekend and we gave our very best. Though we didn’t win, we were competitive and on another day, it could have been us on the top step.”
In conclusion, he remained optimistic, stating, “Our performance this weekend was refreshing. At different stages in the race, we were leading. We could even have celebrated a one-two finish. Those are the positives we take back and it’s satisfying to return home thinking ‘that was a good one’.”