Mercedes were left stumped when Red Bull called Sergio Perez in for a pitstop despite being close to Lewis Hamilton in Turkey.
As the Mexican driver was managing his tyres, something he is considered a master at, Lewis Hamilton was able to make the charge and come close to him.
This resulted in a final sector battle between Perez and the seven-time World Champion, which gave the viewers one of the finest displays of wheel-to-wheel racing of the season.
However, even though Sergio Perez was able to keep his nose ahead of the faster Hamilton, he was called in for a stop immediately afterwards.
This was something that Mercedes did not expect. This unexpected move by Red Bull forced Hamilton to stay out in a bid to get away from Perez as he got used to the new intermediate tyres.
— Red Bull Racing Honda (@redbullracing) October 10, 2021
As a result of a disagreement between the race engineer and Hamilton, Lewis opted to stay out even though his team repeatedly suggested he pit for new tyres. This decision ultimately cost the Briton two positions, and he ended the race behind Perez and Ferrari’s Leclerc.
Mercedes Chief Technical Officer James Allison at a team debrief after the Turkish GP revealed that the team hoped to undercut Perez and not stay out on the track and overtake him.
“Yes, it is possible we might have made an undercut, but you have to remember that when you come out on fresh Intermediate tyres on a track that is no longer covered in water and is actually nearer to dry than it was to wet, then those tyres have to be treated with kid gloves in the opening laps, else they tear themselves to pieces and suffer from what we call heavy graining.”
This is why the standard move of getting fresh tyres and flooring them to overtake someone on older tyres was not possible this weekend. Not just for Mercedes, nearly everyone who pits for fresh intermediates had to tread carefully or risk graining.
What could have been the alternate strategy?
In the same debrief, Allison explained that one of the main strategies which Mercedes wanted to follow was to stay out on the inters until the track would dry sufficiently. Then they would box for dry slicks. This would have given them the added pace advantage over those who would still be on the inters.
Unfortunately for Mercedes, that did not happen. The track did not dry enough for them to pull this off. The silver lining for the Silver Arrows was that they did not have to find this out the hard way.
Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel decided to try his luck at the Medium compound tyres. This decision was an obviously wrong one and cost them multiple positions.
The defending World Champion ultimately finished the race in P5. His Championship rival Max Verstappen finished second behind Mercedes teammate Valterri Bottas. Verstappen now holds a six-point lead over Hamilton in the Driver’s Championship going into the race in Texas on 24th October.