Chief Strategist James Vowles delves into some of the questions you sent in after the Spanish Grand Prix
Israr (@israrahmedkhan5) asked on Twitter:
- Why didn't Bottas stay out during first pit stop? He had great pace. If he stayed out for three laps or so, he would've come out in front of Vettel after his stop.
James Vowles: "When (Sebastian) Vettel came in (to the pits), he dropped himself in traffic behind (Kevin) Magnussen. There were two problems with that. The first is that the Medium tyre he took had a small warm-up slope.
"The second is, against Magnussen, who was still on his first stint tyres, it wasn't that easy to overtake. You saw Vettel struggling for a number of laps behind him. We kept Valtteri out until we were theoretically clear of both Magnussen and Vettel.
"Valtteri came into the pit lane, went for the normal pit stop but on the right-rear corner we had a slow removal of the wheel. It cost us around 1.3 seconds. As Valtteri exited the pit lane, you saw on TV he was 0.4 seconds behind Magnussen. So, even if the pit stop had been slow by six tenths or nine tenths, we would've still been alongside or clear of both Magnussen and Vettel.
"What we were doing was using that overcut and the power that Vettel was caught up in traffic for a few laps in order to take track position relative to him, put Valtteri in clear air and run his own race.
"What would've happened if we had waited three laps, you already saw that lap Vettel got through Magnussen, the warm-up would've been entirely gone on the Medium tyre and Vettel would've been very, very quick.
"Our used Softs wouldn't have been quick enough to defend against him anymore. That window was really only around one lap."
Martin Bashforth (@MartinBashforth) tweeted us asking:
- What was the deciding factor in not pitting Valtteri or Lewis under the VSC later in the race?
JV: "Let's look at those individually. With Valtteri, we were P3 behind Vettel. We knew Vettel was struggling with the tyres as we'd been pressuring him for a lot of the stint. And we knew if we stopped we'd drop behind Red Bull. That's position, to the end of the race. Red Bull were absolutely going to make that one-stop work.
"The key deciders are simply, will the tyres make it to the end of the race, are they going to be OK? Especially the front-left tyre, which was the one taking a beating. The second defining factor is, what will Vettel do? Will he come in at this point in time and therefore can we gain track position relative to him?
"What we concluded based on all the evidence we had is there was a strong probability of Vettel taking it (option to pit) and it's extremely unlikely anything else would've happened if we took it, rather than just staying behind Vettel and Red Bull, therefore finishing lower down than the P2 that the car had potential for.
"We decided to take the risk, taking the tyres to the end of the race. You saw what happened. It was extremely close. It was a very tough judgement call but ended up on the right side for us on that occasion.
"With Lewis it was an easier situation, he was very, very fast and was running his own unhindered race, in the lead. That VSC would have allowed us to fit fresh Medium tyres, no question about it, but we would've dropped 10 seconds of race time.
"You are balancing what is more important, 10 seconds of race time or another set of new tyres. For us, the tyres would've made it to the end of the race and that 10 seconds of race time just would never have come back to him. The new tyres wouldn't have given that back - it was just risk management. So, we decided not to stop and to stay out."
Jochem (elpato_jk_17) got in touch on Instagram enquiring:
- At the end of the race, Verstappen and Vettel were closing in on Bottas because his tyres were ageing. Were you concerned about losing P2 at any point?
JV: "The nervousness that maybe you felt at home I can guarantee you was one we shared on the pit wall.
"The last few laps of the race for Valtteri were very, very tense. We knew the front-left tyre would be very much down to zero rubber remaining and it was a very difficult call as to what was going to happen. But he had eight seconds of race time relative to the Red Bull behind.
"What we were trying to do was very delicately use up some of that race time to slow down in some of the key corner sequences to make sure we looked after that tyre whilst not losing temperature in the rubber still left on it.
"It's a very, very delicate balance. I really can't understate this - Valtteri did an absolutely incredible job. We put him in a very difficult position and he dealt with it absolutely perfectly, taking that tyre just to the end of the race as we asked him to do."
Anthony Liddell commented on Facebook:
- How much did Bottas have to manage the tyres towards the end of the race and how close was the team to bringing him in?
JV: "A really good question and it links really well into the question from Jochem, so continuing that through. With Valtteri towards the end of the race, it's fair to say it was extremely marginal.
"I think if the race had been a lap or two longer, we could've been in big, big trouble. Valtteri did a very, very good job managing especially the front-left tyre. That was the weak tyre, which really had to be looked after quite a bit, whilst still maintaining performance.
"As we went through it, we were never going to bring Valtteri in during the final few laps because we had the confidence it was just going to make it. We have a number of metrics from the car that aid us in that decision. For example, you can see what vibrations the tyres are experiencing.
"As we went through, the amount of management Valtteri had to do was different depending on whether he had traffic in front, or whether he had to pass a backmarker.
"At the end of the race it was all about using up some of that race time he had accumulated relative to Verstappen, just to make sure we absolutely made it to the end of the race."
Melvin Bowman queried on Facebook:
- Well done and glad to see Lewis back on fighting form! Was the new track tarmac a big factor on tyre performance for the team?
JV: "Another good question and it's one we were asking ourselves in the build-up to testing and also into the race weekend. For those that perhaps aren't aware, the tarmac was completely resurfaced at Barcelona this year. In winter testing, we had the opportunity to really sample it for the first time.
"The way the car interacts, there are several factors from a track that are important. One is what is the track surface like? The second is, what's the layout of the track? In other words, how many high-speed, mid-speed, low-speed corners and the length of the straights. They very much affect how the tyre is behaving.
"Further to that you have ambient conditions, how warm it is both in the air temperature and the track temperature. You put all of that into a melting pot and that's really what defines how well the car and the tyres are working.
"The new track surface, what it really does is it resets a lot of the knowledge you have had from Barcelona previously - a track that we run at commonly - almost back to zero. Yes, the corners are the same layout, but how the tyres operate and how the car operates is very, very different. That would've been the same for all teams. They would've all taken time to iterate to what the correct set-up was.
"Then, when we went from the test, which was reasonably cold, towards the race weekend, where we had track temperatures around 43 degrees on Friday, you really have to adapt yourself quite dramatically to those changing conditions to get everything out of the car.
"Ultimately, though, there was a big, big change. The tarmac change really was more significant than anything else as we went into that race weekend. So, all teams had to adapt, learn and start again."
Lim Ming Xian (mingxian2393) asked on Instagram:
- Did the reduced amount of tread on the Pirelli tyres this weekend play a role in Mercedes' upturn in performance?
JV: "If we go back a little bit, winter testing this year was all conducted in Barcelona. We had eight days of it split into two sets of four days. Our car was working extremely well during the winter test this year. It was competitive on short runs and on long runs as well and working across the tyre range that was provided to us. Those were normal Pirelli full tread gauge tyres.
"As we went into the race weekend on the reduced tread gauge, we saw the same characteristics. The car was performing extremely well against a range of temperatures across the weekend. What we concluded is that our car in Barcelona, for a number of different reasons which include the track layout and track surface, was working very, very well.
"In winter testing we had some quite cold conditions and even snow on one of the days. Despite that, what we - and indeed nearly all teams - were seeing was quite significant blistering on the tyres. Blistering is when the tyres become far too hot and at the surface of the tyre, you see the damage that is incurred as a result of this and it can lead to some very significant issues if you run on those tyres for an extended period of time.
"Ourselves - and indeed all teams - were informed by Pirelli what they were going to do as a result of that at the Bahrain Grand Prix this year, which was that they had decided to reduce the tread gauge of the rubber in order to try and mitigate against that blistering because it is a disastrous effect to tyres.
"As a result of that and as we went into the Barcelona weekend, we didn't particularly know what the characteristic change would be, whether it would suit us or not. But, the reality behind it is, all we really saw was our winter testing performance carrying over quite significantly into the race weekend."
Dan Whiteside (dan_whiteside) left us a comment on Instagram:
- When Lewis says his car is much more to his 'liking', what does that mean from a technical perspective?
JV: "Drivers need to be extremely comfortable with how the car is performing in order to extract every millisecond of performance that comes out of it. For that to happen, you need a few things. You need what we call a 'balance'.
"This means throughout the speed ranges of corners, low-speed, medium-speed and high-speed corners, the car has to respond in a way that feels comfortable to them, without too much oversteer or understeer.
"It's difficult to get a car balance that completes that requirement across all of the speed ranges and all of the temperatures. You also need the tyres to be absolutely performing in the correct window, both front and rear. It can't change throughout the lap or laps, it needs to be a consistent balance that they can feel and understand in order to exploit.
"This weekend, both Valtteri and Lewis commented that the car balance and the tyres were working extremely well for them and it created a confidence that allowed them to keep pushing the car, generating the performance and optimising the car set-up more specifically into a direction where we can extract more performance from it.
"So, when Lewis talks about the car being to his liking, he needs the tyres to be in the right place, the car balance in the right place in order for him to iteratively push his performance and the team's performance further, so we can achieve what we did, as we did at the weekend."
Edo (@EdoCarminati) tweeted us with this question:
- Will the Silver Arrows also be strong in Monaco and similar tracks? Last year was a very difficult race at Monte Carlo, I hope for another brilliant performance like Barcelona!
JV: "This is a question we're also going through here at the moment and asking ourselves. The Monaco Grand Prix is an exceptionally special track. It is very different to all of the other tracks we go to.
"It's a street circuit, obviously, first of all. The drivers have an accommodation period - a period of time where they get better and better throughout the course of the race weekend. It's a road, the track surface is very different to a normal racing circuit in that regard.
"Us, Ferrari and Red Bull are in an absolutely fierce competitive fight this year. All three cars have very similar levels of downforce. Yes, you have seen performance swings like Barcelona - but a lot of that is the track characteristics coming towards ourselves. As we go into Monaco, we are in no doubt we are in the fight for a win and a pole position - but as are Ferrari and Red Bull
"Last year we had small errors on our set-up, which as you saw were reasonably costly and we were struggling to extract the performance. Those were understood, but I am confident more problems will appear, as they will for our two main, fierce rivals as well.
"Monaco is all about getting those small issues out of the way and building on performance across the race weekend. In terms of where we are, we absolutely go in with our heads held high and with the intention to fight for the win. But it is going to be a tough battle."