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Formula 1

Gary Anderson: Where Mercedes’ Mexico start plan went wrong

by Gary Anderson
4 min read

When forming up on the Mexican Grand Prix grid, Lewis Hamilton was on the dirty side in second place and was all set to allow Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas from pole position to come across in front of him.

This would allow him to pick up the tow, and then at the first corner he could pull out onto the racing line and sweep into the lead.

Or at least that would have been the idea.

Nov 08 : Mexican Grand Prix review

It was the perfect plan because it would also prevent Hamilton’s Formula 1 title rival Max Verstappen from getting a tow from Bottas, leaving the Red Bull hung out to dry on the outside.

If this didn’t happen then it would leave open the possibility of a Max attack at Turn 1, so denying him the tow would have worked perfectly for Mercedes.

But it didn’t work out like that.

It started to go wrong when the lights went out. Bottas either made a poor start or Hamilton made too good a start, it was probably a bit of both.

Vlcsnap 2021 11 09 10h13m22s214

Hamilton got his front wing tucked up inside Bottas’s rear wheel, which meant Bottas could not pull across. As Hamilton himself said, “I’d envisaged it differently, in the sense that maybe Valtteri had got a better start and I would have tried to get into his tow”.

As far as starts are concerned this year the Mercedes getaways have been a bit erratic.

We are only talking about eight metres on the grid between the tip of the nose on one car to the tip of the nose on the next car so with these long cars – especially the Mercedes – that means there is only about a three-metre gap between the rear of one car and the nose of the next one. Not a lot of room to play with when you are trying to find that gap, a bit like threading the eye of a needle.

So it was Plan B for Hamilton. He knew if he lifted he would get eaten up by all and sundry coming from behind, so had no choice but to brave the storm and hope he would be able to muscle it out on the inside line at Turn 1.

Verstappen had other plans. He held on behind Bottas to pick up the tow, then when the time was right he moved into the gap that was on the outside of Bottas. Hamilton described this as Bottas having “left the door open”.

F1 Grand Prix Of Mexico

When they arrived at the first corner, Hamilton was on the dirty side of the track and like Bottas didn’t have complete confidence on the brakes so lifted a little early to avoid locking a front brake on the dusty track.

Bottas took his opportunity to pick up the cleaner racing line, but Verstappen – brave as he is – steamed up the outside, braked later than both and swept around the outside into a lead that he would never lose. Job done.

Verstappen had practiced this on the sighting laps to the grid, just as Fernando Alonso did at Sochi when he went off the track and through the polystyrene marker board chicane at a speed no one would have thought possible.

Alonso didn’t do anything wrong, he didn’t pass anyone when he was off the track but he was on the outside, didn’t lift and was travelling a lot faster than the others. That meant he gained several places while still on the track, then as the rules demand rejoined the track in the same position he had left it – behind Williams driver George Russell.

Verstappen had obviously seen this and taken it on board. Having practiced it on an installation lap he knew that if the opportunity presented itself he was prepared for it. And that is exactly what happened.

While the others were ducking and diving to get into Turn 1, he just steamed up the outside, braking later than the others, and swept around them.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Mexican Grand Prix Race Day Mexico City, Mexico

He also knew that if it didn’t come off, he wouldn’t have to go around the cone that was in place for a safe track re-entry because on that crucial first lap that rule wasn’t enforced, so in his mind there was potentially a lot to gain and very little to lose.

With four races to go, this championship could be decided by thinking out of the box.

I don’t care who wins the championship but like all fans I want to see one driver or the other really seize the initiative and show they deserve it more.

When it comes down to a car-to-car and driver-to-driver battle, anything can happen but it’s all about how you can do something that might just make the difference.

As Red Bull showed in the United States Grand Prix with the early undercut, and Max showed in Mexico with his brave but calculated move at the first corner, doing something different can bring big rewards without having to prevail in that car-to-car battle.

After all, once he was ahead, he had the pace advantage and never looked back, but if he’d still been behind it would have been a different story.

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