Championship leader Lewis Hamilton has defended his victory in the British Grand Prix, saying the triumph was down to strategy rather than a favourable Safety Car intervention.
The defending five-time world champion made the most of the Safety Car’s arrival on lap 20 by opting for new ‘hard’ compound tyres that carried him to the end of the race.
In the circumstances, it was effectively a ‘free’ pit stop, which gave him a clear advantage over Mercedes team-mate Valtterri Bottas who led from pole before making the first of his two scheduled stops on lap 16, the team having agreed to split their drivers’ strategies.
“I was going to do a one-stop and he (Bottas) was on a two, so it wouldn’t have made any difference,” said Hamilton, who won his home event for a record sixth time. “The Safety Car wouldn’t have made a difference.”
Hamilton said it was his decision to go for an off-set strategy.
“It wasn’t agreed, it was said that we could,” he explained late Sunday evening. “So I looked at the options and, of course, I want to always try and offset.
“So when ‘Bon’o (race engineer Peter Bonnington) came on the radio and said ‘what tyre do you want?’ I said ‘I want the hard’.”
Team chief Toto Wolff confirmed the split-strategy decision, but warned the team were now wary of decisions that may reveal an unconscious favouritism for one driver.
“In our strategy meeting in the morning, the drivers brought up whether there was an off-set strategy possible for the guy running second, because if you put them on the same tyre, this is probably how the race is going to end – turn one or lap one would lock in the result.
“We felt that, picking up on their suggestion, it would provide an interesting race. We knew they would be racing each other, but maybe with a different strategy so that’s what we tried.
“In hindsight, I think the argument (for variation of strategies) has value and I think we need to look at it.
“But, are we favouring somebody unconsciously, which we wouldn’t want to do?”
Hamilton rejected a late pit-stop for new tyres on his way to a record sixth home victory and an extended 39-point lead on Bottas in the title race.
“Did we know that we could do a one-stop with it?” he said. “Not really. But as soon as I got onto it, it was quite strong and didn’t look like it was particularly starting to give up any time soon. So I decided to stay out.”
He added that it had been his original plan to stay out on his opening stint until around lap 22.
“If I’d done another lap, I would have come out on my fresh ‘hards’ and I could have just sat behind him (Bottas) if I wanted to and then he would have had to pit,” he said.
“I would still have had that 21-seconds gap so it didn’t really make any difference.”
In the meeting, Bottas had suggested that a one-stop strategy was ‘out of the question’ for him and stayed with a classic, if conservative, two-stop plan.
“I really enjoyed the early fight with Lewis and then, after my pit stop, I was controlling the gap to him, but then the Safety Car came out and he got a free stop and came out ahead of me …
“I hoped there might be other chances, but I had to make another stop for a different compound anyway. The tyre life ultimately much better than expected so a one-stop was possible, but our simulations before the race had predicted a two-stop was the fastest option.”
Despite his disappointment, Bottas was consoled by encouraging words from Wolff who suggested he had taken step towards retaining him for next year.
“This was his best performance this season,” said Wolff. “He does not give up and he has what it takes to go up against Lewis in qualifying.”