Motor racing at every level is a team sport and that’s true to its greatest extent in Formula One.
The force of one person’s skill, experience and personality can carry a team in one direction or another, as Lewis Hamilton has discovered, but you win or lose as a team and to undermine the crew around you could have debilitating knock-on and potentially lasting effects on the ability of the collective to get the job done.
When Hamilton questioned the call from the pit wall to pit for fresh intermediate tyres late on in the Turkish Grand Prix, the first instinct was to admire the confidence of his decision-making and defer to the experience gleaned in winning 100 Grands Prix and seven world championships.
Hamilton was emphatic, the pit wall a lot less certain and the decision was made to delay the making of the decision. In that moment of doubt, a likely podium finish was converted into a rather less palatable fifth place.
One of Jenson Button’s numerous incisive observations from the Sky TV commentary position – he’s been a revelation, by the way – was that on a wet track the driver inevitably has less influence over the strategy calls given that they don’t have access to the necessary data about how the race is evolving in changing track conditions.
It was an interesting insight from a driver who carved a reputation for almost always being on the right tyres in wet conditions but who recognises that in 2021 more than any other era, the driver can’t carry the team on their back no matter how fast and accomplished they are.
The complicated way in which the Pirelli intermediate dips in performance after a few laps, then recovers, then performs impressively like a soft compound slick and then falls away completely as the rubber wears down to the carcass is something only the drivers feel but which is well understood by the engineers.
They believed that it was foolhardy to attempt to go the distance on one set and they knew that getting on a new set at around the same time as Sergio Perez and Pierre Gasly would keep Hamilton in the podium fight all the way to the line.
Instead, by the time Hamilton was finally persuaded to come ashore for fresh boots, his nearest rivals had got their tyres in the right temperature window and through that difficult first dip in performance.
Hamilton’s calm acquiescence at the second “box Lewis” request and his subsequent barely contained fury at discovering he was actually fifth proves that the driver should, on this occasion, have deferred a lot earlier to the assembled talent and computing power on the pitwall.
What this incident will do to the dynamic between driver and team in the future is anyone’s guess but doubt and hesitancy are often the end product of lack of trust and proper channels of communication.
A robust and detailed review of the pit to car communication at Mercedes will surely already be well underway…