To Pit or Not to Pit... that is the question
As persistent as the rain in the race, the question of whether Hamilton should have changed tires so late in the day remains a big topic of discussion. The fact that he was able to continue so long on the original set seems to have been lost in the conjecture. Especially since he “raced” other drivers for positions throughout the duration. Initially, he refused to pit but eventually succumbed to orders and was unhappy about it. And so he should be! No amount of computer power can better assess the viability of the tires than the man in the car (especially him). Call me old fashioned but I believe Pit Lane should provide the information and allow the driver to assess risk and make decisions. If the tire pops, or he loses position it’s on him, not the team. Vettel did the same and accepted that slick boots were not the way to go. His decision, his mistake, end off. Races and Championships are won by rolling the dice – look at Sochi and Verstappen, where coming in was the “right” decision. When championships are tight (and they don’t come much tighter than this one). It must be the driver’s decision. Only the teams care about the Constructors Championship, and whilst I understand that this equates to money, the rest of the world are only interested in the Driver’s version. Ultimately it is they, directly or indirectly, that fill the F1 coffers.
Except for Hamilton, provision of the real entertainment fell to the “number two’s” in this race i.e. Bottas, Sainz, and Perez. Bottas never put a foot wrong and was able to pressurize Leclerc into a tire change in the closing stages, securing both win and fastest lap. Perez did a sterling job to claim the 3rd step from P7 in qualifying and doing his wingman duties full credit as he held up a reticent Hamilton, before getting some new tires. For me, this was the pivotal moment of the race that deprived Hamilton of a win and/or top-three finish. No doubt trying to get by and following him took a bit of a toll on Lewis’s rubber. Hamilton almost managed it but Perez kept him honest. If Perez had been less successful, I’m sure Hamilton would never have pitted towards the end. Sainz managed 8th from the back of the grid following his engine penalty. Normally, all this would not be overly impressive, but in the race where no one really understood the tires, and the ambiguous “kinda” wet conditions. They gained positions impressively doing it the old-fashioned way – overtaking on the track. The “number ones” just toured round, with their position gains, if any, relegated to pitstop strategy. In defence of Max here, it was a somewhat pedestrian performance in his terms. However, he showed maturity by “doing the job” and strolling up in the best possible finishing position. He’ll need to demonstrate more of this before the season end if he wants to lift the title.
So, could he have made it? Many will point to the fate that befell Leclerc whose times suddenly dropped off a cliff edge. But Leclerc is not Lewis Hamilton who excels at managing his tires and his times were still relatively good. I can see the logic from the pit side, but I just believe it is not their call. If this race proves to be the defining moment in losing the Championship for Hamilton. There will be a few fewer people on his Xmas card list. If Pit Lane wants to control races, they should buy a Scalextric set.