How Nicholas Latifi’s data played a role in Mercedes’ Mexico strategy decision

Lewis Hamilton Mercedes on the grid before the US GP. Austin October 2022. Credit: Alamy
Lewis Hamilton Mercedes on the grid before the US GP. Austin October 2022. Credit: Alamy

James Vowles admitted Mercedes looked at the data available from Nicholas Latifi on hard tyres in Mexico City, which helped their decision to move to that strategy.

The team’s chief strategist acknowledged this ended up being the incorrect move in the end however, with Red Bull drivers Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez able to execute a soft-medium strategy compared to Mercedes’ theoretically slower medium-hard choice.

Williams driver Latifi had been the first to move to the hards after pitting with damage, running at the back of the field.

With hard tyres being seldom used up to that point in the weekend, Vowles explained that the data gathered from the Canadian’s lap times showed that it was a compound worth using, given the durability required around the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez.

Lewis Hamilton stayed within two seconds of Verstappen in front throughout the first stint of the race, but that soon changed when the Dutchman pitted and the Mercedes driver switched to hards – finishing the race more than 10 seconds behind in the end.

“With Lewis first of all he was in a position where Perez stopped and we only had a lap to cover him really, a lap or two,” Vowles said in Mercedes’ post-race debrief.

“We had two choices: let Perez effectively undercut us but go long and then fit the soft tyres, or stop and given the length of stint, the hard would have been really the tyre that could have made it, the soft would not have made that level of stint.

“We decided that track position was more important at that stage and furthermore we had some data from Latifi that had already stopped and hard wasn’t terrible.

“So we opted to stop, put Lewis on the hard tyre and go towards the end of the race under the hope that potentially Verstappen was going to drop off that medium curve, [as] much as we did see degradation at the end of our stint.”

As for George Russell, he pleaded over team radio to try and extend his medium stint to a degree where he could switch to soft tyres for the final stint, which would have had him on faster but less durable rubber towards the end of the race.

But Mercedes opted to swap him to the hard compound as well, which left him unable to mount a challenge against Perez for the final podium position – ultimately pitting again with a couple of laps remaining to take the fastest lap bonus point.

But with the success McLaren driver Daniel Ricciardo had carving through the field on that strategy, Vowles acknowledged Mercedes made the wrong call in that moment.

Vowles explained of Russell’s strategy: “It was a hard choice but we decided on balance stopping and fitting the hard tyre would probably bring us a better result in the belief that if we are struggling on the medium tyre here, Perez probably won’t make it to the end of the race and they need to stop one more time.

“That, in hindsight, was a wrong decision and I think if you look back and you look at Ricciardo, we should have just kept going.

“Yes, there was degradation and it was getting more and more but we wouldn’t have to have gone much further before we could fit the soft tyre. What the result would have been? I am not sure, but I think it would have been a better race than what we did.”

Read more: Why Lando Norris could be tempted to look for the McLaren exit door

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