ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - DECEMBER 12: Second placed Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP celebrates on the podium during the F1 Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi at Yas Marina Circuit on December 12, 2021 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)
Sunday’s race in Abu Dhabi was a fitting end to the 2021 season. Although controversies plagued the race from start to finish, they also covered up Mercedes biggest on-track error of the season.
In modern Formula One, race strategy is often what divides drivers. Whichever team is able to react quickly and efficiently to give their drivers the best tyre compound, will ultimately be the team that takes the top step of the podium.
Over the years, Mercedes have built a reputation for quickness and reliability when it comes to race strategy, but for one reason or another, that reputation went missing in Abu Dhabi.
With Hamilton dominating a large proportion of the race, Mercedes had two major opportunities to bring their driver in for fresh rubber, after initially pitting on lap 14.
After Antonio Giovanazzi pulled to the side of the road on lap 37, a virtual safety car was deployed. Verstappen pit for fresher hard tyres, opening up a 23-second gap between himself and Hamilton. If Hamilton had pitted at the end of lap 37, he would have come out ahead of Verstappen and his superior race pace would have guaranteed a victory.
Toto Wolff realised that this was a missed opportunity and pleaded with race control to not convert the VSC into a full safety car.
On lap 53, Nicholas Latifi hit the wall at turn 14, activating a safety car. Lewis Hamilton can be seen passing Latifi and the pit entrance just moments after the incident. With a 10 second gap between him and Verstappen, Mercedes kept their driver out on tyres that were 39 laps old.
Meanwhile, Red Bull pitted Max Verstappen for a fresh set of soft tyres, giving him the advantage and ultimately the race win.
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