B is for the 43rd round Kimi Raikkonen had Lewis Hamilton's Mercedes in the rearview mirror. Then the Finn lost the lead. Raikkonen had been driving his back to the wall for laps. The left rear tire was covered with blisters. Ferrari saw from the tire vibrations that it was getting critical. Race engineer Carlo Santi advised his protégé to stroke the tires so that he could even make ends meet. The word 'critical' was even used. At the finish the tire was almost completely worn out.
It is a surprise that Ferrari gets tire problems and Mercedes doesn't. In Spa it was the other way around. “And we can't explain why,” said Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff. Raikkonen's tire drama has a history. The Finn came to the pits on lap 20 to swap his supersoft tires for soft rubbers. The second set of tires had to hold out for 33 laps. But that wasn't the problem. Pirelli trusted the soft tires easily for 35 laps without difficulty. It was the circumstances that led to the blistering.
Fresh tires are prone to blisters
Ferrari had to act on lap 20. Otherwise Mercedes would have pitted Lewis Hamilton and tried an undercut. Hamilton's tires were already ready. Therefore, one cannot speak of a faked pit stop at Mercedes. The timing of the tire change dictated the gap to Romain Grosjean. Neither Raikkonen nor Hamilton wanted to fall behind the HaasF1. And there was a big gap between Grosjean and Bottas, so you could do a few laps without getting into traffic. This was the only way an undercut could work.
Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff admitted after the race: “If Ferrari had stayed outside, we would have stopped. We told Lewis that we were doing the opposite of Kimi. ”The strategists on the team agreed:“ Ferrari did everything right. We would have acted the same in their situation. ”Ferrari couldn't play poker. The gap between Hamilton and Raikkonen was less than a second. It was only about the question: who will make the first move? If Hamilton had stopped earlier, Raikkonen would have lost his lead.
For Raikkonen, the early pit stop was still a neckbreaker. He had to speed up on the fresh tires immediately to avoid an overcut. The tires resented that. Pirelli sports director Mario Isola said: “If there was still a lot of rubberis on the tread and the car slips, the tires are particularly prone to hot spots and blisters. Especially the harder compounds because they don't develop that much grip. ”Seven laps later, another problem arose. Räikkönen ran into Bottas, who was now playing the man's deck for Hamilton. As soon as Räikkönen was in the slipstream of Bottas, Hamilton pitted and came back on track 5.3 seconds behind.
That is why Mercedes delayed the Hamilton stop
Raikkonen had to pass Bottas as quickly as possible. But the Mercedes built up like a wall in front of him. That stressed the tires a second time. Again Isola: “Behind Bottas, Kimi slipped even more, and the bubble kept opening. Bubbles do not go away like tire fragments do with graining. You can control and delay the formation of bubbles, but not prevent them. ”
In the cockpit, Hamilton was amazed at his own tactics, although all the scenarios were played out at the strategy meeting that morning. “Actually, I thought we'd pit before Kimi. When Kimi took a turn, I was able to do a couple of really fast laps. I thought to myself: The guys are trying an overcut. But then came the message on the radio that Kimi had increased his pace and fell out of my window again. So it made sense to extend the stint in order to have the largest possible tire delta in the end. My tires were good enough too. They only pitted me because Kimi ran into Valtteri. '
Praise for Raikkonen
Hamilton's tires had also suffered, just not like those of his opponent. At the time when Hamilton recognized the first blisters on the Ferrari, race engineer Pete Bonnington warned him that the temperatures on the rear tires were at the limit. And the Englishman had braked some rubber at the front of one of the brakes. As soon as Hamilton was back in the slipstream of his opponent, he studied his strengths and weaknesses. And struck when Raikkonen was barely able to defend himself. “Seb was way back. I could then concentrate on Kimi. I didn't want to take too much risk. Then I saw my chance at the end of the home straight. It was all about which of us brakes later. In the end it was still very, very tight and Kimi was very, very fair. '