The Briton received two five-second penalties for infringements during pre-race practice starts. Mercedes decided to serve the penalty in a 10-second chunk on his first pit stop.
However the pit stop came very early on lap 16, when Hamilton went from his starting soft tyre to a hard compound that lasted until the end of the race. The Briton could be heard on the radio asking the team why he was being brought in so early. Mercedes’ Trackside Engineering Director Andrew Shovlin explains the decision.
“The rear left was the limit on his car,” Shovlin said.
“There was very little rubber left on it, so it would have done one or two laps.
“What we notice here is actually the drivers don’t lose a lot of grip until you get down to the under layer of the tyre, and then you lose a lot of grip. So when it drops, it’s quite sudden.
“And with the penalty, you’re looking a long way back actually at the cars that you’re racing, but as soon as you drop, then they’re going to start being able to sort of undercut you effectively. And that that was the big reason – it was principally what was going on behind him.
“He was down to one or two more laps on that tyre. And then you would have found that the field, especially any cars that were on the medium, would start to be actually gaining race time on you.
“So it’s just about minimising the number of cars that you’re subsequently going to have to pass.”
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Shovlin went on to explain how Mercedes didn’t think they would have such a big advantage over rival teams in Sochi.
“We didn’t really go to a circuit saying ‘we think we’re going to be really good here’ because often it’s not a function of what we’re doing. It’s the pace of other people. And our car seems to work pretty well most places.
“I know Red Bull was saying, ‘this is a Mercedes circuit.’ It may be a bit that it doesn’t suit their car. We’re not really sure why we had good pace. And I think the race pace was strong, Lewis’s pace in qualifying was very strong.
“Those C5 tyres, the softest compounds, are not the easiest one to get the lap together, and to get everything in the right window.
“And Valtteri struggled in qualifying with that in particular. I don’t think it really cost him, because third on the grid is pretty competitive, it’s very equivalent to second arguably a bit better.
“But the car has been pretty good here,” concluded Shovlin.