Could Mercedes have stopped Verstappen in Mexico? Our opinion
The 2022 Mexican Grand Prix may not stay in the memory of Formula 1 fans for long, but it was still an important race as Max Verstappen set a new record for most wins in a single season.
But could Mercedes have prevented Verstappen from securing a 14th win of 2022 this weekend or was defeat inevitable?
Our editors give their verdict:
Red Bull has become opportunistic
Scott Mitchell Malm
I really didn’t expect Red Bull’s early pit stops, having started on the soft and moved to the mediums, to implement a one-stop strategy.
I was working on the assumption that a second pit stop was coming until it was realized – on Mercedes as well – that Red Bull would come quite comfortably to the end.
The slightly extended first stint on the softs was perhaps a hint that it was possible, but regardless, it looks like an opportunistic mid-race change from Red Bull and it was an absolute masterstroke .
Verstappen and Perez had to work hard to make it happen of course. And Verstappen did an absolutely terrific job – Hamilton was almost in disbelief late at his pace.
Mercedes missed a trick by not being adventurous enough. Red Bull improvised and reaped the rewards, aided by Verstappen’s utterly flawless execution.
Disappointment is proof of how far Mercedes has come
Mercedes could have done more given that the hard tires really didn’t work. But whether more would have been enough is another question.
Once Verstappen held on to the lead at the start and Sergio Perez cleared George Russell, it was always going to be tough. But with one Mercedes on the softs rather than both on the mediums for the start, maybe things could have been different.
Red Bull and Verstappen did not misstep and would therefore have been beaten even on the optimal strategy. But the fact that Mercedes are disappointed with second and fourth places on merit shows how far they have come since the start of the season.
So while it could have been better for Mercedes, unless they were a car or two ahead at the start, winning was always going to be a long time no matter what.
After Turn 1, Verstappen was still winning this
Once the Mercedes drivers decided to squabble for second place rather than work together to overtake Verstappen, allowing Perez to take third in the process, it was always a win for Red Bull.
The first stint was misleading. Yes, the Mercedes’ medium tire looked better than Verstappen’s Red Bull soft – but starting with that softer tire helped Verstappen protect his pole advantage, and even though he suffered from graining after about 20 laps, he was still able to match Hamilton’s pace, despite his inferior tires.
Once Verstappen used the medium, we saw Red Bull’s true advantage hammered home. Hamilton made a similar one-stop monster strategy here in 2019 to win the race, stopping on lap 23 and then going all the way, narrowly beating the two-stop Ferrari of Charles Leclerc. Tire wear isn’t usually an issue here, so if you can keep the rubber in the right temperature range, you can do surprisingly long stints – much like in Sochi.
Verstappen was actually miscooking things and was asked to step up, so he always looked like he was going to run all the way on a one stop once Red Bull coaxed him into the right spot. Mercedes was wrong to think otherwise and probably should have known better from their own experience!
The hard tire was a bad choice. Russell had the foresight to try the reverse of Red Bull’s strategy and go medium/soft. It worked brilliantly for Daniel Ricciardo and probably would have allowed Mercedes to finish closer to Red Bull – but I strongly suspect it wouldn’t have been enough to put Mercedes in the race for victory. The Red Bull is simply the class of the peloton in race trim, especially in the hands of Verstappen.
Mercedes strategy confused me
If all went according to plan and he survived the first corner, Verstappen in his Red Bull was still going to win in Mexico.
Mercedes helped him along the way by installing the hard tires at the pit stop. Even Pirelli admitted their tire choice was conservative, so why would you choose to use the hardest tire available?
Mercedes played too carefully
Once Red Bull realized it had the lifespan to run soft transport, there wasn’t much Mercedes could have done. But even in this context, it felt like the team was playing too carefully.
When you’re heading into a first season without a win in over a decade, it’s surely worth trying something a little more adventurous than hanging around with both cars assuming the Red Bulls will run out. tires.
I was surprised to see Mercedes throwing both riders on the same tire compound, as there wasn’t much to lose by giving one of them a chance to use soft tyres, just to vary the pleasures. In this case, it would probably have resulted in following the Red Bull strategy and not being able to beat Verstappen in a straight fight, but Mercedes limited their options by starting both cars on medium.
And it wasn’t imaginative to then follow the plan of sticking both drivers on hard tires for a bankable one-stop strategy, in what increasingly became little more than blind faith that eventually Verstappen and Perez would eventually run out of tire life.
Mercedes didn’t waste a chance to win this race, but they also lacked the courage or the imagination to try one of their cars a bit more. From a distance, it looked like a race where no one in a pristine white shirt with a three-pointed star on it was prepared to undo what a computer deemed the fastest way to finish the GP. Could a computer have suggested that Ricciardo’s charging strategy was the most sensible approach in terms of numbers? Probably not.
Computers don’t really understand the concept of nothing to lose. Sometimes it’s worth taking a punt and seeing what happens.
Too focused on the battle with Ferrari?
By finishing second and fourth and setting the fastest lap, Mercedes took 13 points from Ferrari to leave them 40 points behind in the battle for second place in the constructors’ championship.
Even against a Ferrari that spent the second half of the season turning into a pumpkin the second the lights went out on Sunday, it’s still almost certainly unassailable.
But to say he was trying to maximize his gain over Ferrari is the only charitable interpretation of the logic behind Mercedes’ strategy and in particular the baffling decision to deny Russell his preferred soft tire for the end of the race.
Ricciardo’s charge does indeed look like an awful call in hindsight, but you didn’t need hindsight – the BBC 5 Live crew I was following spent the second half of the race collectively scratching head over how Mercedes played this, and turned out to be demonstrably correct.
Maybe Verstappen would have been too fast again. Maybe there was data somewhere – clearly outdated data – that showed the Red Bulls were definitely not going all the way. In the end, after Verstappen pushed his softs as far as he did, and with many other cars successfully extending stints, and no driver complaining about the condition of his tyres, he didn’t. There was absolutely no reason not to pull the trigger, especially with Russell.
Hopefully those 31 points are worth it in the end and prove somehow crucial to Ferrari’s overhaul, because otherwise Mercedes will end their first season without a win since 2011 wondering if they lost a good opportunity to prevent it. to be one.