McLaren’s mistake in the Sochi F1 race is not only the weather forecast

And while team boss Andreas Seidl joked Sunday night about the existence of a ‘WhatsApp group in hindsight’ that he could conclude that he should have faced Lando Norris immediately for interest in the final stages, the analysis will go much deeper than that.

Digging into the crucial minutes of what turned a brilliant Norris win into a heartbreak, it’s clear that like most things in F1, this wasn’t just a case where Norris or a single person on the wall pit was wrong.

Multiple decisions and influences were at play, which meant McLaren left Norris too long on the slicks when track conditions had been too wet.

Weather forecast

Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren MCL35M, Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W12 and Sergio Pérez, Red Bull Racing RB16B

Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren MCL35M, Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W12 and Sergio Pérez, Red Bull Racing RB16B

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsports images

One conclusion that would be easy to jump to would be that McLaren made their tire call based on duff weather information.

If McLaren’s weather system was telling the team one thing, and teams like Red Bull and Mercedes were being told something else, then it would be an obvious area of ​​weakness.

However, unlike decades ago, when teams had meteorological information provided by their own independent providers, they have all used a centralized service for some time.

Since 2017, that work has been taken over by Meteo France, which provides the same data and information to teams, the FOM and the FIA.

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff was clear that his team made his call to face Lewis Hamilton for interest based on exactly the same weather information as other teams.

“It is Meteo France, the official meteorological channel of the FIA,” he said. “It’s what everyone has available.”

So it’s not that McLaren’s weather forecast was wrong.

Bad moment

Lando Norris, McLaren MCL35M

Lando Norris, McLaren MCL35M

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsports images

One of the critical aspects of the way the weather came in at the end of the Sochi race was the timing and uncertainty about how the rain was affecting track grip.

If the rain had come to the middle of the race, with a high probability that the track was wet for a while, then the decision to enter the interest would be obvious.

But with three or four laps to go, then it becomes a much more critical matter, because a 25-second pit stop can drag you down the order if the tire choice isn’t right immediately.

In the case of McLaren, he knew that with Hamilton having pitted and leaving Norris with a comfortable cushion up front, the interest could be nearly 10 seconds per lap faster and still not worth the pitfall.

In fact, immediately after Hamilton’s arrival, there was a phase where it seemed that interests were actually the wrong choice, as things seemed to be looking up.

Here’s how Norris’s lap times compared to Hamilton’s during these critical laps:

Lap Norris lap time Hamilton lap time
46 1m39.120 1m38,942
47 1m42,783 1m42,612
48 1 min 54,639 1m55,730
49 1m52,785 1m56.879 (boxes)
fifty 1m57.502 2m06.316 (Interest)
51 3m11.081 (boxes) 1m53,532 (Interest)
52 2m16,377 (Interest) 1m52,659 (Interest)
53 1m52.417s (Interest) 1m51,465 (Interest)

As you can see, on lap 49, the lap where Hamilton pitted, things had improved and Norris was back faster.

Verstappen pitted on lap 48. His starting lap (49) was 2m07.650, and on the next lap (50), he put a 1m52.546, which showed that this was the crossing point.

If conditions held steady then Norris staying out made a lot of sense as the time lost in the pits at that point was more than the time lost staying in slicks.

But when the rain got worse, the slippery pace completely disappeared. And when Norris knew he had to go inside, it was too late.

Driver / team communication

Lando Norris, McLaren MCL35M

Lando Norris, McLaren MCL35M

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsports images

It is at those crossover points of the track condition, especially in the last laps of the race, where what the weather radar tells you is not particularly useful as it is too general.

At the moment, the critical aspect is the finer details of how the rain falls in certain corners and how that is affecting the grip of the track.

There have been times in the past when teams have dispatched staff to sit on corners and radio out when bad weather is coming and how heavy it is.

When the rain falls for the first time, and its intensity on the track surface is uncertain, a team cannot decide on its own that now is the time to pit, unless it is absolutely obvious from the forecast that it is. coming a big downpour.

At Red Bull, where Verstappen’s call to pit on lap 48 was successful, he explained that when the rain is minimal like in Sochi, there is a greater reliance on feedback from the drivers.

As team boss Christian Horner put it: “I think with the crossover, the call is always from the driver.

“They can feel the level of grip or what they can handle. They can see more when the weather is above us to the point where you need an inter. This is how we operate. That crossover is up to the driver.”

Seidl said that at that stage of the race, there were intense conversations between the pit wall and Norris to assess the situation and try to figure out what was the best they could do, and together they were wrong.

Curse of the leading car

Lando Norris, McLaren MCL35M

Lando Norris, McLaren MCL35M

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsports images

Being at the head of the race, with a lot to lose, was obviously a much tougher decision to pit than running second with a comfortable gap behind.

As the front car, Norris had no option to match what Hamilton was doing, nor to do the opposite in an attempt to respond.

Also, with Hamilton having a 40-second gap with third Sergio Perez behind, he wasn’t going to lose a position going into the pits, so the only downside was if the rain stopped completely and the track dried out quickly.

Mercedes’ decision at this point to bring in Hamilton was also easier because the team had seen how Valtteri Bottas was performing, and the Finn had nothing to lose by pitting early.

From McLaren’s perspective, he had no information on his second car as Daniel Ricciardo was in a good position to score points.

As Seidl put it: “Following his radio, Lewis also wanted to stay out. And for him, obviously, he had the opportunity to do the opposite of what we’re doing. That’s just the situation you’re in if you’re leading.”

The difficulty of jumping first as the lead car is something that stood out on the road to the grid in Hungary, when poleman Lewis Hamilton was the only one who stayed on the formation lap, as it seemed so illogical to sacrifice front point. for a tire change.

Crystal call

Lando Norris, McLaren MCL35M, makes a stop

Lando Norris, McLaren MCL35M, makes a stop

Photo by: Charles Coates / Motorsports images

McLaren’s most intense focus will be on the information he had on lap 50, which was probably the last point where he could have pitted and still have won the race.

You need to understand why the information you had did not cause the team to pull a switch pin at interest, whether through weather radar, television footage of what was happening on the track, or others’ sector times. cars that had stopped.

And also, if Norris’s decision to stay out was based on being told precisely what was predicted with the rain.

Norris himself later said that his call to stay out was based on being informed that the rain was not going to get worse.

“I decided to stay out because the team said it was only meant to drizzle that way and that’s the hardest the rain was going to be,” he said.

“For whatever reason, we didn’t know or see or anticipate that not only was it going to be a drizzle, it was going to rain a lot and that’s where we went wrong at the end of the day.”

For Seidl, you need to analyze all aspects of your decision-making process.

“As always in these difficult situations, it is a communication between the driver and the pit wall using all the information that we have available in terms of the weather forecast, what other cars are doing, trying to inform Lando and at the same time obtain Lando’s feedback on how the track conditions are, “he said.

“That was how the decision had to be made about what to do, to pit or not. Lando, with the information he received from us and how he felt on the track, felt good being in the slicks.”

“And in the end we didn’t invalidate it as a team. So that’s something we need to look at, to see what we could have done better because of course, in hindsight, it was the wrong decision we made as a team.” “

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W12, makes a pit stop

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W12, makes a pit stop

Photo by: Steve Etherington / Motorsports images

While Mercedes was more forceful and ordered Hamilton to enter, even though he wanted to stay in the slicks, McLaren’s point of no return came when he stepped back and let Norris continue because he was happy to do so.

So what it takes to get to the bottom is that there is information that could have been better used to improve the decision-making process to push you through the line and make that call to Norris to tell him he had to come in.

Seidl added: “If we had been very clear from the team side and had been convinced that stopping 100 percent was the right decision, he would have stopped.”

“In the end it was very close. Of course, it’s easy to say later that it was the wrong one because that’s how it played out, but I think it was pretty close to deciding what’s the right thing to do. And that’s why I say it’s a team decision together with Landau.

“The only thing we have to analyze is if there had been any information available that should have led us to make a clear call. But in the end, with the information that we had available at that time, with the weather forecast, with Lando’s comments, to the In the end, we made this decision together. “

Improving the team

Lando Norris, McLaren MCL35M

Lando Norris, McLaren MCL35M

Photo by: Charles Coates / Motorsports images

While McLaren will be bummed for a while by what happened, Seidl has the experience and wisdom to know that his disappointment at the Russian GP will pay off in the future to ensure that it is not repeated in the future.

And, for a team that is on what he calls a trip to the front of the grid, the days when you screw up are sometimes more valuable than the days at Monza, where it goes perfectly.

“Part of this journey is also that you have to accept that it doesn’t always go forward and upward,” Seidl said.

“It’s a normal part of the sport. And you have days like today, which was a huge disappointment.

“But it’s also an opportunity to stay humble, keep your feet on the ground, also respect all the competitors and just keep learning.”

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