The Mercedes team orders which allowed Lewis Hamilton to win the Russian GP have been controversial to say the least. We’ve been through the full, unaired radio communication between the two drivers and the team to find out what happened. In fact, there have been two team orders: respectively, to back Sebastian Vettel up and, later, to let Lewis Hamilton go. Let’s take a look at what went down. Team Radio Mercedes
Editor’s Note: as far as we’ve been able to tell, the different engine mapping options are allegedly referred to as “strat mode”. A low number (3, for example) indicates a conservative strategy, while the most aggressive strategy is referred to as “strat mode 10”. The infamous Mercedes’s magic button is allegedly called “overtake button”.
Lap 12 sees Valtteri Bottas in the pits. Hamilton is then instructed to push the performance:
Mercedes to Hamilton: Ok Lewis, it’s hammer time, Vettel behind at 1.8
Sebastian Vettel pits at lap 13 and Mercedes communicates with both drivers:
Mercedes to Hamilton: Strat Mode 10, Strat Mode 10, Vettel in the pits now
Mercedes to Bottas: So Vettel is in
For the following lap, Bottas is reassured about his position:
Mercedes to Bottas: So you are safe to Lewis, you should be safe to Vettel as well
And then again:
Mercedes to Bottas: So you’re 1 second and half safe to Lewis
The first team order
As we know, Vettel comes out on track behind Valtteri Bottas and Hamilton pits. The Brit is under the threat of being overtaken by the Ferrari driver if the latter can put together a blistering lap. Considering the situation, the first team order to Valtteri Bottas instructs him to reduce his pace and lap time to back Vettel up.
Mercedes to Bottas: So we’d like to reduce lap times and back Vettel up, go Strat 3.
VB: Is Lewis stopping now?
Mercedes to Bottas: Affirm
Later, halfway through the lap
Mercedes to Bottas: So we just need to loose a little bit more lap time
VB: Is that ok?
When Hamilton leaves the pits, he is informed about the risk of coming out behind:
Mercedes to Hamilton: Ok Lewis, this is going to be close on exit with Valtteri and Vettel is right behind him. Please, overtake available.
Despite Bottas’s strategy, Vettel manages to overtake Lewis Hamilton with a record lap. After ending up behind the Ferrari, the Brit asks his team to clarify.
LH: Guys, how did that happen?
In the meantime, Bottas requires an update:
VB: Did he get him?
Mercedes to Bottas: Yeah, so Lewis is now 3. Keep looking after tyres, they’re going to the end of the race
At the same time, Hamilton asks if he can decrease his lap times on the fresh tyre set:
LH: Am I allowed to push on those?
As soon as the trio reaches Max Verstappen (who, at this point, hasn’t pitted yet) Lewis Hamilton is unhappy about tyre temperatures.
LH: The tyres are getting hot already
The team confirms his worries and asks him to nurture the tyres:
Mercedes to Hamilton: Ok Lewis, just look after those rear temps, they are coming up close to limit
As the situation escalates, Bottas is asked to do his best to overtake Verstappen…
Mercedes to Bottas: So close the gap to Verstappen and try to overtake
… While Hamilton points out blistering problems:
Mercedes to Hamilton: So you drop back just a bit, so you can get some free air just to manage temps
LH: I’ve got blistering
LH: I’ve got Vettel right behind me
Mercedes to Hamilton: Affirm Lewis, Valtteri has been given the message to attack Verstappen, you just need to keep this tyres in decent state, we’ve got 29 laps remaining
LH: I don’t know if they’ll last 29 laps
Mercedes to Hamilton: ok copy
Bottas is being pressured to make his move on Verstappen
Mercedes to Bottas: So strat 5, we need to pass Verstappen for the win
A realistic explanation for this message is that Bottas will have to give the position to Hamilton if he can’t manage to overtake Verstappen, as teammates frequently do.
The second team order
As Hamilton keeps reporting problems, the second team order arrives at lap 25, eventually not allowing Bottas to make his move on Verstappen:
LH: Vettel is still catching me
Mercedes to Bottas: So you need to let Lewis by into turn 13, this lap
Mercedes to Hamilton: Valtteri has been instructed to let you go into turn 13
LH: Just pick up the pace for now… the rear tyres are really to the limit
After making way for Hamilton, Valtteri is asked to beware of Vettel closing on him. At this point the Finn is a bit frustrated and asks for an explanation.
Mercedes to Bottas: Watch for Vettel, now at 0.7
VB: Why was that?
His last radio communication does not grant a reply from the team. Seeing that Lewis is not passing Verstappen, Bottas requests clarification again.
VB: Why Lewis isn’t getting through Verstappen? I was gonna go past next lap!
Mercedes to Bottas: Valtteri it’s James, we had a risk with Lewis against Vettel, he has a small blister, I had to do this to make sure we secure this, I [hope you] understand.
When there’s only one lap and a half to go before the end of the race, Bottas asks for instructions again, hoping he will be given the position back.
VB: So how are we gonna finish the race?
Mercedes to Bottas: Affirm Valtteri, positions are gonna stay as they are, we’ll talk about it after the race
At the chequered flag it’s Toto Wolff himself coming to the radio to offer an explanation to Valtteri.
Mercedes to Bottas: Valtteri this is Toto, difficult day for you, difficult day for us, let’s discuss it afterwards when we’ll come together we’ll explain the things.
The two team orders, while not aired in their full version and only available on F1, leave little space for speculation. The first one in particular, with Valtteri being asked to physically obstruct Vettel’s race, highlights a behaviour that has raised many concerns and criticism towards Mercedes over the course of the 2018 season.
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