Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff has said that the decision to keep Lewis Hamilton out on wets until the track was dry enough to consider jumping straight to slicks was the only way for the Briton to win the Monaco Grand Prix.
The race appeared to be Daniel Ricciardo's for the taking as the Red Bull driver streaked away in the early going but, once Hamilton had been released from behind team-mate Nico Rosberg, Mercedes knew that it had a chance to turn the tables – provided it took a radical approach to the changing conditions.
Where everyone else transitioned via the intermediate Pirelli to bridge the gap between wet and dry, Hamilton stretched his wet-weather rubber almost to half distance, before bolting on a set of the new ultrasoft slicks for a near 40-lap run to the chequered flag.
“You could see that, once he cleared Nico, his pace was like Ricciardo's pace, but not enough to catch up, so the only way to attempt a race win was to gamble, to stay out on the wet tyre,” Wolff explained, “It really dried up well in the first and second sectors, but the third sector remained wet, so it was a dialogue between the driver, giving us information of what he perceived to be happening out there, and the discussion we had on the pitwall, whether we wanted to take the risk.”
With Rosberg already on intermediates and lapping faster than the Briton, Mercedes knew that it only had a small window in which to execute its plan without dropping Hamilton back behind his team-mate, but called the strategy almost to perfection. With Ricciardo – who was right behind Hamilton on his own inters – then suffering a nightmare stop for slicks, the world champion was able to hold on to his slim advantage as the Red Bull rejoined right behind him…
“We had a 28-second gap, which I believe was to Nico, and the pit-stop is 20 seconds, so we knew that we had just short of ten seconds we could play with and give up as a buffer,” Wolff continued, “We never needed those ten seconds actually, so it was the right call to stay out - an aggressive and assertive call but, in the end, the right call.
“Obviously Ricciardo's pit-stop didn't go well to say the least - and I feel sorry for them because you don't want for that to happen to anybody in the garage - but that was just what we needed and Lewis came out and drove a superb race in the conditions.”
Even though he was ahead, Hamilton's out-lap on the ultrasoft had not been an easy one, and allowed Ricciardo to not only hang with the Mercedes, but also think about taking a look at passing over the laps that followed.
“I haven't calculated how much he actually lost in the first lap,” Wolff admitted, “It was a bold call, and it was a call that we made because we knew that, if anybody can manage it, then it was him, but, as I said, the third sector was not ready. A lap or two later would have been the perfect call, but this is what gave us the race win.”