The only thing Max Verstappen and Red Bull could do to have a small chance of victory in Qatar was an undercut. However, Mercedes countered this every time by bringing Lewis Hamilton in right away. Andrew Shovlin explains in the race debrief that an alternative strategy involves too much risk on a relatively unfamiliar track.
Copying Verstappen’s pit stop was therefore the easiest option, according to the technical director of the Mercedes track site. “That’s pretty normal when you’re in a championship battle and you’re in control of the race. You’re in front and you’ve built a gap. For Lewis it was very, very clear that if he wanted to finish ahead of Max, he would just make the pit stop one or had to copy two rounds later.”
Mercedes alternative strategy was too risky
Mercedes had options to try other strategies, but chose the safe option. A one stopper would most likely have ended in a drama, as demonstrated by Valtteri Bottas with his blowout after too long a stint. “You also don’t want to drive on a completely different part of the circuit,” continues Shovlin.
“Then an unfortunate safety car or tire degradation can take away the advantage (on Verstappen, ed.). If you see Max in the lead in one of the next two races, I think they will do the same or something similar”, predicts the Mercedes technician.
In the penultimate lap of the race, Verstappen made an extra pit stop for a set of soft tires in order to set the fastest race lap. Hamilton couldn’t copy this trick, simply because the Brit would have had to make a pit stop on the last lap, leaving no full lap left to clock a fast time.