Mercedes strategist James Vowles says that the team had to prioritise George Russell’s tyre wear in the latter part of the Australian Grand Prix, which is why he was unable to battle Sergio Perez.
Russell capitalised on a Safety Car to pit from the Mediums onto the Hards in Melbourne, gaining him a place over Perez and team-mate Sir Lewis Hamilton, who had already pitted.
The undercut from the seven-time world champion had allowed him to leapfrog the Mexican, but an outstanding move into Turn Nine got the Red Bull driver back ahead before Sebastian Vettel’s crash gave Russell a cheap stop.
The 24-year-old was running in third behind leaders Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen, but he was advised not to put up too much resistance against the charging Perez due to the team wanting to ensure the longevity of his tyres.
“It’s a subtlety but it’s an important one,” Vowles said during Mercedes’ YouTube debrief.
“It’s not so much that we asked George to let Perez go, we never want to give up track position.
“But these tyres, the medium and also the hard tyre, required a good amount of management, a good amount of looking after them to make sure they can make it to the end of the race without dropping off the curve.
“You saw that happen with Perez on stint one. The message to George was very simple: ‘Look after your tyres’. And if that costs a position to Perez on track then we don’t want it with all our heart but it’s the right thing to do.”
Had another Safety Car then been deployed, the Briton divulges that Russell would have been under minimal threat from behind due to his tyres still having plenty of residual grip.
“Ultimately, getting to the end of the race on tyres that we know will make it covers you off against safety cars and other circumstances [and] is the right course of action, especially given what happened with the mediums in stint one,” he explained.
Furthermore, such was Perez’s pace advantage that the 42-year-old suggests his driver would have struggled to keep him at bay regardless.
“We had also expected with Perez, with the pace he was doing and the amount he was pushing the tyres, could well have a repeat of what happened in stint one,” he added.
“But ultimately that didn’t happen, he pulled away, actually he overtook him [Russell] fairly easily in the end and there was no race there for us to have.”
Ultimately, Russell claimed a podium finish after a mechanical failure for Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, and he now sits second in the Drivers’ Championship, 34 points behind Leclerc, who took his second win of the season in Melbourne.