Mercedes technical director Mike Elliott has been discussing the strategy the team put George Russell on at the start of the Miami Grand Prix, affirming that they were hoping there might be a Safety Car to help him out.
Having looked extremely quick during practice, Russell could only manage 12th in qualifying as team-mate Sir Lewis Hamilton out-qualified him for the third time this season in sixth.
However, the Silver Arrows started Russell on the Hards, and sent him long into the race while Hamilton went from Mediums to Hards.
The 24-year-old told the team he wanted to wait as long as possible before pitting in the event that there might be a Safety Car, and it arrived when Lando Norris and Pierre Gasly collided.
While it provided Russell with the ideal opportunity to pit, Hamilton only had three sets of used Softs at his disposal, so was effectively locked into staying out on track, and the younger Briton used his fresher rubber to pass the seven-time champion and finish fifth.
Provided the Safety Car does not come out around the time that other drivers are already thinking about pitting, the reverse strategy provides drivers with a great chance of gaining places, which is exactly what happened for Russell in Florida.
“I think you can tell by the fact we fitted the hard tyres, we kept our options open,” said Elliott during Mercedes’ post-race debrief.
“Our plan was always to be able to run an offset strategy relative to the cars around us, so by an offset strategy what I mean is if you’ve got a car which you think may have a pace advantage, you want to be running a different strategy to the cars around you.
“That way, if you get caught up in a DRS train, you will always get a portion of the race when you will get some clean air when the others ‘pit’ and you are able to then run long and that’s what we had in mind with George.
“Added to that, there is also the potential benefit of Safety Cars. If the Safety Car comes out after the others have ‘pitted’, you end up with a clear advantage and that’s how it obviously played out for George.”
In order to make his strategy work the way it did, Russell needed to ensure he maintained a consistent pace throughout the grand prix, particularly when Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas were closing him down on their fresh tyres, so Elliott was full of praise for his efforts.
“I have to say George drove a fantastic race, starting on the hard tyres when his competitors around him were on the mediums,” he added.
“All right, we lost a couple of places at the start, but George kept his head, he did all the right things, he waited for the tyres to come towards him and as we started to get heat into the harder tyres and as the medium tyres started to degrade, we saw the pace advantage George had and he was able to cut through the field and do a really good job.
“To finish that race in fifth from where we started, that’s a fantastic achievement.”
Hamilton lost places off the start after he was tagged by Fernando Alonso, but he quickly managed to regain the places from the Spaniard and AlphaTauri’s Gasly.
It was put to Elliott that Hamilton’s car may have picked up damage from the early impact, but he does not believe the car was wounded in any way.
“The answer to that question is no, we don’t think so,” he said.
“The contact was wheel to wheel and as always, we have lots of engineers looking at the data that is pouring off the car, so the aerodynamicists are looking at pressure taps on the floors and wings, they are looking at the push-rod loads and our chief engineer will be looking at all the other suspension loads and making sure they are doing what they are supposed to be doing.
“So we can very quickly tell whether there is an issue with the car and there was no issue to find.”
Mercedes’ 18-point haul in Miami keeps them third in the Constructors’ Standings ahead of McLaren, but they are now comfortably behind Ferrari and Red Bull.