Lewis Hamilton has questioned the Mercedes strategists after the team decided to swap their drivers around in the closing stages of the Japanese Grand Prix on Sunday.
The seven-time world champion was enjoying a strong race relative to the performance of the car and had closed up to team-mate George Russell in the closing stages.
With Russell struggling to extract anything from his tyres after opting for the alternate strategy, Mercedes instructed the two drivers to invert positions with Hamilton giving the 25-year-old DRS in his defence against the charging Carlos Sainz.
Hamilton managed to keep hold of fifth place but there was no such luck for Russell, who struggled for traction out of the final corner and eventually conceded the place to Sainz, giving away valuable points in the fight between the two teams in the Constructor Championship.
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Speaking about the decision, Hamilton said: “I don’t think that was a good idea at all. When they suggested it to me, I knew that they had obviously thought of it from the last race, and it made no sense.
“I needed to get as far clear ahead as possible and I was on my way. I was around two seconds ahead and they asked me then to give George DRS, so I had to come off the gas down the straight to get him 0.8s behind.
“He got DRS, but got overtaken, which was going to happen because he was on a one-stop and we were on a two. Then he [Sainz] got past him and he was right on my tail, so yeah, not ideal.
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“It made it very hard for the last couple of laps, but I think as a team we’ve got to be grateful for a fifth and seventh. It’s better than a sixth and seventh. We should have swapped around earlier and I should have got as far ahead as possible to keep the gap as big as I could to the Ferrari.
“I think if we had inverted, maybe George would have had a better time holding him behind maybe, but because he was trying to fight me and damaging his tyres then I think it just made it all complicated.”
With Charles Leclerc bringing home a P4 finish for Ferrari, the Italian manufacturer has closed the gap to just 20 points between themselves and Red Bull, leaving Mercedes looking over their shoulders with six races still to go.
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