Even without 'Bono', Mercedes have depth to win with Hamilton
Mexico City (AFP)
Even without his loyal and dependable race engineer, Peter Bonnington, Lewis Hamilton and his Mercedes team on Sunday demonstrated a flair for conjuring victories out of unpromising situations and a strength in depth unmatched by their rivals.
In claiming his 10th win of the season and the 83rd of his career, to move within eight of Michael Schumacher's record 91 victories, Hamilton overcame both his own doubts about his chances at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez and those of his team.
Mercedes team chief Toto Wolff had described the high-altitude challenge as representing the team's worst of the season before the race -– but left Mexico City with a broad grin of near-amazement.
Without 'Bono' nearby to talk him through testing moments in an unpredictable contest, this had looked a more than tricky assignment for the defending five-time champion. The unflappable engineer was back in Britain for a medical procedure that will see him also miss this week's United States Grand Prix where Hamilton is likely to claim his sixth world title.
In Mexico, Mercedes shuffled their technical pack, did their homework, took a few calculated risks and won with a strategic flourish, thanks to chief tactician James Vowles. Marcus Dudley, filling in for Bono, "stepped up to the plate", said Hamilton, while his replacement as performance engineer Dom Riefstahl also shone.
"Bono has been with me for seven years, so it's the longest working relationship that I've had with an engineer," said Hamilton. "It definitely feels weird coming knowing that we've experienced so much together and achieved so much together, but he's here with us in spirit and he's worked so hard, along with Marcus, who has done a fantastic job."
Dudley's role on Sunday was a key part of their triumph. He and Vowles saw that Daniel Ricciardo was having only low levels of wear on his hard tyres and chose to bring Hamilton in early to pit for a set of the same. It was a risk, they knew, but one – like a similar decision in Hungary in August – that worked.
- Century up for Mercedes -
Hamilton was concerned and said so, but reassurance from the steady Dudley and Vowles helped the 34-year-old Briton concentrate on completing a 47-lap final stint as the man who drove to Mercedes' 100th Formula One triumph. For Dudley, it was a glorious win on debut on the pit wall.
"You've done a fantastic job, man," Hamilton told Dudley. "You both did. Thank you."
Wolff put their triumph into some perspective. "He (Dudley) did a phenomenal job. It's not easy, managing Lewis in the race, but it shows that we have a strength – a deep strength – in the team."
Mercedes' win came a fortnight after the team had sealed an unprecedented sixth consecutive double with the constructors' and drivers' championships, leaving Hamilton to fend off his team-mate Valtteri Bottas for a personal sixth drivers' crown. Bottas finished a strong third on Sunday, 24 hours after hobbling out of a heavy crash in the final minutes of qualifying.
The sixth title party is likely, bar unforeseen happenings, to be held on Sunday at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin where Hamilton has won five times since the event was launched in 2012.
He need only finish in the top eight to delight his army of American fans and the sport's American owners, Liberty Media, who are seeking further races in Miami and Las Vegas.
"The track is fantastic and has been a good hunting ground for me," said Hamilton. "So I am excited and who knows if we can get the job done."
His humility was commendable and built from respect for Bottas who is sure to be the first to congratulate him in Texas on Sunday.
Â© 2019 AFP