Esteban Ocon seemingly did the impossible in the Turkish Grand Prix by completing an entire race on one set of tyres. The last person to do this was Mika Salo, who finished fifth at the 1997 Monaco Grand Prix without making a single pit-stop.
Ocon did the same in Turkey on Sunday. However, the Frenchman would have been very close to suffering a puncture, having finished with a huge hole in his rubber after completing the full 58-lap race distance on the same set of Intermediates.
At times it looked like Lewis Hamilton would achieve the same feat, until the Briton pitted with eight laps remaining – after repeated calls from Mercedes. Of course, Ocon is not Hamilton and Hamilton is not Ocon, but judging by the Alpine driver's lap times, it seems to have been the right choice for Mercedes to order the seven-time World Champion to make a pit-stop. In the final laps of the race, Ocon lost up to six seconds a lap to his predecessors and was almost overtaken by Antonio Giovinazzi in P11.
For Hamilton, the gap to Lando Norris in P7 was 24 seconds at the time of his pit-stop. The young Briton lapped in the 1.33s, while Hamilton was in the 1.35s before his pit-stop. By then he was losing two seconds a lap, but in the final laps his losses would undoubtedly have been greater had he been on such worn tyres as Ocon.
Without a pit-stop, Hamilton would have had to continue for another eight laps. He would have lost an average of three seconds per lap. With the knowledge that Ocon lost more than five seconds in his final laps, Hamilton's result could potentially have been much worse. The 36-year-old had also experienced many more battles on track and seemed to have already asked more of his tyres than Ocon.
Mercedes saw that and played it safe. Pierre Gasly and Norris were coming and there was only one lap left to cover them with a pit-stop. They did, to the frustration of Hamilton, who had to settle for fifth place in the process. Whether Hamilton's tyres would have been as bad as Ocon's, we will never know, but the choice made by Mercedes boss Toto Wolff and co. seems to have been the right one.
Andrew Shovlin, Mercedes' Trackside Engineering Director, explains the choice again: "We'll go through it and double-check, but we're fairly certain that we would have lost those two places [to Sergio Perez and Charles Leclerc], if not been at risk [of losing more, without a pit stop]."
He added: "If you look at Esteban, he was overtaken by Lance [Stroll] about five or six laps from the end. He finished 17 seconds behind him, and that's how quickly you fall off. That's what was in our mind."
Shovlin can understand Hamilton's frustration: "Lewis is always looking at what's ahead of him, what's the most he can get. He is deeply invested in this championship. We wouldn't really expect anything other than frustration at a P5, where at one point we thought we might be able to hang on, but we'll go through that.
"We've had a debrief with him and he understands the reasons. I think it's just the frustration from him that, at times in that race, he thought he was going to be on the podium, and that didn't come true.
"I think there is a bit of disappointment in that [for him], but if we look at how we operated, it was sensible, in a championship battle. There's a point where you've got to stop taking risks, and you've got to cut your losses. Although those decisions are difficult to do, you've got to be strong and you've got to take them."