The real reason Lewis Hamilton didn't win the title in Austin

AUSTIN, Texas -- The champagne will be back on ice in the run-up to the Mexican Grand Prix next Sunday, but in the meantime, Lewis Hamilton will be keeping one eye on his emails. After taking pole position in Austin on Saturday, he had the opportunity to clinch the title on Sunday, yet something went missing and, despite appearances, it wasn't down to race strategy. The job for the team now is to understand what went wrong.

It would be easy for Mercedes to accept the result of Sunday's race and move on to Mexico safe in the knowledge that Hamilton only needs five points to secure the title, but that's not the team's style. What's more, the race for the constructors' title is not quite as one-sided as Hamilton's battle with Sebastian Vettel in the drivers' standings, and it's the constructors' that has staff bonuses attached to it.

Once some answers are found, race engineer Pete Bonnington will send an email to Hamilton with some key pointers as to where the pace leaked away on Sunday. That email will then form the agenda for Thursday's engineering briefing in Mexico City, where a plan will be hatched to ensure a result like Sunday's doesn't happen again.

"We just had a debrief," Hamilton said on Sunday evening, "and there a lot of things we could have done better today. There were certain things that weren't optimum for us which made it look even worse than it was.

"There were a lot of things that were against us today and I have only just discovered certain things which make a lot of sense. Naturally being on the back foot you can blame strategy and a lot of different things, but we just weren't quick enough today.

"Collectively we have lost some performance in some areas, but I think we know where it is and we still have three races to go."

Pinpointing exactly where Mercedes went wrong on Sunday is not easy. As ever in F1, swings in performances are rarely down to one single reason but instead a combination of factors that either result in an upwards or downwards spiral in performance. In Mercedes' case, the car was clearly quick over a single lap in cooler conditions on Saturday but was in real trouble when it came to preserving the performance of a set of tyres over a race stint.

So what changed? First off there was the ambient temperature, which went up by 10C when the sun finally came out on Sunday. That was a significant swing and resulted in Pirelli choosing to up its minimum tyre pressures on Sunday morning by 1.5 PSI to protect the integrity of the tyre. That's all well and good, but when the car setup is already set from qualifying due to parc ferme rules it means accommodating those two changes is not that easy.

"It was definitely a different feeling with the car today on the higher pressures compared to the long runs we did in final practice," Bottas said. "In theory, it should have been the same for everyone, but I think the pressures set by Pirelli are almost 5 psi from optimum pressure -- way too high. But it's still the same for everyone."

Higher ambient temperatures and higher minimum pressures at a track with high-load corners like Austin can have a big impact on tyre performance. Both factors make the tyre prone to overheating and blistering, especially if the bulk of the rubber on the tyre is not reduced by wear. It was no coincidence, therefore, that the hardest of the three compounds on offer this weekend (the yellow-striped soft tyre) had a tendency to overheat and blister. Because it didn't wear at the same rate as the super-soft and ultra-soft it retained more heat and that resulted in the blisters emerging on Hamilton's tyres in the second stint.

What's more, the Mercedes was running more wing than the Ferraris and Red Bulls and therefore carrying more speed through the high-speed corners where even higher loads were transferred through the tyres. All small factors, but combine them with pushing hard while running in the dirty air of Raikkonen's Ferrari and they help to explain why the soft tyre, which should have been the most durable of the three compounds, was so badly blistered on Hamilton's second stint.

"It was unexpected," Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff said. "We knew that this could be a problem but we were going strong in the first stint actually on the super-soft behind Kimi. It was good.

"Then pitting for the softs on at that time it was still under control, but then Lewis started to push and the tyres started to blister. This is the moment we realised things were going against us."

Of course, Mercedes wasn't alone in dealing with the hotter temperatures and higher tyre pressures on Sunday. All teams faced the same conditions and had to adjust their cars and their strategies accordingly. So those factors are hardly an excuse for Mercedes, more just an explanation of why a car that was so quick on Saturday struggled so much on Sunday.

On top of the tyre issues, Mercedes also had a difficult build-up to the race. In the hours leading up to the start, both cars had to be stripped back to basics due to problems with their water pumps. Although the cars ran reliably in the race, Hamilton hinted that there was a knock-on effect on performance.

"You saw the car was in a million pieces this morning, so that wasn't ideal for the race," he said. "Probably if we hadn't had a morning like that the race would have been a lot better.

"We lost some pace and I have asked the engineers to go and dig deep and find out why. But there is more on top of that, which we are talking about and the extent of that. Plus in the race, there was some debris that caused damage to the floor and all these things add up during the race.

"You can lose a couple of tenths from floor damage and then we had another problem and we are not sure how much time that was worth."

So while Hamilton's two-stop strategy wasn't ideal, it was borne out of necessity. Bottas in the other Mercedes ran out of tyres at the end of the race on a one-stop strategy and was powerless to defend against Vettel, who was on a recovery drive after dropping to 15th with a first lap spin. Bottas finished the race saying he wished the team had put him on a two stop whereas Hamilton, who was on a two-stop, claimed he should have been on a one-stop. The reality was that the Mercedes simply wasn't quick enough to make either strategy work and that's why the cars finished third and fifth.

Meanwhile, Ferrari, which has enjoyed better tyre management all season, won the race. The Italian team actually rolled back a series of updates from recent races to rediscover its form, but while it's all a bit too little, too late for Vettel, the sudden swing in performance is not inconsistent with the tale of the 2018 season.

"I'm not at all surprised," Wolff said. "We see in the media, somebody has a run of races and then he's the world champion and the greatest on the planet, and the other ones are the biggest idiots on the planet and you write them off. But it's not how Formula One runs.

"It's cyclical, you have good momentum, you win the race, maybe two or three races, and then it can bite you. And it bit us today, and it's always something we expected. It's honestly tiring to sit out there and discuss winning trophies when the bloody trophy is not won yet.

"Ferrari is a strong group of racers, they have won many races, they deserve the respect of still being able to compete with us and today they were strong and rewarded. Now we need to keep calm and go to Mexico and perform."

The greatest shame for F1 is that the title race isn't closer. If Vettel hadn't lost so many points earlier in the season, a race like the U.S. Grand Prix could have been one last turning point in an epic title race. Instead, it will go down as a minor hiccup in the story of Hamilton's fifth world title.