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Analysis: When you know that even the top F1 teams are left guessing
The first half of the 2016 F1 season ended with a really strategic race and one where the pre-race planning had to be completely revised once the race started.
This is something we have seen plenty of times in the Pirelli era, but this race caught even the best-prepared teams by surprise.
When the front running teams split strategies, you know that they are looking for clues and answers and this led to the race’s central strategic theme between Mercedes and Red Bull.
Whereas in Spain back in May, Max Verstappen was given the strategy with the harder tyre at the first stop, in Germany it was Daniel Ricciardo and it brought him the better result this time; although second place here is hardly compensation for the win he lost at Barcelona.
Friday practice running was very interesting with Mercedes looking fast on the single lap, but Red Bull and Ricciardo in particular, looking very fast on long runs. Ricciardo did a particularly strong soft tyre run, which hinted at what was to come in the race.
Although Pirelli were saying before the start that three stops was marginally faster than two, most team strategists were briefing that this would be a straight forward two-stopper with superoft-supersoft-soft being the fastest way. How wrong that turned out to be!
The win was never in doubt for Lewis Hamilton, after he once again sprang into the lead on the opening lap. Both Red Bulls also got ahead of pole sitter Nico Rosberg, but the bold move was Verstappen’s around the outside of Ricciardo into second place.
This put the strategic ball into his court, as it had been with Ricciardo in Spain. And from here, as in Spain, the Red Bull car behind on the road ended up with the better strategy and the better result. Ricciardo was put onto the soft tyre at the first stop and Verstappen the supersoft.
This tyre turned out to be less good at that early stage of the race, when the cars were still heavy on fuel. After an overcast morning, the temperature came up quickly in the hour before the race and the cars all experienced higher energy in the corners, so the tyres suffered from thermal degradation, unlike Friday, making three stops inevitable.
The smart thing to do in that situation is to split strategies and get a read early in the race on the soft tyres. This opens up the rest of the race for you; depending on what new tyres you have left for the race. Red Bull and Mercedes had judged it perfectly with a new set of softs and a new set of supersofts available to use for each driver.
Ricciardo’s second stint, using the soft tyres, is what set him up for this result as he was able to run a fast 21 lap stint, which meant that he came through in the third stint on supersofts behind Verstappen – when he was on his soft tyres – and the teenager had to let him through.
Verstappen has understandably painted this as ‘taking one for the team’, as he had the less competitive strategy, but in fact Ricciardo had generally more pace in Germany, as the race history chart below clearly shows and this was his day.
After a demoralising May, being denied the wins in Spain and especially Monaco, the last two races showed the Australian back to his very best and keeping Verstappen behind him. The second half of the season between these two will be fascinating as Verstappen’s learning curve has been almost vertical and he has been outstanding given the circumstances, since his move to Red Bull in May.
Verstappen then had to contend with Rosberg trying to come back through from fourth on the same tyre strategy as the Dutchman. Nothing worked; Mercedes tried an undercut, but the pit stop was slow.
Later, when Rosberg served a penalty for pushing Verstappen off the road in an overtaking move, the timing of the pit stop was intended to pull Verstappen into a longer final stint on supersofts than he would ideally have liked, with 22 laps to the finish.
That didn’t work either; Mercedes stopwatch malfunctioned and Rosberg lost another four seconds, then Verstappen was able to maintain a strong pace throughout the final stint and Rosberg on softs couldn’t challenge.
Ferrari meanwhile had two new sets of softs saved for both drivers, but no new supersofts. Ferrari did not split the strategies of its two cars; they were running in fifth and sixth places with a big gap back to the next battle, between Hulkenberg and Bottas.
They put both Vettel and Raikkonen onto softs at the first stop, but their pace was not close to Ricciardo or Hamilton who was also on the soft in that stint and that will make demoralising viewing for Ferrari as they go into their winter break.
Behind the six top team cars at the front, there was another terrific battle for ‘best of the rest’.
If Ferrari feels blue having been overhauled by Red Bull, then Williams must be feeling similar after losing out to Force India in Germany. They still have a 15 point lead over the Anglo Indian squad, but in the last three races Williams have been outscored by them 22 points to 4.
Both Force India’s Hulkenberg and Williams’ Valtteri Bottas had saved two new sets of soft tyres for their race.
But Williams tried to do a two-stop strategy, after both Bottas and Hulkenberg had stopped on Lap 12 for the first time. The second stint was comparable on both cars, but early in the third it was clear that the two-stop plan wasn’t going to work.
Hulkenberg pitted on Lap 32 onto supersofts, while Bottas pitted a lap later onto another set of softs to go to the finish. But by lap 41 it was clear that the degradation was such that this was not going to work out well.
At this point there is only one outcome likely if nothing changed.
If you look at the race history chart below you can see that Williams could have pulled out of the plan around Lap 46 and given Bottas a final blast on supersofts.
There was no risk from behind as the gap was good to Button. But they stuck with it and Bottas’ performance fell off a cliff at the end, to such an extent that Button finished ahead and Perez almost caught him out too.
The UBS Race Strategy Report is written by James Allen with input and data from several of the leading F1 teams’ strategists and from Pirelli.
RACE HISTORY GRAPH, Kindly Supplied by Williams Martini Racing – Click to Enlarge
Indicating the relative pace of the cars, the gaps between them. An upward curve shows good pace, sudden drops indicate pit stops.
Look at the pace comparison of Ricciardo with Hamilton and Ricciardo with Verstappen. This was a strong race for the Australian.
Ferrari clearly doesn’t have the pace in comparison with the two leading teams in this race.
Also look at the end of the race as Bottas tries to hold on with a two stop strategy that is not working. He loses the additional place to Button.
Analysis: Did Hamilton back Rosberg up in Hungary and other stories from the race
Not the thriller that last year’s Hungarian Grand Prix proved to be, this year’s event was nevertheless tense in the battle between the Red Bull and Ferrari cars and strategy was pivotal to the outcome for a number of drivers.
Ferrari has not had the best time of it lately when it comes to strategy decision-making, but in Hungary they were on good form with two very different strategies for Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen that saw both finish the race ahead of where they started.
It was extremely hot in Budapest; the track temperature was up to 56 degrees at the start of the race, but qualifying had been interrupted by torrential rain, which meant that all drivers had plenty of new tyres to plan their strategy around and the track was pretty green on race day, having been washed clean on Saturday.
The Pirelli tyre choice of supersoft, soft and medium suggested a two stop strategy would be the fastest, with supersoft the starting tyre and then two stints on softs. To make a reverse strategy work, (soft-supersoft-supersoft) would require a driver to be able to do 20 laps on supersoft, which was pushing it. Meanwhile any strategy that involved the medium compound looked uncompetitive, but should anyone take the chance, hoping to keep track position, the key was to stick with it.
Ferrari hit the sweet spot – on strategy at least
Although a result of fourth and sixth may look quite a disappointment after winning this Grand Prix last season, Ferrari can be pleased with the strategy decisions at least. The car pace remains a problem relative to the Mercedes, but also now the Red Bull cars.
However the Scuderia took the right decisions in Hungary on race day and it meant that Vettel finished fourth from fifth on the grid, while Raikkonen finished sixth from 14th on the grid. So what did they do right?
The first move was with Vettel, whose stop at the end of Lap 14 triggered the first round of stops for Mercedes and Red Bull.
Ferrari were in a great position with Vettel as he was able to stay close behind the two Red Bull cars ahead and Max Verstappen began to struggle with his rear tyres after around 8 laps. This pulled him back towards Vettel and within range of an undercut, which Ferrari gladly took.
Some pundits have questioned why Red Bull did not pre-empt that undercut from Vettel by stopping first. The answer is because they didn’t have enough of a gap back to Hulkenberg, Bottas and especially Raikkonen, who was running a long first stint on soft tyres so would not be stopping until around Lap 30. Red Bull were trying to pull a gap, when Vettel pitted. They had to react with the lead car, which was Ricciardo and the Verstappen a lap later. This condemned the Dutchman not only to losing a position to Vettel, but also falling behind Raikkonen.
This separated him from Ricciardo and from then on his race was not for the podium but for fifth place with Raikkonen. But while he was on the wrong end of a strategy call for once, the real reason he was in that position was because he had not managed the tyres well in the opening eight laps, unlike Ricciardo.
A tiny detail, but worth mentioning is that Vettel also had a small stroke of luck; immediately prior to his first stop, he didn’t have a gap back to Raikkonen and would have come out behind his team mate, requiring some team orders to get him past the Finn. But Raikkonen lost time behind Hulkenberg, meaning that Vettel emerged just ahead as he exited the pits. Drama avoided.
Raikkonen earns driver of the day plaudits
Kimi Raikkonen may have ended the race frustrated by the way Verstappen blocked him as he tried to overtake, but he had a very strong drive to come through from 14th place and make the reverse strategy work. The key to it was his ability to make the supersoft tyres in the second stint last 21 laps. No one else in the top ten managed it, although Daniil Kvyat did something similar in the minor placings.
Raikkonen should have been able to clear Verstappen, given the difference in tyre pace, but the Dutchman blocked him, using double moves that the Finn felt were unacceptable. At one point they even made contact, damaging Raikkonen’s front wing.
It was a really good strategy from Ferrari and had Raikkonen cleared Verstappen he would have caught the Vettel & Ricciardo battle, which would have been very interesting.
Hamilton’s ‘management’ endangers result, Ricciardo loses sight of Vettel
One of the more noteworthy cameos at the front of the race was the warning given to race leader Lewis Hamilton from his Mercedes team that he needed to pick up the pace around half distance, as he was backing himself and team mate Nico Rosberg into the cars behind, namely Ricciardo and Vettel and putting the team’s 1-2 finish at risk.
Hamilton said afterwards that on a hot day such as this, there was no need to push the car to build a ten second gap, but he was ‘managing’ the race too severely. While he would have been aware of the gaps back to Rosberg and Ricciardo, what he might not have been aware of was the general picture and what is known as the Safety Car window, whereby a badly timed Safety Car could have meant that Vettel gained track position over all of them, had it fallen favourably for him.
Red Bull sought to exploit this situation by pitting Ricciardo on Lap 35, which was very early in terms of reaching the chequered flag on a set of soft tyres. But he was trying to push them onto a reaction.
Instead the Mercedes picked up the pace dramatically (see Race History chart below) and cleared the danger, stopping six laps later. Whilst understandable by Red Bull on one level, this early second stop was also a risky move as it showed they had lost sight of Vettel as a threat from behind and he almost got Ricciardo at the end when the Red Bull struggled on its tyres in the closing stages.
The UBS Race Strategy Briefing is written by James Allen with input and data from several F1 team strategists and from Pirelli
Race History and Tyre Usage Charts – Kindly Supplied by Williams Martini Racing – Click to Enlarge
Illustrating the relative pace of each car and showing the gaps between them in seconds. An upward curve shows strong pace.
Note the pace of Raikkonen in second stint and transpose that onto third stint; if he had been able to clear Verstappen he would have been right in the battle for the podium with Ricciardo and Vettel at the end.
Contrast Hamilton’s pace in the early part of the middle stint with his pace after lap 33 when he was warned that the team would reverse the drivers if he did not speed up, as Ricciardo was threatening them. It’s clear the degree to which he was ‘managing’ the race, but also there is no question it put not only Rosberg at threat from Ricciardo, but also both of them at threat from Vettel if a Safety Car had fallen at the wrong moment.
Balancing risk and reward – how the big decisions were made in F1 British GP
This was a snakes and ladders type of race, where a driver could get a leg up from a timely Virtual Safety Car or lose ground with a badly timed pit stop. We saw both in the British Grand Prix thanks to a downpour minutes before the off, a Safety Car start and then a Virtual Safety Car soon after the restart.
Lewis Hamilton won the British Grand Prix for the fourth time, a result that was never in doubt from the start, but the battle for second and several other races were close and strategy was decisive.
We also saw clearly that the Red Bull is faster than the Mercedes in intermediate wet conditions, which could give them a platform for a win later in the season.
Conversely it showed how much Williams struggle for performance when the track is wet. Neither car finished in the points despite starting sixth and 12th on the grid.
Pre Race Expectations
Friday practice running was not interrupted by rain and the teams covered a good mileage, all struggling to make sense of the hard tyre, which wasn’t fast enough relative to the soft and medium and gave a shorter life than the medium.
For some cars it gave more stability in high speed corners, but otherwise it was a tyre to avoid. The likely strategy, had it stayed dry, was to do an opening 10 lap stint on softs, then two stints on medium.
Ferrari had not saved a second new set of medium tyres, so they could have been caught out badly in a dry race, but they got away with it because it poured down with 15 minutes to go before the start.
Although there was some disappointment with the length of time the Safety Car stayed out at the start of the race, we still had a variety of different decisions made by teams and drivers as to when was the moment to move from full wets, to intermediates and then onto slick tyres. And these proved to be critical to race results in some cases.
Everyone followed the same pattern through these transitions, with a few laps of variation. All the cars ran on the medium compound slick tyres once the track was ready for it. Unusually it was Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel who gambled first on the move to slicks, as he was trying to make up for a five place grid penalty and not having taken advantage of the first switch from wets to intermediates.
Vettel had been running just behind Sergio Perez after the restart on Lap 5 in 10th and 11th places. Vettel went for intermediates as soon as the Safety Car went in, but Perez delayed the move to intermediates by two laps, like the three front-runners, Hamilton, Rosberg and Verstappen.
It paid massive dividends. One of the first cars to take intermediates, Pascal Wehrlein in the Manor, went off into the gravel and a Virtual Safety Car was deployed. This offered those who had yet to pit and chance to stop at reduced speeds and saved 10 seconds compared to those who had pitted at racing speeds.
This ‘snakes and ladders’ moment cemented the position of the top three at the front and catapulted Perez from 10th to fourth, ahead of Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo.
Teams have very sophisticated tools now for measuring relative performance of all the cars on track at a moment like this and the ‘guinea pigs’, who take the early gamble are monitored closely by two or three strategy engineers in each team looking for improvements in pace sector by sector and areas of the track which are not suitable yet for intermediates.
The teams who delayed their stop for intermediates by one or two laps were the ones closely monitoring this and judging the conditions not to be right yet for that tyre.
At the front there are other factors at play on a wet track. One is the ‘spray effect’, which means that the less spray you are driving into, the less time you lose. Cars in the midfield lose a lot of time.
There is no need to react pre-emptively, which is why both Mercedes and Red Bull, the top four cars, did not pit straight away after the Safety Car.
The cars that went early got it wrong in this case, but a gamble can work in some situations so it’s deemed worth a try to get that snakes and ladders boost up. What was strange with Ferrari again, was that they pitted both cars on Lap 5, taking the same gamble with both. Most teams avoided that, giving one car the early gamble and bringing the other car in a lap later.
No one could have certainty at the moment when the Safety Car was released, before they had done a lap in anger. So it’s a risk to take intermediates, but Ferrari didn’t split their risk, they went for it and it cost them the upside enjoyed by drivers like Perez, and Massa who gained six and five places respectively. Vettel stayed 11th and Raikkonen lost a place.
By Lap 15 the track was drying enough to consider switching to slick tyres. Vettel went for it first and over the next three laps everyone else followed. Vettel spun, which indicates that he went a lap too early, while Verstappen tried to use the phenomenal pace of the Red Bull on worn intermediates, to do an extra lap and close on Hamilton, who had pitted on Lap 17. He had passed Rosberg using that pace on Lap 16 around the outside of Becketts, finding grip the Mercedes struggled to find.
Mercedes pitted both drivers on Lap 17 and straight away Hamilton was in the low 1m 40s, while Rosberg took several laps to adjust to the slicks and dropped five seconds behind Verstappen, who was straight onto Hamilton’e pace from the outset.
As the stint went on and the track dried out, Rosberg got more comfortable and the Mercedes reeled in the Red Bull and overtook.
The whole field chose the medium tyre for their stops; with around 34 laps to the finish it was the best compromise between pace and durability. The soft would have grained and another stop would have been needed, while the hard was 0.5s per lap slower than the medium and lasted two laps less, so was unattractive.
It wasn’t certain that the medium tyres would make it to the finish from there, but Verstappen again did well to make it to the chequered flag as the Red Bull had been harder on the tyres than the Mercedes in practice.
The strategists monitor the tyre performance in the stint and with 15 laps to go, the window when they would need to make another stop, the data said that the tyres would be okay to the finish.
Perez’ result in sixth place was built on that early decision to delay the first stop, but credit to Hulkenberg to recover and finish behind him, having dropped from 8th to 10th through that first transition, but he climbed up to seventh through making his second stop a lap later than Kvyat and Massa.
The UBS Race Strategy Report is written by James Allen with input and data from several of the leading teams’ strategists, from Pirelli and from JA on F1 technical adviser Dominic Harlow
Race History & Tyre Usage Charts – Click to Enlarge
Illustrating the performance gaps between the cars during the race. The zero line is the winner’s average lap speed. A line which moves steeply upwards shows strong pace. Sharp drops indicate pit stops.
Look at the pace of the Mercedes compared to the Red Bull in the wet phase of the race and then in the dry when the tyres start to go off on Verstappen’s car.
Insight: Did Mercedes strategy decisions lead to Hamilton & Rosberg collision and how did Verstappen beat Raikkonen?
“Forget everything you’ve known before,” was the advice of one leading F1 team strategist on the morning of the Austrian Grand Prix.
The combination of much cooler temperatures on race day, combined with a lack of knowledge about how the soft tyres in particular would perform in the race, due to lack of dry running in Free Practice on Friday, meant that many teams were going into the dark on Sunday.
In those circumstances, Race Strategy was always going to be critical to the outcome of the race, but the winners were those who had hedged their bets and were most adaptable during the race.
And it was varying strategies that led to the race’s main talking point, the last lap collision between the Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. Was it avoidable?
Based on the practice running on Friday everyone was in trouble on tyres.
Pirelli had brought the Ultra Soft, Supersoft and Soft and all teams experienced high temperatures, graining, blistering and loss of performance. Straight away in Practice one, the cars were over two seconds quicker than last year thanks to a new surface. It then rained in Practice two.
There was mild panic in the midfield when it became clear that the Manor had been very fast in the dry; ironically the car’s lack of downforce relative to the opposition meant that it put less load through the tyre and didn’t overheat it. The Manor, in Pascal Wehrlein’s hands at least, was a real threat for points, especially when he qualified up in 12th place.
This prompted McLaren and Toro Rosso to save two sets of soft tyres per car for race day, as it looked like the only way to do the race would be two stops, with a short first stint on ultra softs followed by two stints on Soft. But the great unknown was how hot the conditions would be.
McLaren benefitted hugely on Jenson Button’s car from this decision and the cooler temperatures on Sunday also helped the car operate better. Because he’d grabbed the opportunity of mixed conditions in qualifying to line up third on the grid, Button was able to execute a strong race and score a solid 6th place.
Red Bull was one of the worst for rear tyre graining in practice and that makes Max Verstappen’s 56 lap stint on soft tyres in the race all the more remarkable. His team mate Daniel Ricciardo was not able to get the tyres to last like Verstappen did and was forced onto a two stop strategy.
He’s one of the best in the business at maintaining tyre life at a good pace, so we have to view Verstappen’s performance here and in Spain with completely fresh eyes.
Were Hamilton and Rosberg always destined to come together at some point in this race? Their second collision in five races meant that the team dropped another 6 points to add to the 43 lost in Spain, which is causing the team now to consider some kind of team orders.
Analysis of the strategy decisions shows that trouble was almost inevitable; if it had not been Hamilton trying to pass Rosberg at the end it would have been Rosberg trying to pass Hamilton in the final stint if the Englishman had stayed on a one stop plan and there was a high chance of it getting messy.
This was a case, for Mercedes ‘ strategy decision makers, of being damned if they do and damned if they don’t, trying to make a fair competition. But they had no reason to expect that the pair would collide so soon after Barcelona.
As Rosberg started in sixth place on the grid, due to a gearbox change following a suspension breakage, he was always going to run a flat out two-stop strategy, with an early first stop on Lap 10. He was the faster Mercedes driver all weekend, but was having to make up ground after the suspension failure.
Hamilton, in contrast, was on pole and on a flexible strategy, which quickly evolved into a one stop once it became clear that he was going to get around 20 laps out of the first stint on Ultra Soft tyres.
Pirelli felt that in the cooler conditions of Sunday the soft tyre should be okay for 46-50 laps, Hamilton was on that plan. He had done the hard work by getting to Lap 21 before stopping. Raikkonen pitted a lap later from a set of Supersofts, while Verstappen had stopped on Lap 15, so of the three drivers he was facing the toughest challenge to reach Lap 71 on a set of Soft tyres.
However several things happened. First Hamilton’s pit stop was two seconds slower than normal and he came out of the pits behind Rosberg. This wasn’t in the plan. He had tyres that were 11 laps fresher than Rosberg’s, but the German pulled a five second gap on him.
The Safety Car then came out for Vettel’s accident and that allowed Hamilton to close up on Rosberg. Although Hamilton said after the race that the Safety Car had hurt him, it was the opposite. It had helped him close the five seconds to Rosberg.
However from this point, things started to unravel for Mercedes. First they began to doubt Hamilton’s soft tyres would make it to the finish. For once they had a clear lack of knowledge on which to base the strategy. Mercedes also calculated that if Rosberg continued on his two stop plan and Hamilton on his one stop, Rosberg would pit a second time and would lose 19 seconds of race time in the process but his lap times would then be over a second faster than Hamilton’s to the finish so he would catch him and easily pass him.
To try to keep things fair between them, Mercedes decided to switch Hamilton onto a similar plan to Rosberg, but to give him the chance of an undercut. However, the undercut would be tough to pull off as he would be moving onto the Soft tyre and the warm up on the out lap would be slower than on the SuperSofts, which Rosberg was compelled to take as he had no more soft tyres left.
On Lap 54 he pitted, but Hamilton made a small mistake on his out lap at Turn 2 and with the slow warm up of the tyres, his out lap was 1.4 seconds slower than Rosberg’s so Rosberg retained the track position. Hamilton had probably been brought in a lap too late.
Hamilton questioned why Rosberg had been put on the ‘faster’ tyre, but was told that the Soft was the better tyre for the last 17 laps. And that proved correct, as Rosberg’s SuperSofts were fading badly at the end.
Together with his brake issue, this meant that Rosberg was losing ground quickly at the end to Hamilton. And as Hamilton went to pass, they collided, with Rosberg taking the blame from the FIA Stewards for the collision as well as coming off worse in car damage, which meant he finished fourth.
Could Mercedes have played it differently? Leaving both cars out on one stop plans would have been very risky for Rosberg to reach the flag. And Hamilton would have been making a pass at the end of the race, when both cars would be on the limit of tyre life, so that sounded too messy.
In hindsight the one stop Hamilton was on would have turned out more favourably than they imagined, as the low degradation on the soft meant that Raikkonen easily made it to the finish on similar age tyres.
It was an uncomfortable case of risk and guesswork for Mercedes, highly unusual for them to have so little knowledge of the soft tyre and a bad situation was compounded by the fact that their drivers were not able to cope with converging strategies, which should have led to a good sporting battle, not the pair colliding and costing the team points. This must be especially painful for the whole team, given the effort Hamilton’s side of the garage went to in order to help repair Rosberg’s car after the accident on Saturday morning.
It was noticeable that Mercedes boss Toto Wolff sent Mercedes chief strategist James Vowles up onto the podium to collect the winner’s trophy – the team’s 40th Grand Prix victory of the hybrid turbo era – after such a difficult afternoon.
The most impressive drive of the day was undoubtedly Max Verstappen for Red Bull. The teenager again showed amazing control to drive at a good pace, keeping a faster Ferrari behind him to the flag on fresher tyres, to score his second podium finish.
Verstappen qualified behind his team mate Daniel Ricciardo again, but beat him at the start and once he got onto a set of soft tyres in the second stint and Sebastian Vettel had retired, he was in a position where he had nothing to lose once Raikkonen made his late first stop and came out behind him.
The thinking was – if the tyres started to fade, Raikkonen would pass him, but equally he could pit and finish behind the Finn anyway. So once the Safety Car intervened and gave them a couple of slow laps to cool the tyres down, Red Bull opted to roll the dice, even though nothing they had seen on Friday suggested that it was remotely possible to do 56 laps on a set of soft tyres.
Some have questioned Ferrari’s strategy here. Raikkonen, like Vettel, had started on supersofts after a cunning decision in qualifying, which gave them more options.
He took the tyres to Lap 22, but had Ferrari suspected that the race would end as it did, they would have pitted Raikkonen four or five laps earlier when he had a gap over Verstappen and could have pitted and retained track position over the Dutchman. But they clearly didn’t want to attempt such a long stint, which is why they executed the way they did and lost to the Red Bull.
Raikkonen’s other problem was that he didn’t have a new set of soft tyres, only a set that had done three laps. Still he should have been able to pass Verstappen. He came close on the final lap, but yellow flags meant he could not try a move. But he’d left it too late by then anyway.
A day of opportunities
The top ten featured several names that have not had much opportunity to score points in recent races. As well as Jenson Button, who made the most of McLaren’s strategy planning on Friday and the cool temperatures on race day, one notable drive came from Pascal Wehrlein, who maximised the opportunity that presented itself for Manor and scored his first point in F1 with a 48 lap second stint on soft tyres.
Romain Grosjean was another notable performer in seventh place. He managed to stretch a set of supersoft tyres until the Lap 26 when we saw the Safety Car, which was triggered ironically by Vettel trying to extend his super softs! This gave Grosjean a chance to pit and save 10 seconds compared to a pit stop at racing speeds (reminiscent of the gamble the team made in Australia that also paid off). He then went to the finish on a set of softs in a one-stop strategy that put him ahead of Sainz, Bottas and Gutierrez.
The UBS Race Strategy Report is written by James Allen with input and data from several of the leading F1 teams’ strategists and from Pirelli.
RACE HISTORY GRAPH, Kindly Supplied by Williams Martini Racing -Click to Enlarge
Illustrating the performance gaps between the cars during the race. A line which moves steeply upwards shows strong pace. Sharp drops indicate pit stops.
Look at the pace of the Mercedes compared to the rest – clearly faster and putting more load through the tyres as a result. Compare the Ferrari pace with Red Bull’s – this was quite a result for Verstappen. McLaren’s pace is better compared to Toro Rosso, for example, if you look at previous Strategy Reports and see the relative pace earlier in the season. McLaren’s improvement is clear to see.
F1 Insight: Who will triumph in the Austrian Hills?
This weekend sees F1 return to a more conventional circuit after the ‘outlier’ of the new street track in Baku.
The Red Bull Ring, as it is now known, is a simple 9 turn high speed circuit with some long straights, open corners and technical challenges. So who will come out on top and what does a winning strategy look like for the other teams?
On paper this race should favour Mercedes and not do any favours to Red Bull, which has struggled on its own race track since it came back on the calendar.
With three straights where the cars hit over 300km/h, the track is classed as a power circuit and while Renault has made great progress since the new update was introduced over the Monaco and Canadian GP weekends, it’s still a good 30hp down on the Mercedes and Ferrari engines.
This should be a good circuit for Ferrari, which is only now able to show the improvements made during the spring after a series of mistakes and unfortunate events masked their pace. Whether Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen can hope to challenge Mercedes for the race win, as they could in Montreal, for example, remains to be seen.
Qualifying remains a challenge, as Mercedes still have the edge over the single lap, but the three tyre options open up some possibilities for Ferrari to be aggressive on race strategy and take the fight to Mercedes.
Force India is another team that should go well this weekend; the team has been on great form since the chassis updates introduced in Barcelona and Sergio Perez’ confidence is soaring. Williams is another; after Valtteri Bottas’ strong performance in Canada, this is another track where Williams would expect to feature strongly. Felipe Massa was on pole here in 2014.
The weather is expected to be much cooler than last year, with temperatures of 20 degrees on race day and some showers around for Saturday and Sunday. This will affect the tyre life.
The Pirelli tyre choice is Ultra Soft, SuperSoft and Soft. This combination was in action in Monaco and Montreal and it was interesting to note in the latter race that the Supersoft was a poor race tyre in the cool conditions, so most teams avoided it.
Austria has been a one stop race in recent times, but this year could see some variation. With Ultrasoft being the qualifying tyre and therefore the starting tyre for the top ten runners, it will be interesting to see how the teams decide to play it. A pit stop is quite fast at 22 seconds, so a strategy that leans on two fast stints on UltraSoft could be worth exploring.
One of the key considerations with switching onto the soft, based on last year’s situation, is that the slow warm-up of the soft tyre meant that undercut would not be possible. This means that the tactical option for the car behind of pitting a lap earlier than the rival ahead and then using the performance of the new tyre on the out lap, will not necessarily work out to put you ahead of your rival.
The key numbers at the Austrian GP
Nico Rosberg’s victory in the European Grand Prix gave Mercedes its 52nd F1 triumph, which moves the team clear of Red Bull into fifth place on the all-time win list.
Mercedes can overcome another one of Red Bull’s records if its drivers lead 66 more laps than Daniel Riccardo or Max Verstappen in Austria. If they do, the German manufacturer will move above Red Bull’s tally of 3,161 F1 laps led.
A third piece of history, and the first outright record, is also up for grabs for Hamilton and Rosberg. If either one of the duo secures first place in qualifying, they will tie F1’s all-time record for teammate poles, which is currently held by Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello, who notched up 52 for Ferrari between 2000 and 2005.
Sergio Perez claimed his second podium in three races with his third place in Baku, and that means he has now tied Pedro Rodriguez’ Mexican record of seven F1 podium finishes. Interestingly, the drivers starting from pole, third and seventh on the grid, have comprised the podium of the last three races.
One driver who left Baku with a notable streak coming an end was Pascal Wehrlein. After the German driver’s brakes failed at Turn 1 in Azerbaijan with 11 laps to go, it forced him into his first retirement of the season and the first DNF of his fledgling F1 career.
Although only Rosberg is the only driver from the current crop to have won at the Red Bull Ring, Sauber’s Felipe Nasr and Manor’s Rio Haryanto have scored GP2 wins at the Austrian track. Nasr won the feature race in 2014, while Haryanto triumphed in the 2015 sprint race.
Finally, if Hamilton, Jenson Button or Jolyon Palmer takes the win on Sunday, it will be the 250th victory for a British driver in F1. Germany is second on the list, with 164, most of which come courtesy of Schumacher and Vettel
What are you looking forward to at the Austrian Grand Prix? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below or head over to the JAonF1 Facebook page for more discussion.
Insight: How thinking on your feet was the key to a strong result in Baku Grand Prix
The new Grand Prix in Baku, Azerbaijan threw up many surprises on arrival – the layout, the degree to which it favoured cars with greater engine power – but there were fewer surprises by the time the race came around.
As a high-speed street track, the indications from the support races were that this would be a race punctuated by Safety Cars, which would have a significant bearing on race strategy. But in the end it was a clean race and a relatively straight-forward one.
The most notable feature was Ferrari. One week after they took a gamble that failed in Canada, Ferrari seemed to be looking to do something different again on strategy. This time, instead of following orders, there was leadership from the cockpit of Sebastian Vettel’s car, which took the strategy in a different direction, while once again it didn’t work out particularly well for Kimi Raikkonen.
Free Practice had shown that a simple one stop strategy with around 20 laps on Supersofts and around 30 on softs should be the best way. But the Supersoft is a tricky race tyre, as we saw in Canada, where most teams avoided it on race day.
The temperatures rose on Sunday in Baku and that pushed some teams over the edge on tyre management. Red Bull, having committed to running low downforce levels to maintain a competitive top speed on the long straight, found that the car was sliding in the corners and this led to graining on the Supersoft and forced them to make much earlier stops than were ideal. They were constrained to running a two stop plan, which meant that Daniel Ricciardo went from the front row to seventh, one of only a handful of cars to use the Medium tyre. The Medium was relatively strong at the end of the race for Max Verstappen, but just not a fast enough tyre to be competitive.
Lewis Hamilton, starting tenth after a messy qualifying session, was obliged to follow a certain path in the race, due to a tyre set limitation for Supersoft tyres after his qualifying incidents led to a replacement tyre being issued. He was obliged to stick to Soft tyres for the race, after the first stint on Supersoft.
Most cars started on the Supersoft, but there were three drivers trying a ‘contra strategy’; a one stop starting with the Soft and a long first stint. These were Nico Hulkenberg, Marcus Ericsson and Pascal Wehrlein. It didn’t really work out for them, Hulkenberg only made it to Lap 20, and then left himself with 31 laps to do on the Supersoft, which meant he ran out of tyre performance at the end, always a big risk with that kind of strategy. Wehrlein made it to Lap 29 but then fitted the Mediums.
One stop or two?
The first proper pitstops were for Verstappen and Fernando Alonso: both came in extremely early on Lap five for Soft tyres. This committed them to a two stop.
Also suffering graining in his Red Bull, Ricciardo pitted on Lap six, having been overtaken by Vettel. Ferrari saw the threat of an undercut and called Vettel in. But unlike Canada he questioned the call, arguing that the car felt good on the tyres. It was not clear who made the final call, but this interaction via radio showed a maturing of the process between team and driver.
That said, the Ferrari strategy in Canada was deliberately done to do something different from the leading Mercedes, based on reasoning that they would not beat them by doing the same thing.
In Baku there was a realisation that Mercedes was just too strong in any condition and Vettel could see that the Red Bulls were struggling with tyre wear, so Vettel’s race wasn’t really with Ricciardo it was about filling the gap behind Rosberg and trying to retain it against the expected move up through the field by Hamilton. Fortunately for Vettel and Ferrari, Hamilton had power unit issues, which prevented him from reaching the four times world champion.
Although Vettel did not pit early, Raikkonen did come in as Ferrari split the strategies. This had the effect that when Vettel stopped he had been undercut by his team mate, who then let him through as he was on fresher tyres.
For the leading cars, in contrast to Red Bull, the tyre degradation on the Supersoft was actually quite low; after 16 Laps Rosberg was still going quicker lap-by-lap.
Mercedes was able to look after the tyres in low speed corners, high tyre pressures don’t affect, good mechanical grip and low speed traction, and combined with power of the Merc engine, on this track that favoured engine power
Hamilton stopped on Lap 15, so comparing him to Rosberg on Lap 17 (still on supersoft) – 1’49.1 vs Hamilton’s 1’48.1on Soft – we get 0.05-0.08s/lap degradation, which is on the low side and in line with increasing pace lap-by-lap as the fuel burns off. This equates to a degradation equal to the fuel effect of around 0.07s or lower.
Mercedes was easily the fastest team during the weekend and Rosberg just kept responding to Vettel’s pace after building a sizeable gap. After 15 or so laps he had enough gap that an Safety Car or Virtual Safety Car at the right moment could have enabled him to pit and still emerge ahead of Vettel and so the win would never have been in doubt.
This means that those stopping early on a two stop, or a one, for example Raikkonen, only have an advantage on covering the Safety Car for a very short time.
Everyone found the tyres were graining in the high track temperatures, but the answer was not to panic. Sergio Perez and Vettel saw this and extended their first stints, past the graining phase, to deliver strong podium results for their teams.
A final point worth noting is that, whereas the predictions for the brakes were that wear would be average, in fact there were more issues with brakes, simply because of the very high speeds and big stops.
The UBS Race Strategy Report is written by James Allen with input and data from several F1 team strategists and from Pirelli.
Race History Chart
Kindly provided by Williams Martini Racing, click to enlarge
Note the significant pace difference between the Mercedes and the rest, including Ferrari. Also look at the ‘undercut’ by Raikkonen (dotted red line) on Vettel (solid red line)
Canadian GP debrief: Did Ferrari’s decision making cost Sebastian Vettel the victory?
Ferrari has had chances to win Grands Prix this year, but has not been able to take them. In Australia the race got away from them due to strategy and in Canada they made a big strategy call early in the race, which handed track position advantage to Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes. But did this call cost Sebastian Vettel a win, as in Melbourne? Or were they right to try it, even though the result went Hamilton’s way?
We will analyse this and some of the other notable results, like Valtteri Bottas’ first podium of the season and Carlos Sainz’s recovery to the points from the back of the grid.
After seven races it is already clear that the races are more enjoyable this year, due to the wider choice of tyres and as a result strategy is more important to the outcome than ever.
Canada has always been touch and go whether to choose a one stop or a two-stop strategy. One-stop gives you track position, but two stops is faster.
A two stop is invariably preferable if you can run in clear air, but on the tyres available this year, Ultra soft, Super Soft and Soft there were not many in the paddock that felt that a one stop was feasible. Force India, for example, a team that can normally get results from doing a stop fewer than its rivals, was not able to attempt a one stop strategy this year in Montreal.
The Ultra soft was the fastest qualifying tyre, so that was the starting tyre for the Top Ten, but the Super soft didn’t perform well in the Friday practice sessions, so few teams had any desire to use it in the race. Apart from the two cars that started on it and Perez, who had a nightmare with it, only Ferrari decided to use it for a stint in the race. It’s never good to be the outliers in a situation like that.
Ferrari did little practice running and data gathering on the soft tyre, which turned out to be the best tyre for the race. It had less graining and degradation than the others and because it was longer lasting it gave better flexibility to the strategy.
Ferrari did use it for five laps in Saturday’s FP3 session, which meant that they did not have two new sets of softs available for the race if they were going for a two-stop plan. This was their first mistake.
Did Ferrari cost Vettel the win with the early strategy call to pit?
Having taken the lead from the Mercedes at the start, Vettel was in a strong position in the first stint of the race. He was able to hold Hamilton outside DRS range, in other words more than a second behind. And the bonus was that with Max Verstappen falling back and Nico Rosberg having gone off track in a close call with Hamilton at Turn 1, the second Mercedes was down in 9th place. So there was no threat from behind to the lead battle. Vettel and Hamilton were going to finish 1-2; the only question was which one would win?
Ferrari planned a two-stop strategy before the race. Hamilton said that Mercedes did too, but the reality was more subtle. Mercedes were more open minded about which way to go and they planned to take their clues from the early laps, tyre warm up and general performance of the soft and Ultra Soft tyres then decide.
The turning point moment was the retirement of Jenson Button’s McLaren on Lap 11. It was an engine failure, so there was no debris to clear. Therefore it was clear that this was likely to be a short-lived Virtual Safety Car period, when it was activated.
Ferrari were in a two stop mindset and they saw an opportunity with the VSC to take a stop and save some race time, as the saving is around 6 seconds compared to racing speeds. They didn’t get all of this saving because the VSC ended while Vettel was in the pit lane.
By stopping at least 8 laps before the optimum stop lap for a two stop strategy, they lost the track position to Hamilton, but also lost the levers to control the race. Stopping early meant that Vettel had to deal with traffic, whereas he would have had a gap to drop into if they had waited another 8-10 laps.
But the biggest problem was that they fitted the Super Soft tyre, which wasn’t performing that weekend. The ideal would have been to fit new softs, which would also have given more range and flexibility.
So what was the thinking? It’s clear that the thinking was rushed in the moment of the VSC. Certainly bringing Raikkonen in was a mistake, as the VSC had ended by then so he gained none of the time benefit and ended up in traffic on SuperSoft tyres, which was a double whammy for him. It was surprising that Ferrari didn’t hedge their best by splitting the strategies, but Raikkonen was slower than Vettel all weekend.
Ferrari clearly felt that the Mercedes was a faster car and that they needed to do something different and more aggressive, to beat Hamilton on the day. If they had stayed out, Hamilton would have likely undercut them at the second stop because the Mercedes can run longer in the final stint, so Mercedes would have pitted early for the second stop and won the race that way. Ferrari wanted to try to set a different agenda and you can understand that.
By stopping early, they knew that this would push Mercedes’ strategist into switching Hamilton onto a one stop strategy, without knowing for sure what state the tyres would be in at the end.
Pirelli had briefed that it was possible to do 50 laps on a set of softs, but wear life should not be confused with performance life. Pirelli’s note merely said that the tyre would not wear out for 50 laps, which did not mean that the performance wouldn’t drop off a cliff before then. The art of this game is in the tyre model you build through practice sessions and in how you adapt it to the varying conditions and temperatures.
The first indication Mercedes had that it was definitely going to work was when Rosberg was forced to pit on Lap 51 for a puncture. This allowed them to examine his soft tyres, which were 30 laps old and extrapolate the performance life. They knew then that Hamilton would be able to hold on and win the race.
Did Ferrari make mistakes? Yes, they handicapped themselves by not being able to run two new sets of soft tyres in the race and there are other things they could have tried that might have been more effective than pitting under the VSC.
Did it cost Vettel the win? The consensus is probably not as Mercedes had a slightly faster car and better tyre life, so the Mercedes strategist would always have had undercut opportunities and other levers he could pull to win the race.
Williams has traditionally gone well in Montreal and although they again qualified poorly behind Red Bull, they beat them to the podium with a very bold strategy. Effectively Bottas did the same strategy as Hamilton, stopping one lap earlier and thereby getting track position advantage over the two Red Bull cars. He also took advantage of the mistakes made on Raikkonen’s strategy.
Williams have been criticised in the past for not being bold enough, but they took a chance on the soft tyres holding out and it paid off.
A great deal of credit needs to be given to Bottas and Hamilton for not locking up and damaging the tyres, as other drivers did. When you make a bold call to do the 70 lap race with just two sets of tyres, it’s essential that the driver maintains strong pace while not damaging the tyres and the Ultra and SuperSofts were both very fragile to lock ups and graining. If that happened, performance went out of the window.
Carlos Sainz had looked competitive in practice but made a costly mistake in qualifying which damaged the car and put him 20th on the grid.
From here he managed to come through and finish in 9th place.
Ironically this came about due to an aggressive two-stop plan, whereby Sainz was pitted two laps after the VSC. Toro Rosso could see that it was ending so did not follow Ferrari down the pit lane, instead they left it two more laps and brought him in for Soft tyres, which gave them flexibility in the second stint length.
Their next play was a chess move; they made moves in the pit lane and brought in Danill Kvyat from 13th place aggressively early in Lap 17. The idea was to get Haas and McLaren to react and pit Grosjean and Alonso, which they did. This opened up the space for Sainz, whose tyres were now in perfect condition. So this took him up to 11th place. It was a classic Toro Rosso/Red Bull move, using one driver to the benefit of the other and it worked for a good team result.
Sergio Perez had started on softs and took the supersofts at his stop on Lap 30, but they did not perform. So this gave Sainz the chance to take another position. Massa’s retirement gave him another.
The UBS Race Strategy Report is written by James Allen with input and data from several F1 team strategists and from Pirelli
Race History and Tyre Usage Charts
Kindly supplied by Martini Williams Racing. Click to enlarge
Illustrating the performance gaps between the cars during the race. A line which moves steeply upwards shows strong pace. Sharp drops indicate pit stops.
Compare Raikkonen’s (dotted red) pace in the second and third stints to Vettels (solid red). Also compare Red Bull’s pace to Vettel’s, which shows how strong the Ferrari improvement has been.
Insight: How two highly improbable events swung the outcome of the F1 Monaco GP
The Monaco Grand Prix always triggers plenty of debate and this year’s race is likely to be one of those famous races that people talk about in years to come.
It was a race that hinged on two highly improbable scenarios. It was a race which Daniel Ricciardo and Red Bull Racing should have won. Instead it was Lewis Hamilton who triumphed entirely due to strategic decision-making and pit stop execution; both his and Mercedes’ as well as Red Bull’s.
Looking at the bigger picture, on a wet/dry day this was one of those races where virtually all of the race outcomes for drivers were decided by strategy decisions. There were many decisions to take; the three podium finishers all chose a different dry weather tyre compound once the track was ready for slicks.
So let’s take a deep dive into why people’s races turned out as they did and how hard it was at various junctions to make the right decision.
After a sunny weekend, it rained on race day. This was the first proper chance for teams to race the Pirelli wet tyres, but without the teams having any real data about them, least of all how they might perform on the low-grip Monaco circuit or how long they might last on a drying track.
Meanwhile Pirelli had brought along the Ultra Soft tyre for the first time to a Grand Prix, a tyre that was designed to be around half a second per lap faster than the Super Soft, less durable but likely to get up to temperature more quickly than the Supersoft and Soft tyres. Or so it was thought..
In Spain two weeks earlier Mercedes gifted the race victory to Red Bull when Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg took each other out on the opening lap.
In Monaco Red Bull returned the favour, making a mess of Daniel Ricciardo’s strategy and pit stop execution when he had the race under control with a 13 second lead.
But the most remarkable thing about the race was the probability of two very unusual things happening in succession that decided it.
Lewis Hamilton had an unusually slow out lap from his pit stop – seven seconds off the pace – which looked to have gifted the race back to Ricciardo. But then Red Bull didn’t have the tyres ready for Ricciardo at his stop a lap later, so the win swung back to Hamilton.
Hamilton had lost time in the wet tyre conditions at the start behind his teammate Rosberg, until the German let him through on Lap 16.
At this point he was 13.4 seconds behind Ricciardo and of the front-runners behind them, Vettel, Alonso and Hulkenberg had already stopped for Intermediate tyres.
Over the next five laps, the gap from Ricciardo back to Rosberg grew by five seconds, before he pitted for Intermediates, indicating that one Mercedes at least was not thriving on the wet tyres on a drying track.
This stop left a gap back from Ricciardo to third place Rosberg of 43 seconds. So there was no pressure on Ricciardo from behind Hamilton to make a stop. The pace of the leading intermediate runners, Perez and Vettel was the same as Ricciardo’s, so there was no evidence that at this point the intermediate tyre was faster.
It was now just about Ricciardo’s pace relative to Hamilton on similar wet tyres and protecting a lead. Hamilton had closed initially when he cleared Rosberg, but Ricciardo was able to then hold him at 12 seconds.
The golden rule of race strategists in a situation like this is “mirror the car behind”, in other words, you have track position, so don’t be the first one to make a move; instead mirror whatever move the ‘hunter’ behind you makes and you have him covered.
However, once Rosberg stopped, Red Bull decided that this was the moment to pit Ricciardo for intermediates. Bear in mind that, although no one knew it yet, we were still six laps away from the first drivers making the move onto slicks, which were Ericsson and Magnussen.
After the race Ricciardo correctly argued that there was no hurry to pit him for intermediates, as it put him ‘in a race with Hamilton we didn’t need to be in’.
More importantly it gave up the most precious thing of all at Monaco, which is track position.
The key to the decision was the lack of knowledge about the new wet tyres from Pirelli. With so little knowledge, it was considered a risk to keep running on them. But when Ricciardo was ahead, he was able to monitor the gap to Hamilton and there was no need to be the first to move.
Hamilton would have had to be at least nine seconds closer than he was to be able to jump Ricciardo by stopping first and the chasing pack were over 40 seconds behind.
Once Red Bull blinked, Mercedes were presented with an opportunity to miss out the intermediate tyre stage and hold out to move directly onto the slicks. But it was risky, due to the lack of knowledge about the wet tyres.
On Lap 24 the intermediate runners began to find more pace; the lap times came down by three to four seconds per lap. But as Hamilton had half a minute advantage over third place, he had nothing to lose by staying out.
Ricciardo easily caught Hamilton. At this stage the race was still likely to be Ricciardo’s as the Australian had fresh intermediates on which to attack once Hamilton pitted for slicks, which he did on Lap 31.
This decision was triggered by Sergio Perez’ pace, which was matching the intermediate tyre runners. That is what a strategist is looking for in the crossover from inters to slicks.
As for the decision to put Hamilton onto UltraSofts, that was all about the speed of the tyre warm-up. Having got himself into a position where he was ahead of Ricciardo, Mercedes knew that Ricciardo would be able to attack on the next lap and then pit, so they needed the tyre that was going to be there for Hamilton straight away on his out lap and especially to race Ricciardo when he went into St Devote as the Australian came out of the pits.
But Hamilton left the door wide open for Ricciardo with a slow out lap, seven seconds off the pace! So Red Bull just needed a conservative pit stop to regain the lead.
There was a choice of three dry compounds to fit to the car. They had seen Mercedes fit Ultrasofts for Hamilton, which was ambitious with 47 laps to go, double the length of any stint managed in practice.
But Mercedes was prepared to take that risk; all the emphasis in the tyre decision was on that first lap out of the pits for Hamilton. At the back of their minds was the likelihood of more Safety Car and Virtual Safety Car laps to give the tyres a rest.
Crucially, Red Bull pitted a hard charging Max Verstappen on the same lap as Hamilton. He was put onto the Soft tyre.
This meant that the team was resetting from that stop when the call was made to bring Ricciardo in. There are two tyre sets ready for each driver on a rack in the garage at any given time in the race.
The problem was that, because the pit wall in Monaco is above the garage, rather than looking into it, the strategy team missed a simple step in the process, which is to confirm that the tyre set they wanted – a new Supersoft – was actually in the garage. It was in fact around the back.
This caused the 10 second delay, which cost Ricciardo the race. He rejoined just behind Hamilton, despite a 35 second stop, where 25 seconds was the norm.
Why the change of plan to go to the Supersoft? Mercedes had surprised Red Bull by taking the UltraSoft. The decision not to put Ricciardo on Softs like his team mate, but to go SuperSoft was a compromise between the better tyre warm up of the Supersoft, for what was going to be a close call into Turn 1 with Hamilton, against lasting 46 laps to the finish, which Red Bull was not confident of doing on UltraSofts.
If ever there was a race result, which was down to strategy, it was Force India’s fantastic podium with Sergio Perez, who had started the race in seventh place on the grid.
Because of the decision to start the race behind the Safety Car, there was no scope to make up places at the start. The Mexican held seventh for the opening stint, until Ferrari pitted Vettel from fourth place for intermediate tyres on Lap 13. He was the first of the front-runners to do so. Button had pitted in Lap 8 but his pace was still well short of the leading cars by the time the decision was taken at Ferrari.
Ferrari’s motive for the stop was clear; Vettel had Rosberg and Hamilton just ahead of him, with Rosberg clearly off the pace – so there was an opportunity to jump them by stopping first. Their calculation foundered on the fact that Felipe Massa in the Williams had no incentive to make a stop to intermediates and so Vettel came out behind him and stayed there for six laps. Massa pitted on the same lap as Rosberg, so the Mercedes stayed ahead, but then Sergio Perez came out between them, having delayed his stop to intermediates. He also jumped Hulkenberg by doing this.
At the second stop to slicks, he did the opposite and pitted early, undercutting Rosberg. Force India put him on the Soft tyre, which turned out to be the best one to be on.
Vettel stopped a lap later to cover Perez, but to everyone’s astonishment, the soft tyre on Perez’ car had great warm up and he retained his position over Vettel, who took the same tyre. As there was no pace offset from the tyres, Vettel was stuck behind Perez for the rest of the race.
The UBS Race Strategy Report is written by James Allen with input and data from several of the leading F1 teams’ strategists and from Pirelli.
RACE HISTORY & TYRE USAGE GRAPH, Kindly Supplied by Williams Martini Racing – Click to Enlarge
Spanish GP debrief: Who made the bigger mistake – Red Bull or Ferrari?
Max Verstappen’s victory in the Spanish Grand Prix owed a lot to the collision between the two Mercedes drivers at the start, but once they were out, what swung it his way was pure race strategy decision making and flawless execution from the 18 year old.
This race pivoted on a key decision; to switch to the riskier three-stop strategy. Both Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel lost the race because of this call.
Here we will analyse this momentous decision and look at why it was made and how it affected the outcome; but which team made the bigger mistake – Ferrari or Red Bull?
Before the race Pirelli said that three stops was a marginally faster strategy, but the experienced team strategists were all saying that they would be surprised if anyone did anything different from a two stop with a short stint on softs at the start and then two stints on mediums.
Simulations in recent years have shown that a three-stop is more risky at Barcelona, with the extra 22-second pit stop and with the need to pass a two-stopping car in the closing stages.
Overtaking has always proved difficult on this track unless there was a significant difference in tyre life or car pace. Even then, the lead car needs only to get a good drive out of the final chicane to have enough of a margin across the start finish line to hold onto the position.
Friday running showed that the degradation numbers all pointed to a comfortable two stop; the soft tyre was good for up to 14-16 laps, which meant around 30-32 laps each on two sets of new mediums to reach 66 laps. Straightforward.
Red Bull switches strategy for Ricciardo, Vettel covers, Verstappen wins
As much as Verstappen won this race, Ricciardo and Vettel both lost it.
The most controversial decisions were Red Bull’s surprise move to switch Ricciardo onto a three-stop strategy on Lap 28, when he had the race under control and even more controversially, Ferrari’s decision to follow him.
Once the two Mercedes cars were out of the race, there was a golden opportunity to win a Grand Prix for both teams, who badly needed it.
The whip hand was with Red Bull. They had track position advantage with Daniel Ricciardo ahead of Max Verstappen, while Ferrari were third and fourth with Vettel and Raikkonen.
Both teams felt that the Ferrari was faster. But the red cars had underperformed in qualifying, leaving the door open for Red Bull. Surely they would be aggressive on strategy to go for the win?
Vettel lost time behind Carlos Sainz early on, but once clear of the Spaniard, he looked quick.
Ricciardo stopped first on Lap 11, followed by Verstappen and Raikkonen a lap later. Vettel stayed out until Lap 15 to start building a tyre offset to the others. This was not the move of a man who was planning to stop three times. Quite the reverse.
Still, Red Bull felt vulnerable to a Ferrari attack. In selecting their tactics, they may have recalled Suzuka 2013 with Vettel and Webber racing against Lotus and Romain Grosjean. Back then they pitted the lead car Webber, onto a three stop strategy, knowing that Grosjean would react and Vettel on a two stop could win the race, which is what happened.
But this was different. The obvious thing to do in Barcelona was to ask Verstappen to drop back three seconds behind Ricciardo, dropping Vettel out of range of undercutting the Australian. From there Ricciardo would be certain to win the race and a team victory would be secure. Verstappen would probably have finished third in that scenario.
But they either didn’t want to ask Verstappen to do that or didn’t want to prioritise Ricciardo for the win. Perhaps a supremely strong result for Verstappen on his Red Bull debut would justify dropping Daniil Kvyat in favour of the Dutchman. Perhaps, based on his track record of accepting team orders at Toro Rosso, they didn’t think he’d comply!
Verstappen looked slightly quicker than Ricciardo in the second stint, but the Australian was also driving to a two-stop plan and so was pacing his tyres.
Either way, the strange moment came on Lap 28 when Red Bull pitted the lead car, Ricciardo, committing him to a three-stop strategy. The problem with 3 stops in that scenario is three-fold; he had already lost three or four seconds by running at his pace compared to an optimised three stopper, plus you don’t get enough back from the pace of the extra tyres to make up for the 22 seconds lost in the extra stop, plus you commit to having to overtake 2 stoppers at the end of the race.
So it was a big and unnecessary risk for the lead car and none of the other teams’ race strategists could quite believe it when Ricciardo pitted. Christian Horner said after the race that they did so to pre-empt Vettel three stopping and splitting the strategies was the best way to cover their bases.
This sounds a little like a retrofit of the story to the events, but to be fair to them there was an argument for splitting the strategies to make Red Bull have to work for the win. It was just very odd not to give the lead car with the most experienced race winning driver the best strategy.
At this point Ferrari could have laughed out loud and carried on with both cars on two stop strategies. Yes they would have to deal with a fast finishing Ricciardo late in the race, but they would have two cars for him to try to pass and that would have been hard.
Meanwhile they would have had two cars against Verstappen, which meant that they could have undercut him with Vettel at the second stop and won the race.
The key for Ferrari at this point was to put pressure on Red Bull, but Ferrari failed to do this. Vettel followed Ricciardo’s switch to three stops and condemned him not to win the race at that point.
They did have Kimi Raikkonen still in the game with Verstappen, covering his two-stop strategy, but again they were unable to put enough pressure on the teenager and didn’t try the undercut on the second stop.
Verstappen was allowed the luxury of pitting first on Lap 34, with Raikkonen coming in a lap later. He followed closely to the finish but didn’t make life difficult enough for the teenager.
How to read this approach from Ferrari? The most likely scenario is that they lacked confidence; especially with chairman Sergio Marchionne dropping in on race day, after they had underperformed in qualifying. Having told them they ‘have to win’ before the race weekend, the team needed to respond to the pressure by being bold but they looked more like they wanted to avoid taking a risk that might backfire in front of the boss.
But with no pressure from behind as Williams and Bottas were a long way in arrears, they could have tried some aggressive moves; there were no negatives.
Red Bull and Mercedes have both noticed this lack of confidence and will seek to exploit it; Ferrari has to address it internally so they can be more bold in future races, as they were many times with strategy last season.
The UBS Race Strategy Report is written by James Allen with input and data from several of the leading teams’ strategists and from Pirelli.
Race History Graph, courtesy Williams Martini Racing – Click to enlarge
The zero line is the lap time of an imaginary car doing the winner’s average lap speed every lap. It is intended to show the gaps between car performance.
Note the massive gap back to Bottas (solid blue line), showing no threat to Ferrari from behind. And yet they didn’t want to take a risk to try to win.
So near and yet so far for Ferrari and Williams in F1 Russian Grand Prix
The Russian Grand Prix this year featured some interesting strategy decisions, but the outcome for many was dictated by the collisions on the opening lap, which effectively took three front running cars out of points scoring positions and opened up an opportunity for midfield runners to get some valuable points.
Williams and Ferrari both left Sochi with a positive result, but the feeling that it could have been better.
Here is our analysis of the behind the scenes decisions that shaped the Grand Prix outcome.
There are some basic factors about the 5.8 kilometre Sochi circuit, which dictate race strategy; the track surface generates low tyre degradation and the long lap with 11 corners at around 110km/h means fuel consumption is critical for some runners.
The new three tyre options formula has worked well this season, but in Russia Pirelli bucked the trend with the third option, bringing the medium tyre, to work alongside soft and supersoft. Normally they do not bring a tyre harder than the ones raced at a venue in 2015.
If they had brought the ultra soft, it would have made for a more interesting race strategically, with at least two pit stops, rather than the one stop most drivers made.
This unusual track has low front tyre energy, while managing the rears in the race is important to make the soft tyres last around 36 laps, which is the target. This makes it a tough race for rookies to do well in, as they lack experience of how to do this.
The switch from October to May for this event did not have a huge bearing on the performance of the tyres, although it was slightly warmer on race day than previous events.
Ferrari misses another opportunity; Williams, what might have been
The Sochi track is not one of the strongest for Ferrari. Last year they were some way off Mercedes’ pace and were behind Williams. This year they came with an upgrade package using new aerodynamic parts and an engine upgrade using some of their tokens. But they were still half a second off the Mercedes, which was demoralizing.
They had the pace in Sochi to finish ahead of Williams this year, but could have had at least one if not two cars ahead of Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes, who was forced to start 10th after a turbo issue in qualifying.
Sebastian Vettel’s race was ruined by Daniil Kvyat hitting him twice at the start, while Kimi Raikkonen made a mistake in qualifying which meant that he started behind the Williams of Valtteri Bottas, so wasn’t able to do his perfect race, based on car pace, with Bottas as a buffer behind. Hamilton was able to close sufficiently to jump him at the pit stops as a result.
Williams also had mixed feelings about the result. On the one hand fourth and fifth is not bad and is the result that they deserved on car pace, as the Williams was a couple of tenths slower than the Ferrari. But on the other hand Bottas would have hoped to convert second on the grid to a podium.
Williams strategy team did everything right in Sochi. They pitted Bottas early, as soon as the pit window opened, to try to retain the track position, but a sequence of events afterwards meant that he dropped to fourth instead.
Bottas pitted on Lap 16 and Hamilton, who had been running behind him, pitted a lap later. Hamilton had a strong in-lap and should have dropped back out ahead, but a slow Mercedes pit stop meant he came out behind Bottas. The pair then battled, and after Hamilton passed him, Bottas ran wide onto the marbles. He then struggled to clear Fernando Alonso’s McLaren.
The net result of this is that he lost two seconds to Raikkonen, who pitted on Lap 20 and was able to come out ahead of his fellow Finn.
If Hamilton’s stop had gone normally and he had rejoined ahead of Bottas, it’s likely that the Williams driver in clear air would have been faster, cleared Alonso more easily and retained third position over Raikkonen, who would have struggled on equal tyres to pass before the finish.
Red Bull recovery strategy goes badly wrong
Red Bull’s troubles in Russia were well chronicled; Kvyat took out team-mate Daniel Ricciardo and both were forced to pit on the first lap. Red Bull opted to put both cars onto the medium tyres, as this was the only tyre available that was capable of reaching the finish without another stop. In 2014 Nico Rosberg did something similar and reached the podium.
But the problem was that the tyre was much slower than the softer tyres rivals were using. Red Bull’s decision was based on two things; first the fact that if they went with a strategy of two more pit stops using perhaps the softs and then supersofts, they would be doing the same thing as the cars in front of them, so there would be no chance to get ahead. Second, another stop later in the race would cost 24 seconds and they estimated that they would lose less time staying on the mediums.
It didn’t work out at all. Ricciardo had some car damage, but the medium tyres also made the car slow on traction out of all the low speed corners, so even when he managed to pass another car, he was repassed due to this slow traction.
Ricciardo ended up making a second stop anyway on Lap 29 and an unplanned second stop wrecks any race strategy. So effectively Ricciardo had his race ruined twice.
One of the more heartwarming stories of Russia was that Fernando Alonso and Kevin Magnussen were able to score their first points of the season and Romain Grosjean was able to pick up points for the third time in four races with the new Haas F1 team.
All three managed to profit from the chaos on the opening lap caused by Kvyat. Starting 14th, 15th and 17th respectively, Alonso, Grosjean and Magnussen found themselves 7th, 9th and 8th on the opening lap.
What happened from there was Sainz triggered the pit stops by pitting on Lap 11. Renault needed to pit Palmer first from 10th place, then Magnussen two laps later. Haas left it a lap too late and their stop was one second slower than Renault’s so it allowed Magnussen to jump him for 8th.
As Renault had similar car pace in Russia, Magnussen was able to hold the Haas at arm’s length, out of DRS range.
Alonso meanwhile, did very well to retain track position given that he had to do a lot of fuel saving with the Honda engine. Despite a couple of laps of Safety Car, the Honda engine was on the limit on fuel at this track, a competitive disadvantage to Mercedes, Ferrari and Renault powered rivals.
The UBS Race Strategy Report is written by James Allen with input and data from several of the leading teams’ strategists and from Pirelli.
RACE HISTORY AND TYRE USAGE CHARTS
Courtesy of Williams Martini Racing – Click to Enlarge
Showing the gaps between the cars as the race progresses and also the relative pace of the cars. Time gaps on vertical axis, Lap number on horizontal axis.
Look also at the difference in pace between the Mercedes (light blue), Ferrari (red) cars compared to the Williams (black). Mercedes wasn’t really pushing, while this is one of Williams’ stronger tracks due to power and chassis characteristics.
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