Grand Prix Tours Strategy Reports
Analysis: Why being aggressive on F1 strategy proved the right move at Suzuka
This year’s Japanese Grand Prix was one of only three at Suzuka in the last 25 years where all cars finished, making it a tough race in which to make progress, especially if you weren’t running towards the front.
It was also unusual for a Suzuka event in not featuring either a Safety Car or a Virtual Safety car, to mix up the race and offer some strategic dice rolling opportunities.
But there were some major talking points about the decisions that were taken with Ferrari again missing out on a podium due to a questionable strategy call and some very aggressive strategy calls from Red Bull which paid off with Max Verstappen splitting the Mercedes cars in second place.
The same tyre choices as Malaysia of soft, medium and hard were available to teams with a compulsory stint on hards. But the temperatures were very different, particularly on race day, which was quite cool. The teams with more downforce, especially the top three teams, did not like the medium tyre for long runs, as it lacked stability. The teams at the back of the grid had the opposite view and it formed the basis of the one-stop strategies of Sauber, Williams and Renault particularly. These were also hoping for a well timed Safety car to give them a ‘snakes and ladders’ type opportunity to move up the order towards the points. It did not come.
Friday practice again showed that the Red Bulls had very strong race pace compared to Mercedes, while Ferrari had a better single lap pace than Red Bull, making it look like this would be one of their most competitive weekends.
In the end the weekend summed up their season; they had a better car than they were able to show in the results, for various reasons.
One has to feel for the Ferrari team; they brought a very quick car to Suzuka and qualified third and fourth, close behind Mercedes.
With Lewis Hamilton dropping the ball off the startline, on another day Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen could have both been on the podium.
But as with so many races for the Scuderia this season, the result they were capable got away from them.
Vettel had a rather cheap grid penalty from the previous race and Raikkonen got a gearbox penalty, moving both drivers behind their Red Bull rivals and Sergio Perez’ Force India.
In the race Vettel did a strong job and went to work early, making a couple of excellent overtaking moves before the DRS was available and set himself up for a podium shot.
He didn’t get it due to another curious strategy call, which he later admitted he was complicit in, but which was nevertheless hard to understand, particularly as pressure from the other Ferrari was what triggered Hamilton to make the stop which did for Vettel.
With just over 30 laps gone out of 53, Vettel was racing Hamilton, who was recovering from a poor start.
Both extended their middle stints of the race, Ferrari with the idea that they could fit the soft tyres for the final stint. But by staying out long, they offered Mercedes and Hamilton the chance to undercut them. If Vettel had pitted on Lap 33, with 20 laps to go to the end, he could have fitted hard tyres and held Hamilton behind him. Hamilton had to pit when he did as Raikkonen was coming up behind and Mercedes always planned to fit hards.
So Hamilton pitted on Lap 33, which he needed to do as Raikkonen was coming into his pit window; in other words was getting close to being inside the 22 seconds behind Hamilton that the Englishman would need to pit and rejoin ahead.
Mercedes gratefully took the gift and with Hamilton’s pace on the new hard tyres, he was able to undercut Vettel, who stopped on the next lap onto the soft tyres. This gave him a 19 lap stint to the end on softs, which was optimistic. But if he was to have any chance of beating Hamilton to the podium from this position he needed to attack him early on the soft tyres as Hamilton’s hards were coming up to temperature. He could not manage it and the podium chance was gone.
What is puzzling about Ferrari’s decision making here is that they had the track position but sacrificed it based on a soft tyre model that appeared not to have been re-tuned after the first stint, when the degradation was high.
The hard tyre was performing well, but Ferrari has always had a distrust of the harder tyres and in this case their bias against it cost them.
Ironically last year in Suzuka they lost second place to a recovering Rosberg in the final part of the race, because again they were waiting for the moment when it was safe to fit the medium tyres to be able to go to the end of the race and Rosberg undercut them.
A number of fans have been puzzled by Red Bull’s decision to bring Daniel Ricciardo into the pits behind Max Verstappen for the first stop in Suzuka. Ricciardo had lost time at the start, swerving around the slow moving Lewis Hamilton off the line and dropped to fifth, with two cars between him and Verstappen in second. On Lap 10 Verstappen pitted, having complained about the tyres losing performance. Ricciardo was running 10 seconds behind him, so Red Bull tried an audacious double stop, with Ricciardo not losing any time waiting for service. Why did they do this?
The answer is because once the lead car has pitted, that puts rivals racing the tail car (Ricciardo) on notice that he will probably be stopping soon. And so it can trigger an undercut. In this particular case, there was a real risk of that; Ricciardo had Raikkonen on his tail and the Ferrari driver may well have been sharp and pitted on the same lap as Verstappen. To mitigate for that Red Bull did the Ricciardo stop on the same lap and got him back out. It worked and not only did Ricciardo retain position over Raikkonen, he also now had Perez and the one stopping Magnussen between him and the Finn.
The downside was that he had to clear the one stopping Massa, but that was always going to happen with a Williams one stopping. Hamilton also got ahead of him by extending his first stint, but again that was always on the cards anyway.
Suzuka is a track to be aggressive on, it often brings results and Red Bull has benefitted from that many times down the years.
One stoppers hope for some good fortune
Conversely teams like Williams, Renault and Sauber went for a one-stop strategy on the medium and hard tyres, which saw them progress from their grid slots and in the case of Williams bagged some points. But with no-one retiring and no Safety Car or Virtual Safety car, there was to be no lucky jackpot result.
The decision was based on the fact that the practice sessions showed that the degradation (drop off in performance) on the medium and hard tyres was quite low, so the limitation was only the wear.
Williams had some luck with the one stop strategy in Malaysia (helped by three VSCs) and decided to do it again to try to beat the Haas cars which had unexpectedly qualified ahead of them. Haas had a poor race after an excellent qualifying and Massa and Bottas were able to finish in the places where Grosjean and Gutierrez qualified.
Sauber got Ericsson ahead of the McLarens and a Toro Rosso and Renault finished 12th and 14th, having started 16th and 18th. On a day when no-one retires it’s hard to do much better than that.
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 – Kindly Supplied by Williams Martini Racing – Click to Enlarge
Look at the large gap Vettel has over Hamilton after the first stops. With better stint management and an earlier second stop onto hards, he probably could have held him off to the flag. Whether he could have attacked Verstappen for second place is open to question, but the middle stint shows that he had better pace than the Red Bull driver.
F1 Insight: What does it take to do well at Suzuka?
The last two races have provided exciting finishes, but they have also been highly strategic which has added layers to the interest. This weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka is set to follow suit.
Once again the teams will have the same three tyre compounds to choose from as in Malaysia, which means we are likely to see a lot of variation in the way the teams go about their preparation and execution of the race. And once again the hard must be used at some point in the race.
The soft tyre performed very well in Malaysia. This weekend is likely to be much cooler, but the corners at Suzuka put more load on the tyres and that contributes to the degradation. Mercedes and Ferrari weren’t happy with the medium tyre in Malaysia and avoided it, but the cooler conditions of Suzuka are likely to suit it much better and one would expect them to do quite a bit of work on Friday to establish if it is the race tyre of choice.
There may even be some strategy in the qualifying session, as we have seen in the last two races; saving new tyre sets or trying to get through Q2 on mediums in order to start the race on them.
Equally the hard is problematic for many teams when the track temperatures are low and only really Mercedes can get it working ideally – we saw that again last weekend when Red Bull and Mercedes went to the hard, Hamilton pulled away – so that could be in their favour if the circumstances come about.
After its unexpected 1-2 finish last weekend, Red Bull travels to Suzuka in a confident mood. The first and second sectors of the lap traditionally suit Red Bull, as its cars are all about aerodynamic efficiency, whereas the final sector is more power oriented. The team is more competitive than it was this time last year and the proof of that is that Daniel Ricciardo has beaten at least one Mercedes in four of the last five races.
Meanwhile Ferrari has slipped back into the position it was in for the latter years of Fernando Alonso’s career there; seemingly always qualifying fifth and not having the pace in the race. While Sebastian Vettel has had a messy time of it lately, with only one podium since Baku in June, Kimi Raikkonen has finished fourth in the last three races.
One area where the strategy battle is proving decisive every week is the McLaren/Force India/Williams battle. Although McLaren is well behind the other two in the championship standings, it is with them on pace and picking the right tyres in the right order is central to that. Alonso is making stunning starts – he’s picked up 29 places in the last five race starts.
Qualifying is critical; it’s rare for a car from outside the front row to win. Although pole position, which is on the outside, has a significant grip advantage compared to the inside line, nevertheless for the last two seasons Lewis Hamilton has won the race from second on the grid, despite losing out on pole to his team mate Nico Rosberg.
The other thing to keep the strategists busy is the Safety Car and Virtual Safety Car, which is appearing increasingly frequently, as we saw in Malaysia. This cuts the time needed for a pit stop and can be a game changer, for good or bad; it helped Alonso beat Hulkenberg last weekend, but it cost Button a shot at 5th place.
Suzuka is traditionally a race with quite a high chance of Safety Cars, so expect several interruptions in the race and tactical switches as a result.
Japanese Grand Prix in numbers:
This weekend’s event in Suzuka will be the 32nd world championship F1 race to take place at the famous 3.6mile track, where overtaking is tough and a high grid spot is crucial.
Since 1991, the Japanese race has only been won from lower than the front row on two occasions. Raikkonen won from 17th on the grid for McLaren in a memorable race in 2005, and a year later Alonso took the win for Renault after starting fifth.
Raikkonen has won more races from starting outside the top five on the grid than any other driver in F1 history, a feat he has achieved on six occasions.
The 2007 world champion’s win at Suzuka 11 years ago is arguably his most famous as he stormed through the field from his lowly grid position and passed Giancarlo Fisichella on the final lap to take the victory. No driver has won from that low on the grid since that race. This weekend, Raikkonen also passes his former teammate David Coulthard’s 246 F1 career starts, which will put the Finn seventh on the all-time list.
In the championship fight, Hamilton is still looking to take his 50th Grand Prix win and 100th F1 podium finish after he failed to finish last weekend in Malaysia from what looked to be a winning position.
That failure also meant Mercedes did not clinch its third successive constructors’ championship but it can do so this weekend as Red Bull needs its drivers to outscore Hamilton and Rosberg by 23 points to keep it in mathematical contention, while Ferrari lost its faint hopes of the constructors’ crown last time out in Malaysia.
Several drivers have streaks they will either be hoping to break or extended this weekend. Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, who failed to complete lap one for the third time this season after hitting Rosberg at the first corner in Sepang, is now on his longest-ever run without a front row start, a stretch that goes back 22 races to his pole at the 2015 Singapore Grand Prix.
Malaysia winner Ricciardo has a 12-race scoring streak heading to Suzuka, which is the longest active run of the current drivers, and he also has a 24-race finishing record that is the second longest behind the 25 registered by Force India’s Sergio Perez.
At Haas F1, Romain Grosjean has only completed seven laps in the last two races after brake problems stopped him starting in Singapore and caused him to retire in Malaysia. His teammate Esteban Gutierrez scored the only points of his F1 career at the 213 Japanese Grand Prix, when he finished seventh for Sauber, but he has finished in 11th place five times this season without scoring.
What are you expecting from the 2016 Japanese Grand Prix? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below or head over to the JAonF1 Facebook page for more discussion.
Analysis: What Malaysian GP tells us about how Red Bull will manage future Verstappen, Ricciardo battles
One of the best Grands Prix of the season featured close racing, heartbreak for Lewis Hamilton with a late race engine failure and a fascinating strategic battle at the heart of it, as Red Bull challenged Mercedes in a war game.
For the second season in a row the dominant Mercedes team did not win in Malaysia, as Nico Rosberg fell to 21st at the start and Red Bull split the strategies across its two cars to attack Hamilton.
There is much to digest and analyse in our deep dive into the key decisions that shaped the 2016 Malaysian Grand Prix
The resurfacing of the track greatly increased grip and meant that the lap times were close to record pace. Although Sepang is a tough circuit on tyres, the teams found that the soft tyres were lasting particularly well during practice.
While few thought a one-stop race was possible, there were some teams considering two stints on softs, followed by the mandatory stint on hards at the end. The forecasts were that the hard tyre would last around 30 laps, but not much more.
Red Bull cast the first stone in the strategy game on Saturday by saving a new set of soft tyres in Q1 for both drivers. Having set his Q1 time on medium tyres, like teammate Ricciardo, Verstappen went out at the end of the session on a set of softs, but only did a slow lap, so they were effectively new for the race. Ricciardo’s saved set was brand new and this would count for a lot in his final stint battle against Verstappen, as we shall see.
Red Bull splits strategies and what it tells us about the future battles of
Ricciardo vs Verstappen
Did Red Bull believe that they could beat Lewis Hamilton in Sepang, without the engine failure? Up to the point at which the drivers moved onto the hard tyres the answer is yes.
Once it became clear the pace Mercedes had on the hard tyres, Red Bull’s focus shifted to preserving second and third places ahead of Rosberg and Raikkonen. But the way they went about it tells us a lot about what how they will have to carefully manage the internal battle between Ricciardo and Verstappen in future.
The early stages of the Grand Prix saw two periods of Virtual Safety Car and at the second, on Lap 9, Red Bull rolled the dice and split their strategies, bringing Verstappen in for another set of soft tyres.
They did this because it made it very difficult for Mercedes to cover both strategies with only Hamilton in the game at the front. Had Mercedes been first and second they would have done the same thing, because there were a lot of unknowns about how the tyres would perform later and what other incidents may occur.
Red Bull’s philosophy was to take the risk with the tail car, which is why Verstappen was pitted. As it turned out, it gave him the better strategy.
Interestingly this is the opposite of what they did in Barcelona (above), where they took the risk with the lead car, Ricciardo, and it cost him the race win.
Verstappen fitted his ‘as new’ set of softs at this stop and re-joined. Ricciardo had stayed out as had the leader Hamilton. On new tyres, Verstappen was quickly into Hamilton’s pit window, meaning that the world champion would drop behind Verstappen when he made his stop.
Hamilton pitted on Lap 20 for hards, with Ricciardo covering that a lap later with the same move. Although Ricciardo radioed in that he felt the tyres would go to the end, realistically both drivers were going to need a late race stop for a set of soft tyres; Mercedes were certainly planning that.
So there is no question that Verstappen was on the better strategy and had Hamilton pulled into the pits to retire on Lap 40, rather than stopping out on track triggering another VSC, then Verstappen would probably have won the race. Ricciardo would have had to stop again and would then have tried to make up the 24 seconds his stop had lost him, in the closing stages on soft tyres, versus Verstappen’s hards.
Once Hamilton was out, Red Bull did the sensible thing and pitted both cars under the VSC. They did this not as a form of team orders, but to cover off Rosberg and Raikkonen, who could have beaten them if there had been a late race Safety Car. They had a 30 second gap back to Rosberg so it made perfect sense to use it and take on fresh tyres, which Ricciardo was now in need of in any case.
Ricciardo fitted his new soft set, Verstappen had to use one of his old qualifying sets, which had done three laps including a hard lap. And thus, with his strategy advantage neutralised and inferior tyres, it was always going to be a struggle to beat his team mate. Game, set and match Ricciardo.
However the really intriguing phase was just before Hamilton’s engine failed, when Verstappen caught Ricciardo, who had pitted on lap 21 for hard tyres, six laps earlier than his teammate. At this point Hamilton was 20 seconds ahead, but lapping over a second faster than Ricciardo.
Common sense would suggest that Red Bull would allow Verstappen through without delay, as he would then once again be in Hamilton’s pit window (i.e. less than the 24 seconds Hamilton would need to pit and re-join ahead). But at the rate Hamilton was going, that opportunity would be lost in a couple of laps time.
Switch them immediately and the Dutchman would have the track position when Hamilton stopped again. The Mercedes would have to try to pass him on the track at the end. Although Ricciardo had told the team he could go to the end on the tyres, the reality is that both he and Hamilton would need to stop again, so Ricciardo had little chance of winning the race, as things stood.
However what is significant is that Red Bull had conceded that Mercedes were too fast on hard tyres and they were not going to beat Hamilton. Thus their focus was on consolidating second and third places at that point.
They did not instruct Ricciardo to let Verstappen through because they were racing each other for position, not racing Hamilton.
That did not stop Verstappen from insisting on the radio that he be allowed through. We saw him do this a lot in the Toro Rosso days with Carlos Sainz and it’s clear that there will be some difficult moments in the future dynamic between the Red Bull drivers where these kinds of calls will be made. The data shows that Verstappen was the faster Red Bull driver all weekend in Malaysia and he had the better strategy before Hamilton’s demise.
What Malaysia showed us is how the team handle the situation when they don’t think they can win the race and they favoured Ricciardo here; bearing in mind how they let him down in Barcelona and Monaco, this was clearly payback. With Hamilton’s misfortune it turned into an victory payback.
However, if the Red Bull drivers, perhaps next season, were in a position to win if the team moves one driver over to give the other a better shot at beating another car, would Ricciardo or Verstappen yield if requested? One can imagine the respective answers to that question and it will be fascinating when that situation arises next year.
Bottas and Alonso shine as Button misses out
Valterri Bottas and the two McLaren drivers provided a couple of other interesting cameos.
Bottas had a strong race doing a one stop medium-hard strategy that very few people foresaw. It was bold by Williams and the kind of thing they need to do more often.
Starting 11th after a disappointing qualifying session, the Finn did a superb job to get 29 laps into the race on the mediums and then reach the finish on the hards, maintaining track position ahead of the Force India and McLaren cars.
Due to the new track surface no race strategist had a clear idea of the best order to take the tyres, “you had to be dynamic and on your toes this weekend, reacting to things.” said one.
Fernando Alonso had another astonishing afternoon, starting at the back of the grid after his engine penalty; he was already 12th at the end of the opening lap. Making up places at starts has always been one of his strengths, but it set him up for a strong result here. He too pitted under the Lap 9 VSC and took the hard tyres. He saved around 10 seconds by stopping under the VSC compared to a normal stop.
He then undercut Hulkenberg at his second stop to finish in seventh place for the second race in a row, showing the steady progress McLaren Honda is making as the season progresses. Alonso also set the sixth fastest race lap.
The Spaniard has definitely got his bounce back; he is driving well and the car is making clear progress.
Button had a great start too and was sixth on the opening lap. He was racing against Bottas for fifth place, but was caught out by bad luck when he pitted just before the final VSC for Hamilton’s breakdown. This allowed Alonso and Hulkenberg to get a cheap pit stop under the VSC and come out ahead of him and both separated him from Bottas ahead.
Sometimes there is nothing you can do if Lady Luck isn’t on your side, however good your strategy planning!
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 & TYRE USAGE CHART, Kindly Supplied by Williams Martini Racing – Click to enlarge
Key: Horizontal = Lap number; Vertical = Gap in seconds
Look at the pace of Verstappen as he closes on Ricciardo around Lap 38/39. Had Hamilton’s engine survived both he and Ricciardo would have needed to stop again, leaving both to pass Verstappen for the victory. Had Hamilton retired in the pits Ricciardo would have had to pit again before the end and Verstappen would have won the race by a margin. Holding Verstappen off on Lap 39 and then Hamilton stopping out on circuit triggering a VSC won Ricciardo the race.
Insight: Why the F1 teams are treating Malaysia’s Sepang circuit almost like a new track
Formula 1 moves to this weekend’s Malaysian Grand Prix with the drivers’ championship finely balanced, but changes to the track surface along with a change of date and greater tyre options mean that the teams are treating Sepang almost like a new venue.
We saw at the last race how race strategy can fundamentally affect a race outcome and this weekend we are likely to see a different kind of Malaysian Grand Prix from previous years. For a start there are likely to be more pit stops as the inclusion of the soft tyre, along with the medium and hard, is set to mix up the strategies and a number of drivers will do at least three stops.
Williams has already cliched the fastest pitstops award, having set the fastest stop at 11 races this season, which cannot be beaten. The outright fastest stop this year was 1.92seconds set in Baku on Felipe Massa’s car.
Track temperatures are always a key factor; last year the dial hit 56 degrees and this caused problems for the Mercedes team, as it lost out to Ferrari’s Sebtastian Vettel, who was able to do one stop fewer than the Silver Arrows cars. Hotter track conditions are still a point of weakness for Mercedes, but Singapore showed that they have made improvements in this area since last year.
Mercedes can clinch their third consecutive constructors’ championship this weekend if they score 26 points, regardless of their rivals’ result. There are other permutations, but a win and a fourth place will give them the title with five races to go.
Unlike Singapore last time out, Sepang is a track on which you can overtake, so teams can go for an aggressive strategy, knowing that their driver will have a chance to cut through the traffic. Last year there were 56 overtakes in the race, putting it at the higher end of the scale. The relative levels of thermal degradation on the tyres experienced by the different teams plays a significant role in this.
The start is always critical here; the distinctive first corner turns right and then left and always results in a big change of field order, with drivers winning and losing positions at the start of the race. Collisions in which drivers damage their front wing as the field gets pinched into the left hand turn, after the initial right, are common.
The circuit features a number of high energy corners among the 15 turns in total. The first and third sectors of the lap at Sepang feature long straights and hairpin bends, while sector two has some medium and high speed corners, which load up the tyres. Sepang is the fourth hardest track of the year on tyres (after Silverstone, Barcelona and Suzuka).
Malaysian Grand Prix in numbers:
This weekend’s Malaysian Grand Prix will be the 18th world championship race held at the Sepang circuit, the first F1 track to be fully designed by Hermann Tilke.
The race, at 192.879 miles, will be the longest on the 2016 calendar in terms of distance, and it returns to an October slot for the first time since the 2000 event, which was won by Ferrari’s Michael Schumacher.
There have been eight 1-2 finishes at the Malaysian race across the 17 events held since 1999 with the victories spread across seven constructors (Ferrari in 1999, 2000, 2001, 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2015, Williams in 2002, McLaren in 2003 and 2007, Renault in 2005 and 2006, Brawn in 2009, Red Bull in 2010, 2011 and 2013, and Mercedes in 2014).
The Mercedes team is highly likely to seal the constructors’ title at this weekend’s race. To stop the German manufacturer securing a third consecutive crown, Red Bull would have to outscore it by eight points, or Ferrari by 23, to keep the championship going on to Japan.
In the scrap for the drivers’ championship, Lewis Hamilton has good recent form at the 3.44-mile Sepang track. He won the 2014 race from pole position and the world champion has finished on the podium at every Grand Prix for the last four years in Malaysia. He also has scored points in each of his nine starts at Sepang and has secured three of the last four Malaysian poles.
Nico Rosberg, who now leads the drivers’ standings by eight points after his win last time out in Singapore, is hoping to take the victory in Malaysia to become only the third F1 driver in history to win four consecutive races twice in the same season. Only Schumacher (in 2004) and Hamilton (in 2014) have previously done so and they both subsequently went on to win that year’s championship.
Rosberg’s Singapore win was also his eighth of 2016, and no driver has ever won eight races in a single season without going on to claim the championship.
Two other drivers can make F1 history this weekend. At McLaren, Jenson Button will become the third F1 driver in history to reach 300 Grand Prix starts. Only Schumacher (306) and Rubens Barrichello (322) have started more.
Valtteri Bottas will make his 72nd start for Williams, and as the Grove-base squad is the only F1 team he has driven for so far in his career, he will tie Jim Clark’s record with Lotus for the longest F1 career exclusively with a just one team.
What are you expecting from this weekend’s Malaysian Grand Prix? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below or head over to the JAonF1 Facebook page for more discussion.
Could Daniel Ricciardo have won Singapore with a different F1 strategy and Raikkonen’s lost podium
This year’s Singapore Grand Prix was one of the most interesting races of the season from a strategy point of view. It showed that when the performance of the leading cars is closely matched, the strategy possibilities created by having three different tyre compounds make for unpredictable racing and close finishes.
There was a great deal of variation in the decisions made before and during the Grand Prix and some big decisions to be analysed, which gained places for some and cost places for others.
It was a great battle at the front, while in the midfield the finely balanced strategy was decisive for the results of Fernando Alonso, Sergio Perez and Danill Kvyat in particular.
Could Daniel Ricciardo have won the race with a different strategy and did Ferrari fall for a Mercedes’ trap at the final stop and cost Kimi Raikkonen a podium? We are here to get to the bottom of it all.
Pre race considerations
Everyone was pleasantly surprised by the way the ultrasoft tyre performed this weekend. The only new tyre in the Pirelli range this season, it benefits from newer technology and works better, in some conditions.
It was a good qualifying tyre in Singapore and also lasted quite well over 15-17 laps in the race. The difference between the ultra soft and supersoft tyres was quite small this weekend and the projected life was only a couple of laps longer for the supersoft.
On paper three stops was faster than two, but track position is king on this circuit, so a number of teams had a plan in mind to stop fewer times than their rivals. Mercedes’ two stop plan was very obvious from Friday onwards, while Force India’s rivals feared that they would try to do an effective one-stop strategy, should an early safety car offer them the chance to get off the ultra softs. That is exactly what happened as we shall see.
Could Daniel Ricciardo have won with a better strategy?
This was the closest Red Bull Racing has been on pace to Mercedes since the Monaco Grand Prix. The race pace was pretty much identical, but the qualifying pace a shade slower. Nevertheless, it was a race they could have won and afterwards felt they should have won. So why didn’t they?
The answer comes down to two things; on his 200th GP start, Nico Rosberg had probably his strongest weekend in F1 with the best qualifying lap he has ever driven, certainly in the view of his Mercedes team and then a measured drive to the race win on Sunday. He had to survive a late scare after a strategy move by Mercedes on Lewis Hamilton’s side almost backfired and cost Rosberg the win.
To gain a place for Hamilton on Kimi Raikkonen in the closing stages, Mercedes triggered a sequence of stops that allowed Daniel Ricciardo to come within 0.4s of beating Rosberg to win the race. Mercedes did not expect Ferrari to pit Raikkonen in response and it almost led to the biggest own goal of the season!
Ricciardo had wanted to stop again in the final 18 laps as three stops was the faster strategy. But he didn’t want to lose track position to Raikkonen.
Hamilton’s Lap 45 stop – which was a ‘free’ pit stop as there was no immediate threat from behind – triggered Raikkonen into stopping.
Ricciardo gratefully took the opportunity, afforded by Ferrari’s unexpected move, to stop for new supersofts. This allowed Ricciardo to catch Rosberg. Without Hamilton’s initial stop, that sequence of stops would probably not have happened.
The second reason Red Bull lost to Mercedes was their decision on Saturday to qualify in Q2 on the supersoft tyres and to use them as the starting race tyre set. The difference in performance and life between the supersoft and ultrasoft tyres was quite small.
But the telling difference in the Rosberg/Ricciardo battle came at the end of the first stint, where Rosberg was able to pull a gap on second place Ricciardo of seven seconds – see illustration above, the gap increases from lap 10 to the end of the stint between dotted blue line [Rosberg] and purple line [Ricciardo]. That proved the foundation of a race-winning gap.
Had Ricciardo used the ultrasoft, he would have been right with Rosberg and the Mercedes strategists would have had to always think defensively about covering the risk of an undercut. That’s not to say that Ricciardo would have won the race if he’d started on ultrasofts, but Rosberg would certainly not have had as large margin in the last few laps so Ricciardo would have caught him sooner on fresher tyres.
Meanwhile many pundits were quick to criticise Ferrari after the race for costing Raikkonen a podium finish when they reacted to Mercedes’ ‘Plan B’ move to pit Hamilton at the end of Lap 45 for a set of supersofts. At the time he had been 1.8 seconds behind Raikkonen.
After Hamilton pitted, Ferrari had some time to think about whether to leave Raikkonen out on his soft tyres or to pit him. At Singapore a decision on whether to stop must be taken by 36 seconds before the car comes to the pit entry line. The problem with that is the main performance boost from Hamilton’s new tyres would only show in the final sector of his outlap, when they were fully up to temperature. Ferrari would not have that data before the 36 second cut off.
Teams rely on modelling for that and it’s surprising that Ferrari’s model didn’t tell them clearly that Raikkonen would be undercut. He questioned it but followed orders because the team has the data in front of them and he doesn’t.
Another data set they were relying on was how long Raikkonen’s soft tyres would last and that was based on the performance of Sebastian Vettel’s soft tyres in the first stint. He had managed 24 laps on a new set of softs, but that was after carrying 100kg of fuel and working through traffic.
Most teams reported that on the night, the tyres were lasting 2 to 3 laps longer than predictions, so Raikkonen would have easily managed to get to the finish on 28 lap old soft tyres without losing performance. If Hamilton caught him, then he would have to pass him on track and as soon as the Mercedes driver came up behind other cars, it was clear that his brakes started to overheat.
So taking all the above into account, when calculating the risk vs reward of staying out, Ferrari’s decision to pit was flawed and also ignored the standard wisdom of those situations, which is ‘do the opposite of what the other guy does’ – they pitted Raikkonen and he lost the podium as a result.
With all the attention focussed on the Red Bull, Mercedes and Ferrari stories up front, it was easy to overlook a wonderful strategic battle in midfield between Force India, McLaren and Toro Rosso.
Fernando Alonso was a strong candidate for driver of the day with an outstanding drive to seventh place, helped by flawless McLaren strategy calls. On the third lowest engine sensitivity track of the season (in other words least engine power dependent) the team brought Alonso in at precisely the right moments, especially Lap 34 when they judged the gap perfectly to bring him out just ahead of the one stopping Sergio Perez.
Alonso managed to stay out of reach of Daniil Kvyat, who had a strong weekend for Toro Rosso, in which he said he rediscovered his love for F1 again after a difficult year.
Kvyat’s race was frustrated by Sergio Perez’ effective one stop strategy (he pitted on Lap 1 to get off the ultrasofts and one stopped from there) and the greatly superior straight line speed of the Force India.
With DRS the Toro Rosso was 9km/h slower and without DRS it was 14km/h slower than Perez’ car, so basing the Mexican driver’s strategy on track position, rather than the faster multi-stop strategy worked well for him staying ahead of Kvyat, who had no power to overtake and Perez’ strategy blocked any chance of an undercut.
Perez felt that his race would have been even better and he could have beaten Alonso if he had not come out behind Estaban Guttierez in the Haas F1 car. Being stuck behind his fellow countryman for most of his first stint and particularly the early laps of his second stint, meant that Alonso was able to come out just ahead of him at his second stop to take the seventh position.
It was a night of fine margins in midfield and the decisions and timing of them were critical to the race outcomes of those three drivers.
Race History and Tyre Usage Charts – Kindly supplied by Williams Martini Racing – Click to enlarge
Look at the end of the first stint of Rosberg vs Ricciardo. Rosberg on ultrasofts is able to take the gap to Ricciardo on supersofts up from an uncomfortable 3.5 seconds to a more comfortable 7 seconds by lap 15. That won him the race.
Look at Alonso’s stop on Lap 34, perfectly judged to bring him out ahead of Sergio Perez’ one stopping Force India
Analysis: Singapore GP – The one chance for another F1 team to beat Mercedes?
Will this weekend see a team other than Mercedes win a Grand Prix?
Mercedes has had it pretty much its own way this season, apart from a blip in Spain, where the drivers hit each other on the opening lap. This weekend’s Singapore Grand Prix offers a chance for their rivals to take a win, with Red Bull and Ferrari looking to exploit any weakness in the Mercedes weekend.
Red Bull’s car should be ideally suited to the 5km Marina Bay circuit, while Ferrari won the race last year with Sebastian Vettel and benefits from an updated engine from the last race in Monza. Vettel is also a Singapore specialist with four wins and three poles. Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo finished second last season at the F1 Night race and after his stunning performance in Monaco with pole and what should have been a race win, but for a botched strategy and pit stop, he starts as many people’s favourite for the event. But the execution will have to be perfect.
The race is all about strategy and there is always an element of chance, especially due to the inevitable Safety Car. Every one of the eight Singapore Grands Prix to date has featured a Safety Car for at least four laps. With Pirelli having brought the UltraSoft tyre to Singapore, along with the Supersoft and Soft, the softest tyres in the Pirelli range which cannot do the 308km marathon in one stop and add in one of the slowest pit stops of the season and you can see why the Singapore Grand Prix is always a strategy challenge.
The trick will be to get to the finish on two stops with the faster UltraSoft-Supersoft-Supersoft combination, but the latter has proved a poor race tyre on a number of occasions this season and it will be finely balanced. Another route is to try to one stop with the Soft tyres, which will be slower but the teams know them very well now.
The start is particularly crucial at Singapore as it’s very hard to overtake on this circuit and the field spreads out a lot over the opening laps, so gaining places on the run down to Turn 1 is vital.
The undercut is a very useful tactic here to gain places; you pit before the cars ahead of you, use the performance of the new tyres versus old and then gain places when they pit. We have seen drivers get podiums based on this tactic.
We’ve also seen a counter strategy work a few times in the past, especially for Force India, where they start on the harder tyre and switch to the softer one on later on. The danger with this strategy is being drawn into stopping too early by a Safety Car or an undercut attempt. Then you run out of tyre performance in the closing laps and are vulnerable to attack from the two stopping cars.
Overtaking is a problem at this track with the DRS zone between Turns 5 and 7 the only place to make a pass. Last year only 14 overtakes happened in almost two hours of racing.
The Singapore Grand Prix in numbers
The Singapore Grand Prix is the longest race of the year in terms of time. The fastest race of the eight held since the inaugural event in 2008 came a year later when Lewis Hamilton won for McLaren in 1h56m06s, at an average speed of 99.323mph.
The 2012 Singapore event was the first F1 race to be held to the two-hour time limit in dry weather since the 1991 US GP, which was won by Ayrton Senna. The two-hour limit also meant the 2014 Singapore race was shortened by one lap and last year’s event hit that mark on the final scheduled lap.
That race was won by Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, and it remains the most recent F1 victory for both the four times world champion and for the Scuderia.
Last year, Vettel also started from pole at the Marina Bay track, which is one of only two poles out of 52 Grands Prix in the V6 turbo hybrid era, not claimed by a Mercedes-powered car, the other came courtesy of Daniel Ricciardo at the Monaco Grand Prix earlier this season.
Since the 2010 Singapore Grand Prix, only Vettel and Hamilton have either won or taken pole on the Marina Bay track since Alonso won in 2010, with the two drivers alternating at the head of the grid in the subsequent five events.
There are a number of significant F1 milestones that can be reached this weekend. If a Mercedes powered car claims pole position, it will give the German manufacturer its 150th pole position as an F1 engine supplier, which is third on the all-time list.
A Mercedes works team pole would mean Hamilton and Rosberg would set a new record of 58 F1 poles by teammates, which would surpass the current record set by Vettel and Mark Webber for Red Bull.
Hamilton can also reach his 100th front row start in F1, and he would join Michael Schumacher (116) as the only drivers in the history of the sport to achieve that milestone. At Ferrari, Raikkonen heads to Singapore looking for the 200th top-10 start of his career.
Rosberg will make his 200th Grand Prix start this weekend, which will make him the second German to reach that marker, the other being Schumacher, who made 306 during his F1 career.
At Sauber, Marcus Ericsson will also makes his 50th Grand Prix start this weekend, and he will become the fourth Swedish driver to do so after Jo Bonnier (104 starts), Ronnie Peterson (123) and Stefan Johansson (79).
Last time out at Monza, Fernando Alonso set the fastest lap, which was the first one the Spaniard had achieved since the 2013 race in Abu Dhabi. It was also the first fastest lap for McLaren since the Malaysian race in 2013, which came via Sergio Perez, and the first for Honda since Senna set the fastest lap at Portugal in 1992.
Insight: Ferrari and Red Bull turn down Mercedes’ gift – Ricciardo races wrong car
It doesn’t happen often that a Formula 1 Grand Prix is won on a Saturday, but that was the case with this Italian Grand Prix. Nico Rosberg had an easy win.
Mercedes took the opportunity to qualify on Soft tyres, rather than SuperSofts, so they could start the race on them and do a one-stop strategy. No-one else did this.
Was that something that Ferrari and Red Bull could have managed also? And if they had, would they have been able to get a better result, given that Lewis Hamilton messed up his start and fell to 6th place on the opening lap?
And even after Red Bull opted against it, could Daniel Ricciardo still have raced the Ferraris instead of Valterri Bottas’ Williams with better strategy?
All will be revealed.
Monza has traditionally been a one-stop race, as the relative pace of the cars out on track at 360km/h compared to those travelling at 80km/h in the pit lane, makes it less attractive to do more stops.
This year Pirelli brought the supersoft tyre in addition to the soft and mediums used last year. Many drivers managed the 53 lap race with one stop in 2015, starting on the soft and switching to the mediums around Lap 19/20. But the supersoft was around 0.8secs faster than the soft so many drivers wanted to take it for qualifying, even if it would mean a shorter first race stint than on soft.
The top three teams, Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari all knew this would be a crucial decision and spent time evaluating the soft and supersoft tyres during practice.
It is very easy after the event to look back and see how teams could have got a better result from a different strategy.
It was as clear as day from Friday onwards that Mercedes was going to go for a one stop soft-medium strategy. They had the pace and they are always able to make the medium tyre work.
So there were several considerations for Ferrari and Red Bull, that appeared to be around half a second a lap slower than the Mercedes. Could they accept the risk of qualifying on softs in Q2 and ending up outside the Top 10 if it went wrong?
In Ferrari’s case, at their home Grand Prix with chairman Sergio Marchionne there on Saturday telling the press an hour before qualifying that the team had failed this year, was that an incentive to take bold risks or a dampener, which made them risk averse?
Ferrari used a set of softs in Q1, (a tactic which also saved both drivers a new set of supersofts for the race) to get an indication of whether it would be possible to get through Q2. Vettel did a 1m 23.077s and Raikkonen a 1m 23.217s. The prediction after Q1 was that the cut off time to get into the Top 10 would be 1m 22.9s. Allowing for track improvement of 0.2s and some driver improvement due to familiarity with the same tyre compound, Ferrari could be confident that they’d be at least 0.2 to 0.3s inside the cut off.
But both drivers have made mistakes in qualifying recently, especially Raikkonen, so there was risk there too. It would be tight. In the event the cut-off prediction was correct; it was Hulkenberg’s 1m 22.951s.
Ferrari would have made it. But they did not try. Part of this may well also have been a fear of using the medium tyre. They called their supersoft-supersoft-soft strategy ‘aggressive’ but in fact the opposite was the case. To qualify on softs, that would have been aggressive.
Neither did Red Bull, who were a little slower than Ferrari in Monza, although they did at least have a look at running soft with their first runs in Q2. Ricciardo’s 1m23.004s run was right on the limit. Verstappen did 1m 23.096s. Rather that go for another run on softs they opted for the safe route and ran supersofts to be sure of making the top ten.
Was there a wider consideration here for Ferrari at least? How likely was it that one of the Mercedes would make a poor start in the race? It had happened six times already this season, so the probability was there.
The same thing happened again as the world champion fell to sixth off the line, behind both Ferraris and a Red Bull. But they weren’t in a position to capitalise on the track position gift this gave them.
Having found himself in this situation Daniel Ricciardo had quite a lonely afternoon, behind the Ferraris and having only to deal with the Williams of Bottas, but he brightened up an otherwise rather dull afternoon when he had to overtake the Finn late on.
However the reality was that Red Bull made a mistake on strategy at his first stop, which cost him the chance to race Raikkonen for fourth, rather than Bottas for fifth.
Ricciardo has shown exceptional ability to keep the tyres going this season and he managed to reach Lap 16 on his supersoft tyres, one lap after Raikkonen pitted. At this time his tyres were still performing fine and he was doing consistent mid 1m 28.4s laps. There was no pressure from behind so he had the luxury of trying something different.
Had Red Bull left him out for two or three more laps he could have switched strategies onto a one stop and run the medium tyre for the rest of the race. That would have put him ahead of Raikkonen on Lap 34 when the Ferrari made its second stop.
It is possible Raikkonen might have overtaken him before the end, but not a dead certainty, considering how hard the Finn has found passing Verstappen’s Red Bull in similar situations this year. Ricciardo would have been racing a Ferrari for fourth, rather than a Williams for fifth and not obliged to make a big risky overtake.
That said, once Red Bull missed that strategy opportunity, they did well to leave him out longer on the second stint and take the supersoft tyre for the final stint to attack Bottas. His pass was one of the best of the season so far.
The Haas F1 team has had a pretty successful F1 debut season with four points-scoring races. They were well placed to add a fifth at the home of their technical partner Ferrari, with the new updates on the power unit giving them a boost. Guttierez qualified 10th, but dropped to 18th at the start, while Romain Grosjean was in a strong position behind Alonso and Hulkenberg, but then the team basically went AWOL strategically.
The Frenchman started the race on the soft tyres and stayed out on them far too long before pitting on Lap 28.
He lost so much time as his lap times deteriorated on the worn tyres, that his rivals had almost a pit stop worth of time advantage over him, negating all reason for one stopping.
And as Hulkenberg was two stopping, a chance went begging for the one stopping Haas driver to score another point for his team.
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 Grosjean trace. It’s hard to understand how they could have left him out so long on a track with a low chance of a Safety Car, dropping like a stone; losing so much time and track positions.
Also look at Ricciardo’s trace relative to Raikkonen and Bottas. He could have easily been in a different race after Lap 16.
Compare Rosberg’s pace in the long final stint on medium to Vettel’s on Soft. The pace is similar.
The one that got away: How the lessons from Spa will change F1 teams’ approach
Race Strategy is always central to the outcome of the Belgian Grand Prix as there are so many unpredictable elements to this traditionally dramatic race.
This year the strategies were effectively upset by a Safety Car and then neutralised by a red flag stoppage after a huge accident for Renault’s Kevin Magnussen. This changed the race, brought Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso into play, despite the pair starting at the back of the grid, and proved costly for some teams that had pitted under the Safety Car.
There was pain too for those who had not got their strategy planning right weeks ago, when the tyres for this race needed to be chosen.
There were important decisions to be made during qualifying on what tyre to start the race on and more decision making to be done throughout the Grand Prix.
Some strong results got away from teams here, as we shall see.
This year teams have to select the tyre compounds they wish to bring to each race 8-10 weeks before the event. They have no way of knowing what the weather will be like that far out, but they should have good tyre models that tell them how each compound is likely to behave.
Last weekend the weather was exceptionally hot, by Spa standards, with track temperatures at 40 degrees. This led to blistering, where the tyre heats up too quickly and gas needs to escape, which it does by means of bubbles, or blisters on the surface. This problem has increased with Pirelli’s insistence on high tyre pressures. Finding a way to control that was critical to the weekend and one of the reasons why Force India did so well, scoring 22 points.
The supersoft was only ever going to be a qualifying tyre and a very limited race tyre, with the soft also difficult to make last and the medium reasonably durable. It was strange that Ferrari, for example, went for more supersofts in its allocation, leaving it short on new mediums for the race and strange too that Williams’ Valtteri Bottas went into the race without a new set of medium tyres.
Teams were briefing that it would be a two or three stop race, with Mercedes clearly lining up pole sitter Nico Rosberg for a soft-medium-medium strategy and both Force India drivers looking at a supersoft-medium-medium race.
The key point about this year’s Belgian Grand Prix is that Mercedes were not as fast compared to the rest of the field as they have recently been, partly due to the high temperatures. And with Lewis Hamilton starting from the back of the grid due to multiple engine penalties, it meant a great opportunity for other teams to challenge for a podium.
Dealing with a race turned on its head
Ferrari’s challenge ended at Turn 1 as both Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen got caught up in a tangle with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen. This put paid to the chances of all three drivers reaching the podium and created an opening for Force India, Williams and Hamilton.
The top ten cars were split between those that had opted to start the race on the soft tyre and those that had gone for supersoft in the second part of qualifying, and thus had to contemplate a very short first stint. Six of the ten were on supersofts including the Force Indias and Williams, Verstappen and Button.
The early laps were not straight-forward as the startline collision and then a puncture for Carlos Sainz and a resulting Virtual Safety Car meant that there had been few racing laps completed by Lap 6, when Magnussen crashed heavily at Eau Rouge.
This brought out a Safety Car and an opportunity for the runners on supersofts to make a cheap pit stop. But they had done hardly any laps.
Both Force Indias took the decision to pit as did Romain Grosjean and Jolyon Palmer. For the drivers who had started on softs, part of that decision was that it offered more flexibility and protection against an early Safety Car such as this; stop now behind the Safety Car on Lap 7 and you are on a three stopper or a compromised two stop.
Many strategists were hedging their bets on whether it would turn out to be a red flag, as the size of Magnussen’s impact meant barrier repairs would clearly take some time. It was similar to the situation in Australia this year when a red flag gave a free tyre change to anyone who had not stopped. The risk of stopping under the Safety Car was losing position to those who did not in the event of a red flag. But if there were not to be a red flag, then there was a gain to be made.
Bottas fared worse than most as he was not pitted immediately under the Safety Car, but rather a lap later and went from 4th to 12th place.
The race was indeed red flagged on Lap 10, meaning that there would effectively be a new 34 lap race at the restart. The strategies up to this point were neutralised, but the drivers still had the same allocation of tyres available as before.
So not everyone changed tyres during the stoppage period. Verstappen, for example, did not change. This was because his medium tyres were still quite fresh and, on a three stop strategy, he didn’t have enough new tyres to make it work to the end, as he still needed his other set of new softs and mediums later in the race.
Daniel Ricciardo managed to make it to the end on two stops with soft-soft-medium, thanks to the red flags and a very impressive second stint keeping the softs alive after the restart. It was a brave call not to pit under the Safety Car, as it could have caught him out had the race not been red flagged, but the team read it correctly.
He did not have the pace on that strategy to trouble race winner Rosberg, but he was able to keep Hamilton at bay, as Mercedes tried to do the opposite to Ricciardo in the hope of catching him.
Hamilton, like Alonso, had taken advantage of the red flag to get a free tyre stop and had gained track positions from some of the cars that had pitted under the Safety Car. He was lying in fifth place when the race resume, but lost time behind Hulkenberg in the early laps after the restart; it took him nine laps to get past. He also questioned the decision to use another set of medium tyres in the final stint, rather than softs.
Everyone expected the conditions to cool down as the race went on, especially with the additional delay for the red flag, but it didn’t happen.
There is a lot for the teams to learn from the decisions they made in Spa and it will lead to a review of decision making around Safety Cars and red flags. But above all it will lead to a review of the tyre selections they make months ahead of the event and also on event, to make sure that they have enough options going into the race on a Sunday to cover every eventuality.
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, courtesy of Williams Martini Racing – Click to enlarge
Back to business at Spa: How the Belgian F1 GP can be won and lost
This weekend F1 roars back into life after the summer break at the Spa Francorchamps circuit in Belgium one of the heritage jewels in the F1 calendar.
It will be a test of character for Nico Rosberg in his battle for victory with Lewis Hamilton; a test of performance for Red Bull, who should be very fast here, especially in the middle sector and a test of resilience for Ferrari, which dispensed with its technical director before the break and now needs to regroup and finish the season strongly. This is Round 13 of 21 so there is still a long way to go and plenty to fight for as Ferrari fell behind Red Bull in the Constructors’ championship before the break.
With 19 corners on a 7km lap, Spa is the longest track on the calendar and one of the toughest on engines, with two sustained periods of flat out full throttle each lap; from La Source hairpin to Les Combes chicane which is around 25 seconds and then later in the lap the run through Blanchimont to Bus Stop chicane.
It has some fast, high energy comers that take a heavy toll on the tyres, however it is not the fastest combination of corners in one lap on the F1 calendar; that honour belongs to Silverstone.
Overtaking is easy on the long straights, so teams can plan their fastest strategy knowing that they will be able to clear traffic. However there is a high chance of a Safety Car or Virtual Safety Car and this can wreck a race plan, if it falls at the wrong time.
The weather always plays a part in the strategy planning and execution for this race and being responsive is always useful at Spa. This year with the new tyre rules meaning that each team has three different tyre options to choose from, the supersoft is the qualifying tyre, but the soft and medium the race tyres, as last year. It’s the eighth time that this combination of tyres has been brought to a race and thus is becoming something of a ‘default’ combination, which the teams understand well.
This should make life interesting as the supersoft will not last long in the opening phase of the race, so it will be interesting to see the pace offset between the supersoft and soft in qualifying over the long lap to see whether some front runners try to qualify on the soft. The cars starting outside the Top 10 could have quite a tactical advantage, being able to run a longer first stint on soft.
Last year race winner Hamilton did 13 laps on soft, then 17 lap middle stint on mediums before a final 13 lap stint on softs again.Rosberg did something similar, while Grosjean and Perez bagged third and fifth places respectively with two short, punchy stints on softs at the start and then a long final stint of 22 laps to the flag on mediums.
Last year after a weekend of limited dry running in practice, teams had a limited knowledge of how the soft and medium compound tyres would perform in the race. Most teams were briefing that it would be a two-stop race, with some teams perhaps getting marginal on degradation and needing a third stop. No one was contemplating a one-stop for the 44-lap race.
However Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari found themselves attempting it after being caught out by a Virtuil Safety Car just at the wrong moment for their race strategy. Realising that they were racing Roman Grosjean for a podium, after a poor qualifying performance, Ferrari decided to run a longer first stint with Vettel to Lap 14 and to put him onto the medium tyres for the middle stint, the idea being that Vettel would have a tyre offset of five laps against Grosjean later in the race and would come through on new soft tyres as Grosjean’s mediums faded and attack him in the closing laps.
However the problem with this plan was if there were a Safety Car or a Virtual Safety Car between laps 19-23, Vettel would be compromised as his rivals around him on soft tyres would pit and be able to move to a set of medium tyres that would take them to the finish.
The nightmare scenario came true; when the VSC was deployed on Lap 21 and Grosjean, Perez, Raikkonen all pitted and effectively took a pit stop in half the normal time.
So Ferrari took the gamble to try to make the finish and as we all know, one of his tyres exploded in the closing stages.
Belgian Grand Prix in Numbers
If any Mercedes powered car starts on the front row this weekend, the manufacturer will move ahead of Ford and into third on the all-time table of front row starts for F1 engine suppliers. The two companies are currently tied on 301 each, while Renault (388) and Ferrari (472) head the list.
Hamilton led every lap of the German Grand Prix last time out in Hockenheim, and in the process he surpassed Alain Prost’s 2,684 total of F1 laps led to slot into third on the all-time table with 2,732. Ayrton Senna (2,987) and Michael Schumacher (5,111) remain in front of the world champion, but it is possible he could pass the Brazilian if he leads 255 more laps before the end of the season.
The Belgian Grand Prix can often generate surprising results and the polesitter at Spa has only won three times in the last eight races at the 4.35-mile track. The 2011, 2012 and 2013 races also featured a podium finisher who had started outside the top eight on the grid, as did 2015, when Grosjean came third for Lotus from ninth on the grid
Qualifying on Saturday offers several drivers the chance to continue positive streaks or break bad runs. Nico Rosberg, who has a 100 per cent finishing record in the nine Belgian races he has started, has qualified first or second at the last 18 races – although a grid penalty meant he started sixth in Austria.
Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat has never started in the top-10 on the grid at Spa, while Nico Hulkenberg has not qualified higher than ninth for the Belgian Grand Prix since 2010 when he drove for Williams.
Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen is something of a Spa specialist, with four F1 victories at the track, a figure that is twice as many as the number of wins he has secured at any other circuit in his career.
But the Belgian track has not been a happy hunting ground for McLaren’s Fernando Alonso. The Spanish driver has never won an F1 race at Spa in 12 attempts and he has only finished on the podium there on one occasion since 2007, when he came second for Ferrari in 2013. The double world champion also has five retirements in Belgium, a number beaten only by the six times he has failed to finish at Montreal.
Manor’s Esteban Ocon will make his F1 debut this weekend and in doing so he will become the tenth teenager to make a Grand Prix start. The 19-year-old Frenchman, who will be four days younger than Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel was when he made his first F1 appearance at Indianapolis 2007 for BMW-Sauber, has already driven in four FP1 sessions for Renault and completed the mid-season test for Mercedes.
What are you expecting from the Belgian Grand Prix? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below or head over to the JAonF1 Facebook page for more discussion.
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.
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