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James Allen Strategy Reports

Strategy Reports After Each Formula 1 Race

Get the latest news and analysis from each race provided by Formula 1 insider James Allen.

Singapore GP analysis: The secret of balancing risk and reward in F1

2017-09-19

The tenth anniversary event at the Singapore Grand Prix brought its first wet race and created a whole new set of unknowns into a what is traditionally viewed as the most difficult race of the season for the race strategists.
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With a 100% likelihood of a Safety Car in dry conditions, Singapore is always about managing the risk/reward profile when making decisions that will affect the race result. But this year with rain pouring down before the start of the race and the Race Control committing to a standing start (rather than a rolling start) the risk of an accident at Turn 1 increased significantly.

Here we will examine the risk/reward decisions taken by some teams and drivers, look at what went right for some and wrong for others, such as the Perez vs. Bottas Vs. Sainz battle, which was decided on strategy.

And we will explain what tactic Mercedes was trying to use in the final third of the race, which Lewis Hamilton was uncomfortable with carrying out.

And of course the risk/reward profile also applies to driving tactics, with Sebastian Vettel getting his risk profile all wrong by trying to block against Max Verstappen, who was not in the title fight with him and who therefore had nothing to lose in trying to win the hole-shot at the start.

Likewise Kimi Raikkonen’s risk/reward profile was also wrong as he made a fast start, but ultimately his responsibility was to work for Ferrari to achieve maximum championship points for his teammate Vettel against Lewis Hamilton. The outcome was the opposite.


Pre race considerations

On the grid, as the rain fell, the main decision was whether to start on the wet or the intermediate tyre. The front runners all went for the intermediate, because it is more likely to be able to run through to the point at which you can switch to slicks, which the wet is less able to do. So there is no point to risk adding in another 26 second stop from wet to intermediates into your race.

Also the faster cars have higher downforce, so can generate heat in the intermediate tyre, whereas a Sauber, for example, couldn’t and that makes it more likely that they will crash.

So the risk/reward profile for the cars further back showed that it was safer to get a clean first lap on wets and see what the attrition rate is like further forward with accidents. A safety car – or several – is highly likely and that would give a chance to switch to intermediate tyres for the cost of around 15 seconds at Safety Car speeds (rather than 26 seconds).

So that is why the grid was split 50-50 wets and Inters.

For the midfield it was a more nuanced decision, but it favoured the intermediate; one of the most interesting races was between Carlos Sainz who started on Intermediates and Sergio Perez, who started on full wets.


Chance of a podium for Hulkenberg and Perez

On a day such as this, teams like Renault and Force India can score a podium, if the decisions fall right.

Sergio Perez had a shot at it. He battled with Carlos Sainz and Nico Hulkenberg, who had a good shot at a podium after a great start, but later retired.

Valtteri Bottas scored the final podium position however, because of the decision of Force India to start both cars on wet tyres. Starting 12th on the grid, Perez was in fourth place, ahead of Bottas after the chaos of the start and had he done the race that Sainz did, running the intermediate until the ideal crossover point for slicks on Lap 27, Perez could well have finished on the podium.

Starting on wets and needing to pit for intermediates at the second Safety Sar on Lap 12 also cost track position to Sainz, which Perez was unable to recover. Analysis of the laps around the stops to switch to slicks (L27/28) showed that there was nothing Perez could have done differently there to gain that place back.

It was one of those days when everything fell into place for Sainz and the strategy was pitch perfect. But he would have been racing for positions behind Perez and Bottas if Force India had gone with the Intermediate decision at the start.

As their championship battle is with Williams, they had been thinking on the grid of covering the Williams cars that were starting behind them. But when the start gave them a shot at a podium, they were on the wrong tyre to capitalise.

It’s all about risk and reward profiles.


Hamilton helped and not helped by Safety Cars

Another interesting cameo in this race was the way the Safety Car was used. Not only was it deployed in every instance, rather than a Virtual Safety Car, but also the lapped cars were not given the chance to un-lap themselves before the final restart, which is unusual.

Although Lewis Hamilton questioned why the VSC was not used in the final instance, when Marcus Ericson spun, he later retracted it, as the deployment of marshals onto the track in a combination of wet and dark conditions without light reflective clothing was too great a risk.

The last one wasn’t helpful to Hamilton as it allowed Ricciardo to close up to him, when the track was now in slick tyre conditions. The Red Bull had been notably faster in Friday practice in the dry and the Safety Car allowed Ricciardo a chance to challenge at the restart for the lead, which Hamilton would have struggled to take back off him.

It was for this reason that Mercedes didn’t pit Hamilton for new Intermediates at the Lap 12 Safety Car. Ricciardo would have done the opposite and taken the track position that Hamilton would not have been able to take back.

However more interesting was the avoidance of lost time for the lapped cars un-lapping themselves. This can be a long process in Singapore; a couple of years ago the whole process took 8 laps for a relatively simple incident. And with the lower race pace caused by the rain and the three Safety Cars, the race wasn’t going to go the distance anyway; the 2 hour limit was going to be invoked.

So the unlapping process didn’t happen on the final restart this time.

Hamilton was able to get on with his programme with minimal fuss at the end. However as he streaked away around Lap 41/42 Mercedes were fearful of a Safety Car giving Ricciardo a final chance to beat him.

They radioed him and asked him to slow down, because they were worried about the gap back from Ricciardo to Bottas in third place. Hamilton pulling away allowed Ricciardo to do the same and once the gap reached 14 or 15 seconds then Ricciardo would have a safety car pit window, in other words he would be able to pit for a new set of slicks and attack Hamilton in the final laps.

So they asked Hamilton to slow down to close that window; he didn’t initially understand the request but he did then manage the situation as requested.

You can see from this detail of the race history graph what Mercedes were concerned about. Look at how the gap starts to open quickly around Lap 42 and 43 (the blue trace takes a notch upwards). If Ricciardo had gone with him, there could have been trouble. In fact the Red Bull didn’t have the pace to do that. But Hamilton backs off in any case and manages the pace to the end.

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 Williams Martini Racing – click to enlarge

Look at the period around Lap 27-29, Red Bull were waiting until Ricciardo had a 26 second gap back to Hulkenberg to be able to pit for slicks. Mercedes as leaders have no reason to be the first to move in this situation so will always do the same as Ricciardo +1 lap.

Analysis: When F1 strategy turns into gamesmanship. Mercedes vs Ferrari needle in Italian Grand Prix

2017-09-05

The Italian Grand Prix is never the most interesting race of the season from a strategy point of view, being a certain one stop race. But in terms of strategic gamesmanship between Mercedes and Ferrari it was utterly fascinating.
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It was clear from Friday practice that Mercedes had the faster package for Monza, which was not unexpected. But Ferrari didn’t get on top of the set up of the car on Friday and couldn’t fix it on Saturday because it rained.

After performing poorly in the wet qualifying, Ferrari found itself not only behind both Mercedes, but also two cars from Mercedes’ customer teams Williams and Force India.

Here we will analyse what went on from that point, which so unsettled Ferrari and how the tactic behind it may have as much to do with the next race in Singapore as with Monza.

We will also look at how Daniel Ricciardo and Red Bull picked a counter strategy right out of Sergio Perez’ Monza playbook to secure a magnificent fourth place, beating the Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen.

But curiously Perez didn’t ‘do a Perez’ on this occasion.

Pre-race expectations
Monza has traditionally been a one-stop race, as the relative pace of the cars out on track at 350km/h compared to those travelling at 80km/h in the pit lane, makes it less attractive to do more stops.

This year once again Pirelli brought the supersoft tyre in addition to the soft and mediums. As so often this season with these harder tyres, the teams used only the two softer compounds in the race.

Both were good for 30 laps in the race and there wasn’t a significant pace deficit from the supersoft to the soft. The stop laps were fairly clear however the degradation was lower on race day than on Friday, as expected, so there was room to play with.

The race was unusual in several ways; as it rained in qualifying the teams had a free choice of starting tyre, rather than the usual constraints on the Top 10 runners of using their qualifying set. Most opted for supersoft, for better grip off the line. And it was also a race without a single yellow flag, which happens extremely rarely.

The grid had the two works Mercedes in the top four split by the customer Mercedes engined Williams of Stroll and Force India of Ocon. The Ferraris lined up fifth and sixth with Raikkonen ahead of Vettel.

Further back Verstappen and Ricciardo, with engine penalties, opted to start on the soft tyre; the early phase of the race, when they were being held up by slower cars, was the best time to use the slower tyre, then benefit from the faster tyre later in clear air. If you do this, the rule is don’t have a collision which requires an early stop as the supersoft won’t make the finish and you have to stop again (as the rules say two tyre compounds must be used in a dry race)

This is what happened to Verstappen after contact with Massa and it wrecked his race.

Alonso and Grosjean, starting at the back used the same counter strategy as Red Bull. This was unusual for Alonso, who likes to start on the same tyre as the front-runners, however lowly his grid slot.


Ricciardo does a Perez – from 16th to 4th and ahead of Kimi Raikkonen

One of the standout drives of the day was Daniel Ricciardo, who came within four seconds of a podium finish after starting the race in 16th place, due to an engine penalty. He used the same counter-strategy he had employed in 2015 to go from P15 to P8 and which Sergio Perez had used to great effect for Sauber in 2012, where he rose from P12 on the grid to P2.

The idea is to start on the harder tyre, run a longer first stint and then attack on the softer tyre at the end. It works very well at Monza because it is possible to overtake.

Ricciardo’s target was the Ferraris. The Red Bull had looked a match for Ferrari on race pace in Friday practice. But he had many cars to clear and time would be lost relative to the Ferraris, unless they were held up by Ocon and Stroll.

Vettel cleared them, but Raikkonen struggled and this sowed the seeds of his undoing.

Force India and Williams are in a battle of their own for fourth in the constructor’s championship and so were focussed on each other strategically in this race. When Ocon passed Stroll at the start, the teenager stayed with him and Raikkonen trailed the pair.

The thing to do in a situation like Ferrari were in is to let them undercut each other and stay out past that point, using the superior Ferrari pace, then clear them at your own stop.

That did not happen in this case because Raikkonen was calling for new tyres insistently, before Ferrari pitted him on Lap 15. The problem with that move is the undercut only works when the new tyres in your garage are significantly faster than the ones on your car. In this situation, at the end of Lap 14 with low degradation, this was not the case.

Raikkonen got Stroll, because the Canadian had a slow stop, but Ocon was easily able to cover off both and retain position.

All of this played into the hands of Ricciardo and Red Bull. He ran a long first stint, and then picked Raikkonen off when his new supersofts were superior to Raikkonen’s used softs.

He almost caught Vettel for third place at the end, but the Ferrari driver held him off.


What was going on here? Force India and Williams further ahead of midfield pace than normal

So let’s go one step back and consider the role of the two outliers in this race situation. The race history graph (below) is quite telling this week; the Force India and Williams cars enjoyed a larger performance margin over the other midfield runners than normal and more than they had in Canada, another low downforce circuit. So why was that?

Well one theory has to do with the way Mercedes may have chosen to run the engines in Ocon and Stroll’s cars on Sunday (as well as in the works cars)

Finding themselves in a position where they had Stroll and Ocon as a buffer between themselves and Ferrari, there was a further opportunity; not only to maximise the points gained over their rivals, but also to embarrass them on home soil, which would inevitably have consequences.

These hybrid F1 engines have various modes in which they can be run and it relates to the ‘damage’ that the supplier will allow the drivers to do to the engine by running at the maximum regime. You normally run the maximum for the start of the race and after a Safety Car but apart from that you turn it down to try to minimise the damage and hence increase the reliability and longevity of the engines.

Force India and Williams are usually strong cars in straight line speed anyway, it’s a speciality. However close analysis of the data on end of the straight speeds at Monza on Sunday indicates that Mercedes allowed Hamilton and Bottas as well as their two customers Ocon and Stroll, to have more damage on the engine for longer in this race than normal.

For example, through the speed trap into Turn 1 the Mercedes engined cars were doing between 328-330km/h without a tow (with a tow it was up to 350km/h). Interestingly there is not much distinction between the works cars using the series 4 engine and the customers using series 3 here. This went on for much of the race.

Meanwhile the Ferrari was doing 316-318km/h consistently, a deficit of around 10km/h every lap on the straight.

Vettel finished 36 seconds behind the winner Hamilton after 53 laps and the customers spoiled Raikkonen’s day. On the podium Hamilton even said, “Mercedes power is better than Ferrari power” just to rub it in.

Afterwards, Ferrari chairman Sergio Marchionne called it ‘embarrassing’.

There is an old insiders’ saying, “In F1 you are either giving pain or taking it.”

It is tempting to read this race as follows: Mercedes knew that they were going to win Monza anyway, but the race presented an opportunity to inflict some pain on Ferrari at their home Grand Prix, when the red team is always on edge anyway. And by maximising all their assets to try to unsettle Ferrari, it might have a knock on effect on their preparations for the next race, one that Ferrari is expected to win, in Singapore.

Back at Maranello, Ferrari has to be really strong now to quickly forget Monza and be sure to bring their A game to Singapore. Vettel was right after the race to focus on the positives, rather than to let rip on the negatives, as the chairman Sergio Marchionne did.

Vettel knew that Monza was not going to be Ferrari’s weekend before he arrived in the paddock on Thursday, but he doesn’t want to let the team lose focus before Singapore; a race they now quite simply must win.

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

Showing the gaps in seconds between cars and therefore the performance difference. An upward curve indicates good relative pace, downward curve the opposite. Sharp drop indicates a pit stop.

Look at the pace of Ocon and Stroll in the first stint compared to the rest of the midfield runners (eg Toro Rosso, Renault) with whom they are normally closely matched. It is greater than normal. This is partly due to the unusual situation of the Mercedes engine being run at a high regime.

Look at the difference in stop lap between Raikkonen (L15) and Vettel (L31) Raikkonen could have waited for Stroll to attempt an undercut on Ocon and then pitted later to overcut them both.

Also note the progress of Ricciardo once he managed to get some clear air. He didn’t panic when his tyres were getting hot in traffic but drove through it and got his rewards at the end of the race with fourth place.

Analysis: Decisions that decide F1 pole and race results and trigger a team mate feud

2017-08-29

On the face of it, for the second year in a row the Belgian Grand Prix was finely balanced when a Safety Car intervened and neutralized the strategies.
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However this time it put Mercedes in a tricky position as they had deliberately chosen to prioritize qualifying on Saturday and so did not have a new set of ultra soft tyres saved for their drivers in the race. The tactic worked for Lewis Hamilton to take pole and win the race ahead of Sebastian Vettel, but it failed for Bottas in his challenge for a podium.

Ferrari missed the pole position, but were in a strong position when the late Safety Car allowed Vettel to put on a set of ultrasoft tyres that on paper were at least a second a lap faster than the softs Lewis Hamilton was forced to use.

We’ll examine the decisions that led to this situation and what would have happened without a Safety Car. We will look at how Red Bull Racing got away with a very risky tyre selection for the weekend, netting a podium for Daniel Ricciardo.

We will also examine the chaos at Force India, where the drivers hit each other twice, look at how Sergio Perez got ahead of Esteban Ocon in the pit stops despite a five second time penalty and look at what part the team strategy decision-making played in creating that tension.


Pre-race considerations

Pirelli’s Mario Isola persuaded the company to bring a softer selection of tyres to Spa than originally planned, to try to reintroduce some variables to the strategy. It paid off well, with some teams making risky selections, such as Williams and Red Bull that had only one set of soft tyres for the whole weekend. As it turned out the soft tyre was the best race tyre, but Red Bull was committed to a two-stop race leading with super soft tyres and got away with it, thanks to the late race Safety Car.

This played into their hands, allowing Ricciardo to attack Valtteri Bottas at the restart on ultrasoft tyres to the Finn’s softs and he could pass him for the final podium position.

His task was also helped by Kimi Raikkonen making a mistake early in the race and not slowing for yellow warning flags. He was given a ten second penalty that dropped him out of contention for a podium. It was Raikkonen’s second important mistake of the weekend; he also made one in qualifying, as we shall see.


More than one right answer: Balancing risk in qualifying and the race

This race was more interesting in some ways for what it might have become had the Safety Car not come out, than for what it was. Hamilton was able to hold off Vettel despite being on the slower tyre at the restart.

But we have to go back a couple of steps to examine the thinking that led to this position.

Mercedes view on Saturday was that pole position was the biggest priority; it was therefore more important for the drivers to have extra performance runs in qualifying to find the limit for the decisive final runs in Q3. So both Hamilton and Bottas were given a second run on new ultra soft tyres in Q2. This allowed Hamilton to find the limit especially in Turn 10 (Pouhon corner) for example, where he was almost flat in his final lap and that made the difference for pole.

Ferrari didn’t do this, wanting to save a set of ultra softs for possible use late in the race if there were to be a need to switch to two stops, or a late Safety Car. They balanced the risk of that against the risk of the drivers not quite having their eye in for the final qualifying runs.

In fact some oil on the track from Palmer’s Renault affected the first Q3 runs so there was only the final run to make it count. Raikkonen had a chance for pole but made a mistake. He made up for it somewhat by offering Vettel a tow in the final sector. But pole had been lost to Mercedes, which meant that Hamilton controlled the race.

Fast forward to around Lap 27 of the Grand Prix and Hamilton is leading but cannot shake off Vettel. The Ferrari was faster at the end of the opening stint on ultrasoft tyres and the new aerodynamic updates on the red car are working well. Mercedes are under real pressure on a track where they expected to dominate.

The debate on the pit wall of both teams is now whether to stop again. Mercedes’ are aware that Ferrari has that set of ultra soft tyres available, to try an undercut, which they do not have. However they do have Valtteri Bottas in play in Vettel’s pit window, meaning that if Ferrari moves first and tries to undercut them, it will be Bottas’ job to hold him up for two laps if possible, which would have been quite an ask, while Hamilton stops for softs.

Alternatively Mercedes could move first and pit Hamilton onto new soft tyres. There had been some blistering on the rear tyres and with memories fresh of what happened to Ferrari in Silverstone when they ignored that, there is a strong case for stopping Hamilton. The teams’ strategy models said that if they switch to a two stop at this stage, Ferrari would probably win the race. Then the Safety Car intervened.

The blistering problem eased temporarily in the laps immediately before the Safety Car, so no move was made. In fact inspection of the soft tyres after the race suggests that Hamilton would have been in trouble to reach the end without the Safety Car intervening.

So he was both unlucky and lucky, in a sense, that it did.


Force India – how did Perez get ahead of Ocon despite serving a five second time penalty?

The most interesting story of the Spa weekend was the further spat between Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon at Force India. This time it became toxic as twice Perez edged Ocon into the wall on the run down to Eau Rouge.

The first one at the start he took full responsibility for. The second, which triggered the fateful Safety Car late in the race, was highly speculative on Ocon’s part, but still required Perez to make a decision to risk contact and a loss of team points. The team has come down hard saying that they will no longer be allowed to race, but was the team partly responsible for creating the situation in the first place, with Ocon angry that he found himself behind Perez after the controversial second stops?

Ocon had track position advantage over Perez after their first lap contact. Both cars survived and made their first stops onto supersoft tyres, so both were committed to a two-stop race.

However Perez was given a five second time penalty for a matter unconnected to the start. As they approached the second round of stops, therefore, Ocon is clearly the lead car and Perez has no real threat from behind as Grosjean is 6 seconds behind, also on a two stopper.

Normally the leading car has the pit stop priority unless there is some kind of outside threat to the tail car.

With 20 laps to go Force India pitted Perez first. He served his five-second penalty and rejoined. His out lap on new tyres was very fast and at this point the team should have made the call to pit Ocon on the next lap. He went around again and in the course of those two laps lost five seconds to Perez.

When Ocon pitted he rejoined just ahead, but on warmer tyres Perez passed him into Turn 5 at the end of the Kemmel Straight.

Either Force India had their tyre model and undercut profiles wrong – which would be strange having seen after the first stops that Ocon pulled three seconds on Perez by stopping two laps earlier – or they must have known what would happen.

Either way there was now a situation where the driver who has been ‘wronged’ at the start by his team mate but got away with it and is on course to beat him to the flag, loses track position to his teammate. And there is a fair bit of history between them from Canada and Baku.

Clearly angry, Ocon tried for force the issue, when it might have been prudent to try the pass with DRS on the straight after Eau Rouge, but Perez made a decision to come across on him.

There comes a point in relationships between teammates that you can never come back from. It would appear that Perez and Ocon have now passed that point, which means that one of them is likely to move on at the end of the season. As Renault is keen to have a French driver, Force India is reliant on Perez’ sponsors and Mercedes is keen to place Pascal Wehrlein, it would seem that the circumstances are there for Ocon to be the one who leaves.

Those considerations were already in place before Sunday’s race, but now there is likely to be more movement.

Likewise a big decision needs to be taken at Mercedes. With Ferrari clearly on a rich run of form with technical updates on its car; two huge development packages were brought either side of the summer break – Mercedes doesn’t have any tracks where it can consider it has an advantage, while it is sure to have a disadvantage at some high downforce tracks like Singapore.

With Bottas dropping back to 31 points off the championship lead after Spa, the time is surely approaching for Mercedes to ask him to play a supporting role, which will include a ‘spoiler’ role on strategy during races.

The compensation is likely to be that he is given an extension to his Mercedes contract, probably for one more year.

The UBS Race Strategy Report is written by James Allen with input and data from several of the F1 team strategists and from Pirelli

Race History and Tyre Usage Charts – Courtesy of 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.

The pace of Red Bull (purple line) is clearly not as strong relative to Ferrari and Mercedes as they had hoped, especially considering in the second stint Ricciardo is on supersofts, while the leaders are on the slower soft tyre.

Note how costly Raikkonen’s ten second penalty was to his race effort. Luckily the Safety Car brings him back to have a chance to pass Bottas. Also you can see at the end of Stint 1 that Vettel’s pace is still strong, Hamilton’s begins to dip before his stop.

Analysis: “Dodge things that lose you time” The behind the scenes move in Hungary F1 GP

2017-08-01

Ferrari came to Hungary needing a strong win after the huge setback of Silverstone and they got it, thanks to some determined team play and some clear-sighted tactics.
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Mercedes, on the back foot after qualifying, considered various opportunities to attack but were hamstrung by radio problems and Lewis Hamilton with a poor start getting stuck behind Max Verstappen for the opening stint.

The strategists’ mantra at Budapest is ‘dodge things that lose you time’, such as blue flags, slower traffic and poor starts that leave you behind a slower car.

Once he got free he had more pace than his team mate Valtteri Bottas and was allowed through to try to pass Kimi Raikkonen, but in Budapest this year the tyre degradation was so low, it was hard to get sufficient tyre performance offset to make an overtake. Vettel had a steering imbalance and his pace dropped, but luckily for Ferrari, in Raikkonen they had a driver willing to play the rear gunner role and the win was secured.

Was there a way Mercedes could have attacked Ferrari by splitting strategies and putting one car on a two stop and the other on a one? We will examine that and also how McLaren made Fernando Alonso work hard for his result.

Pre-race considerations
Budapest is like Bahrain, in that the difference is significant between Friday practice, where F1 teams do their homework, and the race on Sunday. This is because the track ‘ramps up’ or improves, so much over three days.
After Friday practice some teams were talking about a potential two stop race, but by following the mantra of past seasons that the degradation halves from Friday to Sunday and the experience of these 2017 Pirelli tyres, one stop was on most people’s minds.

Ferrari having had painful experience of two tyre failures in the closing stages of the British Grand Prix, could be forgiven for thinking in terms of two stops and their pace in the opening stint certainly suggested that they were capable of it.

But the cornering loads on the tyres are far lower here and anyway Sebastian Vettel’s curious steering imbalance came into play. At the same time as that was playing out, the tyre degradation numbers revealed themselves to be low in the first stint.

So the second stint for Ferrari was one of consolidation. They set a low pace and used Raikkonen to protect Vettel. Raikkonen made some comments about having the pace to win, but that was never on the cards as Vettel is the lead driver going for the title and in any case he would have potentially been vulnerable to losing more points to Bottas and Hamilton if he’d been exposed to them.

You needed a pace advantage of at least 1.5 seconds at the weekend to make an overtake and even then, that could be countered by skillful defending. Hungaroring is a technical track where the driver can make quite a difference, so skillful drivers in slower cars were able to resist faster ones.

Ferrari held the cards. It was up to the others to find a way to disrupt.

Could Mercedes have split the strategies to attack Ferrari?
Once the pattern was set in the opening stint with Vettel and Raikkonen one and two for Ferrari with Bottas third and Hamilton stuck in fifth behind Verstappen, Mercedes needed a Plan B.

The obvious one would be to attack with Bottas on a very aggressive two stop and draw Ferrari into that game, knowing that Hamilton on a one stop would clear Verstappen once he made his stop and could then be brought into play.

The key man here was Carlos Sainz, as Bottas would have needed to clear him out of his pit window in order to stop, otherwise Bottas would have been coming out of the pits into Sainz’ battle with Alonso and would have lost a lot of time. You needed a 21 second gap on Sunday to pit freely; Bottas was only clear of Sainz after 22 racing laps.

In many races on many tracks the switch would have been an option, but not last weekend, where the tyre degradation numbers just didn’t support it. With hindsight, once it became clear later in the race that Vettel had a problem with his steering and had to stay off the kerbs, which constrained him to lapping around 1.5 to 2 seconds off the optimum, then the two-stop attack plan might have been an option and had they committed to it early there could possibly have been some pay back. But the risk outweighed the reward at the time.

But Mercedes couldn’t go there anyway because they had communications issues with IT and radio not working properly and so the opportunity wasn’t there to pull the strings. Mercedes lost too much time getting their house in order to be able to try anything.

Despite Ferrari managing their pace, Bottas made no progress in trying to pass Raikkonen. So Mercedes allowed Hamilton through to try, on the understanding that he would give the place back if unsuccessful.

At the end of the season, will Mercedes rue the three points that Hamilton gave back to Bottas, arguably one of the biggest strategy calls of the season?

It’s a tight championship and it certainly has swung greatly between Mercedes and Ferrari over the last two races in Silverstone and Budapest.

On balance it looks like there are more tracks that favour Mercedes in the second half of the season and they clearly back themselves to get the job done. But the stark lesson of this weekend is that if you have a clear number one driver you have greater scope for amassing points than when you have to balance the needs of two. Mercedes have got away with their policy the last three years because they had a big car advantage.

With such a tight championship, it will be some achievement if they win this year while balancing the needs of two drivers rather than prioritizing one. That moment will come, no doubt, but it was judged that this race was too early.

Midfield congestion- Alonso and Sainz pit together
Another by-product of the lack of variability in strategy options due to the tyres not degrading, was that the midfield became a game of follow-my leader and everyone just waited for everyone else. There were no aggressive undercuts and a couple of attempts at an overcut didn’t pay off.

This led to a fascinating moment on Lap 35, when McLaren’s Fernando Alonso and Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz pitted together in their ferocious duel for sixth place. Normally you do the opposite of the car ahead.
So why did that happen?

Alonso was behind Sainz at this point and had a growing threat from behind from Sergio Perez in the Force India. The Mexican was almost in undercut range, meaning he could pit first and use the new tyre performance to jump Alonso at his stop.

But Alonso had also been in undercut range of Sainz, however McLaren didn’t try anything unexpected. The longest stint anyone in a midfield or front running car tried on soft tyres was 40 laps. To undercut Sainz around Lap 30 would have meant a stint of that length. But it remained a game of follow my leader.

It was quite easy for Toro Rosso; they could see the rising threat from Perez to Alonso and therefore knew that Alonso would pit the next lap, so they came in ahead of him to cover. It meant that Alonso had to do the hardest thing, which was to overtake on track. He managed it, as he is something of a Hungaroring specialist.

It was a brilliant drive by Alonso to finish sixth, also a strong affirmation of the qualities of the McLaren chassis, which have been debated this season.

Alonso deserved his spell in a deckchair on summer break after that race!

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 – Courtesy of Williams Martini Racing – CLick to enlarge

Again shows the gulf in performance between the top three teams and the midfield.

Also note how much Ferrari backed off the pace after the pit stop. Compare Verstappen’s trace in his second stint (nice upward curve) with Vettel’s progressive downward curve, showing he was really managing the pace.

Analysis: What was going on behind the scenes in F1 British GP and why did the race end as it did?

2017-07-18

Vettel and Verstappen

The British Grand Prix turned out to be a dominant win for Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes, but the strategy that underlined the rest of the race outcome was fascinating as teams were caught in two minds whether to go with two stops or one.
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And many, having opted for the latter due to low degradation in the opening stint, found themselves with tyre problems at the end of the race. Ferrari suffered two costly tyre failures in the closing stages.

Vettel pitted early to undercut Verstappen, having lost time behind him in the early laps. But later in the race, with Valtteri Bottas coming up quickly from behind on a one-stop reverse strategy (soft tyre first, supersoft second), Vettel didn’t have the scope to do a two stop strategy without losing position to the Finn, so he went for the finish on the same set of tyres.

Vettel, Verstappen

Conversely both Bottas and Daniel Ricciardo defied these issues and forced their way through the field from 9th and 19th places respectively with offset strategies, which took advantage of the ‘overcut’ (running longer than your rivals) and of the powerful DRS advantage at Silverstone.

The key to doing well was having strong front tyre stability through the high-speed esses at Maggots/Becketts, which gave a good exit onto the Hangar Straight for an overtake into Stowe corner. We saw speed differentials of over 30km/h there between cars with and without DRS, but only if the front tyres were holding on.

Another thing that caught out several teams was that the pit loss time was longer than in previous seasons, as the cars were travelling more quickly on the track relative to the cars in the pit lane. For teams that were limited on engine mileage in practice and were not able to devote three laps to a simulation of this, positions were lost in the race.

So what was going on behind the scenes and why did the race end as it did?

Renault F1 team

Pre Race Expectations

Pirelli decided to bring the supersoft, soft and medium tyres to Silverstone; a revision to their original plan of a step harder. The idea was to try to create more variability in the strategies as most races this year have featured only two of the compounds and have largely been one-stop affairs.

Friday practice running was not interrupted by rain and the teams covered a good mileage. Mercedes did not do much long run work on the soft tyres, while Ferrari did a good back-to-back comparison with both cars.

The data showed that Mercedes had a long run pace advantage on supersoft of around three to four tenths of a second to Ferrari, while Red Bull was over a second off, followed by Williams, Force India and an improved Renault.

Degradation on Friday looked like it would tend towards a two-stop race, with the undercut looking quite strong (ability to pit for a new set of tyres before the car ahead and jump him when he stops). The indicator for that is when the degradation is around 1/10th of a second per lap, or more.

But we have seen the Pirellis behave differently on a Sunday compared to a Friday many times, so strategists were looking to the degradation rate in the first stint as the key indicator or whether to go for one or two stops.

Silverstone 2017 F1

On Sunday the degradation was much lower than expected on supersoft so everyone could increase his first stint length. However the degradation was ‘sinusoidal’ which means that it didn’t degrade in a linear way, but had accelerated phases and calmer phases. Managing that and the stint length was very important and one of the reasons why Bottas and Ricciardo did so well.

The other surprise as that the soft tyres were not as fast as expected. The front tyres became the limitation, rather than the rears. Blistering appeared, which didn’t affect the lap time performance but was worrying for the teams, as it often goes down to the canvas.

Bottas had finished the race in Austria with a large blister on his front tyre and in the Grand Prix at Silverstone it wasn’t only the faster cars that push their tyres hardest which suffered. Even Sauber, that has the least downforce of any team, suffered blisters at the end.

The debate then was whether to make a precautionary late pit stop, even if it meant sacrificing track position. When you are well up in the points, as Ferrari and Max Verstappen were, this was a tough decision.

When the Ferrari tyres failed and both drivers had to pit, that allowed Verstappen to make his cautionary stop just before the end, without losing position.

Daniel Ricciardo
Valtteri Bottas and Daniel Ricciardo on a roll

One of the standout drives was Daniel Ricciardo in the Red Bull, who had to start 19th after a power unit issue in qualifying. Like Bottas, his best strategy was to offset himself against the other cars and create opportunity to pick up places when they stopped or by overtaking them. He managed to go to Lap 32 on a set of supersofts, giving him an offset of almost 10 laps against the Force India cars and Hulkenberg.

Ricciardo made many overtakes in this race, especially into Turn 15, Stowe corner. He managed to maintain strong pace and keep the front tyres alive so that when he exited the high speed esses onto Hangar Straight he had a high closing speed that when the DRS was then opened, he could easily pass. For example when he passed Perez in the Force India, he was doing 320km/h with DRS and Perez was doing 288km/h. Although Perez has a Mercedes engine in the back of the car, he could not cope with that speed differential. Ricciardo also passed many cars into Turn 6, Brooklands, at the end of the other DRS zone. He passed both Saubers, Kvyat, Stroll and at the end of the race Hulkenberg into there.

This was an extreme example of a phenomenon we have seen a lot this season; on a track like Silverstone the DRS is very powerful as the drag is higher in the first place on these cars and the front tyre limitation accentuated that on Sunday.

Valtteri Bottas was forced to start 9th after a gearbox change penalty and used a reverse strategy of starting on soft tyres, then using supersofts at the end. Mercedes were hoping that Ferrari and Red Bull would get into a strategy battle where one undercut the other, which would give Mercedes the chance to go long with Bottas to Lap 32 and overcut Verstappen. He was also able to get Vettel because the tyre offset at that point when Bottas caught Vettel meant he was on fresher Supersofts with Vettel on older softs. This is exactly what happened with Vettel on Verstappen.

Valtteri Bottas

However, Bottas would not have caught Raikkonen had the older Finn not hit problems with his front tyre at the end.

There was a point in the race, between Laps 35 and 40, when Ferrari could have been forgiven for thinking about switching their cars around, with Bottas closing in on supersoft tyres and Raikkonen just 4 seconds ahead of Vettel.

In fact there wasn’t even a discussion about it on the radio.

On the face of it, it would have made sense as it would have given Vettel protection from Bottas in the closing stages and the flat spot he got on his front tyre -fighting with Bottas – that later failed, could have been avoided.

But the reality was that Raikkonen was out of reach of Bottas and by slowing Raikkonen down to let Vettel pass, the team risked losing both positions to Bottas. It would have needed Raikkonen to fight with great commitment to hold Bottas at bay.

So this was an interesting decision. If Ferrari’s interest was purely Vettel’s drivers’ championship campaign, they might have tried it. But here the decision was to try to secure second place for Raikkonen, who had been the stronger Ferrari driver at Silverstone anyway.

Vettel’s race was compromised by losing a position to Verstappen at the start and then by pitting early to make the undercut on Verstappen, which meant he had a longer second stint than ideal on the soft tyres.

Verstappen can now afford to be very aggressive in races as his chances of winning the championship have gone, so that is something Ferrari and other rivals have to bear in mind when thinking of race strategy. Ferrari had to go even more aggressive on him to get Vettel ahead and ultimately paid a price.

The other small point worth noting is that Esteban Ocon finished ahead of Sergio Perez in a race for the first time, having passed him off the start line.

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 & Tyre Usage Charts – Kindly supplied by Martini Williams Racing

The gaps between the top three teams are the largest they have been this year and between them and the rest is a gulf. Silverstone was a painful weekend for many F1 teams as they came to terms with their relative pace.

How Hamilton and Bottas worked around Ferrari F1 team game with Raikkonen

2017-07-11

Valtteri Bottas 2017

A slow burn of a Grand Prix, that built to an exciting climax in the final laps; this was a race that the winner might have lost had there been one more lap, but it was well judged by Valtteri Bottas and well driven by Sebastian Vettel in hot pursuit.
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Ferrari once again used Kimi Raikkonen to try to interfere with Bottas’ race, but it didn’t work out as by that point the older Finnish driver’s tyres were well used and he couldn’t resist the overtake from Bottas on fresh tyres.

Meanwhile we had interesting strategy gambits from Force India and Williams, looking to improve their positions.

As usual we will analyse all the moves, with the help of background data and insights from F1 team race strategists who were involved in the decisions on the day.

Kimi Raikkonen
Pre race expectations

Friday practice running had shown that there wasn’t much to choose in race pace and degradation between the soft and the supersoft tyres. Mercedes was less effective than the Ferrari on the supersofts, as in Sochi, and this would come into play on race day, as Vettel was able to catch Bottas on those tyres in the closing stages.

Blistering was an issue for many on the ultrasoft tyres, which was the limiting factor when planning race strategy, meaning that the first stint length would be dictated by how badly the tyres blistered on race day.

The track temperature was 41 degrees and in fact, most drivers went far further on the ultrasoft in the race than anticipated; instead of 18 laps the front runners managed between 36 and 44 laps. Ironically it was the supersofts that presented a blistering issue for Bottas as a giant blister on the left rear tyre was created which almost cost him the race. At the time of writing Mercedes are still not sure what created this.

Not knowing clearly how long the ultrasoft would last, some teams went for an opening sting on the the supersoft or soft tyre, looking for a longer stint and because the Ultra was more long lasting than anticipated, in most cases this didn’t work out. Lewis Hamilton was one to try this from P8 on the grid, knowing that he had to serve a 5 place penalty for a gearbox change, he deliberately qualified on the supersoft for a longer first stint.

Kimi Raikkonen
Raikkonen looped into Ferrari’s attack on Bottas

Bottas soaked up the pressure that came on to him from Vettel in the closing laps and held on to win the race, but the journey that led to that point had been complicated slightly by a strategy play from Ferrari to keep Raikkonen in Bottas’s pit window, in other words fewer than 20 seconds behind him.

Ideally Mercedes was looking for a gap to be able to pit Bottas and then have him run in clear air on fresh tyres.

Kimi Raikkonen

Raikkonen was being used as a rearguard to keep Hamilton off Vettel, but
when Hamilton stopped early to undercut Raikkonen, Ferrari initially called him to pit but then changed their minds. They had this exact scenario in Singapore last year where they did not abort the stop and lost the place.

But it was somewhat strange that Ferrari did nothing to pre-empt Hamilton’s undercut. He was acting as the rearguard for Vettel to keep Hamilton at bay. Once it became clear that the position was lost to Hamilton they went the other way and left Raikkonen out there to interfere with Bottas.

This was the right thing to do as there was no other threat from behind; this was another race where the front runners were well ahead of the midfield.

Mercedes left Bottas out as long as they could to try to et a gap to Raikkonen, but then were forced to stop him and accept that he would need to overtake his fellow Finn. There is always some risk in this, especially with the history of collisions between the pair, but Raikkonen’s tyres were very worn by this stage and his heart didn’t seem to really in the fight with an unequal opponent, having been asked to sacrifice position for the good of the team.

Red Bull benefitted from Raikkonen’s role in that it kept Hamilton off Daniel Ricciardo until the closing stages. Another impressive aspect was Ricciardo’s ability to hold off Hamilton in the closing stages despite being on the slower tyre and with quite a straight line speed deficit. With DRS the Mercedes was doing over 320km/h on the straights. Without it the Red Bull was at around 295 km/h. But Ricciardo was able to build sufficient margin in the second sector, the twisty part of the track, to have enough at the end of the straights.

Felipe Massa 2017
Williams make some bold moves, improving on a poor qualifying

You have to go back to 2013 for the last time Williams had such a poor qualifying session. The team struggled to get the balance right and to switch the tyres on for the all important single lap. So they started from 17th and 18th on the grid.

Williams split the strategies with Lance Stroll starting on the supersoft tyre and Felipe Massa on the soft.

What made their race was the chaos at the start, triggered by Daniil Kvyat colliding with Fernando Alonso and Max Verstappen, which forced the midfield to scatter around the incident. Massa used his experience to find a pathway through and Stroll had the presence of mind to follow him. This put both Massa and Stroll in the top ten.

The Canadian went to Lap 35 , which is as long as Vettel managed on the ultrasoft tyre, while Massa, who by now had climbed to 6th by Lap 47, setting a fastest lap at that point of the race on Lap 44. The idea was for him to have a final 23 lap blast on ultrasofts and to attack the Force India pair of Perez and Ocon, who had gone on to the slower ultrasoft tyre.

But when it came to it the pace wasn’t there; Ocon had been trying the overcut on Grosjean which didn’t work, but it did also serve to put him on similar age tyres to Massa, so although they were the slower compound, the performance difference wasn’t enough for Massa to pass.

Perez 2017

Force India also tried to undercut Grosjean with their other car, Perez.

But this went wrong because Perez came out right ahead of the race leader Bottas a lap down and then lost time dealing with the blue flags, which cost large amounts of race time, as the backmarker teams will confirm.

On the day the Haas was too fast to be caught out by either move, which was quite impressive given the way that Force India has consistently dominated the front of the midfield battle this 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 & Tyre Usage Charts – Kindly provided by Williams Martini Racing

The standout note here is the massive gap in performance between the top teams and the midfield, once again. This makes life so much easier from a strategy point of view as there is no threat from behind from those cars when teams make moves. Also it is annoying for the midfield runners as they lose time with blue flags for backmarkers.

Note the difference in relative performance between the Ferrari and Mercedes on ultra soft and supersoft tyres. See how Vettel closes on Bottas on the latter, having not been able to match the pace on the former. From Mercedes point of view that is the right way around, given than the ultra soft is often the start tyre.

Insight: What is the secret to picking your way through F1 Safety Car chaos?

2017-06-27

This year’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix was highly eventful and although the three drivers who stood on the podium had been through a lot to get there, the strategy talking points were not the obvious ones.
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Last year every one was surprised at how few incidents there were on the new Grand Prix street track in Baku.

A high-speed street track lined with walls and some very tight sections, the indications were that this would be a race punctuated by Safety Cars and maybe a red flag, which would have a significant bearing on race strategy. But in the end it was a relatively straightforward race.

This year we had three Safety Cars and a red flag; we also had three potential winners of the race missing the chance (Hamilton, Vettel and Perez) and arguably another missed the chance through engine failure (Verstappen).

The key to making the right moves in this race was having very good simulation software, which constantly assesses the risk. You are measuring the risk of a Safety Car once an incident happens, then the risk of a red flag, the risk of going off track on cold tyres and countless other detailed risks.

Baku is unique in that you spend more time calculating risks and making decisions on that basis, than you do looking at tyre degradation curves!

Here we will look behind the headlines to see why things unfolded as they did for the podium finishers in particular.

Baku 2017
Pre-Race expectations

This was another race where the tyres were not ideally suited to the track layout and surface.

Pirelli’s softest tyre available was the supersoft but that was capable of reaching the end of the race from whatever point in the race it was fitted, so that removed a key element of the race strategy side for the teams and put the emphasis on managing risk.

Practice had shown that a simple one-stop strategy with around 24 laps on super soft, picking the right moment to stop for softs and emerge in a gap in traffic, was the best way to go. Had the ultra soft been available then it would have been more marginal and the decision making trickier.

But it quickly became clear that this was an abnormal race for other reasons; the significant issue was the tyres going cold behind the Safety Cars and having no grip at the restarts. This was critical to race outcomes as there were opportunities to pass into Turn 1 at the restart if you set yourself up properly for it. Ricciardo did and it made his race.

Interestingly, further back in the field, Sauber used the ability to pit for new hot tyres under the Safety Car (with no threat from behind) to attack at the restart with tyres at over 100 degrees when the others had dropped to 50 degrees or below. They scored a point with Wehrlein for only the second time this season and had there not been a red flag it could have been more.

Although this was smart thinking, it was born out of necessity as much as tactics as, for some teams, the main risk that needed to be managed was sliding off the track on cold tyres.

It was like Monaco where low energy from the track means that under the long Safety Car periods the tyres come down to critical levels of temperature.

Daniel Ricciardo
Ricciardo picks his way through the chaos with two secret weapons

Daniel Ricciardo had two weapons up his sleeve – apart from his own sense of opportunism and ingenuity – that set him up for the win. He had new sets of supersofts available and the Red Bull was very effective at warming up the tyres.

He had the new tyres because he had crashed in qualifying, so he was able to use these in the race and it gained him some advantage when he was forced to stop early on Lap 5 to remove debris from the Ferrari from his brake ducts.

Red Bull put him onto the softs at this point and then they lucked out when the Safety Car came out not long after as they could then get him off the softs and onto the faster Supersofts (and a new set what’s more) for the rest of the race.

He lost that advantage when the race was red flagged and everyone was allowed to change onto the supersofts, but he had another new set to use, while Stroll and Massa had to fit used tyres.

Using the Red Bull’s ability to warm the tyres efficiently paid dividends at the restart after the Red Flag stoppage as he was able to draft the two Williams cars, who were battling each other rather than thinking about resisting Ricciardo and he passed both.

Bottas, Stroll
Bottas and Stroll – two different routes through the Safety Cars to the podium

The Safety Cars played a significant role in Valtteri Bottas finishing second, after going a lap down early on after contact with Kimi Raikkonen.

And Lance Stroll’s crew played it cool in terms of balancing the risk at the first Safety Car, pitting him on the second lap, rather than the first. Why was that?

Stroll was 4.8 seconds behind Massa and was coming through Turn 14 when the Safety Car was deployed, not quite enough to pit behind his teammate without losing time ‘stacking’. It was certainly not a major risk. But Williams didn’t want to pull him into that situation.

So Williams sent him around again. Luckily he had a large enough gap back to Magnussen and Ricciardo that he did not lose positions when this happened, as you can sometimes.

The way the Safety Car works is that for the first two laps you have to drive at a prescribed slower delta speed. So in that sense it is like a Virtual Safety Car. Once the Safety Car picks up the leader, from Lap 3 onwards, that’s when it can cost you significantly to stop, as the other cars are able to speed up to catch the back of the train behind the Safety Car.

The field closes up and you cannot afford to drop out of position then, as you will lose a lot of positions.

Stroll had looked strong and comfortable on this circuit layout all weekend, not hitting barriers or taking risks, but still turning the kind of lap times the Williams is capable of.

Once the cars ahead of him fell away and a podium beckoned, he drove without mistakes and lost the second position to Bottas because the Mercedes was much faster, rather than because of anything he did.

In fact if the race had been a few laps longer Bottas would probably have caught Ricciardo.

The Finn made a mistake early in the race running wide into Raikkonen, but his recovery drive was first class.

Being a lap down he needed a Safety Car to be able to unlap himself and once he got that he was always likely to get a good result. The advantage of lapped cars being able to unlap themselves in that situation creates the possibility for a race like Bottas and that’s certainly a good thing for the show.

Sergio Perez
Force India left to rue another missed opportunity

Last week we highlighted how Force India could have had a podium in Canada even without the ‘team orders’ row between Perez and Ocon, when they missed a strategy play during the race.

This week was far more costly as they would have been first and second had the two drivers not hit each other, damaging the race of both.

It’s exciting that they have two well matched drivers with the rookie pushing the more experienced driver, but this kind of incident cannot be allowed as it hurts the team badly. With Stroll on the podium for Williams, Force India needed a big score.

If the team needed to have a word with Perez after Canada, the balance of fault on this one lies with Ocon, who has been sensational so far this season, but he pushed just a bit too hard this time and he will no doubt have been reminded of his responsibilities to the team. It will not have played well with his bosses at Mercedes, who prioritise team results over all else.

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

The number of laps is on the horizontal axis; the gap behind the leader is on the vertical axis.

A positive sign is an upward curve as the fuel load burns off. A negative sign is the slope declining as the tyre degradation kicks in.

A typically chaotic race history chart with three Safety Cars and a red flag stoppage. Worth noting is the pace of Bottas after the stoppage and also the comparison with Ricciardo.

Analysis: How Force India threw away a podium in Canadian GP – and not the way you think

2017-06-13

Force India F1

For the winning team in Montreal this was as easy a race from a strategy point of view as you will ever see, with the main opposition falling away early.
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However behind the winner, Lewis Hamilton, there was some fascinating decision making going on and a lot of attention has focussed on the battle between the Force India drivers, with Sergio Perez refusing team requests to let the Estaban Ocon try to pass Daniel Ricciardo for a podium.

Radio logs show Perez refused five requests in total.

However the hidden dynamic here is that, even without a team order, Force India had a clear pathway to a guaranteed podium with one of their drivers; they just didn’t see it. We will explain fully in this report.

Meanwhile Ferrari was on a recovery drive with Vettel after damage at the start, but how could they have effected things differently there and did Kimi Raikkonen have a pathway to a podium with better decision making?

All will be revealed.

Pirelli F1
Pre-race expectations

Friday’s practice running was somewhat inconclusive as the long runs were compromised by a red flag stoppage.

However some indicators were available; the ultra soft qualifying tyre looked fine for a decent length first stint and the supersoft would do the rest of the race. It was the old scenario where a two stop was fast, but required a car to overtake the one stopper on track. The pace differential needed for that was around one second per lap.

Valtteri Bottas did some effective running on the soft tyre on the Friday long runs and that planted a seed for him and a couple of others that the soft might be a good race tyre, especially as the forecast for Sunday was warmer than Friday, which should play to its strengths.

However both Bottas and Daniel Ricciardo took the soft tyre in the race and found it slow. It was a mistake that both were able to recover from; Ricciardo by some great defensive driving and also by Force India missing a golden opportunity; Bottas by having no threat from behind so only time was lost, not track positions.

Force India
So how could Force India have got a podium without issuing team orders to Perez?

The post race debrief at Force India will have been a bittersweet experience; on the one hand they bagged another 18 points – their second best result of the year – from a strong double finish in P5 and P6.

But they will have to initiate a new set of protocols after Sergio Perez declined to allow Esteban Ocon to try a pass on Daniel Ricciardo for third place, despite five requests via radio to do so.

But more painfully, they will also see that there was a podium there for the taking, without even needing to resort to a team order.

The background is that Force India were able to take advantage of a great start for both drivers, which put them ahead of Kimi Raikkonen. And with Sebastian Vettel sustaining front wing damage, which forced an early pit stop, they were ahead of him too.

Raikkonen went aggressive by pitting on Lap 17, which was an attempt to pull the cars ahead of him into stopping earlier than they would wish. Force India’s response was to pit the lead car, Perez, and then to stay out and built an offset with Ocon, who did a masterful job of maintaining strong pace while looking after the tyres for 13 more laps.

Esteban Ocon

This gave Ocon a substantial tyre offset; 13 laps to Perez and 14 to Ricciardo who was on the slower soft tyre.

Ten laps on these tyres was worth two to three tenths of a second every lap compared to the other car in Montreal this year. Having set up the offset strategy for Ocon however, Force India failed to enforce it as Perez stubbornly refused to allow Ocon to have a try.

Several F1 teams, including Ferrari, Mercedes, Red Bull and Sauber have a developed structure for moving their cars around in circumstaces such as these, to gain the best result, which the drivers are contractually obliged to obey. For a smaller team, like Sauber, this can be hugely important as every point can have consequences in the millions of dollars. At the front end of the field it can mean a win and an extra seven points when fighting for a championship.

Mercedes have asked one driver to move over on four occasions since 2014, including the famous occasion in Hungary 2014, where Hamilton declined but said he wouldn’t block Rosberg if he tried a move – and including this year with Bottas in Bahrain.

However, what Force India missed was the opportunity to pit Perez on Lap 42; a move that would almost certainly have led to one of their drivers getting a podium.

Force India

How? Because this would have created a pincer movement with two cars on different strategies against one – impossible for Ricciardo to cover both. Ironically it would have replicated on Ricciardo what Red Bull drivers did to Bottas in Monaco last week.

In the short term it meant giving up a track position to Vettel, but his tyres were already 37 laps old and he was always likely struggle or to stop again with 28 more laps left to run to the flag.

So once Vettel stopped a second time he’d have struggled to pass Perez on the same tyres and so the move would effectively have put Perez ahead of both Ferraris.

Now Ocon would have been clear to attack Ricciardo and he believed he had that pace offset necessary to pass the Red Bull driver, who had made the mistake of choosing the soft tyre for the second stint, which was proving too slow compared to the supersoft.

Even if Ocon had failed, Perez would then be coming up quickly on fresh tyres and Ocon would then have moved aside to let Perez try his luck in the final laps.

By doing nothing, they invited Vettel to attack them. He passed both and a potential podium became fifth and sixth.

What was the point of setting up Ocon’s offset strategy if you don’t use it? And why do a split strategy early in the race if you don’t do one later when there is clearly something to play for? In war gaming terms, this was a win-win.

Staying put and allowing the lead car to refuse a request five times was a lose-lose.

Vettel F1
Impressive recovery by Vettel as Ferrari slips back into operational errors

Last year in Montreal Mercedes had a faster car, but Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel had track position at the start and a bad strategy call to pit early lost them the chance to pull the levers, handing the win to Hamilton.

This year was different. There was nothing to choose between Ferrari and Mercedes on pace and on Saturday only an inspired qualifying lap by Hamilton was the difference.

At the start of the race, Vettel damaged his wing as Verstappen made an aggressive move into Turn 1. But due to a big accident further back in the field, the Safety Car was quickly deployed. At this stage Vettel had not had time to feel the damage to his wing, then the speed of the field was reduced behind the Safety Car, which masked it.

Now all F1 teams have a service called “Follow Me” provided by F1 Management’s broadcast service, which gives a forward facing on board camera shot of both team cars. Vettel’s showed wing damage and other teams were able to see it.

Somehow Ferrari’s on site aerodynamicist missed it and so it was not until the car went back up to racing speeds that Vettel realised he had a problem. If you click on the photo above it will enlarge and you can clearly see the damage to the left side as we look at it.

He therefore pitted two laps after the end of the Safety Car period, dropping to last place.

What did it cost him, pitting at racing speed rather than under the Safety Car? About 20 seconds of race time and four track positions.

When you consider that he missed a podium by a fraction at the end, needing just one more lap to pass Ricciardo, that was an expensive operational error.

But there was also the question of whether he could still have made it if he’d been pitted a lap earlier for the second stop. When he came out he was told that he would have eight laps to fight the Force India duo and Ricciardo. In fact he caught them with only six laps to go, so the modelling was slightly out.

Kimi Raikkonen

Meanwhile on Raikkonen’s car, there were even stranger decisions. The decision to pit Raikkonen first on Lap 17 to trigger a rush of stops for the cars ahead was brilliant, as Ferrari had two stops in mind and tactically he had nothing to lose.

He was also being used here by Ferrari to do a job for Vettel’s recovery as it pulled the other cars into sub optimal strategies, which ended up helping him to get the Force India pair.

But why they didn’t pit Raikkonen under the Virtual Safety Car on Lap 11/12/13? The pit window for a two stop is certainly open at that point.

If they had two stops in mind for a car that has lost two track positions to the Force Indias at the start (which is entirely reasonable) then why not save the seven seconds that a stop under a VSC gives you?

The answer hangs on whether the motive was to get the maximum result for Raikkonen.. or for Vettel.

We at JA on F1 remain firmly of the belief that in Monaco they didn’t deliberately switch the cars, it was a modelling mistake compounded by Vettel pulling unforeseen performance from his tyres in the five laps that followed Raikkonen’s stop.

Here it looks like Raikkonen may have been employed doing a job to disrupt the field and help minimise the damage to Vettel’s championship lead, rather than bag a podium for himself.

Ferrari F1

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 Chart

Kindly supplied by Martini Williams Racing.

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 Ricciardo’s pace to the Force Indias – the Red Bull was very much on the defensive.

Canadian GP 2017

Canadian GP 2017

Insight: Key indicators that show whether Ferrari favoured Vettel in Monaco F1 GP

2017-05-30

Looking back over the last few years’ Monaco Grands Prix, a pattern emerges, where controversial strategy calls have decided the race outcome.
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When it is so hard to overtake, the decision-making is critical.

Last year it was Red Bull’s misstep on Ricciardo’s strategy and then an error in the pit stop itself, in 2015 Lewis Hamilton lost the race on a bad strategy call, in 2014 he was angry because Mercedes stopped both cars on the same lap behind the Safety Car, giving him no chance to challenge.

This year Ferrari had their drivers 1-2 in the grid, but the driver who took pole ended up losing the race on a strategy call, to his team mate.

As the winner was the driver on whom Ferrari is basing all its hopes of winning the world championship, then apparently the rationale becomes clearer.

But did they really favour him at Raikkonen’s expense? Or was there more to it than that?

There has been a huge amount of interest in this story and hopefully here, with a deep and careful analysis, taking in the private views of several of the F1 team strategists who were active in the race, we will get to the bottom of it.

Monaco GP 2017

Theory 1 – Ferrari favoured Vettel over Raikkonen

Although they are not open about it, Ferrari’s ethos has long been that the drivers’ championship is what matters to them, not the constructors’.

They have less need to worry about the financial aspects than other rivals, who prioritise maximum team points scoring in races because the constructors’ table is what pays the prize money.

Mercedes’ ethos is always to get the maximum team score, but also to win the race, but to do that they would not sacrifice one car and have that driver finish fourth instead of second as a result. Ferrari would and they have done it as recently as China with Raikkonen.

So is that what happened here in Monaco?

Raikkonen was leading the race and the rule in Monaco is when leading don’t be the first one to make a move.

There was no real pressure from behind from Mercedes or Red Bull, even though Max Verstappen had just pitted to try to undercut Bottas. Raikkonen still had margin.

He was catching up to Marcus Ericsson in the Sauber; as he came through Turn 18 on his in-lap to the pits on Lap 34 he was 2.2 seconds behind the Swede, so he would have caught him on Lap 35 and may have taken some time to pass him.

At the same time Ferrari strategists would be looking for the gap that Raikkonen would be dropping into after his stop and it looks like they believed he would clear Button and have just Wehrlein to pass on his out lap. Another lap or two and he would have easily cleared both, but he would have encountered Ericsson anyway, so it’s swings and roundabouts.

Kimi Raikkonen

The tyre performance was clearly dropping off; Raikkonen was doing 77 second lap times and had begun to back his team mate Vettel into Bottas in third place.

The radio traffic made clear that both team and driver felt the tyres were near the end, probably down to around 25% left on the rears. The team strategists have access to a data screen that plots the tyre degradation lap by lap and other strategists could see Raikkonen’s deg curve clearly.

However, strangely, on the lap before he pitted, Raikkonen’s middle sector was 35.799s, which was four tenths faster than his previous laps. That would normally get your attention and indicate that there is potentially something left in the tyres and some strategists, under no pressure to stop, would leave him out.

As the team operates a policy of the lead car having the pit stop priority, perhaps what Ferrari should have done is ask Raikkonen what he would like to do and let him make the decision.

They didn’t do that, made the decision for him and he pitted. His in lap was slightly slower than Vettel did later, as was his stop itself and on the out lap he encountered traffic – losing around 1.5 seconds clearing Button and Wehrlein. He passed Button in Sector 2 of the lap and Wehrlein in Sector 3.

Vettel stayed out, found great pace over five laps and managed to pit and come out ahead, which many think is what Ferrari intended all along.

Further evidence for this theory is that Ferrari did not do in the first stint what a team would normally do when seeking a first Monaco win since 2001 and ask the second car to drop back several seconds from the lead car to hold the field up to protect the lead car against Safety Cars and other risks. (They did do this in the second stint to protect Vettel’s position, with Raikkonen dropping back.)

Sebastian Vettel
Theory 2 – Vettel won the race himself, not because Ferrari gave it to him

There is no denying the fact that Ferrari would have wanted to give their lead driver the extra seven points to make a maximum 25 on a day when his main title rival Lewis Hamilton was struggling and scored just six points.

And although that was the outcome, there is another theory about how they got there, which is that Vettel won the race in a way that no-one could have predicted.

Vettel was faster on the day and had he been stopped first he would have undercut Raikkonen. The data shows that. You can also look at Verstappen’s out lap from the pitstop on new Supersoft tyres to see that Vettel would have been even faster and would have undercut Raikkonen.

So if it was pure cynical pragmatism to get Vettel ahead, that’s what Ferrari could have done, clean and simple.

At this point, because Vettel had been sitting behind Raikkonen, Ferrari would have no clarity on what the degradation curve on Vettel’s tyres looked like – because he wasn’t running at his own pace. So they would not know what his potential pace was. This was also true for Ricciardo in the Red Bull, who did the same thing as Vettel, also with a positive outcome.

What actually happened was that once Raikkonen stopped, Vettel cleared Ericsson and then over the next five laps pushed hard. The first three laps were faster than Raikkonen had been managing; on Lap 34 he did 76.5s, then 76.4s and 76.2s, which shows that he was working out the best operating window for the tyres.

Sebastoan Vettel, Monaco GP 2017

What was astonishing were the next two laps, when he found the sweet spot; 75.5s and 75.2s. This is two seconds faster than Raikkonen had been doing before his stop on worn ultra softs. Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo did something similar.

No-one operating in the F1 pitlane on Sunday would have seen that level of performance coming, even Vettel himself didn’t see it coming. He just pushed for all he was worth in the hope that it might give him a chance to win.

Actually the reference showed that Raikkonen was still on schedule – despite the traffic with Button and Wehrlein – to be ahead of Vettel at the start of Lap 37.

What swung it Vettel’s way was those two laps 37 and 38 which were in the 75 second range that meant when he pitted on Lap 39, he came out just ahead.

Anyone who tells you they could see the pace on those two laps coming ahead of time is lying. It was an astonishing performance and it won him the race.

Kimi Raikkonen
Conclusion

Our conclusion is that this is one of the most fascinating scenarios we have encountered in the UBS Race Strategy Report since it began in 2011 and you can convince yourself either way depending on your own theories or biases.

There are a couple of things that don’t add up in Ferrari’s behaviour, which hint that Ferrari favoured Vettel, such as pitting him into traffic and also that quick middle sector for Raikkonen just before he stopped that hinted that the tyres still had some life in them.

But our conclusion – having spoken to insiders, the drivers concerned and strategists involved in the race with deep knowledge of the tyres and what they were doing – is that Ferrari got the outcome it wanted, but on this occasion favouring Vettel wasn’t what they set out to do when they triggered Raikkonen’s stop on Lap 34.

Daniel Ricciardo
Red Bull pincer movement on Bottas

This was not Mercedes’ weekend; apart from Free Practice 1, they had problems all weekend with the tyres, getting them into the right operating window and paid a price for it, with fourth and seventh at the chequered flag.

Bottas did a wonderful job in qualifying to bag third place, but in the race he suffered with his tyres and was a sitting duck as a lone player against the Red Bull pair. Red Bull did what they often do in these situations; they split strategies with Verstappen trying the undercut and Ricciardo the overcut. If Bottas had stayed out, he would have been undercut.

Verstappen’s plan failed because his pit stop was a shade slow, due to poor position in the pit box. Ricciardo went long and, like Vettel, found good pace in the tyres to jump both Verstappen and Bottas for third place.

The UBS Race Strategy Report is written by James Allen with input and data from several F1 team strategists and from Pirelli.

Race History & Tyre Usage Charts

Kindly provided by Williams Martini Racing, click to enlarge

The number of laps is on the horizontal axis; the gap behind the leader is on the vertical axis.

A positive sign is an upward curve as the fuel load burns off. A negative sign is the slope declining as the tyre degradation kicks in.

Raikkonen’s tyre degradation is clear at the end of the first stint, as it is for Bottas. Look at the astonishing pace of Vettel and Ricciardo on used ultrasoft tyres, once they clear the cars ahead.

On the Tyre Usage chart observe that, once again, the third Pirelli tyre compound, the hardest of the three, was unused again. This has been the case at most rounds.

The three tyre compound rule, which gave plenty of intrigue and interest last season, is simply not working this season as the tyres are too hard.

Insight: How the Spanish GP swung between Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel until Ferrari left open goal

2017-05-16

Vettel, Hamilton Spain 2017

The Spanish Grand Prix was one of the best races from a race strategy point of view for many years.
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It was a fascinating cat and mouse game of chess, with two drivers fighting it out on track to the limit of their ability.

Like last year’s Spanish Grand Prix, strategy decided the outcome, but the two main protagonists, Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel also surpassed themselves, with heroic drives, making it a truly memorable race

Here we will analyse the momentous decisions that dictated the outcome, at how the pendulum swung from one driver to another several times. And we will also look at how the lowly Sauber team managed to score its best result since 2015, with a very bold one-stop strategy, yielding four points for the team, which will prove very valuable.

Grid Spanish GP 2017
Pre-race considerations

Before the race Pirelli said that three stops was a marginally faster strategy, but the key factor was the calculation on the difference between the soft and medium tyres.

This is because on Friday the gap looked enormous; some teams were reporting two seconds per lap difference between the compounds.

But history shows that comes down on race day and Friday was also a tricky day with weather conditions, especially wind, so it exaggerated the appearance of a problem.

Another consideration in Spain is that Virtual Safety Cars and Safety Cars are a rare occurrence, so they do not figure highly in the list of probable scenarios.

Vettel, Hamilton
Vettel vs Hamilton: Phase one of the race – Advantage Vettel

This was a race where Vettel proved his value as a leader, as on two separate occasions he made important calls from the cockpit. Ferrari heeded one and didn’t heed the other, which is why they lost this race, as we shall see.

A few minutes after the start of Saturday’s qualifying session, Vettel was told to switch off his engine. A less experienced driver might have obeyed, but he questioned it, during which time the problem righted itself. So instead of starting on the back of the grid, he was able to fight for pole. He should have had the pole, but made a small error on his final lap.

But it didn’t matter as he took the lead at the start.

To do an optimum three-stop race you need to stop on Lap 13. Around Lap 12 Mercedes, who had Hamilton in second place, started to make moves that looked like they were going to pull the trigger on a stop. Hamilton was told to pick up the pace. At this point Vettel was secure and had a 2.2 second lead. That came down to 1.8s as he caught some traffic, putting him in range of being undercut, if Hamilton were to stop and use the performance of the new tyre to jump the Ferrari driver.

Up ahead was Vandoorne, so there was an element of risk for Vettel and Ferrari opted to pit him. The problem was that Ricciardo was inside the 22-second gap back to pit safely, which is why Mercedes didn’t go for the early undercut attempt. Memories were still fresh of Melbourne where Hamilton could not pass a Red Bull, but Vettel could and that swung the race.

Vettel duly stopped and then was able to pass Ricciardo easily.

So it was clearly advantage Ferrari at this point.

Bottas, Vettel F1
Mercedes play chess with Bottas and then Ferrari gives them an open goal

Mercedes reacted by deciding to extend the stint for both Hamilton and Bottas. In the case of Bottas this was to prove the race-winning move, as the Finn was able to hold Vettel up for two laps, costing four seconds of race time.

In Hamilton’s case it cost him valuable time, but a combination of Bottas playing the team game and then an extraordinary mistake from Ferrari, handed the race back to Mercedes.

On Lap 34 the Virtual Safety Car was deployed for Vandoorne’s car, highly unusual at this stage of a race in Spain. Past half distance, it meant that a driver could pit for medium tyres and make the finish.

Strategists look at the state of the damaged car, signs of any debris, whether cranes are involved, when assessing how long the VSC might be out for and whether it might turn into a Safety Car.

This one looked straightforward, so likely to be only a lap or two under VSC, was the judgement of most.

The saving in time difference between pitting under a VSC versus pitting at racing speeds in Barcelona is nine seconds.

Vettel had a nine second lead over Hamilton (it would have been 13 secs without Bottas’ intervention).

There were three possible scenarios: Both cars pit, which would favour Vettel; Vettel alone pits, which would also favour Vettel. The only scenario that favoured Hamilton was that he alone pits, which is what happened.

Ferrari,, Mercedes F1

Vettel radioed the team to say that he felt they should pit him, but they decided not to. One of the contributing factors here was memory of Canada 2016, a race that Ferrari lost in similar circumstances, because they pitted as the VSC ended.

Mercedes knew that if they could pit and catch some of the VSC period, they could close the gap. They had no way to know when it would end.

Fearful of a repeat of Canada 2016, the longer Ferrari left it, the less likely it was that they would stop. Mercedes pulled the trigger and gained some time but it wasn’t perfect as the VSC ended when Hamilton was still in the pits.

But it won them most of the time and then Hamilton had a very strong out lap. Ferrari had to react and pit Vettel a lap later and when he came out, he was side by side with Hamilton. They raced brilliantly but Vettel just held position.

Now the challenge for Vettel, on medium tyres, was to keep Hamilton behind him for long enough to take the edge out of the soft tyres Hamilton was using, much as Bottas had done to Vettel at the start of his second stint.

Vettel, Hamilton F1

With these 2017 cars, the following car is more easily able to exit the final corner flat out than in past years, where an overtake on the main straight was therefore really hard, (for example with Raikkonen and Verstappen last year). But Hamilton was able to get the job done, while the tyres were still fresh and took the lead.

Ferrari thought about a Plan C, which was a third stop, but Mercedes kept Hamilton at 2.8secs, which covers off that opportunity.

Vettel said afterwards that this race was like a bar of soap in the shower that you can’t keep hold of and it is true; this should have been his race and he had Hamilton where he wanted him before Ferrari presented him with an open goal.

It will be interesting to see how punchy they are next time there is a VSC when Ferrari has control.

Sauber F1

Narrow squeak for Sauber on VSC brings points bonanza

When you are a team like Sauber, that has the slowest car in the field on a track like Barcelona, you have to be bold. If you plan a safe two-stop strategy like the cars around you, the best that might happen is to beat one of them and finish 16th or 17th.

So Sauber took a gamble, one that had a potentially big upside, but the downside would be limited by general expectations.

Sauber approached the weekend with a single minded aim of doing one stop. This meant that the drivers approached the crucial Free Practice sessions with that in mind, when setting the cars up.

Wehrlein F1

The strategy relied on Wehrlein doing the first half of the race on a set of new soft tyres, which he did very well. The team was on target for a 10th place finish ahead of Daniil Kvyat, but then the VSC intervened and fate presented the team with a rare opportunity to shine.

The VSC was deployed when Wehrlein was exiting the final chicane, less than two seconds from the pit lane entry. He was called in immediately; so late that he had to cut a bollard on the pit entry, which brought him a five second penalty, so this was not his fault.

If he had missed that chance to pit, he risked being mugged by all the cars behind and coming out behind Grosjean in 11th place, who was seven seconds behind, which is less than the time gained by stopping under the VSC. So Sauber would have lost all chance of points.

It was extremely tight but it worked.

The UBS Race Strategy Report is written by James Allen with input and data from several of the F1 team’s 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 gaps back from the top two cars to the Red Bull, which will take some work to bridge. Also note the Force India cars, which capitalised on a great start to maintain track position.

Also look where Williams was racing relative to the Force India cars, which cost them 22 points to their rivals in the championship.

And note on Tyre Usage chart that not a single hard compound tyre was used; another weekend where the three tyre options were too hard, reducing the strategy variations possible.

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