Grand Prix Tours Logo

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.

Analysis: A champion’s performance by F1 team and driver. Can they keep it going?

2018-07-10

F1 is relentless.
[+] Expand

A week after Mercedes made a very public mistake in not pitting Lewis Hamilton under a Virtual Safety Car, there was a big decision to be made in the closing stages of the British Grand Prix; whether to stop under a Safety Car or stay out on worn tyres and defend the track positions gained.

For Ferrari and Red Bull there was no discussion, they must stop. Mercedes decided to stay out. The race leader Sebastian Vettel fell behind Valtteri Bottas as a consequence, but passed him anyway on fresh tyres to win the race. Is it a similar scenario to Austria or something else?

Battle royal between Mercedes and Ferrari at Silverstone

This was one of the most memorable British Grands Prix for years, particularly because of the late race Safety Car that bunched the field up and put some of the players onto fresh tyres for an attacking finish.

Mercedes and Ferrari were closely matched on pace in both qualifying and race conditions. Ferrari had an aerodynamic upgrade on the floor and diffuser which really worked for them, especially on a track where last year they struggled.

This year, with Britain enjoying a heatwave, the temperatures were much higher than anyone could have expected when Pirelli selected the tyre compounds. Track temperatures on race day were up above 50 degrees, which is more like Bahrain than Northampton.

This made the race strategy planning quite a challenge. On paper after Friday’s practice sessions, the fastest way was to do a one stop strategy, pitting around Lap 20 from soft to mediums. Without a Safety Car, that is what the majority would have done.

The outlier was Daniel Ricciardo in the Red Bull, who had been racing Kimi Raikkonen because the Finn lost track position at the start after colliding with Lewis Hamilton. Red Bull switched Ricciardo onto a two stop strategy, when Raikkonen was behind him, believing that the Finn, who had stopped early on Lap 13, would have to stop again, which he probably would have had to do. They avoided the undercut by Ferrari.

Raikkonen’s early stop, combined with the added ten seconds time penalty for causing the collision, meant that he had dropped into traffic and taken some time to clear the Force India, Renault and Sauber midfield cars to close up to Ricciardo.

Unfortunately for Ricciardo a Safety Car was deployed soon after his stop, when Marcus Ericsson crashed heavily. So whereas he had taken his stop at full racing speeds, the others were able to get a cheap pit stop under the Safety Car (10 seconds of race time instead of 22).

It was clear immediately from pictures of Ericsson’s high speed accident that a Safety Car would be deployed. But it took a few seconds for the order to go out.

At the point when the SC was finally deployed. Ferrari had Vettel in the lead and Raikkonen in fourth, Red Bull had Verstappen third and Ricciardo sixth. Mercedes had Bottas in second place and Hamilton fifth.

For Ferrari with Raikkonen on 20 lap old mediums it was a no brainer to stop. Likewise for Vettel on 13 lap old mediums, he had too much to lose by staying out. In that scenario, Bottas and Hamilton would have stopped for new softs and at the restart Vettel would have struggled to hold them behind.

Conversely for Mercedes by staying out, Bottas would get the lead and Hamilton would move up to second. Mercedes had stopped both cars late, clearly looking at a comfortable one stop. Bottas’ tyres were 12 laps old and Hamilton’s just eight laps old. There were 19 laps to the finish of which probably only 15 or 16 would be at racing speeds.

The lap times of both had been strong prior to the Safety Car, in fact Bottas had been gently reeling in Vettel, the Mercedes displaying its historic tendency to be faster on the harder compounds of rubber (although Ferrari has improved a lot in this area).

By stopping Bottas, he would have come out behind Vettel, but on used softs rather than new ones. Unlike the Red Bull and Ferrari drivers, neither Mercedes driver had a new set of soft tyres available.

It’s unusual for Mercedes to miss a detail like that, but in reality they would probably have done the same thing even if those tyres were available. Certainly with Hamilton; with Bottas in hindsight a switch to softs could have netted a podium rather than a fourth.

So it was a long shot for Bottas to win the race, defending against Vettel on new soft tyres.

For Hamilton the gamble was more weighted in his favour. He had been at the back of the field after the Lap 1 collision with Raikkonen and his recovery drive had brought him back up towards the front. By leaving him out until Lap 25, Mercedes put him back out on track into the large gap between Raikkonen and Hulkenberg so he was able to drive in clear air at his maximum pace. But he was still over ten seconds adrift of Raikkonen.

The Safety Car brought him back into contention and by staying out as others pitted, he jumped up to third place. Behind him were Verstappen and Raikkonen on fresh soft tyres. Hamilton questioned this, but Mercedes’ calculations had showed that fifteen laps on relatively fresh mediums, with the Red Bull likely to hold Raikkonen for a while, Hamilton would not be passed from behind.

As it transpired, a second Safety Car was deployed soon after when Grosjean and Sainz collided, leaving just 10 laps of racing after the second restart.

This played into Mercedes’ hands on one side, but on the other they still had the handicap of the medium tyres taking longer to warm up at the restart compared to the softs.

But the gamble also accepted that Hamilton wasn’t going to win the race either. He would finish third, or second if Bottas had problems with the tyres. They were only four laps older than Hamilton’s, but once he was passed by Vettel with a brilliant move into Brooklands, Bottas dropped back and was passed by both Hamilton and Raikkonen. Verstappen retired.

It was a great win for Ferrari of the kind that they need to roll out consistently to take this championship. The execution was perfect on every front; effective chassis updates, perfect strategy and driver. The whole thing came together and Vettel leads the championship by eight points.

They – and Vettel himself particularly – have left too many points on the table this season. But at Silverstone they looked like a team that can win the world championship.

The question mark is repeatability.

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.

Look at the gap that Mercedes was able to put Hamilton back out into after his late stop, leaving him clear air. But he wouldn’t have caught the front runners without the Safety Car. Look also at the damage the early stop did to Raikkonen, coming out into traffic.

Dealing with disruption: Behind the scenes of the decision making in Austrian F1 GP

2018-07-03

Disruption is everywhere in the modern world, few can escape it.
[+] Expand

It has always been true of Formula 1, where technological innovation plays such a vital part in success.

But we also find disruption in the race strategies. A race that seemed under control can be turned on its head by a Safety Car or a Virtual Safety Car and the challenge is disrupted.

F1 team race strategists have experienced most scenarios and it all comes down to calculation and appetite for risk. Teams that are used to winning, like Mercedes in the current formula, have a low appetite for risk. Whereas challenger teams like Red Bull love to take risks, especially when they don’t clearly have a fast enough car to win under normal circumstances.

A Virtual Safety Car disrupted the Austrian GP, five of the teams decided to leave a car out: Mercedes, Force India, Williams, Toro Rosso and Haas. Half the field got it right and half got it wrong.

Virtual Safety Car catches out Mercedes –

The Virtual Safety Car was introduced after the accident of Jules Bianchi at Suzuka in 2014 and has played an influential role in the outcome of a number of races since.

Whereas the Safety Car bunches the field up and race strategists know that it will be out on track for several laps, so they can plan, a Virtual Safety Car is a more fleeting thing.

The strategists have to second guess not only how long the Race Director is going to keep the VSC active for, but also whether the incident in question is severe enough to warrant a switch to a full Safety Car. We have seen a number of those in the last few years. Another famous occasion for Mercedes was Monaco 2015 when they lost track of time intervals as a Virtual Safety Car became a Safety Car and Lewis Hamilton lost the lead to his team mate in the pits.

But the challenge with the VSC is that there is no way of knowing when it will end. There is no warning from Race Control, as there is with a full Safety Car. And the worst thing you can do is find yourself coming into the pit lane just as a VSC ends. As you will lose time and many track positions.

In the case of Sunday’s Austrian Grand Prix, Valtteri Bottas’ Mercedes suffered a sudden loss of hydraulic pressure on Lap 14 and pulled off the race track. This brought out the VSC while the marshals cleared the car. Some strategists took the view that the VSC would be short lived, others dived on the opportunity of a cheaper pit stop, saving around 9 to 10 seconds compared to a stop at racing speeds.

There was plenty of time to react as the leader Hamilton was only approaching Turn 6 at the moment when the VSC was deployed, even more time for Verstappen, Raikkonen, Ricciardo and Vettel who were trailing in his wake, Verstappen was five seconds behind the Mercedes.

In situations like this the gamble is how long the VSC will be out, but there was a clarification from Race Director Charlie Whiting that the VSC would always be out for at least one lap.

This took away the chance that a shorter deployment could create a lottery which massively advantaged one or two teams who happened to be in the right place at the right time.

The thinking of the strategists is often to do the opposite of the car they are racing against. In this case, if Hamilton had pitted, Red Bull might have split strategies, leaving Verstappen out to gain the track position and pitting Ricciardo. Ferrari had a fast enough car to race for the win, but having lost out in qualifying with Vettel and at the start with Raikkonen, they were focussed on beating Red Bull.

The VSC came at a horrible moment in the race; it was too early to pit as the race was set to be a one stopper with the original target stop lap being between laps 20-28 to switch to soft tyres, for the Mercedes and Red Bulls using supersoft tyres for the first stint.

The limitation was tyre graining and especially the left rear, as the track’s predominantly right-hand turns give lateral stress to that particular tyre. It was much hotter than during practice, which made it more of a tyre management exercise than anticipated.

For the Sauber team that had started Marcus Ericsson on soft tyres, it guaranteed that they would score points as the soft tyre was the only tyre you could stay out on with confidence that you could push after the race went live again. When strategists with cars down the back of the field go for a reverse strategy (starting on hardest tyres) it is precisely for this scenario that they are gambling.

Fernando Alonso finished a remarkable eighth having started from the pit lane. How much further up would he have been had he started on the soft tyres on a reverse strategy, given what played out?

On the Mercedes pit wall, there was discussion on what to do. The final decision in that team lies with James Vowles, who does the strategy for both cars. Over the last five years he has had to think in stereo on many occasions, but now there was only Hamilton’s race to consider.

But in this case, the clock ran down for Mercedes and they missed the opportunity. Hamilton started a new lap and the four cars behind him all stopped. Other teams did the same thing, but the Mercedes example was the most high profile.

The calculation was whether Hamilton could pull out over eight seconds on Verstappen on worn supersoft tyres, against the new softs on Verstappen’s car.

Red Bull and Ferrari were fully committed to stopping; so much so that they pitted both cars, which cost the tail car in each case – Vettel and Ricciardo – three additional seconds of race time. To do that they had to prepare two sets of tyres in double quick time, which Mercedes would be aware of as they deliberated.

Hamilton didn’t have the pace on fading tyres to pull the gap and dropped to fourth at his stop on Lap 25. Ferrari missed a trick in not keeping Vettel safe to Hamilton, in other words getting him to speed up to maintain a pit stop gap to the Mercedes, which would have put Hamilton fifth after his stop.

They made up for it with another tactic which was to back Hamilton up into Vettel once the Mercedes caught Raikkonen, who had been overtaken by Ricciardo early in the second stint.

The higher temperatures on race day meant that the tyres were graining and the winning tactic was to look after them rather than to push, as Ricciardo did in his attack on Raikkonen. He was forced to make an extra pit stop.

It is surprising that this happened in many ways, as there was clear indication from the damage sustained by the tyres from the first stint that it was vital to look after the second set to make the finish and that would have been communicated to the drivers. Verstappen certainly heeded it and it won him the race. But Ricciardo was in a racy mood.

In clear air at the front Verstappen was able to manage his tyres, as did the Ferraris, which had the best performance on the tyres at the weekend.

Vettel took the championship lead by one point, but it could have been more. If Ferrari had switched the cars around, Vettel would have gained another three points. And if he had not blocked Sainz unnecessarily in qualifying, picking up a three-place grid penalty, he would have started in third place on ultrasoft tyres – ahead of Verstappen – and with Mercedes’ double technical retirement, he’d have scooped 25 points to Hamilton’s zero.

It’s easy to say in hindsight, but one of the secrets of Michael Schumacher’s success at Ferrari was never giving anything away to the opposition, especially through unforced errors, of which we have seen a number from Vettel this year.

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.

Here you can clearly see the drivers tyre managing. Look at Ricciardo in the second stint, he pushes to attack Raikkonen but pays the price with a drop off in performance, needing an extra stop before retiring.

Insight: The decisions behind the key talking points of the F1 French Grand Prix

2018-06-26

Going to a new circuit, or one that hasn’t been used during the F1 racing life of most of the competitors, presents multiple challenges and the return of F1 to Paul Ricard was a good example, with strategists and engineers on the limit working out the tiny details that can add up to a lot of race time and positions won or lost.
[+] Expand

For example, the fuel consumption. If you carry one lap more of fuel than you need for the whole race on this track, that adds up three seconds of race time lost.

In a tight battle that can be a place lost. With no data from previous races to fall back on, the top teams rely on their sophisticated simulators, but even these calculations can be thrown by an enigmatic Mistral wind and there are dozens more considerations that can add up to a lot of time. Tyre life was another, with estimates of 20 laps for the ultrasoft, 30 for the super and over 40 for the soft.

Strategy was central to the key moment of the race; Sebastian Vettel, starting on ultrasoft tyres against the supersofts on the front row Mercedes, was desperate to capitalise on the extra grip to jump the Silver Arrows at the start, his best chance of getting control of the race.

He tried to insist on a move on Valtteri Bottas for second place into Turn 1. He hit the Finn, both dropped to the back and gifted Lewis Hamilton one of the easiest of his 65 Grands Prix wins.

In the melee behind, as cars dived left and right to avoid the two spinning title contenders, Max Verstappen was able to run wide and come out clearly in second place while Carlos Sainz in third set himself up for a strong result, as did Magnussen and Leclerc in fifth and sixth respectively.

Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari’s sole remaining front runner, dropped to seventh and was on a recovery drive from there. Team strategy brought him a podium.

Impressive, but Leclerc doesn’t take the max on a day of chances in the midfield

Charles Leclerc scored points for Sauber for the fourth race out of five, something the team did not manage in 2016 and 2017 combined. The impressive rookie, who seems destined for a Ferrari drive sooner rather than later, had qualified eighth, ahead of Nico Hulkenberg’s Renault and both Force Indias, which would normally be fighting for top ten slots.

But he wasn’t able to take out as much as he would have liked from race day, after a mistake cost him the chance to deploy his Plan A strategy.

The Haas cars, also starting behind him, were half a second a lap faster than the Sauber in raw pace, so the outlook for the race was that he would do well to finish 11th, as he also had to contend with two team cars from Force India being able to work a pincer on strategy. You can keep one quick car behind you on a track like Paul Ricard, but not two.

After profiting from the startline chaos, which also eliminated Ocon’s Force India, Leclerc’s strategy path was made clearer. He was able to look forwards rather than backwards and the tactic was to try to undercut Magnussen at the pit stop.

But as he approached the decisive moment, he made a mistake and ran off track, which allowed Hulkenberg to pass him. Hulkenberg was playing the long game on a reverse strategy, having started on the hardest of the three compounds, so now the Sauber strategy had to change to extending the stint as much as possible.

This was because Leclerc no longer had a safe gap behind to Alonso and the Williams cars, which were particularly hard to overtake. So Leclerc went to Lap 31 and then pitted for supersofts, to maximise the pace and go for it.

He cleared Hartley when Ericsson pitted and forced Toro Rosso to cover the stop and from then it was a run to the finish to stay ahead of Grosjean, whose wretched run continued with more incidents and penalties.

Leclerc’s tenth place was hard fought and, against the pace of the cars around him, again very impressive.

But he would have been even higher up without the mistake before the pit stops.

Red Bull choose to cover rather than attack

We have grown used to seeing Red Bull being one of the most aggressive teams when it comes to race strategy. But in France they played a more passive game, with Max Verstappen’s strategy being more focussed on closing out second place and covering off Ferrari, rather than trying to find a way to attack the leader Hamilton.

This is fair enough; the Mercedes was the fastest car on this track and Ferrari had lost its chance of victory with mistakes from Raikkonen in qualifying and Vettel at the start of the race.

As we have said many times, only perfect execution will bring the title to Ferrari this season and they’ve left something on the table on several occasions, such as this one. Vettel slipped from a one-point championship lead over Hamilton to a 14 point deficit in their duel to be only the sport’s second five-time world champion.

As for Red Bull, Verstappen’s strategy was dictated by Vettel’s progress. He was brought in early on Lap 25 to go onto a set of softs to reach the finish, emerging just ahead of Vettel.

This allowed Raikkonen to extend his stint on ultrasoft tyres and with Daniel Ricciardo unable to extract the maximum from his car’s performance due to some debris in the front wing, Raikkonen’s extended stint in clear air set him up for a chance to beat the second Red Bull to the podium.

Red Bull avoided the ultra soft tyre in the race, but having managed a long opening stint on it remarkably to Lap 34, Raikkonen was able to attack on supersofts for the second part of the race.

Vettel, on worn tyres, was instructed to let Raikkonen through and he caught and passed Ricciardo in the final laps of the race for a podium finish.

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.

Look at Leclerc’s race, see how Hulkenberg gets passed and obliges him to extend the stint.

Analysis: How Ferrari missed the chance to inflict more F1 misery on Lewis Hamilton

2018-06-12

The Canadian Grand Prix has always been a track where the unexpected can happen, where there are options for race strategy and the DRS wing is very effective for overtaking.
[+] Expand

However, this year that was not in evidence as drivers struggled to get close to each other to pass – with aerodynamics and overheating tyres the cause – and once again did the race almost uniformly with a one stop strategy.

But it is an open championship; interestingly, the last three Grands Prix have all been dominated by the winner, but in each case, it has been a different driver and team combination; Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton in Spain, Daniel Ricciardo and Red Bull in Monaco and now Sebastian Vettel in Canada for Ferrari.

Here is our customary in-depth analysis of how – and why – the big decisions got taken, with input and data from some of the decision makers.


Background

Montreal has traditionally been a track where the decision between one stop and two is finely balanced. The danger with doing one stop in Montreal was always that, although you are in front of a two stopper when he comes out from his second stop, he’s on fresh tyres and with the DRS wing he will find it easy to pass you down the long straights.

However, with a 71% chance of a safety car, which would swing the race to the one stoppers, it can be worth a gamble for midfield runners looking to make up places.

With this generation of cars, the FIA recognised the problem of getting close to pass and added a third DRS zone for this race, going into the hairpin. But that did not make any difference and overtaking was scarce in the race. This dictated race strategy.

If Canada can be affected this way then it is surely time to make changes, as has now been done for 2019.

It was interesting to reflect on Friday night about the direction teams appeared to be going. Mercedes continue to dislike the new hypersoft tyre and didn’t use it during Friday’s Free practice 2 session, preferring to concentrate on the ultrasoft and supersoft tyres.

This was a mistake as the drivers didn’t have a chance to get the feel for the tyres ahead of qualifying, just a short run in FP3. And as the race turned out to be all about track position, it was costly.

Ferrari tried it but clearly felt that the ultrasoft was a better race tyre, offering more strategic freedom with a longer first stint in the race.

In contrast Force India showed their intent by working primarily on the hypersoft and supersoft tyres.

In the end Red Bull were the outliers among the top three teams, the only ones to use the hypersoft tyre for qualifying two and the race start. The thinking was that they were gentler on the tyres than the Ferrari or Mercedes car and also that the extra grip off the line would be advantageous in picking up places.

With overtaking so difficult and track position therefore at a premium, a place gained at the start could be very precious.

Vertstappen made a vigorous attack on Bottas for second into Turn 1, but the Finn resisted, and it set him up to finish there. Meanwhile Ricciardo in the sister car did manage to pass Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen and gain a crucial place to fifth.

He would later get into fourth ahead of Hamilton, when the Briton was obliged to make an early pit stop due to overheating.


Changes in order: the overcut works again

Having resisted Verstappen at the start, Bottas was able to stay ahead as the hypersofts inevitably faded after ten laps or so. But he couldn’t do anything about Vettel, who pulled away steadily, despite losing the margin gained at the start when the race was neutralised with a Safety Car for a spectacular accident involving Stroll and Hartley.

Hamilton pitted on Lap 16 to move onto supersofts. Ricciardo had been in undercut range of him and the gap was being monitored back to Leclerc in the Sauber. Hamilton was battling with an overheating engine due to a body part acting wrongly, so his race was compromised first by having to run a different mode, by having to pit earlier than ideal to make adjustments at his stop. He just cleared Leclerc.

Red Bull reacted and brought Ricciardo in a lap later and with a faster stop he was able to overcut the Mercedes and gain another position to fourth. Red Bull had also covered off any threat from Hamilton to Verstappen by anticipating his stop, seeing the Mercedes mechanics running out into pit lane and came in on the same lap. This was a reasonable stint length for the tyres they were on, but only half the stint length Hamilton would have been expecting.

The only ray of sunshine for Hamilton was that Ferrari didn’t capitalise on the chance to beat him with Raikkonen. Hamilton was already set to lose his championship lead to Vettel with the order as it was. Moving him another place behind Vettel would have been valuable to Ferrari.

Although the Mercedes was relatively faster on the supersoft tyres, Hamilton wasn’t able to get the gap down to a safe level to be ahead when the Finn pitted. He was behind Ricciardo and not able to run at his own pace.

Ferrari kept Raikkonen out, attempting to do an overcut of both Red Bulls and Hamilton to get the podium, taking advantage of the clear air ahead. They were greedy but didn’t have the pace to manage it. But by trying and running longer, he didn’t close out the earlier chance to pit and gain track position on Hamilton and add an extra two points to Vettel’s championship lead. The peak of his lead was on Lap 30, there were only a few tenths in it, but the gap was there and as Raikkonen didn’t appear to be making enough ground to jump three cars, it might have made sense.


Midfield battle – advantage Renault

This was a good race for the Renault team that showed itself to be clearly the best of the rest behind the top three teams, albeit at some margin. In the race the cars of Hulkenberg and Sainz comfortably overcame the Force Indias but they were still lapped, despite using the same upgraded engine as the Red Bull team.

Hulkenberg lost a place to Ocon at the start but gained it back in the pits with an overcut, which owed a lot to a problem with the Force India rear jack. Sainz also go ahead.

Perez was forced to try a two-stop strategy, pitting on Lap 9 but he wasn’t able to make use of it in the second stint as he was held up by Gasly with Leclerc just ahead. In previous years that wouldn’t have been an issue at Montreal but it was a clear illustration of just how tough overtaking was this year, despite three DRS zones.

Meanwhile Leclerc and Alonso had a great battle early on which the younger man initially won, but Alonso managed to pass him with an undercut in the pit stops only to retire the car.

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 provided by Williams Martini Racing

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.

Note the period around Lap 24-27 when Raikkonen is trying to build a gap to the Red Bulls and Hamilton to overcut them. In clear air he doesn’t have Vettel’s pace and also fails to take advantage of the opportunity to take an extra two points off Vettel’s title rival Hamilton by stopping when he still had a safe margin to him.

Analysis: The ifs, buts and maybes that held back Vettel and Hamilton in Monaco F1

2018-05-29

Normally when the leader of a Grand Prix has a problem on the power unit that costs him 160hp, over two seconds a lap of pure performance, the pursuing drivers will find a way past.
[+] Expand

Had Daniel Ricciardo’s problem occurred anywhere other than Monaco, they would have done. And had it occurred before the only round of pit stops in the race, then he might have been vulnerable to a strategy move, like an undercut, from Sebastian Vettel or Lewis Hamilton.

But Ricciardo had made his only stop of the afternoon before his MGU-K failed. Although he had to play with the controls of the car, shifting the brake bias forward, for example, to help the rear brakes, his car’s gentler treatment of the softest tyres in the Pirelli range was superior to Ferrari and Mercedes.

And that proved to be enough to keep him in position on this most difficult of tracks on which to overtake.

Because it’s Monaco track position is everything, as Lewis Hamilton learned to his cost in 2015 when he tried to make the extra stop under a Safety Car and lost the race.

That’s why both he and Vettel were reluctant to try something at the end of the race, a dramatic second stop and final attack phase. Despite toiling with the tyres they had, track position was considered king.


Pre-race considerations

The debut of Pirelli’s hypersoft tyre made for some very fast lap times in qualifying, with Ricciardo’s pole time of 70 seconds the fastest ever lap of the Principality.

But the teams were aware from practice that the problem in the race was front tyre graining and that would be the limitation for the race.

Monaco is always a one stop race, to prioritise track position, but this year it was rather like races on the Pirelli tyres of four or five years ago, where the key was to manage the tyres to a stage where it was safe to stop and be able to reach the finish on the second set. The worst thing would be to have to stop earlier than ideal and then also take the punishment of having too long a second stint.


The race at the front

Hamilton was the first to make his stop, on Lap 12, from third place. This led to a reaction from Ferrari and then Red Bull a few laps later, to avoid the undercut. There wasn’t much threat of it; the ultrasoft tyres did not warmup quickly and thus were not particularly fast when new.

The intriguing aspect of Hamilton’s early move was that he did not have enough of a gap to clear Esteban Ocon in the Force India. So, he would have to pass him on the track.

To maximise his chances, Mercedes fitted the ultrasoft tyres, expecting performance. As it turned out Ocon made it very easy for Hamilton to come through. He was not in the same race as him, but we’ve seen much slower cars hold up potential race winners in Monaco when the battle is for position.

Ocon is a Mercedes junior driver and understands how the team operates; that it is all about trying to win the race and score maximum possible points with both cars. No doubt hoping one day soon to be one of the Silver Arrows drivers benefitting from that approach, he moved aside.

Had Mercedes been counting on that attitude from Ocon, they would have fitted a set of supersofts on Hamilton’s car, as they did five laps later with Bottas, who was some way off Hamilton’s pace all weekend. He was somewhat obliged to go this route as he didn’t have a new set of ultrasofts.

Bottas had been out of contention until the supersofts started to perform, which prompted others to look at that approach, as the ultrasofts were not performing. Sauber did the same thing with Ericsson. Some teams split the strategies, to hedge their bets, with one car on each tyre.

With Ricciardo in trouble, there was the question of whether Vettel would pit again and try to attack for the win and whether Hamilton would pit again to try to find more pace.

The gap was there for Vettel potentially to do it at the Virtual Safety Car with five laps to go, Vettel had 11 seconds margin over Hamilton, which would have been just enough, but it would have been extraordinarily brave. Especially as the leaders just missed the initial opportunity; the VSC was deployed just after they passed the pit entry.

So, with the risk that the track could go green at any point, and mindful of how Hamilton was caught out in 2015, discretion was the better part of valour.


Gasly and Ocon shine in midfield battle

If the finishing order of the top five was the same as on the grid, behind them as always, was a good battle in midfield.

At the end of the first stint Ocon, Alonso, Sainz, Perez and Gasly were all still in grid order, but Gasly managed to overcut his way up the order, managing to get 37 laps out of a set of the hypersoft tyres. On paper this was nigh on impossible, but Toro Rosso had a flexible strategy, reacting to the moves of others and when Renault pulled the trigger with Sainz on an early stop, the decision was made to do the opposite.

Gasly pulled it off with aplomb, in another drive that has got him recognised after his breakthrough fourth place in Bahrain.

Once the track came clear after the cars ahead pitted – Perez losing eight places with a stuck wheel at his stop – Gasly was able to find pace and ran in sixth place before his stop. He rejoined behind Alonso, but the Spaniard hit trouble with 35 laps to go and retired, leaving Gasly in seventh place behind Ocon, where he finished.

He was also helped by his team mate: Toro Rosso clearly instructed Hartley to back up the cars behind him. If we consider the Race History Trace (below) Hartley (brown dotted line) starts backing up after Lap 26 and only stops after Verstappen pits. He helps both Gasly and Verstappen with that tactic..

Sainz had been compromised by that early stop; the team had been concerned about Force India trying the undercut with Perez. So, he lost track position to Gasly. He was further compromised by being on the ultrasoft tyres, so later in the race he found it hard to hold Verstappen on fresh tyres behind him, the Dutchman having made a late stop having started on the ultrasofts from the back of the grid.

Sainz also had to let his team mate Hulkenberg through; the German had also started on the ultrasofts from 11th on the grid and so he represented Renault’s best chance of racing Gasly for seventh 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 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.

Look at the phenomenal pace of Verstappen following his Lap 47 stop, after he clears the Renaults. On new hypersofts, his performance curve upwards is the steepest of any driver on the day, underlining what a missed opportunity this was for the Dutchman to win the Monaco GP, due to an unforced error in practice.

Mercedes Spanish GP domination: An outlier or the start of a trend?

2018-05-15

We said at the start of this 2018 F1 season that with the car that they have, Ferrari could win the championship only if they execute perfectly.
[+] Expand

Some strategy calls have gone well, others like Bahrain they have got away with because of the driver, others have gone wrong and so has the driver, like Baku.

But in Spain they were on the defensive; on race pace, strategy, tyre usage and engine reliability, they were fighting a rearguard action and Mercedes enjoyed the most dominant winning margin of the season.

Was this the start of a trend, after a shaky Mercedes start to the season, or an outlier of a race due to Pirelli changing the tyres for this race (and two later ones in France and UK)?

Pre-race considerations

It is never desirable to change something fundamental, like tyres, during a racing season. For one thing it always gives rise to conspiracy theories that the change was motivated by the team who subsequently wins the race to the detriment of the team that loses.

F1 fans have fresh memories of Mercedes struggling to master the tyres in 2013 until they did a controversial test and from that point onwards started winning races.

The idea of Pirelli bringing a tyre with thinner gauge arose after teams experienced blistering at the winter tests in February and early March. All the leading teams were part of that request to Pirelli. Knowing that they had time from a logistical point of view, the company obliged with tyres for Spain, France and Silverstone, where the problem was mostly expected to arise.

Up to that point in 2018, the supersoft had been a tyre that Ferrari had worked better than Mercedes in the opening rounds of the championship. But now it wasn’t to anyone’s liking and we had the highly unusual spectacle in the Q2 session, which decides the starting race tyre, of all but one car going for it on the soft compound instead.

Only Fernando Alonso went through Q2 on supersoft and therefore started the race on it. When only one car in the whole field, as it subsequently turned out, starts on the ‘qualifying’ tyre, then something is wrong.

Interestingly Sauber was the only team to ignore the supersoft completely in Friday practice and to focus on optimising a soft-medium strategy. It worked for Charles Leclerc, who got another solid points finish in a race with Alonso.

Leclerc was ahead and knew Alonso couldn’t overcut as he couldn’t extend on his supersoft tyres, but knowing they could never pit Leclerc before the safe moment for one stop to be able to reach the end on mediums.

For the midfield, the battle was in doing a better job of calculating how early your car could get to the end on Medium tyres.

Doing the opposite
Track position is king, goes the saying and at some tracks you give it up only if you absolutely have to. On fast open tracks with good overtaking possibilities, it’s all about doing your fastest race, not worrying too much about being held up by slower cars after a pit stop.

In Spain it’s different, especially with the 2018 generation cars. It’s very hard to overtake. Even a big tyre offset doesn’t compensate; track position is king. This was demonstrated vividly after Hamilton’s pit stop, where on fresh tyres he couldn’t get past Verstappen, whose tyres had done over 30 laps.

And so when Ferrari – fearing an undercut attempt by Valtteri Bottas – pulled Sebastian Vettel in to the pits on Lap 17 from a second place he had taken off Bottas at the start, committing him to a two stop race, it did several things at once.

First it brought him out behind Kevin Magnussen, as he didn’t have enough of a gap back to clear the Dane. He lost some vital time there. Second it determined Lewis Hamilton’s strategy for the afternoon as the Englishman was running in clear air, which causes less damage to the tyres, and was able to extend his first stint to the point where he could move directly onto mediums to the finish of the race.

It also determined Bottas’ strategy, as Mercedes pushed Bottas to do two more hard laps while Vettel was losing time behind Magnussen, the target being to then overcut him at the stop. A problem with one of the rear wheels meant that Bottas stop was 3.9s, almost twice the normal length and he rejoined behind Vettel. That was two set-backs in the first part of the race for Bottas, who’d lost the start to Vettel and after his blowout in Baku he must be wondering when his luck would change.

It told everyone that Vettel was on a two stop and Bottas almost certainly as well as they had almost 50 laps to go to the finish. Both teams went into the race with two stops in mind. Ferrari were getting through the tyres more voraciously than Mercedes and far more so than Red Bull, who had seen in Friday practice that they could hold onto them longer that their rivals and that opened up the possibility of a one stop race, from soft to medium.

But Ferrari had another problem that was undermining their performance; the engine. As at the end of last season, when Vettel’s title hopes went away with reliability concerns on the engine, so in Spain Raikkonen lost an engine in practice and then another in the race causing alarm bells.

One of the problems has been traced to an electrical fault and that engine may be used again for practice later in the season. But Vettel’s race was doubly compromised by instructions to take care of the engine after Raikkonen retired before half distance.

Added to Ferrari’s strategy move to bring Vettel in on Lap 17 for the first stop, to prevent Bottas from undercutting him, it added up to a defensive race for Ferrari, rather than an offensive one.

This is the real story of Ferrari’s strategy in Spain, not the focus on the second stop under the Virtual Safety Car, that dropped Vettel down to fourth place where he eventually finished.

By that point he was already well and truly on the defensive and the move under the VSC was the right thing to do as it meant that the stop cost half as much time relative to the field as stopping at racing speeds. Ferrari had been hoping for a VSC or a Safety Car, knowing Vettel had to stop again. Every race this season has had one, it’s becoming a clear pattern.

Vettel dropped to fourth and stayed there because his positioning was slightly out on the pit box entry and also he was held momentarily for another car passing so as not to be released unsafely.

This allowed the one-stopping Verstappen to get past him for a podium finish.

Mercedes, meanwhile ‘did the opposite’, when Vettel stopped. Ferrari had been relying on the Finn also needing to stop a second time after an early first stop, but when Vettel pitted the instruction was to stay out and try to make the finish.

There was only a very small probability that the VSC for Ocon’s broken down car could become a Safety Car, which might have made the decision to stop more pressing. The Strategists on the pit wall are racing mathematicians, who calculate probability and risk/reward in real time throughout the race.

Bottas was able to make the tyres last to the finish for a one-two for Mercedes. He was helped by Verstappen breaking off part of his front wing in a collision. Although he maintained remarkably strong lap times, it inevitably imbalanced the car and despite having tyres that were 15 laps fresher, he could not get close to Bottas.

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. The thing to look at is the gaps between the cars and also the relative pace of the cars.

A positive sign is an upward curve indicating strong pace as lap time falls.

A collectors item: The highly unusual sight on the tyre usage chart of only one car, Alonso, starting on the ‘qualifying’ tyre.

On the race history chart, it is immediately apparent that Hamilton won the race in the opening stint as he had pace that Vettel could not live with. The Ferrari is managing rather than dropping off in tyre performance at the end of the first stint, but the trend is certainly downwards before the VSC intervenes for the second stop. Relative to Hamilton and Verstappen, who continue to rise, it’s clear that Ferrari didn’t have the race pace in Spain for various reasons.

Haas was clearly the fourth fastest car in Spain – look at Magnussen’s lonely race, but also at how well clear of the Renault of Sainz he is.

Do Baku GP strategy decisions show F1 teams’ mentality on title prospects?

2018-05-01

This year in F1, with heated competition between the three top teams we are seeing not only close racing but drivers, teams and especially strategists being put under pressure.
[+] Expand

And the inevitable consequence is some bold moves on the one hand and mistakes on the other.

Baku was a good example; Ferrari seemingly in control with pole position and the lead of the race, but able to turn that into just a fourth-place finish for their title contender Sebastian Vettel and a fortunate second place for Kimi Raikkonen, who had a collision on the opening lap and dropped down the order.

Already in 2018 we have seen three of the four races turned on a Safety Car. In Baku this is always a strong possibility, in fact the strategists say that along with Monaco and Singapore this is one of the top three races where you actually factor the Safety Car into your planning and skew your tyre strategy accordingly, even if that means you have sub-optimal race pace should no Safety Car occur.

This is why we saw drivers staying out a long time on their initial set of supersoft tyres, waiting, hoping, for a Safety Car, that eventually came.

We also saw decisions which arguably revealed a snapshot of the mentality of each of the top teams to their championship priorities. Mercedes prioritise the constructors’ championship and the race win; they kept both drivers in the hunt for the win and the largest points haul with their decision making.

Ferrari again prioritised the drivers’ championship, as they have clearly done all season, while Red Bull let their drivers race – despite a warning sign when they banged wheels – something you would not allow to happen if you really believed you could win the championship or were stockpiling constructors’ points.


Pre-race considerations

All three tyre compounds were again in evidence on the grid, but with a wider spread than normal, indicating the different tyre models each team had. For a number of teams, including the top five Mercedes, Red Bulls and Vettel’s Ferrari, the tyre to be on at the start was the supersoft as it was only marginally slower off the start line than the ultra but had much better durability and would comfortably take you into the Safety Car window.

It was also durable enough to take some cars to the point at which they could switch onto the ultrasoft for a late race burst, which is what Mercedes did with Hamilton.

It wasn’t as warm a day on Sunday as it had been for Friday practice and one of the key considerations as the temperature dropped further in the late afternoon, was the warm up of the tyres. It was hard to get the soft tyre to switch on for many teams. In contrast, this was one of many things the Ferrari was doing better than its rivals.


Vettel calm despite losing again
It was telling that Sebastian Vettel was calm after the race, in which he had lost the lead due to the team’s reaction to a split strategy by Mercedes and to his own misjudged move at the restart at the Safety Car behind Bottas.

The reason for his calmness was that, once again, they had come to a circuit that should favour Mercedes and yet Ferrari had the upper hand in qualifying and the race, just like China. The Ferrari is the fastest car at the moment in both conditions – seemingly on all types of circuit.

But unlike China, where Vettel won, here they failed to capitalise on their advantage and Vettel finished fourth, allowing Hamilton both to win the race and take the championship lead for the first time this season.

Hamilton had been forced to stop on Lap 22, his strategy compromised by a lock up that flat spotted his tyres. The team had no choice but to put him on a set of soft tyres to the finish.

So, he was now on a suboptimal strategy and he found it hard to get the tyres working.

Mercedes objective is always to win the race with either car and to maximise constructors’ championship points. For Bottas, now the driver most likely to win for Mercedes, the game was to try to get a big enough gap over Hamilton to stop and fit ultra softs for the final stint to attack Vettel.

For Vettel decision time came as they approached Lap 30. The supersoft tyres were holding on well and he had a margin of ten seconds over Bottas; so, no reason to be the first mover in this chess game.

His tyres were slowly deteriorating, but he still had another five or six laps to go before being able to safely fit ultras. By that time Hamilton could be three or four seconds behind him after the stop and able to get a tow, although Vettel would have the faster tyres. And the falling temperature was not favourable to the soft tyres.

In retrospect it would have been better to stay out until either a Safety Car or the switch to ultras, as Bottas did. But a decision has to be made one way or the other and Ferrari and Vettel chose to stop to cover the strategy of Hamilton, their drivers’ title rival, rather than Bottas.

These decisions are all about lots of small factors; expected tyre warm up is one, but also critical is the amount of time lost in a pit stop, which was not as clear in everyone’s minds as at some circuits due to lack of past data, the blustery winds, the strange layout of pit-in and pit lane exit, plus the chance of a tow down the straight that can give you an unexpected 4/10ths of a second.

The margin of error in predicting a pit-stop time in Baku this year therefore was as much as 1.5 seconds, without any kind of mishap at the stop. Still recovering from their Bahrain pit stop accident, Ferrari were clearly not at ease in this decision and wanted some margin.

On the few occasions where you have an undercutting car that is not immediately faster than you and an overcutting car, which you are faster than, you stay out.

Especially at Baku, where the Safety Car is a factor in strategy planning. So, by stopping Vettel first, when not under direct threat from Hamilton, Ferrari handed Mercedes the chance to stay out and maybe luck into a Safety Car. When the Red Bull pair hit each other, Lady Luck smiled on Mercedes.

Bottas got a free pit stop and the race lead, Vettel did the right thing and pitted again, fitting the same ultra soft tyres, as did Hamilton. This set up the drag race at the restart and as Vettel felt compelled to try a move on Bottas, as much out of defence against Hamilton’s attack, as offence against Bottas, he misjudged the braking distance and ran wide, flat spotting his tyres.

Bottas had a tyre failure due to debris, so Vettel’s fifth place became a slightly less painful fourth, but Mercedes got what they came for, which was the race win.


Perez, Sainz and Leclerc stand out on a difficult day
If the competition at the front this year makes for more exciting viewing, the midfield is again hugely entertaining and in Baku there were three excellent results for Force India’s Sergio Perez (3rd), Renault’s Carlos Sainz (5th) and Sauber’s Charles Leclerc (6th).

For Perez and Leclerc this felt like a win, for Sainz he showed his doggedness in coming back from a sub-optimal strategy and an early stop on Lap 16, off the ultra softs onto the softs, which put him into traffic.

Leclerc showed remarkable pace and composure. He started the race on the supersoft, looking to stay in the hunt and capitalise on a Safety Car if one arose.

His race was with Williams’ Lance Stroll, who tried the undercut on Lap 22. At this point Leclerc was also ahead of Perez, who went onto finish on the podium, so the decision was whether to cover the team that they are fighting in the championship or to try to stay out and luck into a Safety Car that would keep them ahead of Perez.

Perez was not their race. They covered Stroll, while Perez, who had pitted on Lap 2 under the initial Safety Car for softs to give himself the maximum window of opportunity, went all the way to Lap 40 and took advantage of the second Safety Car and the chaos that engulfed the Red Bulls and Vettel in the closing stages.

Romain Grosjean was right with Perez before the Safety Car and also had the same opportunity, but he crashed when warming up the tyres before the restart and another big points result went begging for Haas, just as in Melbourne.

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

All photographs: Motorsport Images

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. The thing to look at is the gaps between the cars and also the relative pace of the cars.

A positive sign is an upward curve indicating strong pace as lap time falls.

Look at Vettel’s trace before his stop compared to Hamilton and Bottas. He is not under any real threat from Hamilton who is not closing the gap noticeably, while Bottas continues on a similar level on the supersofts after Vettel stops, showing that there was still life in them.

Analysis: The details that let Ferrari down and how Red Bull snatched the F1 win

2018-04-17

This was a race Ferrari had two chances to win, Mercedes had one chance to win, Max Verstappen had a chance to win and yet Red Bull actually won it with Daniel Ricciardo.
[+] Expand

This would have been quite a straight forward one-stop race without the Safety Car 21 laps from the end, which Red Bull attacked boldly by stopping both cars.

The timing of the Safety Car caught out the leading pair of Bottas and Vettel, costing Bottas the win, but it opened up the chance for Ferrari and Mercedes to split strategies and hedge their bets. Neither team took that chance.

But they were wrong. This was a day when the main strategic turning points of the race, and the wonderful excitement of some breath-taking passing moves, were all about the power of having fresh, and ideally soft, tyres.


Pre-race considerations

Sunday was by far the hottest day of the weekend. The question was whether the ultra soft tyres would last long enough in the opening stint to make it a one stop race. Ideally, they would need to go 17 laps. For the cars that chose to start the race on softs -in the lead battle the two Ferraris and Mercedes cars – it was a clear one stop.

For Red Bull, starting fifth and sixth on ultras, but with strong race pace if they could just get a break on strategy, it was finely balanced. Their first moment of inspiration was when they took a risk and did a double pit stop, because the gaps around their cars meant that one of their cars would be at a disadvantage if they prioritised one; so with the gap between them on the road just enough to chance it, they went for the double stop. This kept both cars well in play.

For everyone thinking of a one stop, Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly was a benchmark; he was put onto medium tyres at the start of the race, which gave all the teams a chance to see the performance of the mediums. Fernando Alonso was another who went onto mediums quite early, committing to a one stop early. His performance provided encouragement to teams on the medium tyre


How Ferrari lost the lead to Mercedes

Although the main drama was saved until the final act, the middle part of the race provided a strange moment in the competition between Mercedes and Ferrari.

Ferrari, who had dominated qualifying and looked set for a third consecutive win, made a series of small errors that added up to Vettel losing the lead.

First, he squeezed his team mate at the start, forcing him to lift and he was passed by Valtteri Bottas. This gave us the same pairing in the lead battle as Bahrain and it left Vettel without protection from behind and vulnerable to an undercut.

Then the team underestimated that undercut effect – new tyres count for a lot in performance delta. It was in their hands, so Vettel could have anticipated the attack from Mercedes and stopped first. These things are finely judged and you don’t want to pit too early and have to risk running out of tyres. But you also have to cover the undercut otherwise you look foolish when you lose the lead this way. Vettel had shown in Melbourne and Bahrain that he can make a set of tyres last a long time on this Ferrari. So they should have been the ones taking the initiative.

When Bottas stopped on Lap 19 Vettel’s lead was just over three seconds, which was marginal for Ferrari. Especially as, after their problems with pit stops last time out in Bahrain, Ferrari might have built in a little more margin, knowing that the pit crew would be tense at that first stop. Mercedes executed the stop very quickly, while Ferrari lost a second when they pitted to try to cover the move and with Bottas doing his bit with a fast out lap, the net result was Vettel’s lead was lost.

Raikkonen was then sent on a mission to stay out. At first this looked like a repeat of what they did in Melbourne, with Vettel building a seven-lap tyre offset. But the time being lost by Raikkonen against cars on new tyres ( up to 2 seconds per lap) meant that this didn’t make sense as a strategy. The sub plot was that Raikkonen was being left out to try to close Bottas up to Vettel so he could try an attack.

This kind of move is risky on two fronts; first it is hard to choreograph and second, it’s demoralising for the driver who is asked to do it. Raikkonen has been more competitive this season than for many years and felt he had a chance to win this race. Being blocked at the start by Vettel into Turn 1 and losing position to Bottas did not improve his mood.

But he did what he was asked and avoided getting caught where Bottas would pass him easily, into the hairpin. Ideally Ferrari would have like them to catch Raikkonen where he would be able to hold Bottas, in the fast curves allowing Vettel a chance to ambush. But Bottas was bolder than in Bahrain and made a pass the first time he saw a chance, into Turn 3.

We’ve said since the start of the season that Ferrari will win this championship if they can execute perfectly. They did so in Melbourne and Bahrain, but this series of small errors handed Mercedes a lifeline, especially after the shame of not putting a car on the front row in qualifying.


Red Bull take the bold approach

Having been passive in strategy early on, it was therefore surprising that Ferrari didn’t react and have a go later on when the Safety Car was deployed 21 laps from the end.

It took a couple of laps for the Race Director to throw the Safety Car as he assessed the debris from a collision between the Toro Rosso cars. In a situation like that, teams have everything on standby, tyres ready for a snap call. Everyone is tensed up waiting for that signal.

It was called as Verstappen, in third place, was exiting the Turn 14 hairpin. Too late for Bottas and Vettel, but Red Bull strategist Will Courtenay again calculated he had enough gap between his cars to do a double pit stop. As a stop under the Safety Car loses two thirds less time than at normal speeds it’s attractive. But if the gaps aren’t in your favour you can lose track position. The calculation therefore is whether with new tyres you can have enough pace advantage to pass the cars who went by when you were in the pits and even go on from there to pass the cars who were ahead before you stopped.

Raikkonen’s tyres were the freshest of the leaders, but he still would have benefitted from a new set of soft tyres (he had one set available). Hamilton most definitely would (he only had a lightly used set).

He was having an off weekend but came alive when served up fresh soft tyres in qualifying and would undoubtedly have been very quick in the final laps had he been given the chance to stop.

For both Mercedes and Ferrari It made sense to pit one driver at the Safety Car, as they already had the other driver committed to staying out on worn medium tyres. The Safety Car would bunch the field up for the restart, so there would be the chance to attack on new soft tyres.

It was already clear from the Vettel vs Bottas undercut what the advantage of new tyres was on the day. Shanghai is a track where a car with more grip coming off a corner will have a great chance to pass into Turn 6 and Turn 14; two chances every lap.

One of the two strategies would have worked out and in Hamilton’s case he would have finished ahead of Ricciardo, although Red Bull might have left Ricciardo out had Hamilton pitted as a hedge of their own. That is what Mercedes feared and with Red Bull proving quick in race pace they were concerned about getting back ahead. Hamilton had 15 seconds on Raikkonen, so it was only Ricciardo they were thinking about when the prioritised track position.

Raikkonen’s had a 24 second lead to Hulkenberg. So, there was no risk from behind to him making that stop.

For Ferrari, the reason for not stopping Raikkonen must surely come down to the calculation that he might catch and want to pass Vettel.

With a clearly defined team dynamic between the two – Raikkonen seems to be cast as the ‘domestique’, as they call it in cycling, doing the dirty work for the lead driver – how would Vettel have reacted to being asked to let his team mate through?

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. The thing to look at is the gaps between the cars and also the relative pace of the cars.

A positive sign is an upward curve indicating strong pace as lap time falls.

Look at the gap Raikkonen has to Hulkenberg before the Safety Car (orange vertical band). Look also at how much time he loses by staying out in the opening stint. In contrast to Melbourne, where the tyres held on for Vettel, in China new tyres are at a premium.

Analysis: How did Vettel hold Bottas off in Bahrain GP and did Mercedes pull a punch?

2018-04-10

After the rather mundane Australian Grand Prix this was a more interesting race strategically.
[+] Expand

Bahrain has one of the highest levels of abrasive tarmac of the season. It’s also very tough on brakes with big stops and that means that it’s easy to lock a wheel and flat spot a front tyre.

If you are doing a one stop race with a long stint, flat spotting a tyre early in that stint can ruin a strategy.

This year we saw several drivers go for the long stint on mediums -Vettel went for it on softs and got away with it – but Leclerc for example had his race compromised by a flat spot.

As last year Pirelli brought a tyre selection with the supersoft, a tyre that shows degradation. This year it is a step softer. That meant that the teams had to really think carefully about their strategy and again we saw a mixture of strategies, with the decision on whether to use soft tyres or medium tyres at the first stop.

It made for an engaging race with plenty of overtaking and this is certainly what we want to see, rather than 2017’s conservative selections; the likelihood was of almost no degradation and one stop strategies, where drivers finished in car performance order.


The battle at the front
Bahrain is the third highest ‘start bias’ of the year, meaning that it is number three in the chart of tracks where the clean side of the grid has an advantage over the dirty side.

Kimi Raikkonen was deflated after missing out on pole, not only because he had been faster than Vettel again up to that point, but because he knew that there was a strong chance that he would lose places starting on the dirty side. And so it proved; Valtteri Bottas dived past and into second place. This put Mercedes in a position to play some chess moves.

A few places back, Pierre Gasly starting fifth passed Daniel Ricciardo, but the Australian was able to repass. However soon after he retired after an electrical shutdown.

The key to doing well in Bahrain is not simply to look at how the cars and tyres perform on Friday FP2 and then carry across the same expectations, but to adjust the expected degradation for a track that will improve in condition from Friday to Sunday.

So for cars that were able to start on the soft tyres, the fastest race was soft-medium, avoiding the supersoft all together. The supersoft to medium one stop was quite a bit slower on paper.

This is the strategy that Valtteri Bottas ended up doing, as Mercedes rolled the dice to try to outfox Ferrari.

Lewis Hamilton did soft-medium and got to the podium from ninth on the grid, while Marcus Ericsson in the Sauber did the same and scored two points, which is like a win for Sauber, even if their expectations are higher now they are partnered with Ferrari and Alfa Romeo.

Sauber was the first to pit to medium tyres with Charles Leclerc under the Safety Car. This gave everyone a good read on the performance of that tyre in those evening conditions as temperatures gently fell. Leclerc was faster on the medium tyre than the Williams of Sirotkin ahead of him on soft. Alonso was another driver going well on the medium.


Mercedes pulls a punch

The big surprise towards the end of the race was that Vettel was able to make the finish on soft tyres that were 39 laps old. Ferrari was certainly not planning on one-stopping that car, but at a certain point after Mercedes made a chess move by putting Bottas onto mediums as well as Hamilton who was also in Vettel’s pit window, Ferrari were caught out and had to either stick or twist. What they did was a Plan D.

It had started well enough; as last year the Ferrari was faster on the supersoft tyres and could extract more performance from them.

Ferrari could have expected Mercedes to change tactics with Bottas and one-stop, as he was not able to get within undercut range of Vettel to try a move on a two-stop plan. Once Ferrari pitted Vettel and closed off the undercut possibility, Mercedes’ decision on what to do with Bottas became easier.

Knowing that, the alternative for Ferrari at this point would have been to anticipate it and cover off Mercedes’ spoiler tactic by putting Raikkonen onto a supersoft-medium strategy. But on his stop at Lap 19 they went for the same soft tyre middle stint as Vettel.

Raikkonen’s race however was ruined by an unfortunate incident in the second pit stop on Lap 35 (above), where he left the pit box before the rear left tyre had been changed, knocking over and badly injuring one of the mechanics.

This could have turned the race; with the confusion in the Ferrari garage as Raikkonen’s car was pulled back and the mechanic was attended to, Ferrari could not pit Vettel.

Mercedes could have capitalised on this – with Ferrari not prepared for a stop and a man down – they could have gone for the jugular, panicked Ferrari by stopping one of their cars at this point.

But they decided that this would not be a correct thing to do and would be judged harshly; a rare example of scruple in a fierce competitive battle.

Bottas’ tyres were holding up well and Mercedes knew that he would still have plenty of chances later if Vettel stopped again – and also if he didn’t.

It was around 17 laps from the end that Mercedes realised for sure that Vettel would not stop again.


Vettel gets out of a ‘Check Mate’

Vettel described Mercedes’ move with Bottas onto mediums as being ‘check-mated’ in chess.

The question then was – would he be able to stop again, fit a set of supersofts and overtake the Mercedes cars by the end? As he would have had to pass both of them on track, it would have been very hard to come through to take the win. Second place was more likely.

Their only chance of the win was to stay out and for Vettel to keep the tyres alive. This was 100% his win, due to tyre management, especially in the final two laps.

Bottas lost the race partly because he lost more time coming through traffic in the closing stages than Vettel, but also because Mercedes probably should have given him the notice to ‘push’ a lap earlier, once they were sure Vettel wasn’t stopping again.

He couldn’t capitalise on his one chance to overtake into Turn 1. This is the place to do it as the DRS gives a 12 metre gain, compared to the end of the back straight. With Vettel 1.8 seconds per lap slower in the final two laps, the Ferrari would not have been able to defend adequately. Bottas half went for it but didn’t force the issue.

Hamilton’s race was not helped by a radio problem, which means that the team could not hear what he was saying. It didn’t change the result he would have got. The challenge was to be patient to see what Vettel would do, as he wanted more information on what he should be doing.


Points for Sauber
It is tough at the back of the F1 grid and two points for Sauber in Brazil late in the 2016 season virtually saved the team and put Manor Racing out of business.

With only ten teams now, that is not so critical as before, but still something to celebrate.

Here they scored two points. Ericsson’s race in Bahrain was interesting as he committed to the one stop soft-medium at the ideal moment and also committed to a specific goal – he didn’t waste the tyres on trying to fight the group of cars coming through on two stops; Hulkenberg, Alonso and Vandoorne.

His race was not with them but with the cars further back; Ocon, Sainz and Perez.

The judgement was that he would be able to stay ahead of them; each was on a different strategy that had been compromised in some way, either by a poor start or traffic or a spin.

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

Race History Chart

Kindly provided by Williams Martini Racing, click to enlarge

Note the steep drop off in Vettel’s lap times in the final laps and Bottas’ closing speed. The Finn should have won the race.

Also note Ericsson’s management of the medium tyres to keep ahead of the Ocon Sainz, Perez group.

Analysis: How the Australian F1 GP got away from Lewis Hamilton

2018-03-27

For the second year in a row the Australian Grand Prix was won by Ferrari on a race strategy twist and a strong opportunistic drive by Sebastian Vettel.
[+] Expand

But whereas Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton lost the race in 2017 thanks to an earlier than ideal pit stop and Vettel’s ability to extend the first stint to take track position, this year the Virtual Safety Car intervened, which was the worst case scenario for Mercedes in the strategy that they had adopted.

Even then they would have been able to cope with the VSC, had the maths they were working to on Hamliton’s gap to Vettel, been correct.

Here we will drill down into how that played out and look at whether Red Bull’s decision to start both cars on the supersoft tyres paid off.


Pre-Race considerations
Melbourne is one of the hardest tracks on which to overtake as well as one of the toughest on fuel consumption at 307km in total. This tends to point teams towards making just one stop, as retaining track position is vital here.

Practice showed that it was possible do the race on a single stop, starting on the ultra soft tyres for around 18-20 laps and switching to the softs to the end at 58 laps. A safety car or Virtual Safety Car is always welcome for those who are tight in fuel consumption and if it falls at the right moment, can open the door to a team that has not yet pitted. This happened a few times down the years and is always in the minds of the strategists.

It’s one of the reasons why Red Bull went with the decision to race on supersoft tyres. Knowing that they could not beat Mercedes and Ferrari on pure performance, they would be on the third row of the grid – Ricciardo also had a three place penalty – so with a gap back to the next fastest cars opening in the race, they had nothing to lose by adopting this tactic, which could put them in the right place if they happen to be on track when a Safety Car or VSC is deployed when the leaders have pitted. It worked like this for Ricciardo and would have put Verstappen in contention for a podium had he not spun early in the race.

It was slightly disappointing that the new Pirelli tyres were not more marginal between one stop and two stops, as had been their target. However, there will be races, such as Bahrain in two weeks, where the drivers will need two stops.

Mercedes get their numbers wrong
Hamilton and Mercedes had a 0.3-0.4s/lap inherent pace advantage over the Ferraris. So after Hamilton won the start and got into control of the race, Ferrari’s only play was to take different approaches with their two cars car so that Hamilton physically could only cover one of them.

Ferrari pulled the trigger, pitting Kimi Raikkonen on Lap 18, the earliest he could safely do that and make the finish on the soft tyres.

Mercedes had to decide whether to cover Raikkonen’s stop or to stay out and cover Vettel. Later in the championship, they might have covered the title contender, if they were in a tight championship fight, but here their sole objective was to win the first race of the season.

Of course, if they couldn’t win, Mercedes would have preferred the other Ferrari to win the race, the one less likely to fight for the title. But by covering Raikkonen they left themselves vulnerable only to one scenario, which was that a VSC or Safety Car would come out during the laps when Vettel stayed out to build a tyre offset to Hamilton, which was the only tactic he could adopt.

That turned out to be a seven-lap period and with problems frequently occurring in the past, with cars stopping after the first pit stops of the season, it was well worth a gamble. It was the same tactic Ricciardo was adopting as well as Fernando Alonso further down the field.

Hamilton was not helped by the fact that he was fighting the Ferraris on his own, as Valtteri Bottas had taken himself out of contention by crashing in qualifying and so was down the field.

Race Strategy planning involves a complex series of ‘what ifs’ around scenarios that might arise in the race and for that you need reliable data. One of those is what effect the Virtual Safety Car will have on the time it takes to make a pit stop.

They had a problem a few years ago in Monaco when Lewis Hamilton was leading from Nico Rosberg and they believed it was possible to make an extra stop under the Safety Car only to find that he came out behind Rosberg and Vettel.

Their number of what constituted a ‘safe’ gap didn’t take into account that there is no true GPS in Monaco, so the gaps between cars are hard to measure over the last few kilometers of the track.

This one in Australia was down to a wrong lap time in the mechanism used to calculated losses under the VSC. It’s a difference of 1.8 seconds in this case, but it was the difference between Hamilton being ahead when Vettel emerged from the pits after his stop under the VSC and behind. Stopping under the VSC is advantageous as you lose less time relative to the cars still on track, around half as much in fact.

After his stop, Hamilton was balancing the pace, not pushing too much too early in the stint on the soft tyres, Mercedes working to what they believed was a ‘safe’ gap to Vettel. This was in their hands and, had they had the correct number in their strategy model, they would have pushed more in those seven laps to have Vettel inside the window for that gap and would have won the race.

There was only a lap and a half after Hamilton’s stop when he was truly outside the safe gap to Vettel and from then on, he was in what Mercedes believed was the safe gap.

This will require some work in the factory in the operations room to review the way that the reference lap times are consolidated, to avoid this mistake happening again.


Red Bull zig while others zag
Red Bull are famously aggressive in race strategy and when they are in the role of challenger, rather than the team to beat, they will always try things to see if they can get a better outcome that the models suggest.

With a big performance gap worth over a second back to the next fastest cars on the grid, they knew that they could afford to try something different in the race without much apparent downside risk of losing track position.

So they sent both cars out to qualify on super soft tyres, the only team to do so. Vettel admitted after qualifying that Ferrari had also looked at that strategy and decided against it.

That’s because there are some risks involved; one is that you lose start line grip and arguably one of the reasons why Verstappen lost position to Magnussen into Turn 1 is down to that. Then there is the question of pace in the first stint, because what you are doing is offsetting yourself against the other leaders, who are pulling a gap to you the whole of the first stint as they are faster cars on a faster tyre.

The tyres are hyper sensitive to temperature; they work on a knife edge of performance relative to track temperature. Mercedes’ dominant pole position was partly down to getting a couple of extra degrees of temperature into the tyres before Hamilton started his final run (plus another tenth of a second from an engine mode). On Friday in practice the temperature was 45 degrees, on Sunday it was 41. The supersoft was a better tyre than the ultrasoft on Friday.

Red Bull’s gamble was a hedge against the track being warmer in the race than it was, or the other scenario, where the ultrasoft grains in the colder conditions, which could also have happened. And finally, it was a hedge against a VSC or Safety Car after the leaders had pitted.

Only the final one came off, for Ricciardo, while Verstappen was unable to capitalize after his spin and even lost out to a determined Fernando Alonso, who had stayed out long enough to capitalize on the VSC in the same way as Ricciardo. He managed to hold Verstappen behind him to the flag for a very satisfying start to the season for McLaren.

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

Plotting each lap of each car against a zero reference point lap, which is designed to show the gaps between the cars. It’s a good indicator of relative performance.

Here you see clearly how costly Verstappen losing the start to Magnussen and then spinning in the opening stint, which lost him track position and then Alonso came into the picture by delaying his stop until the VSC and Safety Car period (pink vertical bands)

GPTours Talk Shows

2018 Indy 500
2018 Canadian Grand Prix
2017 USGP
2017 Canadian GP
100th Indy 500 Coner Daly
Max in Brazil

GPTours Racing News

Renault Engine 'really A Probl...Jul 12
Newspaper Links Raikkonen With...Jul 17
No Regrets About Controversial...Jul 17
Claire Williams Contemplating ...Jul 17
F1 Should Be Harder On 'crazy'...Jul 17
Red Bull Encourages Honda To P...Jul 17
Tost Defends Honda Before Red ...Jul 16
Father No Longer Red Bull Scou...Jul 16
Mercedes Still Favourite For T...Jul 16
FIA Says No To F1 Test For Dan...Jul 12
2019 Calendar Waiting On Miami...Jul 12
Liberty Working On Silverstone...Jul 11
Gutierrez Pushing For F1 Retur...Jul 11
Ricciardo Admits Red Bull Deal...Jul 11
Alonso No Fan Of Proposed New ...Jul 11
Ferrari Engine Better Than Mer...Jul 10
Renault Felt Like Formula 2 En...Jul 10
Grosjean Form 'unacceptable' -...Jul 10
No One-year Renault Contract F...Jul 9
Alonso Needs Indy For 'motivat...Jul 9
Arrivabene Slams Mercedes Afte...Jul 9
No 'triple Header' In 2019Jul 8
Silverstone Bump Caused Vettel...Jul 8
Vandoorne Sidesteps McLaren Fu...Jul 7
F1 Engine Makers Form 'cartel'...Jul 7