Grand Prix Tours Strategy Reports
Analysis: How Force India threw away a podium in Canadian GP – and not the way you think
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Insight: Key indicators that show whether Ferrari favoured Vettel in Monaco F1 GP
Looking back over the last few years’ Monaco Grands Prix, a pattern emerges, where controversial strategy calls have decided the race outcome.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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
The Spanish Grand Prix was one of the best races from a race strategy point of view for many years.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sochi F1 analysis: Did Ferrari miss an opportunity to win by not pitting Vettel sooner?
The Russian Grand Prix was always likely to be one of those races where, with the new 2017 combination of high drag cars and low degradation tyres, overtaking would be extremely difficult and strategy games equally so.
In fact it was only the fourth race in F1 history to feature no overtaking moves after the opening lap skirmishes.
The key question is whether Ferrari could have manoeuvred Sebastian Vettel into a position to win the race, after losing the lead at the start to Bottas, if they had been more aggressive by bringing Vettel in from second place when Bottas was dealing with lapped traffic?
Last year’s race was dictated by collisions on the opening lap, which effectively took three front running cars out of points scoring positions and this year’s race was dictated by the start and by a Safety Car after yet another first lap collision.
There are some basic factors about the 5.8 kilometre Sochi circuit, which dictate race strategy; the track surface gives low tyre degradation, fuel consumption is high, so there is some management to be done and overtaking is extremely difficult.
Although Pirelli brought the softest tyres in its range, the forecasts were all saying that this would be a one-stop race.
The soft tyre was a complete waste of time so once again the most durable tyre option of the three available was barely used in the race, further narrowing the strategy options.
The supersoft and ultrasoft had almost identical levels of degradation, at 0.03secs per lap, which is very low. Yet the ultrasoft was 0.5s a lap faster, so there was a strong case for spending as much of the race as possible on that faster tyre, especially as there was no trade off on degradation.
Track position is king at Sochi, as at all tracks where overtaking is difficult.
As the degradation is so low, there is not the performance step by taking a new tyre, so the undercut tactic was not useful here.
The strategy for front-runners was to run the ultrasoft tyres as far as they would go to build a good gap to the slower traffic and then pit for supersofts, taking care to come out into a nice gap and avoid losing time with slower cars.
At the back of the field there looked to be another option, which was to start on the supersoft tyres and then switch to ultrasofts later in the race. As most midfield cars would be in a high-speed train anyway, some drivers would not necessarily be able to exploit the extra half a second of performance from the ultrasoft.
Also the pace gap between the tyres gets larger as the car gets lighter on fuel – provided you have clear track – so being on ultrasoft in the final stint would give a good performance advantage.
And, contrary to popular belief, there is no penalty off the line starting on the supersoft rather than the ultrasoft tyre in terms of initial grip; they are both good.
Sauber saw this and tried it with both cars, as did McLaren with Vandoorne. Part of the thinking was that there is a strong chance of a Lap 1 Safety Car, due to start collisions, which allows you to pit for free and then run the entire race on Ultrasoft tyres.
This tactic bought Sauber 14 seconds of race time, compared to a normal strategy. Sadly their car isn’t fast enough for that to have meant much in terms of positions.
But if some other midfield teams had tried it, perhaps on their lower placed car in a split strategy, then it could have brought some nice gains. For example, Toro Rosso had Kvyat in 12th and Sainz 14th.
If Carlos Sainz had started on supersofts and then pitted under the Safety Car, he would have rejoined right behind Stroll. If he gained at least the 14 seconds Sauber managed over the two stints on ultrasofts, then that could have put him ahead of Massa in 9th place after the Brazilian was forced to make a late pit stop for a puncture.
Did Ferrari miss an opportunity to win by not pitting Vettel sooner?
Ferrari pole positions are rare these days and as for front row lock outs, you have to go back 10 years. So they are not to be squandered! With both cars on the front row in Sochi, the conditions were ideal for a Ferrari 1-2 result, provided that the start went well.
However Bottas took the lead into Turn 2 and then pulled away using impressive pace on the ultrasoft tyres, which he had shown in Friday practice.
A number of commentators and fans asked the question whether Vettel could still have won the race, if he had pitted on Lap 25 or 26, just as the leader Valtteri Bottas began to catch slower traffic.
The answer is no, it would not have materially changed the result in itself. Basic modeling with reasonable assumptions on getting through traffic show he would have been around 1.5s behind Bottas after the Finn stopped.
However it would have applied much more pressure to the Mercedes mechanics at their pit stop – a team that has had some pit stop problems this season – and in the final stint on Bottas, a driver who’s inexperienced in leading races. Mercedes haven’t been flawless under pressure, so it was possibly worth a try, especially as by staying out Vettel encountered two sets of slower traffic anyway and then a further two sets after his stop!
So he gained nothing by staying out.
The key consideration here, however, is where he would have dropped back out had he made that early stop. The answer is that he’d have come out behind Magnussen and Sainz, who had both pitted and were basically a lap down. Ferrari didn’t pit him because if this; they held off, looking for gaps and aware that by staying out there was no concern on the tyres performance going off.
Bottas did make a mistake later, locking up a front wheel, but it didn’t affect his race outcome and with no pressure Mercedes were flawless on their stop; it was the fastest stop of the day, in fact and 0.8s faster than Vettel’s.
There’s a good battle in the lower reaches of the Top Ten this year between the Renault of Nico Hulkenberg and the Force India drivers Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon.
The pressure is on for Hulkenberg as he’s the only Renault driver scoring points, with Jolyon Palmer having an uncompetitive start to the season.
In Sochi Hulkenberg did another superb job in qualifying, to put the Renault eighth, ahead of them. But he lost out to both on the opening lap and could not recover, despite a strategy gambit.
Once the positions were lost, Hulkenberg stayed out until Lap 40 on the ultrasoft tyres, taking advantage of that 0.03secs per lap degradation.
He came out on supersofts, which were 14 laps fresher than the Force India, but as they took advantage of the low degradation, there was no way to even try to pass them.
The UBS Race Strategy Report is written by James Allen with input and data from several of the leading teams’ strategists and from Pirelli.
RACE HISTORY AND TYRE USAGE CHARTS -Courtesy of Williams Martini Racing – Click To Enlarge
Showing the gaps between the cars as the race progresses and also the relative pace of the cars. Time gaps on vertical axis, Lap number on horizontal axis.
This is what a race trace with no overtaking looks like, the first such race since Valencia 2009! And to a single soft tyre used from the range of three compounds brought to Sochi.
Look at the difference in pace between the Mercedes (light blue) and Ferrari (red) cars compared to everyone else. Then look at the gaps back from the Red Bull, which is in a race of its own.
The fear is that if the new lighter Mercedes also has aerodynamic and engine upgrades it could be a big step faster. Ferrari must match that upgrade in Spain, otherwise the gaps between the top three could look very large on the race trace from Barcelona!
Bold strategy and flawless execution: Vettel Bahrain GP win echoes Schumacher, Brawn era Ferrari
The Bahrain Grand Prix was set to be a good acid test of the new F1 as it is generally one of the tracks with the most overtaking and we’ve seen strategy play a key part due to the way the tyres perform on this track.
This year the battle between Mercedes and Ferrari swung Ferrari’s way due to a combination of factors, including Sebastian Vettel’s very strong pace on supersoft tyres, especially in the second stint and Mercedes’ relative weakness on them; this is something we saw with the softer compounds in Australia and there is certainly a pattern emerging.
Ferrari has understood the new wider Pirelli tyres, especially the softer end of the range, better than its main rivals.
Once again Ferrari were bold on strategy and used the undercut on Mercedes. A Safety Car, which should have upset Ferrari’s strategy, as in China, immediately followed it but this time Mercedes failed to capitalise on their stroke of luck, due to a pit stop delay and then Lewis Hamilton got a time penalty.
Meanwhile there were some strong performances in midfield, especially Sergio Perez, who stuck to a set strategy and delivered a strong seventh place from 18th on the grid.
Here we will analyse in detail the big decisions, why they were made and how they created the race result.
This year’s race took place later than last year and the temperatures were really high until Sunday, when they fell. At the same time the wind changed direction from Friday to Saturday and Sunday, when it became a headwind on the main straight and on Sunday the wind was very strong.
As a result the information gained on Friday in FP2 was not carried though as some teams expected. Critically, Mercedes was caught out on its performance on the supersoft tyre. On Friday they thought they were okay on them, on Sunday they were outpaced by Ferrari and it played a big part in why they lost the race.
However for a team like Force India, who have a driver like Perez, who can look after the tyres while maintaining good pace, they never deviated from their belief that the tyre degradation would decrease significantly from Friday to Sunday and that a two stop plan, with the first two stints on Supersofts, was the way to go. Perez also got a slice of luck from the Safety Car.
Last year was an unusual race where many cars, including the podium finishers, all changed their strategy during the race. Normally that spells disaster and this year the drivers who changed strategy during the race certainly lost out to those who stuck to their convictions and went for it.
Last year Hamilton lost a place at the start to Nico Rosberg, who went on to win the race. This year, starting from second on the grid, he also lost a place to Sebastian Vettel, who had been disappointed to qualify third.
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. Hamilton was on the dirty side, Vettel the clean.
Ferrari boss Maurizio Arrivabene had called on his team to be ‘coragiosa’ (bold) and the strategist Inaki Rueda again took him at his word, as in China, employing an early undercut on Bottas on Lap 10.
Mercedes could see this coming, of course, and could have pre-empted it by pitting Bottas on that same Lap 10. There was a risk for Vettel as he would be coming out into quite a bit of traffic, including Perez, Sainz and Grosjean. Mercedes saw that traffic and were hoping for one more lap to be able to pit Bottas and pre-empt Ferrari’s strike.
It was a mistake not to take it, but from there they split the strategies to try to create a compromise for Vettel with Bottas on supersofts and Hamilton on softs.
Then fate intervened again, as in China. Handed a lifeline by a Safety Car being deployed for Lance Stroll’s collision with Sainz, Mercedes had the chance to pit Bottas without losing any race time and regain the lead.
Vettel should have fallen behind him and Ricciardo, and possibly also Hamilton, who would have had to wait for service in the pit lane behind Bottas and would have lost the position to Ricciardo.
But Bottas had a slow in lap and a slow pit stop while Ricciardo was held up by Hamilton on the way into the pits, for which Hamilton was handed a five second penalty.
It all played into Vettel’s hands; he retained the lead behind the Safety Car. Given a second chance, Vettel took it and did the great work in the second stint that won him the race.
Bottas was up to a second a lap off Vettel on the same tyres in that second stint, which underlined Ferrari’s raw race pace and also indicated that the Mercedes was not working on the supersoft tyres.
Hamilton, on soft tyres, spent 10 laps behind Bottas in that stint from Lap 17, losing five seconds to Vettel. Once Hamilton got past Bottas on Lap 27, he was able to pull away from Bottas at eight tenths of a second per lap.
That told the Mercedes strategist James Vowles that he had to change the strategy for Hamilton and fit used softs for the final stint rather than the planned supersofts. It was yet another compromlse to add to the start, the time penalty and the slow pit stops. Fortunately they had saved that set of used softs for the race, as had Ferrari, as an insurance policy, other teams had not, including Red Bull, who were committed to a supersoft led race.
In the final stint Hamilton’s pace was very strong. And after being allowed through under orders by Bottas to mount an attack on Vettel, Hamilton cut the gap, as Vettel managed his tyres.
However the German turned the power unit up with around six laps to go, to take the sting out of Hamilton’s attack and to show that he had some margin. He held on to win the race; a great collective effort by Vettel and the team, which is why he was so happy afterwards.
It was reminiscent of a Michael Schumacher/ Ross Brawn era Ferrari victory; bold strategy, great driving and flawless team execution.
One of the things that made this a good race was that Pirelli brought a tyre selection that led on the supersoft, a tyre that shows some degradation. This meant that the teams had to really think carefully about their strategy and we saw a real mixture of strategies, with the decision on whether to use soft tyres or supersoft tyres for the second and third stints split roughly 50-50. This is certainly what we want to see this year, rather than conservative selections where the likelihood is of almost no degradation and one stop strategies, where drivers finish in car performance order.
The soft may have been the better race tyre and Mercedes may have struggled on the supersofts, but some teams built their result on them.
Sergio Perez went from 18th on the grid to seventh by using a supersoft led strategy and sticking to it. The data from Friday’s practice showed the degradation to be around 0.18s per lap, but factored in that this would decrease on race day as the track improved and the coating of sand on the surface was lifted.
Perez has become one of the very best drivers at looking after the softer tyres for long stints while maintaining good pace. Here, like Vettel, he managed a 23 lap middle stint on supersofts, but unlike Vettel he was not running in free air, so it was a great performance.
He made a strong start, up to 13th, and then passed Palmer for 12th. The Safety Car also played into his hands, where he made his pit stop and he lost only 9.1 secs, compared to 21 for stopping at racing speeds.
This helped him to get past Grosjean, while Sainz and Verstappen hit problems. So Perez was ninth at the restart, behind Ericsson who was doing a one-stopper and Hulkenberg.
Renault put Hulkenberg onto soft tyres at the pit stop under the Safety Car, giving him the option of one stopping, but it meant that Perez was able to use his pace on fresh supersofts to pass him and he made it stick by keeping the tyre alive for 23 laps, to extend the stint. Hulkenberg switched strategy and pitted again which confirmed Perez’ result. He couldn’t get close to matching his qualifying pace in the race conditions.
Williams were probably a little surprised to see how close Perez was at the end of the race. Williams had 2 new softs, which was the best race tyre overall. The Force India qualifying pace had been relatively poor so they perhaps would not have expected to be so competitive in the race.
Massa’s middle stint was compromised by being overtaken by Raikkonen and Ricciardo and his pace suffered relatively at the end of the stint despite being on the soft tyre.
Perez has been in consideration for a Ferrari seat before and drives like this will certainly revive that consideration.
Pascal Wehrlein marked his return to F1 action with a strong performance to finish 11th in the Sauber, which is the slowest car in the field. This was done with a one-stop strategy, starting on supersofts and then switching to softs for a 45 lap final stint. He was pitted on Lap 11, so gained nothing from the Safety Car, but by going one stop he had 24 seconds of pit stop time he would save. In a slow car like the Sauber this time bleeds away every lap, but he picked up places as the cars ahead pitted for their second stops, like Kvyat, Alonso, Palmer, Ocon and Hulkenberg. The latter two re-passed him easily, but he managed to stay ahead of Kvyat and Palmer, both of whom have much faster cars.
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.
Compare the pace of Vettel and Hamilton with their team mates, again a different class. Raikkonen’s pace in the final stint is puzzling in that it is more on a par with Vettel’s.
Observe also how Perez manages to keep the pace going for a long middle stint on supersofts to keep ahead of Hulkenberg on softs.
Analysis: Would Vettel have won China without F1 Safety Car and why did Ferrari leave Raikkonen out?
After the outlier of Melbourne’s street track the Chinese Grand Prix was the first opportunity on a proper race track in 2017 to assess the new F1 cars; to judge the level of overtaking and to understand better the way that race strategy has changed with the new rules.
There was some close wheel to wheel action and with mixed conditions at the start, decision making was at the heart of the action.
In the duel between Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel, whereas in Australia it was Mercedes’ decision to pit early that cost the race, in China Ferrari took the risk to make the early stop.
Their plan was thwarted, not by the early stop, but by an accident and Safety Car immediately afterwards, which handed Vettel’s rivals a free pit stop. And because the accident was on the start line, it meant that the Safety Car had to pass down the pit lane, which helped the others and made it even worse for Vettel to recuperate.
It was a shame as without that, the race could have been decided between them at several different points along the way. Again the cars and lead drivers were very closely matched, with Mercedes perhaps just having the slight edge due to the cooler conditions, whereas the Ferrari was a shade faster in Melbourne.
Here we will take a deep dive into the background stories from the race and analyse the decisions made and their effect on the outcome.
Practice was cut short by bad weather on Friday, which meant all the work on slick tyres was done on Saturday morning. Red Bull looked better on long runs than on qualifying runs. No–one bothered with the overly conservative medium tyre, while the Soft tyre looked like it was capable of very long stints of over 45 laps, making it a likely one stop race in the dry. However the faster warm up of the Super Soft made that an option for some.
The problem with the SuperSoft was that it forced you into two stopping, gave far less flexibility to the strategy and defined the pit stop times. That lack of flexibility could have been costly for Red Bull if it had rained later in the race, for example. For the faster cars with more downforce there was no problem getting the soft tyre to work in the cold conditions, but for the midfield and slower teams, the Supersoft was tempting.
The outlier among the faster cars was Red Bull, which saved Supersoft tyres for both drivers (Verstappen’s qualifying was disrupted so he had new tyres anyway). This is a trend we are starting to see this year for that team to seek to take the ‘fastest’ tyre, rather than the one that gives most flexibility. It almost cost them in China and it could well cost them in a future race, where flexibility is key.
What teams did not have clearly worked out due to lack of data was the crossover from the wet to the intermediate to the dry tyres, as the Pirelli wet and intermediate tyres have had little testing. This would turn out to be a pivotal issue in the early part of the race.
Most teams sent their drivers out to do a couple of laps before joining the grid on different tyres to assess the grip levels. Lewis Hamilton arrived on the grid on slicks, while others only assessed the full wets and intermediates, thinking that it was likely to be an intermediate tyre start. The problem with a drying track in Shanghai is that beneath the two giant wing structures, which span the main straight, the track stays wet for longer.
Although that caught out Antonio Giovinazzi, whose crash at the end of Lap 3 triggered the Safety Car, in fact the area of the track some strategists were more concerned about was the final sector, which still had some damp patches affecting lap times.
The rule of thumb is that the closer to the front you are, the more risk averse you will be in a situation like this. The further back you are the easier the decision is to go to the slick tyres. Most people did the same thing, which was to start on intermediates and pit under the Virtual Safety car on Lap 2 after Lance Stroll’s car went off. The leaders did not do this, apart from Vettel and neither did Carlos Sainz in the Toro Rosso.
Sainz, starting from 11th on the grid, took the contrary decision to start the race on slick supersoft tyres. Although he got a positive race result in 7th place, it wasn’t because of this decision. It was in spite of it.
He got wheelspin off the line, dropping to 18th place and going off the track, brushing the barriers. He was lucky to get away with that and then picked up places when the Virtual Safety Car and then Safety Car came out.
But prior to the Safety Car, having lost lost 27 seconds at the start, he was already a pit stop behind the others anyway. What saved him and gained the places back, was the Safety Car.
Ferrari qualified close to Mercedes and felt that they had a chance to win the race in China, to back up their Australia win. There’s plenty of confidence in the team at the moment and their chairman Sergio Marchionne was in the garage observing them in action.
So when the Virtual Safefy Car was triggered on Lap 2, after Stroll’s incident, they assessed risk versus reward and went for the bold option – they pitted Vettel.
Both Mercedes, both Red Bulls and Raikkonen stayed out.
Ferrari now had a split strategy across the two cars. The problem was that Raikkonen had lost a place to Ricciardo at the start and sat behind him, unable to exploit the pace of the Ferrari and play his part in the game.
By pitting under the Virtual Safety Car, a stop takes around 12-14 seconds instead of 21. When the track goes green that’s a 7-9 sec gap that the leader has to build back up ahead of his own stop. As the track was drying quickly, Hamilton would surely be in a lap or two later, as would the other leading cars and Vettel could well have been in the lead (see below)
There are three main risks to doing what Ferrari did; one is that the VSC can end at any time and it would be a disaster for it to end while your car is in the pits and others get back up to racing speeds. Another is that on a cold day, if the VSC continues for a few minutes after you stop, you lost tyre temperature in the slicks and with it much of the pace advantage you’ve gone in for.
But the biggest risk is that a VSC is often followed by a real Safety Car, either because the Race Director feels that the situation requires it or because someone goes onto slicks and has a heavy accident.
The latter is what happened to Vettel in China. The VSC was lifted and it was looking good for Vettel as the benchmark Sainz on supersofts was setting faster sector times than the leaders on intermediates.
Then Giovinazzi smashed into the pit wall and the Safety Car came out, which gave Mercedes, the Red Bulls and Raikkonen a free pit stop.
Red Bull were especially smart here in that they could see that the Safety Car was going to be out for several laps,. So they did not ‘stack’ their cars, forcing the second car to queue behind the first for service, which is what Mercedes did, losing Bottas places to Ricciardo, Verstappen and Raikkonen.
As they passed through the pit lane, the tail car Verstappen was serviced first and then the next lap through Ricciardo was serviced, so both cars gained.
It would have been very close at Hamilton’s stop. On Lap 3, after the VSC ended, Vettel was 18 seconds behind and Hamilton needed 21 seconds to stop and retain position, so there would have been a crossover point, which could have swung either way depending on the track condition at that precise moment (a similar situation to Hamilton’s dramatic last lap world title win in Brazil 2008).
On Lap 3, Hamilton and Vettel set similar middle sector times, but Vettel’s final sector was two seconds quicker, so it was starting to swing back towards him. Either way, if Hamilton had pitted or if he had continued and completed another lap, chances are he would have come out behind Vettel. But the Safety Car put paid to that.
After that Ferrari had to rely on Vettel overtaking the cars ahead of him to get back to Hamilton. They opted not to move Raikkonen out of his path and Vettel lost around 7 seconds to Hamilton as a result. This early in the season it is unusual for Ferrari to issue orders. That tends to happen only when one driver is clearly the main title challenger.
Vettel passed Raikkonen and the Red Bulls, but Ferrari opted to keep Raikkonen out on track, past the ideal stop time for his tyre condition relative to the Red Bulls and Bottas. This cost him the chance of a podium.
But it wasn’t looking good anyway; had they stopped him earlier he had shown no signs of being able to overtake the Red Bulls in the first stint and would have lost a place to Bottas, who had dropped down the order because of a spin on cold tyres before the restart, so they looked at it differently.
The main reason why they left him out was to try to keep him in Hamilton’s pit window so he could be ahead after Hamilton’s stop and interfere with Hamilton’s race and bring Vettel back into play. It was the only card they had left to play.
But a realistic assessment showed that it was futile. Raikkonen was inside Hamilton’s pit window on Lap 31 but by Lap 35 Hamilton had 25 seconds gap.
Raikkonen was having an off day personally and his tyres were not at their best after following Ricciardo, although it must be said the Ferrari’s benign aerodynamics mean that it can follow other cars with less damage to its tyres than any other car in the field. Vettel demonstrated that clearly in Australia and China and it could be a factor that comes into play a few times this season.
Hamilton had enough in hand so that when he pitted he came out ahead of Raikkonen. Ferrari will look to Bahrain where the hotter temperatures and layout of the track mean they could be the team to beat.
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.
It is immediately apparent how the fast cars get the tyres up to speed quickly after the Safety Car while the cars with less downforce take many laps to do so and lose a lot of time in the process.
Look at Raikkonen’s trace, you can see how he would have dropped behind Bottas if he had stopped at a normal time. Ferrari were also leaving him out to try to interfere with Hamilton’s race at the second stop. After following Ricciardo for many laps he didn’t have the pace left in the front tyres to close that gap to Hamilton at the second stops, so the plan didn’t work.
Once again the pace of Vettel and Hamilton in races is significantly better than their team mates.
The game has changed: Analysis of the big decisions that shaped the F1 Australian Grand Prix
The first Grand Prix to new regulations and with wider, more robust tyres brought about a complete change of approach in race strategy. With stronger tyres Melbourne is a one-stop race and that was the case for most runners this season.
But strategy is still critical to race outcomes; at the front the race victory was decided by a strategy call from Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton, who wanted to make an early stop and as he came out behind two cars and not into a gap, he lost the race win to Sebastian Vettel.
Further back, track position proved to be the most valuable thing of all and overtaking proved hard, as Fernando Alonso managed to hold the Force India of Esteban Ocon behind him despite being 27km/h slower on the straights!
It was clear from practice that the 2017 tyres have very low degradation, so much so that both the supersoft and soft tyres were capable of doing most of the race distance. There was little chance of building a tyre offset to another car, which defined the strategy and racing in recent times.
Whereas last year five or six laps fewer on a tyre would mean enough of a performance advantage to overtake, this is not the case this year and there was nothing teams could do to generate a sufficient offset in performance. To illustrate this, Daniil Kyvat managed to cover 34 laps in the opening stint on ultra soft tyres and was on a similar pace, before his stop, to Felipe Massa ahead who was on new supersofts!
So most of the front-runners planned the same strategy, which was a first stint on Ultra softs and then a second stint on Supersoft.
Further back, we saw some teams split strategies; Kevin Magnussen and Jolyon Palmer started on Soft tyres, Lance Stroll on Supersofts.
Sauber for example, started one car on soft and the other on supersoft, hoping to have a chance to use one car to hold the field behind it, to allow the sister car to gain positions as rivals pitted earlier than them. This is the kind of strategy one sees at Monaco and which can be very effective in putting two or three rivals behind your lead car.
Another reason to employ an approach like this for teams at the rear of the field is that Melbourne usually has one of the highest attrition rates of the season. As the first race, many cars drop out with reliability issues and there are usually accidents and safety cars. So a smaller team can score points here, as we have seen many times in recent years.
This year just 13 cars reached the chequered flag, but five of the six front running cars finished, as did a Williams and both cars from Toro Rosso and Force India. So there were no points for cars at the back of the grid, like Sauber that tried the “Monaco approach”.
Ferrari vs. Mercedes – What were the differences between them and what turned the race?
Last year Ferrari led 34 of the 57 laps of this race, but failed to win it due to poor choices.
This year they started in second place, but picked up the lead after Mercedes stopped earlier than planned, losing the lead in the process.
This was more a case of Mercedes yielding the win, rather than Ferrari taking it off them, as they could have done last year. But nevertheless they played their hand well and maximised the strengths of their new car, which works well on the new tyres. Unusually Mercedes ran into trouble on the tyres, while Ferrari had similar pace on ultra soft tyres and was also fast on the softs.
The Mercedes enjoyed its usual advantage on extreme engine modes in qualifying to get the pole. But there were also signs that the Mercedes operated better when there was cloud cover, while the Ferrari was stronger when the sun was out, raising the track temperature. It was only a small difference, but these factors all add up.
Hamilton qualified ahead of Vettel and won the start; with Vettel following in second ahead of Valtteri Bottas.
Hamilton tried to shake off Vettel, but the Ferrari persisted in its pursuit throughout the opening stint. The Mercedes was running with slightly less wing angle, so the straight-line speeds were among the fastest, while the Ferrari had slightly more downforce and its top speeds were around the middle of the field.
The Mercedes, in Hamilton’s hands, at least, was sliding more and this took the edge off the tyres. Hamilton radioed that they were overheating at one point and then on Lap 14 he had a small excursion, which cost him a second.
His lap times returned to the mid 1m28s, but he was onto the team asking to be allowed to pit for new tyres.
This is one of those situations where a team has to evaluate whether to heed its driver or just tell him to carry on. Teams further down the grid tend to overrule the driver, but a three times world champion needs to be listened to.
On this occasion it was the wrong thing to do.
Mercedes was trying to build a 22-second gap to Raikkonen in fourth place, who was racing with Max Verstappen. The second Ferrari was not on the pace of the lead car, but neither was it dropping off at a sufficient rate to open a gap for Hamilton to drop into.
By Lap 16, the lap before he stopped, it was just 16.2 seconds. Hamilton needed another six or seven laps to clear Raikkonen in a pit stop. But he came in at the end of Lap 17 and dropped back out behind both Raikkonen and Verstappen. He was put onto the soft rubber, rather than the supersoft, because there were still 40 laps to go to the end.
This was a gift to Ferrari, for whom Vettel now needed just to open the gap over Hamilton to 22 seconds to be able to pit and take the lead.
Hamilton’s pace on the soft tyres was strong but he soon caught Verstappen and lost time behind him, handing the opening to Vettel to pit at the end of Lap 22. Ferrari covered Mercedes with the soft tyres, despite being only 35 laps from the flag.
The only risk there was that if Hamilton were to do a Plan B strategy and switch onto supersoft or ultrasoft tyres later on and then get lucky with a Safety Car deployment, this would leave Vettel vulnerable to attack in the closing stages.
But Ferrari knew that Vettel’s pace on soft tyres was strong and that overtaking would be hard even with a tyre offset, so the risk was therefore manageable.
The only problem was that, despite having a safe gap to pit, Vettel had a slow in-lap, due to coming up behind Lance Stroll. He lost almost a second, so when he emerged from the pits he was only just ahead of the Verstappen and Hamilton battle. It took a few corners to warm up the tyres, but he managed to hold on.
Mercedes toyed with the idea of the Plan B, but as the laps went by they didn’t see enough of a performance advantage in the other tyres to make the plan work.
Also it would have required Bottas to move over and let Hamilton through, which would have been an unfortunate gesture to be asked to make on his Mercedes debut.
Alonso performs miracles ahead of Ocon, Hulkenberg
Few commentators, or McLaren team members, would have given you odds on Fernando Alonso sitting in 10th place with ten laps to go of the Australian Grand Prix after the problems the team has had with Honda.
Alonso’s car was 27km/h slower on the straights than Ocon’s Force India and yet he managed to keep it behind from the start to Lap 52. Nico Hulkenberg started ahead of both men, but fell behind them at the start and had a very frustrating afternoon as a result.
Ocon tried the undercut on Lap 15, pitting for new soft tyres, but the slower warm-up of the softs meant that when McLaren reacted with Alonso and brought him in a lap later – putting him onto supersofts for faster warm-up – the Spaniard was able to hold onto his position. Sadly he had to retire on lap 50.
Sergio Perez tried an undercut on Carlos Sainz and although that didn’t pick up the position in the pit stops, he got by after Sainz came out of the pits and was struggling with the tyre warm up.
The UBS Race Strategy Report is prepared by JA on F1, with input and data from several F1 teams and from Pirelli.
Race History and Tyre Usage Charts – Kindly provided by Williams Martini Racing – click to enlarge
The Race History chart shows the gaps between the cars and the relative pace of the cars. The more upward the slope the greater the pace. The zero line is an imaginary car setting the winners average lap time every lap.
Look at the massive gap between the fifth placed Verstappen and the sixth placed Massa. This is set to be a feature the season and makes life very easy strategically for the top three teams as they will have a gap to pit into after as few as 12 laps of a race this year. It makes life very hard for midfield teams to get a podium or a strong result with little to do on tyre strategy.
Look at the end of Vettel’s first stint on ultra softs – his pace is still very strong and he pits because he has the gap he needs over Hamilton. The tyre degradation which shaped the strategy and the racing is a thing of the past.
Analysis: How Red Bull F1 dropped the ball on a day when Mercedes was vulnerable
The season finale was packed with drama and tension, especially at the end as Lewis Hamilton tried everything to change his situation and win the world championship.
His personal strategy was clear, meanwhile team race strategy decisions had a huge bearing on what happened behind him, with Red Bull trying to win the race using a different strategy gambit, but getting caught out by some excellent work by Ferrari.
The Scuderia beat Red Bull despite having a slower car, thanks to strategy.
Here’s the inside track from strategists involved in the race, on how it all happened.
With three tyres to choose from this year, many teams had prioritised the ultra soft for qualifying and the soft for the race. But having a new set of supersofts for the final stint of the race turned out to be a very beneficial strategy.
Red Bull decided to use theirs in the Q2 qualifying session, which meant that they would start the race on them. To do this and to forfeit the chance to have a new set of supersofts at the end meant that it was critical both drivers had a long and productive first stint.
Many teams’ strategy models showed that a one stop strategy was possible starting on the Soft and then using the Supersoft at the end, a luxury not allowed for the top ten, who had to start on their qualifying tyres.
To do one stop starting on supersofts was possible, but right on the limit. Max Verstappen pulled it off superbly after dropping to the back at the start. Daniel Ricciardo was left wishing he had tried one stop too after losing out to Vettel and Verstappen at the end.
Very stable conditions as always at Yas Marina led to ideal practice running for all teams and a clear picture of what the tyres would be capable of on race day.
What made this race unique was that Red Bull and Ferrari could be certain of one thing about Mercedes’ strategy: it would have to be conservative and fair to both drivers as they were fighting for a world championship.
That meant a straight forward two stop strategy for both; ultrasoft – soft –soft.
Knowing this meant that their rivals could seek to exploit it and there was a certain vulnerability to Mercedes for this race, even if they still had a modest car pace advantage in race conditions.
Furthermore, it was clear that Lewis Hamilton would have to back his team mate Nico Rosberg into the pack at some point in the race, to try to get two cars between him and his rival and swing the points advantage his way. This was always likely to be towards the end of the race, when Rosberg would have no time or strategy options to recover.
Knowing that, Ferrari went into this race better prepared than Red Bull and this was a race and a podium that they took away from Red Bull, which is pretty unusual for this season. Normally it is the other way around.
Verstappen’s race was obviously compromised by the first lap spin he suffered and he had to negotiate quite a bit of traffic. He had considered a one-stop strategy anyway after qualifying a disappointing sixth on the grid, but the team went for it after losing so much ground.
After what happened on the opening lap, Ricciardo’s race should have been significantly further up the road than Verstappen’s but he finished behind him. Here is why.
It started when he lost a position at the start to Raikkonen. The superior grip off the line of the ultrasoft will have contributed to that.
Red Bull then got caught out by the conflict between what they normally do well, which is to be aggressive in the first stint and undercut other cars and what they were set up to do in this race, which is run a long first stint on supersoft.
Ferrari spotted a gap to drop Vettel back into on Lap 8 when Kvyat and Button were fighting each other. Once that happened, Ricciardo needed to push for quite a few laps longer than the others he was racing against or he would have got nothing. Christian Horner said that a slightly flat spotted tyre compromised this plan, but Ricciardo played that down.
At this stage they had Verstappen one stopping and now in position ahead of Rosberg, Raikkonen and Vettel, which gave an ideal opportunity to have Verstappen hold back the Ferraris and Rosberg and make a gap for Ricciardo but instead of this, they pitted Ricciardo on Lap 9 and he lost all the advantage of qualifying on supersofts.
Verstappen’s performance showed that Ricciardo could have had much more flexibility in his strategy. He could have done a much longer first stint and then been prepared to attack at the end on fresher tyres, when Hamilton would be likely to hold up the field.
This is what Vettel did after a long second stint.
After that their only chance to boost Ricciardo was to undercut Raikkonen at the second stop, which they did manage to do. He finished fifth, whereas second or third could have been possible and this would have really put pressure on Rosberg at the end!
So you could argue that in both Brazil on Verstappen’s car and in Abu Dhabi on Ricciardo’s, Red Bull made strategy errors that took their cars out of the way and helped Rosberg’s cause, inadvertently simplifying his path to the championship. It’s another aspect that shows that his name was clearly meant to be on the trophy this season!
Looking at the whole strategy approach in a different way; knowing that the lowering track temperatures as night falls always play to the strengths of the supersoft tyres and knowing Hamilton was likely to slow everything down at the end; there was a good chance of an attacking end on supersofts paying dividends. Both ways up, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that Red Bull picked the wrong strategy.
The Vettel strategy, which was opposed to Ricciardo’s, was clearly the right gambit. That is especially clear when you consider that the underlying pace demonstrated in Verstappen’s final stint was the fastest of any car on the track.
So Ferrari beat Red Bull with a slower car; a positive way to end a very difficult season.
There was an interesting little cameo in the midfield, where Fernando Alonso and McLaren had the same idea as Ferrari and Vettel.
It was another very strong drive by Alonso that didn’t get much attention. They were unlucky not to get past the Williams and Force India of Massa and Perez at the end as they also made the right moves with a long middle stint and an attacking supersoft stint at the end, like Vettel’s
This is another example of how it’s important to remember that every car in the Grand Prix has a different equation; depending on how fast it is, where it is in the field and what the risks are in making a certain strategy call.
Vettel was trailing the Red Bulls when he went for this tactic and Alonso was trailing the Williams and Force India. Both had nothing to lose by trying.
And that is an ideal way to end another season of F1 strategy analysis. We hope you have enjoyed it and look forward to next season’s action when the new cars designed to the more aggressive 2017 specification hit the track.
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 Chart – Kindly Supplied by Williams Martini Racing Click to Enlarge
Look at the gulf in pace between the top three teams and the midfield (between the dotted red line of Raikkonen and the dotted orange of Hulkenberg)
Look at the parallel traces of Vettel coming back at the leaders on the supersofts which were in ideal conditions as the track cooled and Alonso doing the same strategy.
Analysis: How do you make F1 decisions in the rain and did Red Bull mess up the strategy for Verstappen?
Likely to go down as one of the great wet-weather races, due to standout performances from race winner Lewis Hamilton and especially third place driver Max Verstappen, the 2016 Brazilian Grand Prix hinged on great driver skill as well decision making from the pit wall.
Whilst it was not decisive at the top of the Drivers’ championship, it was a hugely significant race in the struggle for survival at the back of the grid. Sauber finally scored points, to lift them into 10th place, ahead of Manor in the Constructors’ championship, unlocking tens of millions in prize money.
So how tough was it to make the right calls on Sunday and did Red Bull, for all of Verstappen’s brilliance, mess it up on the strategy side?
The Art of Decision making in the rain
The weather in Sao Paulo was hot and sunny on Friday and it deteriorated through cooler conditions on Saturday to constant rain on Sunday. Most rain-affected F1 races tend to be changeable from wet to dry or the other way around. It’s quite unusual to have a constantly wet race.
Pirelli has two tyres available for these conditions; the extreme wet and the intermediate. The crucial thing about deciding which of these to use is the crossover point, when one of them is demonstrably faster than the other.
On Sunday we saw the intermediate tyre at one stage lapping 1.5s faster than the wet and that was enough to persuade several teams to take a chance. Often there will be a ramp up of pace, as the intermediate gets warmed up and then the delta grows to two seconds, then three then five and so on until the whole field is on intermediates. That did not happen on Sunday and many strategists say it was never going to because of the prevailing weather conditions.
But it’s not as simple as spotting a pace advantage on another car and putting your car onto the different tyre. Each car has different risk profiles, depending on track position and car pace. So the leaders, who do not have traffic and therefore as much spray to contend with, have a fast car and track position, do not need to take risks.
Cars outside the top ten points positions are in traffic, which means lots of spray, and they are not able to use any car pace advantage they may have and therefore the risk of rolling the dice with the other tyre is lower.
The major risk is that there is an accident, which is more likely on a wet track and that brings out a Safety Car and/or a red flag stoppage. Then all the strategies are neutralised as everyone gets a free choice of tyres for the restart and cars that pitted for the intermediate have lost all their track positions. That is exactly what happened on Sunday.
So taking all these risk factors into account, when the weather forecasts all say that there is no sign of significant improvement in the weather, as was the case throughout Sunday’s race, then it is a bit like a fast pit stop versus a steady pit stop.
The fast one gains some time but there is a danger of a mistake or unsafe release. A steady stop loses a fraction of time but there are no slip-ups. The intermediate vs wet weather choice at Interlagos was like that.
So the smart thing for a strategist outside the top six to do was hedge their bets and split the strategies, putting one car on the intermediate tyre and leaving the other one on the full wet.
In that way you’ll get it right with one and wrong with the other. For a team simply looking to score points that makes sense.
For a team like Red Bull that has its tail car out of position and lower down the order than expected (Daniel Ricciardo) it is also worth the gamble. But when Verstappen passed Rosberg for second place, it was extremely risky to then pit him for intermediates, putting him into traffic and putting all the team’s eggs in one basket, as we shall see.
Red Bull has split strategies to great effect in Spain and Malaysia this year, but strangely they did not do it in this race.
In a split strategy situation you need to put your lead car onto the strategy you think is most likely to come off. So at Sauber, for example, they desperately needed a point and they left their lead car (Nasr) on wet tyres while their tail car (Ericsson) went onto intermediates – and he crashed on them.
But as other cars went to intermediates, Nasr rose up through the positions and at one point was running as high as sixth place. At that stage the championship points predictor showed Sauber moving up to ninth in the constructors’ table. Toro Rosso did the same as Sauber and its lead car, Sainz, finished sixth. Both Renaults and both Williams did the same as Red Bull and got no points at all.
In all, 12 of the 22 drivers went for an intermediate tyre at some stage and all but two of them, Bottas and Magnussen, were forced to pull out of it.
Mercedes stuck to its guns and did not flinch when Red Bull twice tried to provoke it into stopping for intermediates. The Mercedes strategist did not feel the crossover numbers were compelling enough for the switch, he didn’t see the maths in it and also he had the most to lose from a bad call as his cars were leading the race. On top of that both drivers felt the wet tyre was the best option throughout.
We have seen in the past that some midfield teams follow what the benchmark team or driver does in this situation. Several teams scored good results in the 2010-12 period in wet/dry races by following what Jenson Button did in his McLaren. Button seemed to have an uncanny knack of feeling the grip and pitting one lap ahead of the crossover point from wet to intermediates. That gave him an advantage and won him races and it certainly boosted the results of those who followed him into the pits.
At Interlagos, Force India copied Mercedes and it brought Sergio Perez a fourth place and seventh for Nico Hulkenberg.
In reality though, a constant rain situation, such as was the case on Sunday, it’s not as simple as that; as there was nothing in the forecasts that suggested an easing of the rain, the numbers from the intermediate tyre performance were not enough. Strategists had to look away from the pit wall at the environment around them. One senior strategist told me he had a puddle he would check every few minutes to study the intensity of the raindrops splashing onto the surface; that told him the rain was at a fairly constant rate.
Red Bull’s decision with Verstappen was more based on the numbers and less on the environment and made little sense.
It cost him second place for sure, even if they believed that the gamble might bring them a win.
But the upside for the fans was that Verstappen’s recovery drive from 14th place was one of the highlights of the 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 AND TYRE USAGE CHARTS
Courtesy of Williams Martini Racing – Click to Enlarge
A graphic representation of the Race History in terms of the lap times of each car. It shows the relative pace of the cars and the gaps between them in the race. Upward curve is good pace, downward curve demonstrates slower pace. Sudden drop is a pit stop.
Look at the consistency of Lewis Hamilton’s pace through the race. That also demonstrates how consistent the conditions were. The spikes of pace from Ricciardo when he went to intermediates soon ebb as the rain does not abate and safety cars neutralise the strategies.
Dodging the showers and the chaos: How to come up with a winning plan for F1 Brazilian Grand Prix
Two races to go in the F1 world championship and one senses that if there is to be an upset, a final twist of the tale, it is likely to come at Interlagos, rather than the final round in Abu Dhabi. And the weather forecast from F1 specialists Ubimet suggests that there is a chance of low temperatures and showers on Saturday and Sunday.
Interlagos is tight, twisty, often unexpectedly rainy and usually unpredictable. Think of Lewis Hamilton’s first world title clinched here in 2008; it hinged on the rain falling harder on the last lap when the Toyotas had stayed out on slicks and that gave Hamilton the fifth position he needed to win the title.
It is a race for which you pack several pairs of shoes as it’s not uncommon to get a pair soaked by a downpour.
So how do you dodge the showers and the Safety Cars and come up with a winning strategy?
As with all the races this season, there are three tyre choices from Pirelli but they look quite conservative with last year’s soft and medium options joined by the hard, rather than the supersoft. Pirelli says this is down to the high loadings from some of the fast corners, but the track does not have the peak loads of the other circuits where these three tyres were chosen: Barcelona, Silverstone, Sepang and Suzuka.
Last year we saw some three stop strategies, but closer inspection reveals that Mercedes always planned two stops and only went to three to cover Sebastian Vettel who had done it to shake the tree and try something different. In reality a first stint on softs and then two on mediums was quite enough to cover the 71 laps.
Interlagos has a short pit lane at 387 metres and it’s quite a fast stop; 22 seconds is good and 23 is typical. Last year there was about five seconds difference between a two stop strategy and a three stopper. But the risk with a three is always of a Safety Car which tends to punish the multi-stoppers as it gives a cut price or even a free stop to other cars.
It looks very much as though the temperatures will play their part in the outcome of this race and it’s likely to be another race where the Friday practive running doesn’t give a reliable indication for the race.
On Friday Ubimet predicts temperatures around 23-25 degrees, but then cooler air on Saturday and Sunday with temperatures around 20-22 degrees. As we saw in Japan and Austin this can make all the difference and it is likely to hurt Ferrari more than Red Bull and Mercedes that generate more tyre temperature.
There is also a chance of showers for qualifying and the race. The track dries quite quickly, as we saw when Nico Hulkenberg won a dramatic pole position for Williams here on a drying track with slick tyres in 2010.
If we have proper rain then that swings the balance towards Red Bull. We haven’t really had a chance to see this in the second half of the season but projecting forward from Silverstone and the relative pace of Verstappen and the Mercedes with the improvements Red Bull has made since then, engineers on both sides feel that Red Bull would have the edge in the rain.
Brazilian Grand Prix in numbers
This weekend’s race in Brazil is the 44th world championship Grand Prix to be held in the South American country, and the Interlagos track will host the event for the 34th time.
In the six Brazilian races that have taken place since 2010, five of them have finished with a 1-2 result for two constructors. Red Bull took back-to-back 1-2s at Interlagos in 2010-2011 and did it again in 2013, while Mercedes’ drivers have finished first and second for the last two seasons.
The Brazilian race weekend has also been hit by wet weather on a number of occasions in recent years. In 2013 only the race took place in dry running, a year after the dramatic rain-affected Grand Prix in 2012. Both Saturdays in 2009 and 2010 featured wet FP3 and qualifying sessions, while the 2008 race was another event made memorable by rain.
Heading into this weekend’s race, Mercedes has now set a new single-season F1 record of 17 victories after Hamilton won last time out in Mexico. This surpasses the team’s existing record of 16 wins in both 2014 and 2015, and it did so in 19 races in 2016, the same number that were held in the previous two years.
Mercedes can also break the single-season record of F1 poles, which it currently jointly holds with Red Bull on 18, if its one of its drivers takes pole at either Interlagos or in Abu Dhabi.
As explained here, Rosberg can become world champion for the first time this weekend. If he were to be successful, he would do so 34 years after his father Keke won his world title 1982. This would make them the second father-and-son F1 champion combination to take the crown after Graham and Damon Hill – with the latter’s 1996 championship victory also coming 34 years after his father’s.
If Rosberg qualifies on the front row it will be his 19th of the year, which would be a new single season F1 record and surpass Vettel and Hamilton, who took 18 in 2011 and 2015 respectively.
Hamilton can break an F1 record of his own at Interlagos. If he wins on Sunday it will be the 24th different circuit that he has taken a Grand Prix win, and he will better Michael Schumacher’s long-standing record of 23 venue wins in the process.
McLaren will make its 800th world championship start this weekend, and in doing so it will become the second constructor in F1 history to reach that figure after Ferrari (which will hit 928 starts this weekend). The British team’s most recent win came at the Interlagos track in 2012, when Jenson Button won the race ahead of Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa.
Alonso has finished on the podium on eight occasions at Interlagos without ever winning the race, which is a stat he shares with Kimi Raikkonen’s record in Bahrain. But Alonso did secure both of his world titles at Interlagos, the second of which occurred ten years ago in 2006.
At Ferrari, Raikkonen will be making his 250th F1 start this weekend. The 2007 world champion will become the seventh driver to reach that figure, and he will do so at the track where he clinched his world title nine years ago.
The Finn has also outqualified his teammate Sebastian Vettel for the last three consecutive races and the German driver has now gone 25 races without scoring a front row start. In fact, no Ferrari driver has qualified on the front row so far this season, but the Scuderia has notched up eight third place starts.
Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo has the longest active points scoring streak – he has finished in the top ten for the last 15 consecutive races – but the Australian driver has only scored one point at Interlagos during his F1 career so far, when he finished tenth for Toro Rosso in the 2013 event.
Force India’s Sergio Perez is also currently on his own notable points scoring record. The Mexican driver has finished in the top ten at each of the last eight races, which is the longest streak of his six-year F1 career to date.
What are you expecting from the 2016 Brazilian Grand Prix? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below or head over to the JAonF1 Facebook page for more discussion.
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