May 13, 2013, 7:00 AM EDT
All the talk after the Spanish GP was, once again, dominated by tires. The grumbles in certain areas of the paddock are becoming louder and louder as race strategies were again decided by a team’s ability to make a set of Pirellis last long enough to complete a sensible stint.
Certain teams are better at this than others and, at the end of the day, it could be said that it’s a result of them doing a better job than the ones who struggle. A Formula One team’s job, after all, is to design a car to meet the challenges of the sport in its current form. It has to be said that the loudest complainers are noticeably the ones not finding things easy right now.
With that in mind I’ll take a quick look at two differing ends of that spectrum from Sunday’s race.
Race strategies are complicated things to plan; many factors that go in to making the decision and even once the decision’s made, it has to be flexible to cope with the unpredictable parameters.
Mercedes have a car, evident from the last three races, capable of being faster than anyone else over a single lap in qualifying and indeed that’s exactly what they were on Saturday.
Planning a race strategy from pole position’s a different prospect to planning one from further down the field and should clearly be a huge advantage at a circuit where overtaking is difficult. Assuming a good start, the driver in front should be able to dictate the race to a certain extent and pole sitter Nico Rosberg, starting along with all of the other front runners on the medium compound tire, did indeed get away in front.
His biggest problem, and one that came as no surprise to all involved, is the fact that the Mercedes F1W04 destroys tires considerably quicker than everyone else. On Saturday evening when the drivers and their engineers at the team, and indeed all of the teams, sat down to figure out their best strategic options, they knew this and had to factor it into their race plans.
The white walled medium compound tire, faster of the two but less durable, was the one to qualify on, but on a Mercedes it was never going to last very long in race conditions. At the start every car’s carrying close to 150kgs of fuel and that significant extra weight, combined with a track not yet at it’s most grippy and the need to fight other cars at close quarters, has a dramatic impact on tire life and therefore race strategy.
Their plan was, in all honesty, a damage limitation one, staying on the medium tire for as long as they could manage while holding off the field at the front and then using the harder compound for the remainder of the GP. Initial calculations had a three-stop strategy completing the race distance about 6 or 7 seconds faster than a four-stop one and so was optimal, but it would all depend on drivers looking after the rubber to make that work. Rosberg opted for the 3 stopper of medium/hard/hard/hard, but with the only way to make the hard compound last was for him to drive at a pace so slow he became a sitting duck. He predictably fell back through the field. Perhaps a four-stop race might have helped him a little, but in truth he was never going to catch the car in front and did just about survive the challenge of Paul Di Resta behind, so the outcome would probably have remained unchanged.
The eventual race winner, Fernando Alonso, who began the race fifth, would have had to look at things slightly differently on Saturday evening to Nico Rosberg. Also having to begin the race on medium compound tires, his optimal strategy relied on a great start, something Ferrari are generally able to rely on at the moment and duly delivered.
I thought their initial plan was to three stop, probably medium/hard/hard/hard or medium/hard/hard/medium, as the the car in the last stint of the race would cope a little easier on a set of medium tires and theoretically be faster.
In the end the Ferrari, with a handful of updates for this event, was able to push at a good pace and still keep the tires in good condition for most of the GP, in direct contrast to the Mercedes. This, combined with his stunning first lap, enabled to team to switch to a more comfortable four-stop race, allowing Alonso to push hard in each stint on a medium/hard/hard/medium/hard plan and stay ahead of the struggling pack. Again the two early spells on hards allowed the fuel load to burn off and the track to rubber in, before using mediums to set some blistering laptimes and secure his position out in front. By the time the final stop came around, the only set the team had left were already used from earlier in the weekend and so, with his position fairly stable, a set of hards saw him comfortably to the end. The stop actually came two laps earlier than planned because of a suspected, and now confirmed, slow puncture, but the hard work early on ensured it didn’t cost him track position. It was a superb drive by Alonso and ensured the team had options to play with when it came to deciding how to see out the race. They weren’t forced into anything or have to react to anyone else and so could use the four stop strategy to good advantage, pushing all the way.
To win from fifth position is unprecedented at this circuit and, while perhaps a sign of the Pirelli era, it’s actually more a sign of how badly the problems are at Mercedes. Their two cars, in P1 and P2 on the grid, finished in sixth and 12th, freeing up easy places for those further back and Alonso and Ferrari made great use of their start, racecraft and ultimately their race strategy, to take a dominant, flat out victory.
Marc Priestley can be found on Twitter @f1elvis.
Oct 31, 2014, 2:15 PM EDT
Kenseth says the only way he’d feel a little better about it is if Harvick manages to make the Championship Race.
Oct 31, 2014, 2:03 PM EDT
FIA confirms that the German driver has taken a sixth complete power unit, and will have to start the race from the pit lane at COTA.
Oct 31, 2014, 1:15 PM EDT
Ford drivers take the top three spots in opening Nationwide practice.
Oct 31, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT
Despite exceeding everyone’s expectations in 2014, Valtteri Bottas feels that the team can continue its upward trend next season.
Oct 31, 2014, 12:31 PM EDT
Two-time US GP winner makes the best possible start to his race weekend by topping FP1 in Austin.
Oct 31, 2014, 12:14 PM EDT
Logano’s currently in position to advance to the final battle at Homestead, but he says he’ll stay aggressive this weekend at Texas.
Oct 31, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT
Red Bull takes you behind-the-scenes in the lead-up to this weekend’s United States Grand Prix in Austin, Texas.
Oct 31, 2014, 11:55 AM EDT
Various updates coming to portions of the grid this weekend, starting in FP1.
Oct 31, 2014, 11:21 AM EDT
Mario Andretti takes time out of a busy schedule for fan Q&A for Circuit of the Americas.
Oct 31, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT
Adriana Henao is running to raise money for actor Sean Penn’s J/P Haitian Relief Organization and The Long Run to Haiti.
Oct 31, 2014, 10:45 AM EDT
Watch first practice from COTA live on Live Extra from 11a ET today.
Oct 31, 2014, 10:00 AM EDT
Former Sprint Cup veteran will bring his OneMain Financial sponsorship with him.
Oct 31, 2014, 9:45 AM EDT
After just one year in F1, Kvyat will be replacing four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel at Red Bull next season. Not bad going!
Oct 31, 2014, 9:30 AM EDT
Extreme Speed takes its HPDs to Shanghai for the FIA WEC race.
Oct 30, 2014, 8:00 PM EDT
Romain Grosjean can opt out of Lotus at year’s end if he so desires.
Oct 30, 2014, 6:39 PM EDT
Johnny Sauter was fastest in both NASCAR Camping World Truck Series practices Thursday afternoon at Texas Motor Speedway.
Oct 30, 2014, 6:06 PM EDT
On Thursday’s NASCAR America, Rusty Wallace gave his top five drivers to watch in Sunday’s Sprint Cup race at Texas. Rusty’s pick for the winner? Jeff Gordon.
Oct 30, 2014, 6:00 PM EDT
Spaniard says that his future is not his first priority, and that all of the events of the past few months have gone as planned.
- Sebastian Vettel to start United States GP from pit lane 0
- Hamilton quickest in first practice for United States GP 1
- 2014 United States Grand Prix Preview 0
- Road To: Mercedes teaser – The very first Mercedes-Benz car (VIDEO) 0
- 2015 IndyCar schedule officially revealed; 17 races including 12 on NBCSN (VIDEO) 3
- Bianchi remains “critical but stable” but continues to fight, says family 2
- Has Formula 1 cracked the U.S. market in Austin? 6