Jul 1, 2013, 7:15 AM EST
The thing about Formula One race strategies is that they need to be adaptable to cope with the unforeseen circumstances that the sport invariably throws up. No matter the plan, teams must react quickly to whatever’s thrown at them.
When the strategists at each team sit down after qualifying on a Saturday evening to ponder their options, they look at data; weather forecasts; the cars around them on the grid; their own confidence in their race pace; start performance; the amount of tires used and those they have left, as well as many other factors.
Between strategists, engineers, management and the drivers themselves, they come up with at least two or three of the most probable scenarios or plans. Those plans will cover things like what happens if they have a good start or a bad start; where they are after lap one and what they do if it all goes wrong, have contact and an enforced first lap pitstop. They’ll have a ‘plan A’ which is the optimum strategy and considered the fastest way to the checkered flag and a ‘plan B’ to cover the possibility of the tires not lasting their intended stint length.
Sunday, everyone’s optimum race strategy was compromised in one way or another, by a number of issues.
After the practice sessions, analysis showed the fastest way for the top 10 to complete the race was a two stop strategy, starting on the medium tire, stopping around lap 17 for another set of mediums, before finally stopping around lap 35 for the hard. Whilst that may well have been what most intended, excessive graining on the options, unforeseen tire failures and safety cars changed things.
When Lewis Hamilton had the first failure whilst leading on lap 7, nobody thought it would be the start of a chain reaction.
Felipe Massa’s Ferrari was next to suffer the same left rear failure at the same point of the circuit and Jean Eric Vergne followed shortly afterwards with a similar and spectacular blow out of his own. That one, not only brought out the first safety car that stayed out for seven laps, but clearly raised eyebrows amongst the teams. It was clear there was an inherent problem affecting left rear tires and that meant that teams had to decide what to do.
Some pitted under the safety car, some drivers were told by their teams to try and avoid kerbs, some increased tire pressures in their pitstop sets to try and stiffen up the sidewalls, but the teams and Pirelli furiously tried to work out what was happening.
Avoiding kerbs clearly compromises race pace, as does running with higher than preferred pressures, and therefore can have an impact on strategy, but the possibility of more failures has even more dire effects. Those that pitted mostly switched to hard, prime tires after many struggled more than predicted on options, but were still on for the two stop plan to work, so they tentatively continued with the championship leader out front.
Vettel controlled the race pace well in the lead, keeping Rosberg behind until ten laps from the end when his Red Bull Racing RB9 ground to a halt with a failure of fifth gear. With the car in an unsafe position and Race Control more than happy to slow proceedings down to prevent anymore dangerous failures, the safety car was again deployed.
This was the point where teams had to make crucial, race defining and split second decisions.
For Rosberg, now out in front, it was easy, he had a worrying tire vibration and enough of a gap behind to make the unplanned third stop without losing track position.
For those behind it was make or break time and whilst Alonso and Webber also dived in and switched to a late three stopper under the safety car, Raikkonen’s Lotus team decided to leave him out.
That decision was a bad one and ultimately cost Kimi a podium spot as he struggled on old tires in the closing laps.
Whilst stopping meant that Webber and Alonso lost places initially, the fresh mediums for the short last stint allowed them to push hard to the flag and pass with relative ease to take second and third places respectively. Their teams got it right under pressure, Kimi’s unfortunately didn’t today.
All the planning, data and analysis in the world couldn’t have prepared for today’s events, so in those instances success or failure comes down to the decisions of the drivers and their teams. Despite the obscene amount of Dollars spent on strategic simulation and predictive tools up and down pitlane, when it comes to making a last minute, split second decision in the heat of battle, it often boils down to good old fashioned human reactions under pressure. Some are better than others.
You can follow Marc Priestley on Twitter @f1elvis.
Nov 24, 2014, 2:33 PM EST
The nine-time World Rally Champion is now a full-time touring car racer, but will help kick off the 2015 WRC campaign for Citroen.
Nov 24, 2014, 2:00 PM EST
Hunter-Reay’s face on the Borg-Warner Trophy set for December 3 reveal.
Nov 24, 2014, 1:15 PM EST
IndyCar gets in on the Odell Beckham Jr. meme game, and it’s a good one.
Nov 24, 2014, 1:00 PM EST
Patrick Dempsey presenting and Brantley Gilbert winning makes for two racing tie-ins in a music show.
Nov 24, 2014, 12:15 PM EST
Hammer Time in Abu Dhabi; Bird was the word for Formula E in Malaysia; a look at the NASCAR beat…
Nov 24, 2014, 11:45 AM EST
Lineups set for this week’s Abu Dhabi test.
Nov 24, 2014, 11:09 AM EST
Jordan and Ricky Taylor drop their latest.
Nov 24, 2014, 11:00 AM EST
Frances busy with charitable efforts during and after the NASCAR season.
Nov 24, 2014, 10:30 AM EST
Danica Patrick will be in another GoDaddy ad, with an intriguing guest star.
Nov 24, 2014, 10:00 AM EST
Felipe Massa and Sergio Perez the only drivers to benefit from double points in Abu Dhabi.
Nov 24, 2014, 9:00 AM EST
However, simply getting to the race must go down as an achievement for the backmarkers.
Nov 24, 2014, 8:13 AM EST
Mattiacci out, Arrivabene in as Ferrari team principal.
Nov 24, 2014, 8:00 AM EST
Gutierrez finishes as the lead Sauber in a lowly 15th place on Sunday.
Nov 23, 2014, 6:10 PM EST
The world of motorsports — particularly NASCAR and NHRA — is mourning arguably the best public relations person it has ever seen, Denny Darnell, who passed away Saturday.
Nov 23, 2014, 6:00 PM EST
The Charlotte and Texas brawls from this year’s Chase are still resonating weeks after they occurred.
Nov 23, 2014, 5:17 PM EST
Marcos Ambrose is wasting little time in his return to racing V8 Supercars in his native Australia.
Nov 23, 2014, 4:30 PM EST
A wild concept collaboration for Gran Turismo 6 between the Bowtie and famous race car builder Chaparral.
Petty’s 1988 Daytona wreck sold as prelude to upcoming auction of NASCAR Hall of Famer Cotton Owens estate
Nov 23, 2014, 3:53 PM EST
The remains of Richard Petty’s crashed 1988 Pontiac Grand Prix from the 1988 Daytona 500 sold Saturday, a prelude of an even larger auction of late NASCAR Hall of Famer Cotton Owens’ estate on Dec. 6.
Nov 23, 2014, 2:30 PM EST
This weekend is the first without a NASCAR race since mid-July.
Nov 23, 2014, 2:00 PM EST
For the last time in 2014, we round up all of the action in the paddock as Lewis Hamilton became Formula 1 world champion for the second time.
- Weekend wrap: Lewis Hamilton back on top of the F1 mountain 1
- Maurizio Arrivabene replaces Marco Mattiacci as Ferrari team principal 4
- Abu Dhabi GP Paddock Notebook – Sunday 0
- Hamilton calls second title victory “the greatest day of my life” 3
- Hamilton clinches second F1 world title by winning Abu Dhabi GP 10
- The Final Showdown: Hamilton and Rosberg prepare for one final battle in Abu Dhabi 0
- Vettel and Ricciardo to start Abu Dhabi GP from pit lane 0