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Abu Dhabi Grand Prix 2018 Strategy Report

27 Nov 2018

Race 21 – 55 Laps – 5.554km per lap – 305.355km race distance – low tyre wear

Abu Dhabi GP F1 Strategy Report Podcast – our host Michael Lamonato is joined by Ted Kravitz from Sky Sport F1

Lewis Hamilton had no trouble converting his 11th pole into his 11 the victory of the season despite an early pit stop theoretically making him vulnerable to a late-race charge from former title rival Sebastian Vettel.

Mercedes took advantage of an early-race virtual safety car to minimise Hamilton’s pit stop time, but in a departure from recent races in which the team has struggled with severe tyre wear, Lewis was able to easily stretch his supersoft rubber to the end of the race and fend off Vettel in the process.




With both championship sewn up, there was little at stake beyond some minor championship table shuffles at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, lending the race an end-of-term vibe for some.

For Valtteri Bottas, however, Abu Dhabi was the final opportunity to end his difficult season on something of a high, as he did last year with victory at Yas Marina. Hamilton, however, was in no mood to gift his teammate an easy win as he has done in previous title-winning years.

There were other carrots to race for through the grid too, one of which was dangled for Daniel Ricciardo and Red Bull Racing. The Australian is leaving the team for Renault in 2019 but hasn’t scored a podium since May’s Monaco Grand Prix. The Bulls demonstrated good long-run pace during Friday practice and promised to factor themselves into the race-day permutations.

Pirelli had brought compounds two steps softer than last year’s selection, selecting the supersoft, ultrasoft and hypersoft tyres for the 2018 event. It was the last time these names will be used, with Pirelli opting to identify its three tyres at each race only as ‘hard’, ‘medium’ and ‘soft’ from 2019. The individual compounds will be identified serially using numbers, with 1 being the hardest and 5 or 6 being the softest.




As has been the case at most races this season featuring the hypersoft tyres, question marks over the pink-striped tyre’s longevity led teams to try to avoid it in the race, which in turn meant the top three teams and Force India attempted to use the ultrasoft to qualify for the top-10 shootout.

Force India wasn’t quick enough, but neither was Max Verstappen, who was forced to use the hypersoft in Q2 and therefore set it as his race-start tyre. Red Bull Racing said afterwards that it didn’t have a strong preference either way, which is understandable given its strength on the softer compounds, as evidenced in previous races.

Interestingly for the Bulls, however, was that Daniel Ricciardo qualified ahead of Max Verstappen, which theoretically put the team in a difficult situation given the Dutchman’s strategy would require him to make up ground early while his tyres lasted whereas the Australian could afford to run longer. The problem became academic after Verstappen dropped three places at the start.



The supersoft compound was the backbone of race strategy given it was able to run most of the race without too much difficulty, so when Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari stopped on the start-finish straight and triggered a virtual safety car on lap seven, Mercedes decided to switch Hamilton off his barely used ultrasofts and onto the more durable red-marked tyre.

Hamilton exited the pits just behind Verstappen, and though he was equipped with substantially fresher tyres, he was unable to pass. He radioed his team saying he didn’t believe he would make it to the end — his experiences of severe tyre wear in the previous three races no doubt came to mind — and was forced to hang several seconds behind the Dutchman to keep out of the Red Bull Racing car’s dirty air.

His decision to exercise patience rather than continue his attack Verstappen paid dividends. Max ran only 10 more laps before his pit stop, and Ricciardo handed him back his lead when the Australian stopped on lap 33. Hamilton still had plenty of tyre life left by playing the long game, which he put to good use in maintaining a margin over Sebastian Vettel in the second half of the race.





If Vettel was to be able to pressure Hamilton and his older tyres by the end of the race, he would first have to strategise his way past Bottas, who was running second for much of the race. Ferrari attempted to undercut the Mercedes driver with a lap-15 stop, but it went wrong on several counts.

The first was that the pit stop was too slow — around 3.7 seconds — which was then compounded by Vettel emerging from pit lane behind Force India’s Esteban Ocon. He was able to pass the Frenchman on the back straight, but together the imperfections were enough to take the pressure off Bottas, whose quick in-lap and rapid stop on lap 16 kept him ahead of the German.

It didn’t matter by the end of the race, however, with Bottas apparently suffering brake problems that saw his defence of second place unravel into an uninspiring fifth-place finish after making a precautionary second pit stop.




Ricciardo was running in net fourth in the first stint after Raikkonen’s retirement, but Verstappen, once recovered to fifth after his poor start, jumped ahead of his teammate at the pit stops.

Verstappen stretched his hypersofts to lap 17, in line with stops from Mercedes and Ferrari on hypersofts, but Ricciardo was run to lap 33, ostensibly to give him a fresh-tyre advantage late in the race.

The new supersofts were initially advantageous, but the longevity of the compound meant Ricciardo’s pace soon reduced to the mean, leaving him stuck around two seconds behind podium-getter Verstappen in fourth place.

Verstappen’s third-place finish put him into fourth place ahead of Bottas in the drivers standings; had Ricciardo finished third instead, Verstappen would have remained fifth. Incentive enough for Red Bull Racing to advantage the driver running second on the road, or just a strategy gamble that didn’t pay off?



Carlos Sainz was the biggest midfield winner, moving from 11th on the grid sixth at the flag, but Charles Leclerc, who finished 10 seconds further back in seventh, was similarly impressive.

The two used different strategies, with Sainz starting on ultrasofts while Leclerc opened with his Q2 hypersofts. The former ran to lap 37 while the latter took advantage of the lap-seven VSC to switch to supersofts with Hamilton.

That Sainz finished ahead wasn’t purely down to avoiding the hypersoft tyre, however; Leclerc emerged from pits behind Lance Stroll and Kevin Magnussen, who he passed during the next two laps, and the always obstinate Fernando Alonso, who kept the Ferrari-bound driver bottled up for a further 15 laps.

Leclerc got past the Spaniard on lap 26 and spent four further costly laps behind Pierre Gasly. Once clear, he began lapping substantially faster, but it wasn’t enough to undo the damage — when Sainz made his lap-37 stop, he emerged from pit lane with four-second advantage and fresher tyres, winning him the place.

But Leclerc scored a victory over Sergio Perez, who also started on the preferable ultrasoft compound. The Mexican was ahead of Sainz during the first stint, but when Leclerc got ahead of Alonso, Force India brought him in for a new set of supersofts. He emerged from pit lane two seconds behind Leclerc, who was being slowed substantially by Gasly.

Between laps 26 and 30 the pair lost almost four seconds to fall more than 20 seconds behind Sainz, who eked out an additional three seconds over the next seven laps to hold position after his stop.

Grosjean suffered mixed fortunes on all counts. He lost a place to Leclerc on the first lap and fell to last after his lap-seven pit stop for new supersofts. He recovered to ninth and was able to keep teammate Kevin Magnussen, who had free start-tyre choice at bay, albeit in part thanks to the Dane’s poor start, which dropped him to 17th.



Tyre data

Courtesy of Pirelli Motorsport



Brazilian Grand Prix 2018 Strategy Report

12 Nov 2018

Race 20 – 71 Laps – 4.309km per lap – 305.909km race distance – low tyre wear

Brazilian GP F1 Strategy Report Podcast – our host Michael Lamonato is joined by Fernando Campos from the Fernando is Faster Than You Podcast

Lewis Hamilton got the chance to celebrate Mercedes’s fifth consecutive constructors championship from the top step of the podium, but it was pure luck that he took home the winners trophy.

The race win justly belonged to Max Verstappen after Red Bull Racing beautifully judged his strategy, but a moment of madness by Esteban Ocon as he attempted to unlap himself saw the two come together in a crash at turn two, losing the Dutchman his lead and leaving him unable to recover thanks to floor damage.



Though the Hamilton-Mercedes championship double has long been something of an inevitability, the German marque has struggled significantly in recent races with tyre wear, the nadir being Hamilton’s 78-second defeat in Mexico City two weeks ago.

Ferrari, on the other hand, had rediscovered its mojo just as Mercedes had lost its own, and though winning the constructors title remained a long shot, the Italians could force the fight one more round if it could outscore the Silver Arrows by 13 points.

The intrigue of the weekend was therefore whether Mercedes’s famed self-analytical ability would be enough to reverse its competitive decline in the intervening time since Mexico or whether Ferrari could keep it honest. The answer was inconclusive — perhaps because the question hadn’t taken Red Bull Racing into account.

The Milton Keynes-based team played down the chances of dominant Mexico repeat. Though Interlagos is a high-altitude track, it isn’t nearly high enough to create the unique conditions that delivered it victory two weeks ago. What it didn’t expect, however, was for its tyre usage to be so much better than that of Mercedes and Ferrari that it didn’t matter anyway.



Blistering on the supersoft — the softest compounds of Pirelli’s range comprising the medium, soft and supersoft tyres — during practice made starting the race on softs attractive, but Ferrari was the only team brave enough to attempt its first Q2 lap on the durable rubber. Mercedes and RBR both considered it, but the threat of imminent rain made it too great a risk in their opinion, handing what was thought to be a sizable advantage to the Scuderia.

The soft traded start-line grip for flexibility, however, and that proved to have far greater sway in Ferrari’s result, with both Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen struggling early in the race while those on supersofts excelled.


Truthfully the decisive moment of the race was Ocon’s lap-44 crash with Verstappen, depriving the Dutchman of what should have been a comfortable race win, but in the context of Verstappen powering into the lead of the first place, the grand prix pivoted on Hamilton’s lap-19 stop for fresh medium tyres.


Hamilton was already suffering from blistering when Mercedes decided to switch to engage a 51-lap stint on mediums at least five laps ahead of Pirelli’s forecast pit window, hoping the fresh-tyre advantage would be enough to cover Verstappen’s stop, which was expected to come in the next 10 laps at maximum.

However, Red Bull Racing’s superb tyre usage turned the strategy model on its head. Verstappen ran to lap 35 — Ricciardo went even further, to lap 39 — with little drop-off in pace, which allowed both to switch straight to the soft-compound tyre for an aggressive final stint.

Verstappen emerged from the pits on lap 36 just 2.5 seconds behind Hamilton and easily passed the Briton with his grippier rubber on lap 40. He was almost four seconds up the found four laps later when he was hit by Ocon.

Hamilton protested that he still had life in his supersofts before his pit stop, but even so, Mercedes clearly had far inferior tyre wear compared to Red Bull Racing such that a 35-lap opening stint would’ve been unlikely in the extreme, meaning Verstappen was always in the box seat once he was up to second place.


Vettel was considered favourite for victory by Mercedes thanks to his soft-compound tyre and P2 grid spot, but Ferrari’s pace was only lukewarm. Vettel had a so-so start, in part thanks to the lack of grip on the more durable tyre, and both he and Raikkonen struggled for the first 10 laps to extract much pace from the rubber relative to their supersoft-shod rivals.

Vettel admitted afterwards that Ferrari had overestimated the severity of wear on supersofts, meaning its tyre advantage was substantially reduced. The German also suffered sensor problems that meant he was unable to race aggressively, a mitigating factor for him finishing three places behind his teammate.

Raikkonen, to be fair to the Finn, had a solid race after the opening stint, eventually muscling his way past Valtteri Bottas on lap 44 and then defending steadfastly against Daniel Ricciardo despite the Australian running the fastest strategy.



In the latest chapter in strained relationships at Toro Rosso, Pierre Gasly admitted to ignoring team orders to let teammate Brendon Hartley past for around eight laps at the end of the race despite the two running different strategies.

Gasly spent most of the race out of the points after starting ninth on the supersoft tyre, whereas Hartley started on the mediums from P16 and made steady progress throughout the grand prix, rising to P11 before his first stop.

The Kiwi switched to the supersofts on lap 49, dropping behind his teammate, and despite having stronger pace and being less than two seconds behind the Frenchman for the final 10 laps, Gasly refused to yield, pointing out that Sergio Perez in 10th was too far up the road to be caught.

Hartley eventually got by with two laps remaining, as did Carlos Sainz, though Gasly says it’s only because he was running out of fuel that he ceded the two places.


Tyre data

Courtesy of Pirelli Motorsport

Pirelli1 Pirelli220-brazil-lap-chart

Mexican Grand Prix 2018 Strategy Report

31 Oct 2018

Race 19 – 71 Laps – 4.304km per lap – 305.354km race distance – low tyre wear

Mexican GP F1 Strategy Report Podcast – our host Michael Lamonato is joined by Luke Smith – F1 Editor,

Max Verstappen might’ve won the Mexican Grand Prix, but fourth-placed Lewis Hamilton stole the headlines by winning his fifth world championship in a difficult race for Mercedes.

Verstappen was in control for the duration of the race, but Red Bull Racing was never truly comfortable, with significant concern about tyre life dictating strategy throughout the field.



Mexico City sit at more than 2.2 kilometres above sea level, where the air is approximately 22 per cent less dense tan at the average racing circuit. This has a significant effect on aerodynamics — it’s not unusual to hear it said that the cars are running Monte Carlo aero kits but producing Monza-levels of downforce — which in turn make managing the tyres extremely difficult.

The lack of downforce means less grip, and if this lack of grip is poorly managed, tyre life can be diabolical. This was particularly the case with the hypersoft tyre, which Friday practice suggested would last barely a handful of laps in race conditions. Unfortunately for the teams, they had loaded up on hypersofts and brought very few ultrasofts or supersofts, meaning they had little choice but to save the more durable compounds for the race without giving their drivers the opportunity to try them out during Friday or Saturday practice.

The unusual conditions meant there was significant uncertainty about whether the fastest strategy would require one or two stops. The long and fast front straight means pit stop time loss is high, but the sort of extreme tyre management required to pull off a one-stop could have similarly lost significant time.



Most teams were desperate to avoid the hypersoft tyre. The frontrunning teams had their six drivers use ultrasofts ins Q2 to set the purple-striped compound as their starting tyre, but the midfield is too closely contested to risk using slower compounds, so both Renaults and both Saubers from places seven to 10 committed to starting on the delicate pink tyre.

Force India tapped itself out of the battle for the top-10 shootout, deliberately sending Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez out on the ultrasoft compound to qualify just on the cusp of Q3. The strategy was a success, with Ocon 11th and Perez 13h on the grid and therefore with free tyre choice for the start of the race.



The decisive moment in the battle for the lead was the start. Polesitter Daniel Ricciardo, starting from the head of the grid for just the third time in his career and for the first time outside Monaco, bogged down with wheelspin and ceded places to teammate Max Verstappen, who took the lead, and Lewis Hamilton.

The Red Bull Racing RB14 had looked the class of the field in the unusual Mexico City conditions all weekend, but in clean air it was unstoppable. Verstappen was never really threatened for the rest of the race and had little trouble building and maintaining a healthy gap.

But while Verstappen sprinted away, Hamilton was able to use his superior straight-line speed to keep Ricciardo frustrated in third despite the Australian being notably quicker. Sebastian Vettel, however, had no trouble passing both with Ferrari’s impressive power output. He swept into second place and made slow but steady progress on Verstappen’s sizable lead.

It took Ricciardo until lap 47 to get past, when Mercedes’s excessive tyre wear was brought to bear on Hamilton’s strategy and forced him into a second stop, from which he exited the pits in fifth behind Kimi Raikkonen. This was effectively the end of Hamilton’s race as Mercedes had no new tyres to give him, opting instead for a set of lightly used ultrasofts. The management required to make it to the end with the purple rubber was immense, and he finished almost 80 seconds behind Verstappen.

Hamilton’s tyre change triggered Vettel to do likewise. Verstappen also made a stop, but his lead was so large that he maintained the lead.

Ricciardo was tactically left out after Red Bull Racing had inspected Verstappen’s worn supersoft tyres and found them to be capable of making it to the end of the race, but the Australian could also act as a buffer between his leading teammate and third-placed Sebastian Vettel, a task he executed admirably until a hydraulics failure eliminated him from the race — but by then Verstappen was unreachable anyway.



The midfield is so tight that oftentimes this season cars starting just outside the top 10 on a more durable tyre have easily outmanoeuvred their top-10 midfield rivals who have been forced to start the race on qualifying rubber that lasts only a handful of laps. Force India expected this to be the case in Mexico.

Ocon’s race floundered from the get-go, losing part of his wing in a first-lap skirmish requiring an immediate pit stop. He ran until lap 30 on supersofts and then switched to ultrasofts thereafter, but it was too ambitious a run on the purple compound, and he was passed by Gasly, who was on supersofts, before the end of the race, losing him a points finish.

Perez’s race was more promising. He made it up to seventh before making his sole stop on lap 30 for a used set of ultrasofts, but he became embroiled in a battle with Charles Leclerc for eighth, costing him valuable time to Nico Hulkenberg in seventh. He got past him on lap 34, but he retired from the race three laps later.

Perez is adamant he could’ve finished seventh, but the supersoft tyres, once they had battled through an initial graining phase, should have been a better compound than the Mexican’s ultrasofts. Leclerc was on the same strategy as Hulkenberg, which could’ve brought him back into contention for eighth later in the race had Perez not retired.



The solidness of the supersoft tyre as a racing compound was underlined by Stoffel Vandoorne, who made his sole stop off ultrasofts on lap 12 to finish the race with one long stint on supersofts, the red-marked tyre good enough to help him up from 15th on the grid to eighth behind Leclerc.

Pierre Gasly ran an unusual two-stop race, switching off new hypersofts on lap five — Toro Rosso figured most cars would be stopping early, so he may as well have the fastest tyre — onto new supersofts, and he took another set of new supersofts on lap 26. He was last after his final stop, but recovered places after both Haas drivers made their sole stops, by passing both Williams cars and Esteban Ocon, and by Brendon Hartley copping a penalty and letting him past as a result.



Haas has always struggled in Mexico, and for the third year in a row it was knocked out of qualifying in Q1. The American team has always struggled to generate maximum downforce, and the requirement to put as much downforce on the cars as possible in Mexico could be one explanation for their sustained difficulties.

The team attempted to run a long reverse strategy, starting on the supersoft compound and making a late change for ultrasofts, but neither Kevin Magnussen nor Romain Grosjean could build the sort of gap required over the midfield during the offset laps to make it work. The fell to last after their stops, where they remained to the end of the race.


Tyre data

Courtesy of Pirelli Motorsport




United States Grand Prix 2018 Strategy Report

23 Oct 2018

Race 18 – 56 Laps – 5.513km per lap – 308.405km race distance – low tyre wear

US GP F1 Strategy Report Podcast – our host Michael Lamonato is joined by Nate Saunders from ESPN F1


Kimi Raikkonen scored an unexpected but popular victory at the United States Grand Prix at the weekend, in the process denying Lewis Hamilton what looked like a slam-dunk chance to wrap up the title three races early.

Key to the Finn’s win was a sizzling start — the first time he’s made up a position off the line since 2016 — but fundamental to his ability to maintain the lead was uncertainty over tyre life after a disrupted Friday practice.



Hamilton held a 67-point advantage over Sebastian Vettel at the beginning of the weekend and needed to outscore his rival by only eight points to seal the deal, and given his affinity with the Circuit of the Americas and Mercedes’s advantage over Ferrari over the last month, few doubted the Briton would be leaving Austin with the silverware.

The only wrinkle in executing a typically clinical weekend was the weather. Rain lashed Austin all Friday, curtailing data-gathering to the wet-weather compounds only. History suggests outcomes tend to be more variable when teams are restricted in how much information can be gathered during practice, and indeed Mercedes suffered from more tyre wear than usual, which proved a key factor in the race outcome.

Pirelli brought the soft, supersoft and ultrasoft compounds to the United States, one step softer than last year’s allocation, notwithstanding the same names being used. In 2017 the race was split between one and two stops, with Hamilton winning on a single-stop strategy.



Vettel qualified second behind Hamilton, but a three-place penalty for disobeying red flags during practice dropped him to fifth, last of the top-three teams.

This disadvantage was reflected in Ferrari’s qualifying tyre strategy. Whereas all the frontrunners — except Max Verstappen, who was knocked out in Q2 and started 18th with a gearbox penalty — used the supersoft tyre in Q2 as their race-start tyre, Raikkonen was sent out on ultrasofts, the thinking being that a better launch on the grippier tyre might allow him to play a disruptive role in Hamilton’s race and allow Vettel time to make up lost ground.


Kimi Raikkonen’s launch was perfect, catapulting him past Hamilton into the first turn and into the lead. They gently touched on the exit, but Hamilton had little choice but to settle into second for the time being.

Though this moment was the least aggravating of a series of subsequent moments that conspired to lose Hamilton the race at Raikkonen’s expense, it pushed Mercedes and its lead driver into a suboptimal position from which a number of misguided decisions followed.



The first came at lap nine, when Daniel Ricciardo’s Red Bull Racing car stopped on track, triggering a virtual safety car for laps 10 and 11.

Hamilton was instructed to do the opposite of Raikkonen, and though the Finn feinted towards the pit lane at the end of lap 11, he stayed out, pulling Hamilton into an early pit stop off his set of supersoft tyres and onto a new set of softs. He lost only seven seconds to Raikkonen and took fewer than 10 laps to catch back up to the back of the Ferrari.

But it was an early stop for a driver starting on the supersoft tyre — the pit window wasn’t due until at least lap 18 — and committed Hamilton to either a slow two-stop race or a very slow 45-lap stint of soft-tyre conservation.



In reality the decision had already been made, because Hamilton had pushed too hard too soon on his new softs, which had begun to blister. Conservation was out of the question; it was now a matter of timing.

Hamilton held a steady 17-second margin over Raikkonen once the Finn stopped at the end of lap 21, but he encountered traffic from lap 31, with 25 laps still to run. Between then and lap 36 he lost more than seven seconds to Raikkonen.

Unable to rebuild the gap on his damaged tyres, he stopped for a fresh set of softs at the end of lap 37 in what was the most significant decision of the race.

He dropped to 12 seconds behind Raikkonen and, crucially, behind Max Verstappen, who was engaged in an ambitious 34-lap stint on supersofts. Though he recovered to battle with both by around lap 50, he could pass neither.

The decision was flawed on two counts. First, had it been made earlier, Hamilton would’ve emerged, say, only five second behind Raikkonen and possibly ahead of Verstappen, and the new-tyre advantage, strongest early in the stint, might have pressured Kimi into yielding the lead.

Second, because he stopped immediately after clearing backmarkers, he was forced to waste some of that new-tyre advantage on passing them a second time.

But the strategy choice showed Hamilton and Mercedes were willing to risk a comfortable second place — which early in the race seemed likely to ensure the title — to attempt to win the race.



Valtteri Bottas had a potentially decisive role in helping Hamilton to an early championship, but h was strategically hamstrung in his mission.

First he was undercut by the rapidly recovering Verstappen. Max’s leap from 18th on the grid to a place on the podium was underpinned by a sizzling start that brought him up to ninth, and by lap seven he was up to fifth behind Daniel Ricciardo, whose retirement promoted him to fourth and brought Bottas into his sights.

He closed to within two seconds of the Finn and stopped for a new set of supersoft tyres. Bottas responded on the next lap, switching off supersofts for a new set of softs, but he emerged from pit lane two second down the road.

His race thereafter was a good indicator of Mercedes’s weaknesses this weekend. Forced into a race of tyre management, he fell off Verstappen’s tail towards the end of the race and into the clutches of Sebastian Vettel, who needed to finish fourth to force Hamilton to win the race to win the title.

Bottas defended valiantly, but his pace rapidly deteriorated in the final three laps, and he ceded the pace to the German.


One of the few strategic manoeuvres for position in the midfield was executed by Kevin Magnussen in Haas’s home race. The Dane was stuck behind Force India’s Sergio Perez from the third lap but had the ability to travel significantly faster than the Mexican.

Perez stopped on lap 25after the Renault drivers ahead of him made their sole tyre changes, but Magnussen stayed for a further five laps, unleashing his superior pace to overcut the Force India — only to get stuck behind Perez’s teammate, Esteban Ocon, and then subsequently disqualified for using more than the maximum 105 kilograms of fuel.


Tyre data

Courtesy of Pirelli Motorsport