The British Grand Prix at Silverstone was the first race on the new circuit layout and we had some great racing. There were some interesting tactical calls, made both before and during the race, which affected the outcome.
As far as race tactics are concerned, the strategy was decided for the top ten teams by the qualifying rules, so having all opted to qualify on the faster soft tyre, they were obliged to start the race on it.
All the other runners outside the top ten, who had a choice, did the same, with the exception of the Force India cars of Adrian Sutil and Tonio Liuzzi.
However from their experience we learned something about the way races are unfolding tactically, which means that it is unlikely we will see anyone repeat their experiment in a hurry.
They believed that they had a fast car out of its natural position, in other words, Sutil should have been several places ahead of where it was, in front of the likes of De La Rosa and even Barrichello. So by running longer than their rivals, the theory was that they would be able to undercut them and pass at the pit stops and then in the second part of the race, be on the faster tyre when their rivals were on the slower one.
However because the opening stint of the race is done on the maximum fuel load, we have seen several times this season that the tyres get disproportionately damaged in the opening stint, regardless of whether they are soft or hard. Canada was an extreme example, where the hard was lasting not longer than the soft, as Red Bull’s drivers and Kubica found to their horror.
In Silverstone the left front tyre was taking a lot of damage on both types of tyre, but the hard wasn’t working well generally. So by looking at the lap times of the competitors in front of them, Force India could see that Sutil would not have the performance to build a margin by staying out and extra five or ten laps.
Instead, the cars on the soft tyre who pitted early would be in a position to jump Sutil. So reluctantly they had to abandon the plan and pit Sutil on lap 15, at the same sort of time as his rivals.
However doing the tyres this way around did have some advantages; it meant that they were on the better tyre for longer and it meant that when the safety car was deployed on Lap 29, the superior warm-up on the soft tyre, meant that they had an advantage over the cars in front, including Schumacher.
Sure enough a lap after the restart, Sutil was able to pass Schumacher for seventh place.
If using the hard tyre at the start didn’t work, the tactic of staying out longer than the opposition to make up places was successfully carried out by others on the soft tyre, which shows how well it was working. Jenson Button and Nico Rosberg in particular, gained.
Rosberg was fighting Kubica for third place. He was also mindful of the fact that with the Renault restricting the pace, Alonso was a threat from behind. Alonso pitted on lap 12 trying to undercut the pair of them but fortunately for Rosberg, Kubica pitted a lap later. Rosberg stayed out two laps longer and jumped him, thanks to a very quick in-lap. That left Kubica in front of Alonso and a battle which ultimately led to a penalty for Alonso.
An even more extreme example, which backfired, was Nico Hulkenberg in the Williams. He started 13th on the grid and stayed out on the soft tyre until lap 27. It was too long and the tyres had gone away by the time he pitted. There was no gain at all.
As a sidenote, Hulkenberg was very unlucky he did not pit two laps later, as the safety car came out on lap 29 and he would have made up quite a few places!