The Turkish Grand Prix featured 82 pit stops, a new record for Formula 1 and some spectacular overtaking moves. It was quite a confusing race, which requires some decoding and there are some clear trends emerging which will have a big effect on the way the races happen from now on.
It was also another race which was all about strategy; not just in terms of pit stops on race day, but further back than that, it was also about planning a strategy for the whole weekend and particularly for qualifying.
After four races with new rules and new tyres, we are seeing some clear patterns which strategists are building into their plans. For a start, the DRS wing aiding overtakes means that it is possible to go for what the computer model tells you is the optimum strategy for your car’s pace, because you know that you can overtake, you won’t have your race completely ruined, as Alonso’s was by Petrov in Abu Dhabi last year, for example.
However we are also seeing that being stuck in traffic can still lose you vital time, as it did for Jenson Button on Sunday, and this is harmful to anyone trying to get away with making one less stop than the opposition.
We have also learned that having even one set of new soft tyres for the race makes a vital difference, as much as 5 to 6 seconds over the course of a typical stint.
Another lesson is that it is preferable now to slant thinking very much towards the race and not qualifying. It’s not just about saving a set of tyres, it’s also about setting the car up for the race and prioritising that above all else.
With the Pirelli tyres the ideal balance for qualifying and race are far apart. In the past it was generally a case of add a bit more front wing for qualifying and take it out at the first stop in the race. Where you qualified was often where you finished.
Now it is about setting the car up to preserve the tyres, which isn’t compatible with single lap performance. So you are looking to preserve the tyres, by dealing with the limitations. In China the tyres were front limited, in Turkey they were rear limited.
Although both Ferrari prioritised a race balance, they failed to save a set of soft tyres from qualifying, which was very odd, especially after Hamilton won the race in China using that tactic. So the Alonso strategy was right, but not perfect. Massa even used up a set of new soft tyres in Q1, when there was no risk of dropping out because Kobayashi had stopped. No-one in the pit lane can understand how that mistake was made.
Teams are also still finding surprises on race day, despite gathering tyre data on Fridays. In China the surprise was that the wear on the hard tyre in the final stint was bad because the track hadn’t rubbered in. In Turkey the traack did rubber in and the surprise was that the lap time difference between the soft and hard was only 3/10ths of a second, much less than at any race so far and less than the 1 second/lap it looked like on Friday.
Another point to make is that, even if they have a margin, some drivers are making a final stop for new tyres to cover themselves should a safety car be deployed in the closing laps. Vettel did it with his fourth stop, which wasn’t really needed, but if there had been a safety car he would have been a sitting duck at the restart.
Why were there so many pit stops in Turkey?
There are a number of reasons for this. Mainly it is because the tyre degradation was severe. The track temperatures were higher on Sunday than during practice and tyres didn’t last as long as expected. Also the pit lane in Turkey is relatively short and so you lose less time (just 16 secs) making a stop there in comparison with other tracks. Also the high peak loadings on the tyres through Turn 8, as much as 1,000 kilos, take their toll on tyres.
Why planning to stop four times was the winning strategy
Many teams set out to stop three times, but told their drivers in the early laps of the race that they were moving to “Plan B”, which meant four stops. The tyre degradation was huge and that was clear from five laps into the race. It was at this point that many teams switched to four and those who didn’t (Button, Williams drivers) lost out.
Pre-race simulations said that a three stop strategy would lead a four stop by eight seconds after the fourth stop. But then the four stopper overtakes the three stopper as his tyres are a second a lap faster.
So teams who set out on Friday to run the race as a four stop strategy did well on Sunday. Ferrari were a case in point with Alonso, who set the car up to be optimised for four stops. He also benefited from a good start, which put him clear of the squabbles over position. We’ve learned that intense battles speed up tyre degradation.
Why didn’t Jenson Button make three stops work?
The limitation for trying to do three stops in Turkey was the front right tyre, which is the one that is punished most by Turn 8. Button found that by running longer stints, he developed understeer in all the left hand corners and that meant he couldn’t defend.
Button was racing against Rosberg and Hamilton, both of whom stopped four times. His goal was to do one less stop than them and to have enough of a margin over them when they came out from their fourth stop (around lap 46) for them not to be able to catch him in the 12 remaining laps, despite their newer tyres. His strategy began to unravel on his third stint, when he was on his new soft tyres. This was the moment to build a cushion, particularly as Rosberg was on hard tyres at this time. But on lap 30 Button got held up by Massa. Button’s laps 30 to 39 should have been in the 1m 31s and 32s, instead they were in the 1m 33s.
This meant that when Hamilton and Rosberg came out from their fourth stops Rosberg was only 8 seconds behind and Hamilton two. On tyres that were older and therefore a second a lap slower, Button was a sitting duck.
Similarly Buemi did well to make his tyres on a three stopper last so that he was in seventh place with four laps to go. But the two Renaults on fresher tyres went past him at the end and he wound up 9th, which is still a good result from 16th on the grid. So again we see midfield cars such as Toro Rosso and Sauber, which are gentle on their tyres, can run one less stop than rivals and get into the points.
Kobayashi copies Webber’s China strategy
Kamui Kobayashi was his usual ebullient self on Sunday, making some spectacular overtakes and working his way up from the back of the grid to finish 10th and claim a point. He did this by running on new tyres all race and by getting the hard tyre out of the way at the start, when his progress was limited anyway by traffic. He was helped by the hard tyre being faster than expected.
Kobayashi’s race again goes to show how much progress you can make if you run as much as possible on new tyres. It is likely to encourage midfield teams to consider throwing qualifying in order to have new tyres for the race.
Photos: Red Bull, McLaren
* The UBS Strategy Briefing is created by James Allen with input from strategists from several of the leading F1 teams
Below is the race history graph.