Reacting and adapting: A deep dive into race strategies from the Singapore GP
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Red Bull
Strategy Report
Posted By: James Allen  |  27 Sep 2011   |  5:00 pm GMT  |  51 comments

Strategy wise, this race didn’t turn out as expected. The key consideration for the strategists on Sunday was thermal degradation of the tyres, especially the rears. This is due to the surface temperature of the tyres being very high, due to braking, traction and very heavy fuel loads at the start. With Singapore being a high fuel consumption track, cars were over 10 kilos heavier at the start than for the average F1 race.

Before the race, the talk was of three stop strategies at the front and so it proved for the leading four cars, but the way they did it was not forseen and had the Safety Car stayed out a little longer than the four laps it circulated for, we might have seen some strategists switching to a two stop. There was however one driver who made a two stop work and he set an example early on which led all the leading teams to react and copy him.


Di Resta and Force India get it spot on

As the tyre covers came off the cars on the grid, 10th placed Paul di Resta’s car caught the eye immediately. He and his team had opted for the soft tyre, while all the other top ten cars were starting on supersofts, including his team mate Adrian Sutil (9th) and Mercedes’ Michael Schumacher (8th), both of whom had the choice of what compound to start on because they didn’t set a lap in the Qualifying 3 session. This race strategy was planned on Saturday before qualifying even started.

Force India had realised in practice that they had good race pace and some hints that they might even be faster than Mercedes over the race distance, even if they were half a second slower in Q2. They had noticed that Mercedes were struggling with tyre degradation, as they have for most of the season and reasoned that by starting on the harder tyre they would be able to do one less stop than the Mercedes. They also had an inkling that the difference between the soft and supersoft might turn out to be less in the race than others imagined and it was the key to their race.

With this strategy in mind they opted not to run in Q3 and then Di Resta planned a longer first stint on a new set of soft tyres. Meanwhile the cars he was racing against, Sutil, Schumacher and Rosberg, all started on used supersofts. Sutil had to do so because he had used two sets of supersofts in Qualifying 2. This proved to be a problem for him in the race as he couldn’t quite go long enough on the used set in the opening stint. The Mercedes meanwhile was also slightly limited by having a smaller fuel tank, so would not be able to use the blown diffuser to best effect as it consumes a lot more fuel.

Rosberg had to pit early on lap 9 and Sutil on lap 11, while Di Resta went to lap 19. But what had been apparent to Force India was now apparent to everyone else; that they could keep a good pace on the soft tyres relative to the supersofts. During the first stint of the race everyone else realised that this was the way to go. So Vettel, Button, Webber and Alonso all put new soft tyres on at their first stop, not what Pirelli had predicted at all. Instead they were all reacting to what Di Resta was showing them.

In the opening laps Sutil was faster, but by lap six Di Resta was matching and beating his lap times. As the supersofts suffered thermal degradation with the heavy fuel loads, especially the rears, it was clear that Di Resta was on the best tyre.

The Force India cars got ahead of Rosberg when the Mercedes driver had to make his second stop on lap 22. Then, on supersoft tyres that were eight laps younger than Sutil’s softs, Di Resta passed Sutil on lap 26, crucially before the safety car came out for Schumacher’s accident. Both Force India cars pitted under the safety car, as did Rosberg, but the team had to hold Sutil as Perez was coming in and this lost him four seconds and a place to Rosberg. Now all three on new soft tyres, Di Resta drove away from the other two in the long final stint to record a career-best sixth place. Looking back, it’s surprising that more drivers didn’t start on the soft. Only the Virgin drivers, Kobayashi and Petrov did it. Force India certainly thought Perez would do it, given his strategy choices this season.

The question arises, why did Schumacher not do the same strategy as Di Resta, given that he had the choice? Unlike Di Resta, Schumacher had saved a new set of supersofts and he was clearly on a “fastest possible race” strategy of three consecutive stints on supersoft and then a final stint on softs. This “sprint” strategy called on him to push very hard and, as we saw, he pushed a little too hard, hitting Perez on lap 29 and triggering the safety car.


Who was helped by the Safety Car?
Wherever there is a Safety Car there are always winners and losers. Lewis Hamilton was helped by it as it allowed him to close up after losing so much time with extra pit stop for a nose change and then a drive through penalty. By lap 15 he had been in the pits three times.

It also helped the leaders because the slower traffic was a real problem and the Safety Car bunched everyone up at mid distance, meaning the leaders had to make half the lapped traffic passes they would otherwise have had to make. Although it helped Button by cutting Vettel’s lead of 18 seconds, the revised rules on lapped traffic meant that he had Trulli, Liuzzi and Kobayashi between himself and Button at the restart. By the time Button had cleared them all Vettel was 10 seconds clear of him.

And to round out a day of “reactive strategy” in the final stages of the race, we saw the leading teams covering each other as they stopped for a set of supersoft tyres; so when 3rd place Webber stopped on lap 47, 2nd place Button covered him on lap 48 and then the leader Vettel covered him on lap 49.


Although he gave himself a shot at a podium with another fine start, Alonso was unable to do much on strategy as the Ferrari was slow on both types of tyre, unlike Monaco and Hungary where it had been relatively competitive on the same tyres. Here the tyre degradation was worse for Ferrari than expected which pushed them into running only the opening stint on supersofts and then the other three stints on softs.

The Strategy Report, brought to you by UBS, is written by James Allen with data and input from strategists and engineers from several F1 teams.

RACE HISTORY
Showing gaps behind leader; The zero line is simply the race winner’s average lap time (total race time divided by the number of race laps). This is why his curve can go above the line if he’s lapping faster than his average, and below the line if he’s slower than his average, (under safety car or doing a pitstop).

Note the drop off in performance towards the end of the race as Di Resta, Sutil, Rosberg try to get to the finish on tyres they have had on since the Safety Car period. Note also the alarming drop off in performance of the Renault cars (yellow lines), taking them into the grasp of the Lotus cars.

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51 Comments
  1. Andy S says:

    I love the strategy reports – both before and after the races. Loads of great data and insight. Thanks James!
    btw: A bit cheeky to have a photo of Alonso under the heading ‘Who was helped by the safety Car?’ in a report about a Singapore GP! ;-)

  2. Topher B says:

    Superb analysis James thanks. Di Resta move was brilliant strategy. Pleased the big teams do not have a monopoly on thinking out the box. It shows how to leapfrog a team even if you probably can’t win the race.

  3. Grabyrdy says:

    Great stuff, as usual.

    James, is it possible to work out the difference between the advantage Lewis got from the Safety Car, and the amount that Felipe was penalised by it, given that he’d changed tyres just before it came out ?

  4. JohnB says:

    With regards to Di Resta’s race, and this shambles with not going out in Q3. What effect would have going out and doing 3 gentle laps (One out, one off-pace qualifying and one in) on the Soft Prime tyres from this race have had?

    Schumacher and Sutil didn’t go out, so he would started in 8th place, and have had a good shot at getting ahead of Rosberg in the first couple of corners. It would have also put a heat cycle through his tyres, which was one thing several people said can actually help them last longer several times this year.

    Of course, the way the race actually panned out this didn’t really matter to his race, but had Schumacher not crashed into Perez, Di Resta would have had a better shot at staying ahead of Sutil after his stop, and also had a bigger gap to Schumacher and Rosberg who were at that time chasing him.

    So I find it curious that nobody has tried to do this yet.

    1. Jonathan Lodge says:

      interesting comments – although on the other hand it would have shown his hand regarding his tyre choice. With schumacher and Sutil having this knowledge it could have been a very different scenario if they had all started on the softs.

      1. JohnB says:

        True, but then there’s also the psychological factor of having forced the nearest competitors into a particular strategy. One which might not suit their style of driving, or their car’s set up that weekend.

        It could even have forced Schumy and Sutil out of the pits to set a time, so that they don’t lose out, and if Di Resta’s really wanted to play mind games, they could send him out to do a slow lap on the Softs, then if people react, and his team feel up to it, dive in quickly for a pair of Options and put a gentle cycle there too.

        As it is, everyone was acting and reacting to one another and the things that happened in the race. Bringing those mind games to Q3 would make for some excellent watching, that’s a certainty!

      2. Dj says:

        Awesome!!!

  5. PopsTwitTar says:

    ———-
    They also had an inkling that the difference between the soft and supersoft might turn out to be less in the race than others imagined and it was the key to their race.
    ———-

    Has there been any races where this WASNT the case? It seems a recurring theme this year that, come race time, the drop off between the option and the prime is not as bad as expected.

    1. Jack says:

      Yeah I was about to point out the same thing. Especially when its soft vs supersoft the slower tyre that their all avoiding turns out to be a good race tyre, often better overall than the option. With the title gone hopefully we’ll see more interesting and risky split strategies at the front as everyone has nothing to lose, even Vettel.

      1. James Allen says:

        Not really. We’ve seen a variety of situations. The supersoft was the better tyre in Monaco. There have been plenty of races where the soft was better than the medium etc. Everyone’s still working it out and that’s what makes the races interesting, even if the same bloke is winning all the time.

  6. Mike84 says:

    Someone just tell those bottom 3 teams to quit, what are they doing there? All they are doing is getting in the way of everyone else.

    1. James Allen says:

      Let’s ask that question again in 3 years. You may be proved right. Maybe not. In 2006 Red Bull finished 7th in Constructors’ with just 16 pts. Renault won the title with 206pts. Now look at them both..

      1. Andrew Halliday says:

        I wish Red Bull were still Stewart Ford, what a great success story that would have been.

        I also hope Ricciardo moves on from HRT so I can go back to disliking them!

      2. Quercus says:

        Of course there’s a little issue of the money involved to create that ‘success story’.

      3. Phil says:

        Yes, but look what happened to Supa Aguri…

      4. build says:

        James might make an interesting article at the end of season to look at the three new teams in depth, staff, owners, etc, and how they are progressing. Perhaps speculate where they are going?

      5. Speed F1 says:

        The success story of Red Bull team is equally amazing & rare. The difference between Red Bull & the 2011 bottom 3 teams not just man power & money but also poor platform to building a good car. Red Bull was smart enough to buy a team with experience & of course they are not fussed about spending money. They invested more than any other team to be where they are. They weren’t afraid of going bankrupt unlike those bottom teams. Virgin has the money but they don’t want to spend it, HRT doesn’t have the money to build a F1 worthy car & Lotus is more worried about the business side of the team that they don’t even have time to make a good car. Only team that I can see becoming a race winning team (with more investment, driver & engineers) is Force India. Force India is in the position where Red Bull was 5/6 years ago. So, 3 years time JA, I hope you are right, but those 3 teams at the moment aren’t doing any good for us viewers or the top teams & future doesn’t look great either. I’m disappointed that we spend talking about 5th/6th (if not lower) places after just about every race this season. Hopefully next year the championship will last a bit longer so that we can talk about competitive race winning strategies rather than half way through the season looking for something interesting to talk about.

    2. Rodger says:

      Heiki was racing with both Renault’s fro a good deal of the race, and finished ahead of Petrov.

      1. JamesF1 says:

        I think that was more an indication of how poorly Petrov was performing rather than a particularly strong showing from Lotus.

      2. Rodger says:

        Yes Petrov had a bad race. One of the reasons was his KERS wasn’t working, and since the Lotus doesn’t have KERS at all I think it’s shows how the the basic chassis of the two compare.

  7. Martin P says:

    James, what do you think the likely outcome to be had Jenson run to the end instead of pitting to cover Webber?

    Would Webber have caught him?
    Would Vettel have had to pit?
    Would Vettel have had to stay out but risk being under pressure in the final stages again?
    Or even more intriguingly… if Button and Vettel stayed out to cover each other, could Webber have caught them both?…

    I’m not clever enough to work out the permutations, but on Sunday I couldn’t help feel that keeping Button out was the racier option for a team in a solid 2nd place in the championship – plenty to gain, less to loose. It pretty much sums up the current difference between McLaren and Red Bull to me.

    1. James Beck says:

      Martin, I have a model which can do the maths here, based on a similar drop off in performance from McLaren/RB as we see from Di Resta.

      I’ll do the sums, then post it – first guess is that Seb would have won anyway, but it would be very close between the other two, and the pace difference would be such that if Mark caught Jenson, he would be passed easily.

      What’s also interesting is to ask whether Rosberg/Sutil could have gained by pitting – Sutil especially as he had options left.

      What I need is to be able to post a graph to show the model – is this possible here?

      1. James Allen says:

        Sure. Send it to James@jamesallenonf1.com and if we like it we’ll make a post out of it. What model do you have?

      2. James Beck says:

        I wrote a model which gives me tyre degradation/fuel effect/option-prime difference/pit stop loss/underlying pace by fitting the curves for each car on the race history chart. Some things have to be assumed (can’t predict fuel saving, for example), but the model did really well at Monza, and the Singapore fits look pretty good too so far.

        This allows me to give an underlying race pace for each car (as long as they have clear air at some point), which is a nice outcome (league table anyone?) – this is why I think Red Bull have made a jump in race pace.

        Then I can do cool things like show inconsistent pace between stints (Vettel cruising at Monza), what ifs on tyre stop strategy, and do nice graphical predictions of possible pit stop strategies pre-race.

      3. James Beck says:

        OK, here goes. If (from Jenson’s pace in the final stint) we can assume that the options stay in ‘Phase 1′ for 15 laps, then a stop at about lap 47 for options is 20 seconds faster than not stopping based on Di Resta’s trace (which is the same as Sutil/Rosberg/Barrichello pretty much so I think this is pretty safe: note that this doesn’t allow for overtaking, so there is likely to be some time lost there).

        Therefore at the head of the race, or you have serious pace (Hamilton/Massa) then you stop. Webber was 4s behind Button – Jenson had to cover or we would have had a Red Bull 1-2. It is then obvious what to do with the leading car.

        For the midfield battle it is more interesting. A stop on lap 47(ish) would have dropped any of the DiResta/Rosberg/Sutil/Perez train behind the recovering Massa, who would have been slower than them (as he was on 5-6 lap old primes) but probably fast enough to keep them behind. It was worth a punt for Perez as Massa beat him anyway, but I think the others made the right call. Interestingly, had Massa gone another 5-6 laps before pitting the last time, his pace advantage would have been that much greater (lower fuel when the tyres are new translates to pace throughout the stint) and he would have been able to take much better advantage (especially if they were confident enough to take options with only 15 to go). I reckon that he would have had a good shout at sixth and wouldn’t have been trapped behind Barrichello for a frustrating couple of laps.

  8. Paul says:

    Why don’t more people run the hard early, it seems logical to use this tyre early when fuel loads are highest and the fields aren’t spreading like they used to as they tip toe round trying not to destroy their tyres. Having got that stage out f the way early you then have the softs coming home when fuel loads are lighter, happy days!!!

    1. Quercus says:

      One word answer: ‘traffic’.

  9. Fernando Chavez says:

    Talking about strategies, what about Lewis H. strategy at the start?? everybody knows that Webber launch control is not working right, (by designed) how come Lewis was not advise to NOT FOLLOW Webber??? I would of tagged behind Buttom knowing that his start is the same as Lewis and on the clean side…. why o why Lewis followed Webber? I just don’t get it, what happened to Mclaren lately, they look like it is their first GP, what a way to screw up L.H. race.

    1. Andrew Carter says:

      First, Webber has admited that his start problems are largely down to him, second Lewis was boxed in with nowhere to go at the start, blaming the team is rather silly.

  10. Chris Bird says:

    I cannot understand why the lapped cars can stay in position when they lineup behind the safety car, by doing so the FIA is depriving the fans of the leaders being able challenge each other on the restart. I remember a few seasons ago they were waved round and we got to see the cars on the lead lap in position. I hope this rule is changed, it would definately add a further opportunity for cloaser racing.

    1. Gene says:

      The lead that a driver has worked hard to obtain (Vettel’s in this case) is completely wiped away through no fault of their own with the appearance of a safety car. While I understand where you’re coming from, you’ve got to look at it from all of the competetor’s points of view. The way it’s set up now gives the lead driver at least a portion of the edge that they had prior to the safety car.

      Ever wonder why the safety car is out for a really long time for even minor incidents? I found myself yelling at the tv many times, until I realized that the field is not allowed to push as hard as they want to catch up to the Safety Car nowadays… they have a slower laptime set for them which they cannot go below. This allows the corner workers and marshalls to do their job with less risk. Of course this also makes it take a LONG time for all the cars to make it to the back of the train. If you add the wrinkle of waving all backmarkers by the safety car, it would take even LONGER to get things going again. I think generally, taking all of these things into account, the current safety car rules are about as good as you can get. I mean, remember when they used to bunch everyone up and THEN open the pits? Madness!

      1. Andrew Carter says:

        They could just send the lapped cars through the pits to be held at the red light until the crocodile has passed, much quicker than waving them through. Seeing Vettel make 8 seconds on Button between turn 20 and the finish line because Trulli fell asleep is a bit silly. Inevitably somebody is always going to loose out and someone is always going to gain with a safety car but do we really want potential batles at the front ended before they even start by unatentive backmarkers who have no need to keep close to the car infront themselves.

  11. MikeW says:

    Button fell back from Vettel pretty quickly at the start. Was this strategic behaviour (ie to put less load on the tyres when the car is at its heaviest) to keep the tyres fresher, or was it precautionary (after no heavy-fuel laps during FP sessions)?

    Certainly Button’s tyres behaved better than Vettel’s at the end of the 1st stint – with the time coming back down markedly.

    I’ve noticed that this seems to be a regular feature of Button’s 1st couple of laps – no matter whether he had a great start, or a bad one. He definitely seems to “edge” his way into a race, but comes out of it charging!

    1. James Allen says:

      No, just pure pace from SV and the Red Bull

      1. James Beck says:

        I agree. I think that the races since the mid-season break are showing that Red Bull (especially in the hands of a certain young German) are now able to translate the qualifying pace gap into the races. We’re not writing about McLaren/Ferrari being closer in the races any more.

      2. Ade says:

        I think it’s actually a combination of both things. Jenson is slower and maybe Ham would have been quicker, but JB plays the long game much better than his team mate. However sometimes the gap is too big to then recover…

      3. Stevie P says:

        I disagree a little there James… Button had done no long run simulation all weekend, so I figured he was a tad easier on his tyres at the start than he could have been. Back in China (I think) Button started cautiously with the idea of stopping less than those around him, however that back-fired on him. So MikeW I’m in agreement with you, I always feel Button is easy at the start of a race and waits to see how things pan out… then pushes harder later in stints.

        However, I do also think that SV pushes like crazy at the start of a race (when he’s on pole) to make “a gap” and thus control the race, his pace and lower the strains on the car etc, etc.

  12. Simon says:

    JA,

    How come in F1 they don’t wave lapped cars through under the safety car? I might make restarts a bit more exciting, and help with the amount of lapped traffic the leaders have to deal with.

    1. Stevie P says:

      They used to; but it took ages to get everyone back in-line again. Now with the “SC deltas” it would take everyone even longer to get into a correctly ordered queue behind the SC. I feel the SC stays out too long these days anyway…

    2. gonzeche says:

      To wave through lapped cars under safety car would definitely add excitment to restarts, but in my view that would be too artificial just for the sake of excitement.
      If Vettel built up 18 seconds before the safety car, that’s the way it is wether I like it or not. Doesn’t it add enough excitement to have the gap reduced from 18 to 10 seconds after the safety car?
      The most exciting in terms of an uncertain/unexpected outcame would be to reduce races to a 500 meter sprint with all cars starting from one line.

  13. audifan says:

    button stated that the only time in the race he was not in fuel and tyre saving mode was at the end …am sure you all you all heard the radio message authorising him to turn up the engine and go for it

  14. sunny jhawer says:

    Hi james, Di Resta’s performance was great but it seems to me that nobody had noticed Schumacher’s race pace during the race. His pace was going to give him another 5th place finish. Just before the first round of pit stops he was 3 seconds behind Rosberg. After he pitted he rejoined the track with 6 cars between him and his team mate. Once the cars in front were either passed by Schumacher or pitted, he ended up 14 seconds behind. At this point Schumacher set fastest lap of the race and none of the pundits actually noticed that Schumacher had caught the Rosberg/Perez/Di Resta group, with a fresh set of options available. Hence why it was crucial that Schmacher got pass Perez as soon as possible to make his strategy work for 5th place. It would have been very interesting what would have happened had he not been so overly keen to pass at that point. Great to see Schumacher improving.

    1. James Allen says:

      I think I spell out pretty clearly in the piece how Schuey was on a sprint strategy

      1. James Beck says:

        Interestingly, Rosberg’s strategy was racier than Schumacher’s as he was stopping earlier. However, fuel/tyre like-for-like Schuey was 0.5s quicker, so was looking good if he could get past Rosberg/DiResta. However, Hamilton was 16s behind when Schumacher crashed, and was almost 1.5s quicker in real terms, with Schuey on his last set of options. So I don’t think that Michael would have been fifth, but I do agree that his race pace is significant. He was clearly quick in Singapore – much quicker than Nico in the race.

  15. Richard says:

    While the various strategies make interesting study should racing be so complex. With high degradation tyes drivers are limited to within the performance of the particular tyre and I do feel that not enough latitude is available with it to allow teams to compete properly particularly those with a rather less efficient car than the leaders. – It’s too narrow and do we really want a tyre strategy contest or do we want to see who is genuinely faster?

    1. Aaron Parsons says:

      Part of the fun and drama of F1 is speculating who is the fastest driver, discussing the intrigue of strategy – tyre strategy and adjusting to events in the race, the politics and the on track action. It comes as a package and unless we have a formula where everyone is driving exactly the same car with the same tyres, we will never be able to answer that question – and I, for one, prefer it that way.

      1. Liam in Sydney says:

        Can’t agree more. The best driver will make his means meet his ends based on what he has to work with, and his talent for driving the car.

        Richard, this is not kart racing. If a driver excels in managing tyres over the entire race, doesn’t blister or grain them, then good for him. He will do well. Similarly, if a driver is harsh on the tyres, then stop more for new tyres (maybe sitting out a quali section to do so) and push like the blazes to make up time for the extra stop. It is possible, Schumi was a master at it. And as we have seen, poor quali does not mean a poor finishing place in the race.

      2. Richard says:

        Well to use an analogy it’s like athletes using slippery shoes to run on. Of course drivers will never have the same equipment, and it is interesting to observe and understand the development race, combined with race strategy, but drivers are limited to how hard they can push for fear of ruining the tyres. It has of course been done to improve the spectacle for TV, but it is an artificial impaired race rather like having a graph where all the peaks have been cut off. Worse still it further disadvantages those with less efficient cars.

  16. Jack says:

    every time we have a race with the soft/super-soft combination it highlights how much F1 seems to be determined to drive away new fans. The soft tyre is actually the hard tyre? Brilliant. And how are people gonna be overtaking next season? ERS or DRS? Again, top PR boys keep it up.

  17. Chris South says:

    Hi James. I like the data/analysis; is it possible to add a zoom buton to the graph?

    regards

    Chris

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