The British Grand Prix was up there with Bahrain and Canada among the most exciting races of this 2014 season. Although the victory was ultimately decided by a reliability problem for Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg, Lewis Hamilton was on a different strategy and here we will analyse whether he would have beaten Rosberg if the fight had gone to the chequered flag.
We will also analyse how Williams and Red Bull switched strategy to get Bottas and Ricciardo onto the podium, why strategy cost Vettel a podium shot and how Jenson Button should have finished ahead of Ricciardo.
Pre race expectations
Based on Friday practice running the strategists were predicting a largely two stop race with most drivers going with medium, medium and then hard tyres at the end. Practice had shown the hards to be around 6/10ths of a second per lap slower than the mediums. A few teams, including Williams which had under performed in qualifying, were considering a one stop race. But all the strategists knew that this was a race for being dynamic and adaptable; perhaps more than any race in recent memory, this was a race for thinking on your feet.
This was a most unusual race, because the temperature rise of 7 degrees from Friday to Sunday led to the tyres performing very differently from expectations; the degradation was low, but the wear was also negligible. It was the teams who were alive to this and most adaptable, who came through. The podium reflects this; the winner came from 6th on the grid, the runner up from 14th and the third placed finisher started 8th!
Would Hamilton have beaten Rosberg in a straight fight to the flag?
Lewis Hamilton gladly collected the 25 points for the win, which closed him up to four points behind Rosberg in the championship. But he regretted that he didn’t have the chance to beat him on the race track, as he felt he was set up to do so.
So let’s analyse it and see if he would have beaten Rosberg to the flag, without the German’s gearbox problem.
The first thing to say is that Mercedes had a huge margin over the rest at Silverstone in pace terms, as big as at any stage of this season.
Both drivers started the Grand Prix on medium tyres and Rosberg stopped on lap 18, taking on a new set of mediums which committed him to stop a second time later in the race for hards. It was a clear two stopper for Rosberg.
Hamilton however, having started sixth but quickly risen to second in the opening stint, lengthened his run to lap 24. He was able to do this without losing much time. During this period the strategists had the chance to reflect on options. If they put him onto the hard tyre at the first stop, this would give them the possibility to convert him to a one-stop, or he could pit again late in the race for a new set of tyres and attack Rosberg.
Because Red Bull had taken the hard tyres at the start, everyone could see from Ricciardo’s performance how well they were working. It became clear that there was in fact very little difference between the hard and medium tyres.
What they quickly realised in the second stint was that Hamilton’s pace on the hards matched his pace on the mediums, so there was no need to go for the second option. He would one-stop from here, meaning he did not need to pit again. This would mean that he would have taken over the lead later in the race when Rosberg made his second stop, around lap 35. Hamilton would then have been ahead by around 17 seconds with as many laps to go and Rosberg would have had to catch and pass him. As Hamilton was getting good lap times out of the hard tyres, this would have been difficult.
So the improvement in tyre performance swung things Hamilton’s way. The gearbox problem for Rosberg spoiled what was shaping up to be a really thrilling final few laps. It’s not easy to say for sure who would have won, but one can say with some certainty that Rosberg would have had to overtake Hamilton to win.
(NB – Hamilton did in fact pit again but this was only a safety measure in case of a puncture or late race safety car)
Bottas and Ricciardo – strategy switch reaps huge rewards
The red flag stoppage for the accident of Kimi Raikkonen allowed teams to change their strategies for the race; Red Bull put Vettel and Ricciardo on hard tyres thereby also completing a mandatory change and perhaps demonstrating where they expected their race pace to be relative to the cars around them. For Williams, Bottas fitted another new set of medium tyres whereas Hamilton did not change at all.
With Vettel, Red Bull went very aggressive and made an early stop on lap 10 to dispense with the hard and therefore commit to a two stop race. This turned out to be a mistake. At this stage none of the strategists knew for sure that a one stop was going to be as achievable as it later proved. If they and wanted to hedge their bets they would have gone to lap 20. But they were in attack mode on Vettel’s car, after he had dropped three places with a poor start. This was one case where fortune did not favour the brave.
Another mistake on Vettel’s car came when they pitted him on lap 33 into Alonso. The gap had been there, but he lost time on his in-lap as Bottas passed him. The resulting gap wasn’t sufficient and Vettel came out just ahead of Alonso who passed him at Turn 9.
Without this he would have been fighting Button and Ricciardo for a podium.
Meanwhile, by lengthening his opening stint by five laps compared to his team mate, Ricciardo came into the window where he had the option to one-stop, while Bottas on the medium tyre did the same. As the laps ticked by and the teams realised one-stop was possible, this is what gave both of them a podium. Ricciardo’s was slightly fortunate as it relied on McLaren not maximising their race with Button and that opened a narrow window for Ricciardo to take advantage of.
What was really remarkable on Sunday was the pace that Bottas had on both tyre compounds. The Williams was very fast and he drove it very skilfully, passing many cars in the opening stint to pave the way for a podium and then once he was in clear air he was able to keep going at a strong pace and made the decision to stop just once very easy.
He was also providing very precise feedback on the performance of the tyres, correctly reading their race of wear.
How Button narrowly missed chance of a podium
A fourth place from third on the grid, finishing ahead of a Ferrari and a Red Bull was a good result for Jenson Button and McLaren, but he caught Ricciardo at the end of the race on tyres that were 13 laps newer and arguably there was a podium there for him if he had found a little more pace early on in his second stint.
Button had the track position and the pace overall to finish ahead of Ricciardo at Silverstone. He lost the chance of third place by doing a couple too many laps on the medium at the end of the first stint, losing time, and also at the start of the second stint from lap 28 onwards when he took the hard tyres his pace took time to come in for four laps. This gave Ricciardo enough breathing space, so when Button closed on him it was too late to pass.
The UBS Race Strategy report is written by James Allen with input and data from several of the leading teams’ strategists and from Pirelli
Race History Graph, Kindly Supplied by Williams Martini Racing
Note the first few laps of Button’s second stint and how the pace picks up from there. Note also the pace throughout of Bottas, clearly best of the rest behind the Mercedes.