Coping with change: A deep dive into race strategies from European Grand Prix
Strategy Report
Posted By: James Allen  |  28 Jun 2011   |  1:35 pm GMT  |  89 comments

The European Grand Prix at Valencia was the least exciting race of the season so far from the point of view of spectacle.

But from a race strategy point of view it was quite interesting. It was less frantic than some of the races we have experienced so far this year and, surprisingly, there was no safety car. As a result the teams had some time to consider their options during the race.

Many had planned to do the race on a two-stop strategy, which on paper was eight seconds faster than a three-stop, assuming you had a trouble-free run in traffic.

But then the conditions changed and race day turned out to be much hotter than the practice days. The track temperature on Sunday was about 20 degrees hotter than it was on Friday, which is why so many people opted to go conservative and followed a three-stop strategy in the race.

In passing it’s worth noting that in previous years with Bridgestone tyres, the Valencia track rubbered-in and lap times improved by about four seconds per lap between Friday morning practice and the start of qualifying on Saturday, but the feeling this year was that it was less with the Pirellis, probably closer to three seconds.

Also worth remembering is that Pirelli had brought the medium compound tyre to race for the first time and although it was tested in practice, no-one had any knowledge of how it would perform with the 47 degree track temperatures.

There are some interesting observations to make about the strategy battle between Red Bull and Ferrari, but also an opportunity to look at one or two drivers in the midfield who coped with change, did something different, and got a great result.

Alguersuari: A fabulous drive under extreme pressure
When he qualified in 18th place, down among the backmarkers for the third race in a row, Jaime Alguersuari knew that the vultures were circling on his career. With pressure on his seat from Toro Rosso test driver Daniel Ricciardo, Alguersuari was fighting for his future on Sunday afternoon. What he did was remarkable. No wonder he jumped into the harbour in celebration after the race!

Starting on a new set of soft tyres, he got a decent start, moving up to 17th place, then quickly dispatched Perez and Petrov, who had both started on the medium tyre. He was now behind team mate Buemi who had started one place ahead of him on the grid, so was making similar progress.

They gained places as Heidfeld, Barrichello and Sutil all pitted around laps 11 and 12. When Buemi pitted on lap 14 and Alguersuari continued, it was clear that Toro Rosso were splitting the strategies with the Spaniard going for two stops. He made his first stop on lap 19.

What made his race and gave him his ultimate result of eighth place was his 23-lap second stint on the soft tyre. Not only was the stint long – most teams couldn’t have got 23 laps out of the soft tyre – Alguersuari was able to lap at a similar speed to the Mercedes and Renault cars throughout the stint. This is the remarkable bit.

Alguersuari’s performance caught out most of the midfield teams, who didn’t expect him to be able to run so long and stay competitive. They couldn’t understand how he made the tyres last that long because the Toro Rosso was not considered to be particularly kind on its tyres, like for example the Sauber.

When his rivals made their third stops Alguersuari rose back up the order. He also did a great job to hold off Sutil in the closing laps. They were both on the medium tyre, having made their final pitstops within a lap of each other (42/43), yet Sutil couldn’t find a way past, even with DRS and a straightline speed advantage of 4 km/h.

Strategy battle at the front: Red Bull and Ferrari

While Sebastian Vettel had the whole thing covered and was able to maintain a slender lead, not overstressing the tyres at any stage, Mark Webber was locked in a battle with Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari.

Red Bull’s tactic was to pit earlier and try the undercut. There were three significant moments in the race which helped Alonso to take second place from Webber. The first was when he overtook team mate Felipe Massa at Turn 2 because that allowed him to run with Webber. If he’d been behind Massa, he would have found it difficult to pass because the double DRS activation wasn’t very effective in Valencia, particularly in the first stint.

After overtaking Webber on lap 21, Alonso allowed himself to be undercut at the second pitstop, by Red Bull making the first stop. He must have been worried about tyre wear, otherwise he should have come in earlier.

Ferrari was very cautious at the beginning of each of the soft tyre stints.
Alonso did not even accelerate at full speed out of the pit lane so that he would not overheat the surface of the tread on his outlap. He was very cautious about warming up the whole tyre, not just the tread surface.

Staying out on the option tyre for three laps after Webber had pitted for medium tyres on lap 42, again trying the undercut, worked out for Alonso. It was pretty obvious that a used option was going to be quicker than a new medium tyre – strategists could see that from looking at Kobayashi’s lap times on it. Alonso did enough in three laps to take the second place when he made his final stop.

The Ferrari was surprisingly fast on the medium tyre, having struggled on it in practice.

The UBS Strategy Report is prepared with input and data from strategists from the F1 teams. Thanks to them for their help.



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You said in a previous post you’d look into HRT and why Karthikayen was so far behind his teammate. Any news?


Sounds extremely far-fetched to me.

Monza with Indycars? Not a chance.


Quick question on Ferrari’s ultimate pace – Fernando seemed to keep well within reach of Vettel during the first 3 stints, but after the third stop he lost touch. Was this only down to traffic or did Seb have the legs on the Ferrari on the final set of tires?


Looking at the graph, Alonso’s pace was still good (and had not dropped off) when they pitted him for his third stop, it seems to me they were to causious trying to cover any potential threat from Webber.

I think both Alonso and Webber were caught out by traffic that they could’ve cleared if they’d stayed out a couple of laps longer.

The thought crossed my mind that maybe Redbull sacrificed Webbers strategy to Help protect Vettel.


I didn’t watch the race (rarely watch any of them these days as never seem to have the time) but I always enjoy reading this site to catch up on the technology, strategy, politics and people stories.

James, you always seem to have more depth and often unique articles than most other websites which makes this my first port of call for F1. I do like Mark Hughes on the BBC website too.

For me, I often find watching the races a little dull (even these days with all the DRS and tyre stops) but find the technology, strategies and politics fascinating. I was always a Ferrari fan from being a kid, even back in the days when they were nowhere near the front. My interest has often drifted in and out (loved it when Mansell was at Ferrari, lost interest for a few years then got back into it just before Schumacher joined). I have to admit I’ve lost some of the love for Ferrari given how they’ve handled things the past few years.

I do think that having tyres that degrade so much does add to the strategy although I miss fuel stops as teams seem to underfill their cars and then turn the engine down during the race which just seems wrong. I remember how great Ross Brawn and Schumacher were at coming up with strategies and outwitting the opposition (e.g. McLaren)to win races where they were not the fastest. Sadly, Red Bull seem so much quicker and usually get their strategy right (or at least no more wrong than the others) that you don’t see many cases of a slower but smarter driver/team combination at the front these days. It still amazes me how McLaren seem to get it wrong so often though, you’d think they’d have employed some smarter strategists by now. Maybe I should apply for a job with them, after all I used to be able to work out Ferrari’s strategies quicker than the other teams and commentators back in the Brawn/Schumacher days!



The content of discussion on this site is usually of a very high quality compared to the other F1 sites. That said, I am a little disappointed that so many negative things are being projected about Vettel’s performances. Yes, a dominating season from an individual makes the sport boring but there are differences here that separate this year from the Schumacher years:

– The quality of the opposition is supreme. Not only does the field have better drivers, most of the top drivers are in very good cars and on the top of their game. Even the midfield is pretty strong compared to the early part of last decade.

– Vettel and Webber are provided the same equipment and there are no explicit team orders. There may be inclinations towards the German in the team but no one is telling Webber to let Vettel through.

– The RB7 is a phenomenal piece of engineering but Vettel is *outperforming* even the best car in the paddock. Remember that before Webber came to Red Bull, he was a qualifying specialist and outperformed his teammates. Webber may be having a hard time this year but he is clearly not shabby.

– The Ferraris and McLarens do manage to beat one Red Bull, whether it be on track or due to strategy. The competition is *not* lopsided due to the car being in a class of its own. It is lopsided because one driver is in a league of his own this year.

– All but one of Vettel’s mistakes this year have been in practice sessions. Apart from one mistake in Canada, his other second position was in equal parts due to Hamilton’s superior driving in that race and Vettel not having KERS.

– Such domination comes not just through driving talent, but also through immense mental fortitude. He has not let mistakes and misfortune dent his confidence since the Belgian GP last year. Lewis is arguably a better driver in many conditions but he’s crumbling under the pressure of his own expectations this year. We saw a lot of that in Vettel last year as well but this year he is a completely different driver. If this mental nirvana is something that he’ll possess in absence of a race-winning car is something we’ll see in the future, but for now he is nearly unbeatable physically and mentally.

Everyone has their own favorite drivers and it’s hard to see them beaten, but do give credit where and when it is due. The making of champions beyond winning the championship is rare; acknowledge and appreciate it when it is seen.


Valencia wasn’t a complete failure. In fact, it was a revelation. No matter how much the rules are tweaked and no matter how many new enhancements are made to race craft, there will be no racing if the track is not meant for race cars. Address the problem and not the symptoms.


James – thanks for this detail, if you are open to suggestions, I found the second chart of lap times, more easy to follow than the first. especially with first and second coloured blue and red

Alonso’s times in the first and third stints are amazingly consistent. Within a 3 or 4 tenths range. This must be what the F1 industry means when they talk about how good he is.

By Comparison, Vettel seems a bit erratic, but in each stint, about 2/3rds through, he has one ‘spike’ lap, as if to show the filed how quick he could be going.


TV cameras at different heights would help letting you know where the cars are on track but yes a bad track.


James, something that I believe would add value to the UBS Report is a simple summary detailing the overtakes during the race and whether it was on-track or via a pit-stop undercut.


Lap 7 : Ham vs Alo (Track)

Lap 15 : Web vs Alo (Pit)

Readers could then match-up the lap-time data with those events to see how things truly transpired during the race. Not sure how difficult it would be for you and your peoples to source that data but I’m thinking it would add a further (currently missing) dimension to the summary. Thoughts ?


Not a bad idea. But it’s more about the decisions that get made than an exhaustive blow by blow


I wish I had the time to campaign noisily for Valencia to be replaced by Magny-Cours.


The more the Red Bulls dominate, the less I am interested in watching the races, especially bits where Seb V / Red Bull talk in conferences, especially the bites about how difficult the race was etc as mentioned above by another reader. You just know that’s a whole load of bulls and they knew it was just a walk in the park.

I already switch off the TV as soon as the leader passes the flag, skipping all the bits and pieces straight after. I don’t even bother to watch pre-race stuff as well.

I only stay to watch till the flag drops hoping something like mechanical or aero failure would happen to the Bulls to give me something to cheer. This is turning into a boring season to watch.

If you ask me, I’d rather see Webber on top at times and fighting it over with Seb, that’s the least. Would be a whole lot better to end this RB domination.


Can you anyone tell me is there a track in Spain that would be good for F1. By all feedback Barcelona and Valencia are the most boring tracks of the year.


Though I’ve never watched it, Jerez apparently is visited by F1 for testing and racing in the past. I don’t know how racing was on the track back then, but I’d like F1 to give it another try


I’m now more convinced there’s going to be a fairly major accident with these huge front wings getting stuck under the cars, leaving them with no ability to steer or brake. It’s happened a few times already and I thought it may have happened to Schumacher on Sunday.

Has there been any discussion over this significant safety issue?


Well as long as there are wings at the front of the cars, there are always chances that they’d get stuck underneath the cars, as evident many many times before. You can’t do anything about it really other than just drivers be careful. This kind of front-wing stuck underneath cars accident only happen once every long while so it’s not really a major issue IMO.


Big one for Heidfeld in Canada and a huge one for Kobayashi in Melbourne last year.

The low nose cars of the 1990s had two discrete wings, either side of the nose. In the past decade the wing has become a large ‘plank’ suspended from the nose, and therefore tends to pass under the car when it breaks off. The tendency to do this seems to be worse since the wings were increased in size in 2009.


the only thing i don’t understand looking at this graph is why karthikayen is so far off the pace of his teammate and the virgins? i don’t know much about him but i get the impression he is there only because of his financial backing, i can’t see any talent in him at all, to me he is wasting an f1 seat, albeit an undesirable one but an f1 seat nonetheless, i would rather see a young driver with some promise in that car. lets be honest hrt would bite your hand off for a cash injection, shame i didn’t win the euromillions, i could have given them a couple of quid to take his seat 🙂


…i could have given them a couple of quid to take his seat

Hey! Thats *my idea, don’t be stealing it!


OR pay a couple more and take the whole team LOL!!!

Then just sit yourself in one of the cars. Be in control of the team rather than the team to control you. You never know if or when someone else with a deeper pocket comes along to nick the seat off ya 😉


>…and pigs fly!

They certainly will if you get them going fast enough!


James, your in depth look into strategy for the previous race is one of the best ideas in a long time for F-1 fans. Thanks.

What’s up with Renault/Group Lotus lately?


Solid analysis. Personally I think there were 2 reasons for McLaren falling on their face. Firstly, the high temperatures. And for the second reason, you have to watch onboard shots of McLaren coming onto the DRS zones in China to see…they have very poor traction out of corners and probably work to maintain a high speed.

The fact that this was a pure traction circuit didn’t play into their hand. That also shows how good the RB7 is in that it dominates pretty much everywhere.


I didn’t go into depth on McLaren but it was odd they struggled in heat as they were quick in heat of Malaysia.


Maybe in Malaysia because of high speed corners, the effect of heat alone was not persistent as McLaren could play with their not so bad downforce spec and beat Ferrari, which they did. I don’t think McLaren are so bad with traction out of the exits because they did well in Monaco and Canada where mechanical grip outweighed downforce. In Valencia though, they either had a low downforce setup to tackle the long striahgts and slow corners or Ferrari improved massively from Malaysia to give themselves an edge over McLaren. I stick with the former because McLaren outqualified Ferrari. Now, why struggling in the heat of Valencia and not in that of Malaysia? I guess it’s again down to downforce and if you don’t have much of the same, then your tyres could break away in the extreme heat in such a fashion that the inner rubber structure fails to give away any grip by breaking itself into useless patterns. I don’t know much in detail but this seems to be the reason of their poor race show.

Liam in Sydney

Maybe both of the Maccas were running a 1st and 2nd gear that was too tall?


James, if you see in valencia, throughout the weekend, the Ferraris are particulary very very strong in the sector one and two almost comparable to redbull by only thousandths of a second. But in Sector 3 they are way off by more than 3 to 4 tenths.

sector 3 has two slow corners and the rest are free flowing curves..what can we glean from this?


Highnspeed corners in S3 – so aerodynamics


Ferrari should consider luring Rory Bryne back to their team 😀


Merc should be knocking down his door! Dream team back in action 😉


It is somehow curious that people criticises DRS, Pirelli tyres, and the Valencia GP. In fact this year’s Valencia GP was much better than a lot of races last year :), we even had an overtaking for 2nd position in the track. It seems that it is quite difficult to make us, Formula 1 fans, happy.


This comment may be more suited to another post, but if a double DRS and Pirelli tyres could not add any excitement to this track, then that’s got to tell you something about how awful this one is in terms of racing. this is the first race this season when I’ve actually been more interested in the scenery than the racing, and considering this is in the middle of a dock yard has got to tell you something.

Well done to Alguersuari for making a bold gamble pay off though.



I’m still unsure about the Ferrari strategy. Why didn’t they try to cover Webber’s undercut on the second stop and keep track position after the hard-earned pass on the track, then try to slowly catch Vettel? It looked as if Alonso had the pace to do it. Worst case they still finish second, giving themselves a chance to fight for the big prize.


I think the article explains it: The issue was that the medium tire was slower than a used soft. So, if Alonso undercuts Webber in the first stint, and Webber went long in stints 1 and 2, then Alonso would have been forced to spend quite a bit more time than Webber in the medium tire, so his overall race time would have been worse.

Ferrari picked the strategy that would be faster overall if there was no traffic, and that was faster than Webber’s. Just look at the difference in speed between Webber’s first 3 laps on mediums and Alonso’s pace in used softs: Alonso was the second fastest card on the track, even on used tires.


I noticed this, which begs the question why did Ferrari not leave him out for a couple more laps before his third stop? His pace on the softs had not dropped off and he may have cleared the traffic that he came out into after his third stop, keeping him in contention with Vettel.


I can’t help but think what would have happened if Alonso elected to stay out much longer in his penultimate stint and tried to see if he could make the soft tire last longer without drop in his lap times (since Jamie was able to make it last for 23 laps). If it did not work out, worst case would have been 3rd. But at least he could have challenged Vettel/pushed Red Bull pit wall to think…?


Interesting question. Difficult to answer because we don’t know if Vettel had something in hand.


I guess Vettel had something up his sleeve if he was required to go faster. I’m most surprised by the guy’s attention to details even when things are going well. Read this from Christian

“At one point, we hadn’t told him (Seb) we had put the prime (harder) tyres on Mark’s car because we didn’t want him to push any harder. But then he came on the radio and said: ‘What time is Mark doing on the primes?’ We all looked at ourselves and thought ‘Who told him?’ Of course, he was watching the big TV screen as he was going round.” – a ‘perfectionist’ who ‘never ceases to surprise’

and people say, it’s just the car, yeah right and pigs fly!


A driver in a backmarker car can also do the same with a less capable car.

Able to do that doesn’t mean it’s not down to the car able to give him the win.

Put Alonso or Hammy in the car and Vettel would be left to eat dust, given how Alonso can drag over 100% out of the Ferrari to take the fight to Redbulls.


Impressive sure, but when the car is *that* good and alwows you to maintain a nice cushion at the front, it allows the driver to spend his time looking at these things. I’m sure half the drivers on the field would do the same.


where was the cushion in Monaco and more glaringly, Barcelona? Even in Canada, he would have won had he not underestimated Jenson’s charge and left it too late. And in these three races, Redbull was only second fastest on race trim, unlike the Brawn of 2009 or the Ferrari of 2004. Now that the monkey’s off his back, Vettel is in a class of his own.


Even a good writeup on strategy can’t help this race to be more exciting.


An awful race to watch, and due to the championship situation it actually left a bitter taste long after it finished.

I’ll admit i’m not a Red Bull or Vettel fan, and it’s got to the point that whenever they interview Christian Horner or Sebastian Vettel I just turn the sound off. I don’t want to hear it anymore. I particularly don’t want to hear how “difficult” the race is going to be during the qualifying press conference, when the race isn’t going to be anything of the sort and I’m sure they know it.

I’m also annoyed at Mark Webber when he says the other drivers need to start beating Seb or he’ll run away with the whole thing. You’re in the same car Mark, and it just so happens to be the class of the field – please sort out your own performances before commenting on what others should do. You’ve been comprehensively beaten by your team mate in every race and qualifying session this season. If you think that is acceptable and you can’t do anything about it please give up your race seat and retire.


Not exactly fair beating up on Webber when he’s not had KERS for 4 or 5 races. I’m guessing that’s not the only difference between his car and Vettel’s – I assume any new parts would go to Vettel as well.


I’m beginning to think that Webber’s car is becoming a test machine for new parts. Perhaps a new gearbox in the last race. Not too radical though, because there is still the Constructors Championship. If I was Newey that’s what I would do.



I turn off the TV whenever there is Seb + Redbull on post-quali + post-race conference.

Sick and tired..


I think that’s unfair. He speaks really well, always tries to say something interesting


I recently remember a quote from Ron Dennis in early 2001. It goes something like this

“it’s not upto the FIA to clamp Ferrari down rather upto the other teams to slow them down by beating them” (James, some part of you I’m sure will nod with me)

Vettel has driven so well that the others needed the 0.5 of a second from the FIA and hand it over to them in a plate with mid-season rule changes (though I think he’s gonna run away with it despite that). And worse, some people won’t even watch F1 because they hate to see one winner. Instead of ackowledging the kindov job the crash kid does and the way he betters others week in week out, people lament at his success by harping that the kid’s boring.


Would the increased temperature have a large enough effect to alter the DRS effectivity?

I’m thinking higher air temp = less dense = less drag

Do the really hot tracks have poorer DRS performance compared to cooler tracks like Canada? Malaysia would have been the exception as it is extremely humid which makes the air denser.


Your thinking is reasonable, but I believe other factors dominate, such as the speed off the last corner. The less dense air also makes the wings less effective in the corners, so the penalty for following is less and the car behind should be closer.




I don’t know about that, Nick. If we look at Canada which is a low downforce track (ie much less drag), DRS had arguably too much effect. The effect of temperature on aerodynamics is small by comparison.


James – A bit off topic…

I have been reading about Austin City Council’s vote tomorrow to release funds for the US Grand Prix. I understand that this money comes from a fund established specifically for bringing high profile cultural/sporting events to the city, and if the funds are blocked there could be implications for the return of F1 to the USA.

Do you have any insight in to the procedings, the nature of the payment that the organisers are looking to get from the Council, the ramifications should the Council block the payment, and any other nuggets that you can share on the matter? I’d like to hear your opinion…



I know a bit: The fund is a texas state fund that is set up to attract large events like F1, the super bowl, final four etc etc. The state would give the organizers $25 mil to assist with putting on the event. Once the event has been completed the state is refunded its $25 mil. so basically they are just fronting them revenue/ticket funds to get the show on the road.

currently there is some catch regarding the date of the race. since it hasn’t been confirmed for next years calendar there is no “official” date, and apparently that causes some problems with the way the law is worded. basically it’s a semantics argument that the council should be able to work around.

there is also some recently laid off teacher who is protesting/petitioning the state funds being used for the race, saying that if there’s money for a race track to be built, there’s money to pay her salary. which i feel badly for her for being laid off and all, but teachers salary are a continual pay out cost, building a racetrack is a one time expense and the money will be paid back so….

and since this is america and texas there is the usual overblown ballyhoo about pretty much everything to do with it.

since they’ve already started digging the track up and laying it all out i’m pretty sure that it’s going to go ahead fine.


I don’t but I’ll bet some of our readers do. Over to you

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