Dealing with unknowns: A deep dive into race strategy from Silverstone
Strategy Report
Posted By: James Allen  |  12 Jul 2011   |  8:51 am GMT  |  123 comments

This was a very interesting race from a strategy point of view, there were a lot more unknowns than normal, particularly with the tyres, as there was so little dry running before the race. And then there was the partially wet track at the start, which forced everyone to start on intermediate tyres, but how long for?

Prior to the start most strategists were thinking of a three stop race, with some further back on the grid planning to do one less stop to try to make up places.

The wet start meant two things which made life easier; drivers would not have to use both types of dry tyre so the much slower hard tyre did not have to be used and the wet start, essentially shortened the race by 11 laps and made the race simpler and the strategies easier to achieve.

The first key decision was how early to come in for dry tyres.

This decision was helped by Michael Schumacher who was forced to pit for a new nose on lap 9 and went to dry tyres, as he had nothing to lose. By lap 11, when his tyres were up to temperature, he was a second a lap faster than the leader and it was clear that slicks were faster and drivers like Jenson Button dived into the pits.

Red Bull: coping with two competitive drivers
At the point of wet to dry changeover, Sebastian Vettel had an eight second lead over Mark Webber, who was under pressure from Fernando Alonso. Using this to their advantage, Red Bull pitted Webber first so he would not lose time or a place to Alonso. It worked, but keeping Vettel out for the extra lap cost him five seconds. So the team was definitely thinking of Webber’s needs when it made the call on the order at the first stop.

However at the second stop they inadvertently cost Webber the place to Alonso. They did their usual thing of pulling the driver in just before the tyre performance drops off a cliff and Webber pitted on lap 26. Alonso still had life in his tyres however and did a 1m 35.5 which was the fastest lap of the race to that point. That and Webber losing a second and a half in his own pit stop meant that Alonso had done enough to undercut him. But then when Vettel’s stop went wrong and he lost the lead to Alonso, the German came out in Webber’s path, preventing him from attacking Alonso on tyres that were up to temperature.

This was a very rare example in 2011 of a driver undercutting a rival by stopping a lap later; normally new tyre performance means the undercut can only be achieved by stopping first.

McLaren – race compromised on several fronts
Leaving aside the extraordinary situation where Jenson Button’s wheel wasn’t attached at his third pit stop, McLaren’s race strategy was compromised. Like in Valencia the car was very hard on its tyres relative to the opposition. But the worse problem for Lewis Hamilton was that he didn’t have enough fuel.

With engine mapping changed for this race – meaning less fuel needed because they were not using it to off-throttle blow the diffuser – and no real dry running in practice, team strategists were really estimating the amount of fuel that would be needed to complete the race. Starting 10th McLaren clearly went over aggressive on Hamilton’s strategy. Normally you need around 150 kilos of fuel to do 52 racing laps of Silverstone.

The wet opening 11 laps should have played into his hands, because you use less fuel in the wet and many strategists took fuel out when they saw that the race start would be wet. But surprisingly it didn’t help Hamilton and he was still forced to save fuel in the last 20 laps, which cost him a podium place to Webber and almost cost him another to Massa.

This is one of the big challenges for race strategists; they want the car to finish with the minimum amount of fuel, because any extra weight you carry for 52 laps slows you down. If you are too aggressive it loses you a lot of positions when you are forced to slow at the end. If you put too much into the car, it will make you slower in the opening part of the race, but you won’t lose positions from it.

We’ve seen very little of this in the last 12 months, which indicates that teams don’t feel that being super-aggressive on fuel load is a worthwhile risk.

From back to front again for Alguersuari
This year we are seeing a phenomenon which we haven’t seen before in F1 strategy; in six of the nine races so far, a driver who is eliminated in Q1 is able to come through and score points. Alguersuari has now done it three races in a row from 18th place on the grid.

Toro Rosso’s official word was that they were caught out by the rain at the end of Q1 and didn’t get a lap in on soft tyres, but I’ve been told that they went for a hard tyre run only in order to save three sets of soft tyres for race day, as it’s worked for them in the past.

At any rate, Algersuari drove his customary long stints, taking advantage of the extra life and performance of new soft tyres to stop only twice and finish 10th.

Nico Rosberg and Sergio Perez were the highest placed two stoppers in sixth and seventh places.

The importance of the start in race strategy
Rosberg lost three places at the start and did well to come through to finish where he would have done without that initial setback.

But we are seeing some trends in starts this year, which are making a difference to drivers’ results.

The most obvious example is Pastor Maldonado, who qualified a brilliant 7th at Silvestone and then lost three places off the startline. This is a strong trend this year for the Venezuelan, who has lost 19 places in 9 starts this season.

Webber also has a poor start record – he’s lost 12 places in 9 starts – and he lost the lead at the start to Vettel at Silverstone.

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I think they shortfuled Lewis on purpose so they ran mixed strategies with Jenson and him.

If it would have rained during the race he would benefit from that since they use less fuel then but now he had to save fuel.

They wont admit it in public though and maybe even Lewis did not know to what extent he was shortfueled.

No reason to think they got it right with one of their 2 cars.

They probably thought it would be worth a shot since they lacked so much pace in qualifying and they would beat the lower teams anyway but when they performed better than expected during the race.

double eyepatch

You know what I just realised? Having noticed the in laps being 2 seconds faster from the shorter pit entry, you can go into the pit lane on the final lap and cross the timing beam sooner. In those final corner scraps (RBR drivers, HAM vs MAS) could’ve had a twist if one of them took the pit entry and hit that timing beam first.

James, was there anything preventing drivers from doing that as far as the rules are concerned? I do remember Schumacher taking a penalty after crossing the line some years back and still don’t know what was done since then to stop those kind of moments.


Charlie Whiting did say he’d look out for anyone who try that before the race. If anyone tried I’m sure FIA would have done something.


Charlie Whiting told the drivers ( I think before quali) that any attempt to pass through the PitLane to record a faster lap would be penalised. i.e ‘Don’t even think of it’

Remember Senna at Donington? Probably not.


Fascinating figures on who’s lost places on race starts. Don’t suppose you fancy writing an in depth piece on that James?


Yes, as a preview to Germany


Fabulous, I look forward to reading it.

Adrian Newey Jnr

James – could you do a post on how you think Daniel Ricciardo went?




James, what I found interesting was vettel struggling with his tyres just like webber has been once he was caught behind Lewis his stint between the 2nd and 3rd stops was very short, perhaps red bull has some aero problem in traffic which makes them harder than others on tyres.


“….The wet opening 11 laps should have played into his hands, because you use less fuel in the wet…..”

Hhmmm..strange…I find that I use more fuel (having to press harder on the accelerator) to maintain a certain speed when I’m driving on a wet road compared to when I’m driving on a dry road.


Different phenomena.

When racing in the wet, you use less fuel because you cannot accelerate as aggressively due to the lack of grip.

In the rain, you lift and brake earlier for every corner, and then pick up the throttle later and much more gently. All of this conserves fuel.


James why do my comments never show?


What tyres did Webber change to? James if Webber pitted first and changed to the harder compond, then would this be how Alonso was able to get passed them at the pit stop. Still a great drive, he is killing his team mat at the moment.


Softs of course.


Hi James

Why is Schumacher making these mistakes? It compromises his race strategy. I think this was his third nose change this season in a race? Clearly his pace was reasonably solid do you think he will come good for Mercedes? I sure hope so!

One more thing, what do you think South Africa’s chances are for hosting a Grand Prix?

Thanks for the great posts!

Eduan(Cape Town, South Africa)


Maybe he’s still not used to the wide wings. 😉


I don’t know why it’s happening. Maybe he’s trying too hard! But his recoveries are pretty spectacular, shame is we don’t really see them



it was extremely helpful to Vettel to see what the lap times on quicks were in damp but drying conditions without having to take the risk himself. Webber a test guinea pig again?


Can someone please explain the graph axis to me? I can see that the far right is the race time and the difference, but in the middle of the graph, what does a score of 0 represent for time difference?



Kimi to Redbull rumors are nonsense or worth listening to? I’m a Kimi fan for life.


I’ve always wondered whether there’s any point in under-filling cars when it means the driver will have to go slower in order to manage it anyway?


Also, perhaps McLaren thought it might rain longer, in which case they would not have needed the added fuel, as they use less fuel in the wet.

When it went dry, McLaren realized they were in trouble.

It was a gamble that they lost, but managed to salvage a good finish.


It’s a fine balance… but the lower fuel weight can also prolong the life of the tires, preventing them from falling off a cliff or eliminating the need for another stop. In addition to that, you have the overall weight benefit which lasts over an entire race (but carries the penalty of a stint where you conserve).

Of course, McLaren didn’t quite figure it out properly and put Hamilton in the line of fire at the end… or did they put him in a position that he otherwise could not have had if he wasn’t running a light car in the first part of the race? Personally, given that it was wet, I would say he would have been roughly in the same spot as the track began to dry, even if he had an extra 5 kg of fuel at the start.


Just like to ask a question to you, Mister James Allen. From all the youngsters who are knocking at formula one doors, which of them impress you the most ?


Good question. Valsecchi looks pretty good. Bit disappointed in Bianchi, although he won at the weekend in GP2. Sam Bird comes highly rated. Who do you think?


Bianchi had very bad luck at the beginning of the season, and he is coming back. For me he’s the best driver of the field.I’m still not convinced by Bird; he didn’t won a race for the moment. Valsecchi seems to be up and down, not very sure about him either. Grosjean looks like coming at age, being more calm and mature, which paid off very well this week end in race 2. For Van der Garde, even if he wins the Gp2 crown, I think unfortunately that the train has passed, a little bit like Pantano. Gutierrez is a vrey talented young man, although he’s been outperformed in speed by his team-mate, i think for learning, and to prepare himself for next year crown, he’s got the best possible environment.

And finally, in world series, there is of course Vergne, who for his first season is leading the pack. Which is very impressive, I’m a little skeptical about Wickens, although he’s very fast, it will be his fourth year in promotion formula. 3 years of world series, and one year of Gp3, where he was beaten by Guitierrez. And, he used to be part of red bull junior team, and was fired, i think because he never won’s, he is still second or third. After there are Rossi, Korjus, and Ricciardo even if he will never won the world series title.

Last thing, has a new zealander from my mother, I hope that Mitch Evans continues like that, even if I’m desperate to see, a french driver in F1, I also love to see a good new-zealander driver like there was in the old days. It will be awesome.


… and Quali, he would have been somewhere in the top 5 without their tyre cock up, from there he would have walked away with the race.

There was also the strange question of why they did not give him much information about progress with the fuel level in the last few laps, allowing Massa to get dangerously close.


So Alonso’s drive WAS brilliant then.

“This was a very rare example in 2011 of a driver undercutting a rival by stopping a lap later; normally new tyre performance means the undercut can only be achieved by stopping first.”


Can the strategy report tell us why Martin Brundle failed to notice Seb overtaking Mark at the start? Took three or four corners for the Beeb’s golden boy to wake up. Bring back JA!


Hi James,

Thanks for the analysis! I wonder whether the departure of Pat Fry has something to do McLaren’s pit problem? I feel their race management is clearly sloppier than before while Ferrari is slightly improving. What’s yout thoughts?


Probably not down to one man alone. McLaren have done some good stops this year.



Did you hear anything on the lines of Martin’s job being under threat? The mail reports so and I think it’s a genuine source.



What is the minimum time between a teams two cars so that they can pit them on the same lap without losing time? With 3.5 second pit stops, an 8 second gap at the first stop, it must be fairly close to warrant that with the 5 second loss they had in one lap….

As a quick aside, i’m fairly surprised they didn’t give Vettel priority on the first stop to protect the win rather than Webbers second place.


They need time to get the second set of tyres ready so that’s the limiting factor. I’d guess around 10 secs gap between cars should be okay for the second guy not to lose time waiting


“Using this to their advantage, Red Bull pitted Webber first so he would not lose time or a place to Alonso. It worked, but keeping Vettel out for the extra lap cost him five seconds. So the team was definitely thinking of Webber’s needs when it made the call on the order at the first stop.”

OR the team was using Webber as a middleman to stop Alonso from catching Vettel. Vettel lost 5 seconds but gained more from Alonso being stopped by Webber. So more probably it was the other way round. It was in the interest of Vettel to stop Webber at that point and webber just benefited from it.


Agree with you, they have been doing this for some races now. So Alonso is not in conditions to attack Vettel and can just try to fight Webber for the position. This works perfect when the car behind is slower. But when it is faster you are screwed like in this race, nice that RBR was undercut with their own strategy!


Alonso was right on Webber’s tail on their in-lap. Had Webber not been pitted first, he would have lost the position.


Yes, but Vettel benefited from Alonso not passing Webber. So the move move was not (only) done for Webber’s sole advantage.


McLaren did not mess up for Lewis!

Despite having to fuel save at the end of the race, Lewis can thank the progress he made at the beggining on having a much lighter car. In short, McLarens fuel strategy helped him overall but he simply wasn’t bright enough to recognise this.

Also, Fernando effectivly won the race through very shrewd tire management, for example conserving his tyres in the opening stint rather than trying to fight back at Lewis when overtaken.


McLaren screwed badly.

Normally a car would use less fuel when its wet, they knew it was wet at the start. And still the car was underfueled, thats a double screw-up. Down to the lack of dry running? Possibly (no one else had the same problem) more likley miscalculating fuel consumption from the last minute enforced engine map change.


I believe we sometimes attribute too much intelligence or lack of it to drivers.

Does Lewis drives so differently that only he had the fuel problem.

Fernando drove a good race but I’m sure that in a race last season one of the Ferrari cars was short fuelled as well.

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