There has been significant interest among F1 fans around the world regarding the way Red Bull managed its two drivers in the Japanese Grand Prix. Mark Webber was ahead of Sebastian Vettel, then was switched onto a three-stop strategy and ended up finishing behind him. Red Bull got a 1-2 finish.
With the help of JA on F1 technical adviser Mark Gillan, who headed Williams’ track operations last year, we’ve got a fuel corrected graph, which expresses the lap times of the three leading drivers during the race.
There are several conclusions we can draw from this and some useful insights into the way situations like this are dealt with by teams, so fans can understand a little better how teams arrive at key decisions in races.
The horizontal axis is the number of race laps, the vertical axis is the lap time in seconds, with the lower numbers being the faster laps. The sudden upward moves are the pit stops.
The way F1 strategy teams work is that a live computer strategy model is working all the time, modelling different outcomes and suggesting strategies. After Romain Grosjean got ahead at the start, the model would have changed and started suggesting alternative strategies.
“That model in that scenario would not give Webber the two stop and Vettel the three stop strategy. The model isn’t just working on data from that weekend, it’s working on historical data as well, based on previous performances by the teams and drivers, using coding and mathematics,” says Gillan.
“It would have told Red Bull that the sooner they made the switch the better. It will have proposed the switch to them as early as the first stint, after Grosjean won the start.
“As a team from a strategy point of view it makes sense to split the strategies to produce confusion in the Lotus team against whom they were racing.
“It’s important to remember that they had no chance of losing P2 and P3 in the race by doing this, but they had a chance to get P1 and P2.”
The surprise then is that they left it until lap 25 before making the switch. And this is what hurt Webber, because he hadn’t driven the first 25 laps like a driver on a three stop would do.
“There is nothing worse than converting from a two stop to a three during the race,” says Gillan. “Having conserved the tyres at the start of the second stint, you can see Webber was working to a two stop. Compare that pace to the third stint where he is pushing hard.
“The mindset of a driver on a three stop strategy is quite different from a two stop.”
“He beat Grosjean anyway so it’s a moot point. In my view he would not have beaten Vettel in all probability. Red Bull did the right thing.”
So why did they delay the decision to switch strategy?
“They waited a while, knowing that it would not affect the outcome (in other words the model showed Vettel winning and Webber coming second) in case of a reliability issue on one of the cars. That is a wise thing to do,” says Gillan.
This is why Webber was still being told he was driving to a two stop during the opening laps of the second stint.
“Vettel had had a few issues to deal with,” says Gillan. “He has a bit of a slack trace in the opening stint, not his usual style, and had so his engineer will have been on the radio to him asking ‘Is that your true pace?’ and assessing what stage of degradation the tyres were at.”
Vettel will have assured them that everything was fine and then once Webber is moved out of the way he bangs in some consistent, fast laps and extends the middle stint.