Analysis of key indicators and trends from United States Grand Prix
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Strategy Report
Posted By: James Allen  |  19 Nov 2013   |  9:22 pm GMT  |  84 comments

Not by any means a classic race, the 2013 US Grand Prix, but an interesting one from a number of perspectives. The strategy was quite clearly defined by the conservative tyre choice made by Pirelli. There was little variation across the field with only Jean Eric Vergne starting the race on the hard tyre, while everyone else went with mediums and made one scheduled stop.

But there are some interesting talking points and indicators of future trends, which are worth considering from this race.


Pre-Race Strategy Expectations

Pirelli once again announced the two hardest tyres in the range for the US Grand Prix, a very conservative choice. Why did they do this? Partly because it’s America and they didn’t want to take any chances, given F1’s history in the country and partly because it served as a useful and timely reminder to the F1 community and fans of what F1 racing is like when the tyres are super durable, with little or no degradation. It can make for some dull racing.

It was almost a reminder of what it as like in the final year of Bridgestone tyres, where a driver could stop early in the race and drive to the finish on one set of tyres. It takes away much of the strategic dimension to the racing. It gives the teams and rule makers something to ponder as they prepare for the 2014 season with all new tyres.

Before arriving at Austin, some teams’ simulations were showing that two stops might be the best solution, but after Friday practice it was clear that the tyre degradation was very low and one stop would be the plan, as it was here last year. However the variable was provided by the temperature, which was hard to predict, with early morning ambient temperatures as low as 5 degrees and highs of 27 in the afternoon! This meant track temperature variations of 20 degrees from low to high. It’s highly unusual to encounter that at a Formula 1 Grand Prix venue.

There was a safety car early in the race, while debris was cleared from Adrian Sutil’s accident. This extended the first stint in most cases and made it an even safer one stop race.


Grosjean beats a Red Bull

One of the standout performances was Lotus’ Romain Grosjean, who finished second ahead of Red Bull’s Mark Webber. They lined up in the grid in the opposite order, so Grosjean did well to beat the Australian.

His result was set up by a strong start, from the clean side of the grid, to jump Webber into Turn 1. The Lotus was quicker than Webber’s Red Bull (but not Vettel’s) on the medium tyre in the opening stint and Grosjean was able to lap in the 1m 44s consistently, dropping into the 1m 43s towards the end of the stint.

The threat strategically to Grosjean was Webber undercutting him, but the Frenchman was able to maintain the crucial five second gap over the Australian which prevents an undercut. So Lotus were happy to let Webber pit first on lap 28 and then they pitted Grosjean a lap later to cover him.

There was slight concern about warm up on the harder compound tyre in the initial phase and also that Red Bull would be faster on it. By pitting first Webber cut the gap to just one second and pressured Grosjean for the remainder of the race.

The Red Bull was faster in the first sector of the lap, but the Lotus was faster in the sequence of corners leading to the all important back straight, so was able to hold Webber off. The closest Webber came to him was 0.7 secs behind, so he was never able to mount a sustained passing move.

Bearing in mind the characteristics of the Lotus car in the last couple of seasons, which has been gentle on tyres and competitive on the softer compounds and in warmer temperatures it was impressive that the car was so competitive on the harder compounds in Austin.


Record pit stop for Red Bull

Red Bull performed the fastest ever pit stop during the US Grand Prix, on Mark Webber’s stop on lap 28. The car was in the pit lane for 23.537secs, with a stationary time of time of just 1.923 secs. This is not an official record because stationary times are not officlally measured by the FIA, only the pit lane time is measured by them and they do not keep a league table of stops.


Great result for Bottas and Williams

Valtteri Bottas and Williams were on great form in Austin, bagging four points for eighth place – Bottas’ first points in F1. They were timely, as it takes the pressure off Williams going into the final race in Brazil. With only one point on the board, as they had before Austin, they were potentially vulnerable to a freak result for Marussia or Caterham which could plunge them out of the prize money placings. Now with five points on the board they are probably immune to that.

Bottas’ result was set up by qualifying, where he made it into Q3 for only the second time this year. He made a small mistake on his final run. Had he improved from Q2 to Q3 as his peers did, he would have started fifth on eth grid instead of eighth.

The secret behind the Williams’ performance in Austin was two fold: new technical director Pat Symonds had decreed that the team should abandon the troublesome Coanda exhaust system, which had not worked on the car all year. This would normally make a car harder on its tyres, so taking it off earlier in the season would not probably have helped in a race where the soft compounds were being used.

But for Austin – and probably for Brazil next weekend too, where the same tyres will be used – it worked well. The Williams worked on the medium and hard tyres and it was further helped by the cooler track conditions.

So a smart strategic decision by Symonds on the specification of the car played to the conditions and the tyres provided and gave them the result.

The cooler temperature characteristic is not new; we have seen Williams looking quick in Free Practice 1 and 3 sessions this year, which are held in the morning when the track temperatures are cooler. Their pace has then eluded them in qualifying and the race as the temperature has come up.


The UBS Strategy Report is prepared by JA on F1, with input and data from several F1 teams, from JA on F1 technical adviser Mark Gillan and from Pirelli.


Tyre Strategies, United States Grand Prix

Vettel MU HN (27)
Grosjean MU (HN 29)
Webber MU HN (29)

Hamilton MU HN (25)
Alonso MU HN (26)
Hulkenberg MU HN (27)
Perez MU HN (22)
Bottas MU HN (23)
Rosberg MU HN (22)
Button MU HN (20)

Ricciardo MN HN (22)
Vergne HN MN (27)
Massa MN HN (21)
Gutierrez MU HN (1) MU (36)
Kovalainen MU HN (17) MU (31)
Di Resta MU HN (22) MU (49)
Maldonado MN HN (8)
Bianchi MN HN (21)
Van der Garde MN HN (21)
Pic MN HN (20)
Chilton MN HN (26)

M = Medium; H=hard; N=New; U= Used

Race History Chart,
Kindly provided by Williams F1 Team

The vertical axis is the time difference behind a ghost car, which is setting the average lap time of the winner every lap. The graph is useful for showing the relative performances on each stint of the cars and the gaps between them.

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1

James, can’t agree with you saying the tyres were “super durable” in Austin. Had they been super durable, the drivers would have been able to push much more than they actually did.

It’s easy to provide some very good examples: Vettel (who was constantly reminded from the pit wall about the speed vs. distance), Bottas (who deliberately went quite slow after the pit stop just to be sure the tyres will last – and then upped the pace considerably when Rosberg came closer), Hamilton (who similarly was conserving the tyres and then upped his pace considerably when Alonso arrived), etc.

So, it was the same grueling story all over again: don’t race, save the tyres. Not at all like in the Bridgestone era! Sure, one had to manage the degradation then as well, but nowhere near to the current extent!

I won’t mind 1 pit stop races next year – as long as the drivers can race their hears out instead of conserving the tyres. Also, Ross Brawn already said that the teams will have their hands so full with the new power plants, we won’t need all this artificial “spicing up”.

2

All these fans who bitch on about how:

“Tilke tracks have ruined racing/made it boring”, or

“It used to be better before Pirelli”

“Bring back durable tyres”

“Get rid of DRS” etc…. are wrong and miss the point

The races are processional now mainly because the teams are so professional, have maximised their particular package, and have increased reliability hugely

The tracks are boring because of the inherent safety that is now designed into them. Would you rather watch better racing but with more chance of serious injury or death? Remember what happens when a fast move, sideways car digs into a gravel trap

3

I think one thing that would really mix up the racing would be to allow each team to start a race on their choice of tyre!.

Every team would want to start on a new harder tyre. But a team that is good on the softs might opt for that – eg Lotus. Then a team like Red Bull might want to cover that off. Whereas Mercedes would definitely start on hards as would a few other mid field teams.The end result would be similar with maybe a few surprises at certain tracks but how we get there would be very different and at the end of the day teams , drivers, are far more involved in the decisions.

Refuelling ban changed everything in F1 and whilst I have been advocated bringing it back , conceptually the new drive train formula and efficiency should over run any need to return refuelling. Pirelli must go – of that I am certain- no tyre manufacturer should change its ethos to suit a sport alone- it should always be a partnership that benefits both going forward. All tyres should last 300ks, but a big enough difference in the level of performance between each compound should create the variety in racing, strategy etc. the fact that we had a tyre change mid year because Pirelli failed to manage to react quickly enough to understand the abuse by the teams & then being overly conservative after the situation is rectified is wrong – evidence of this now in Austin and São Paulo.

I think DRS should be done away with and the rules should allow for less wake created by the cars and as many have said – slightly more emphasis on mechanical grip and drivetrain performance/ which no doubt is starting in 2014

4

I do not agree with the statement “The Lotus was quicker than Webber’s Red Bull (but not Vettel’s) on the medium tyre in the opening stint”.

Webber was only slower when stuck behind Hamilton, and once he got past, he gradually reduced the gap until his pitstop (which the graph also shows), despite the fact that he was bound to have had more wear by that point. I’m pretty sure that he was also told by his engineer not to be too aggressive to make his tyres last. Webber had several very quick laps after he got past Hamilton and before his pitstop, but his tyres wouldn’t sustain that pace through the whole stint.

5

That’s the problem with the current formula, the tyres don’t allow sustained catch up where and when it is needed. It’s one thing to catch, but it’s quite another to pass in the dirty air requiring a large performance advantage. The result is that a leading car is protected by a significant degree.

6

Was Webber unhappy because he was beaten by Grosjean in the second fastest car?

Bottas in a Williams did very well, beating Rosberg in a Merc, Massa in a Ferrari and Kovalainen in the second fastest car. The only car he didn’t beat is the Red Bull.

7

Well no driver likes being beaten, but the Lotus was strong enough to hold off Webber’s Red Bull. I think Webber is a genuine sportsman and would admit to being beaten given the circumstances. Getting past requires a significant performance advantage, and not easy with tyres that are past their best. Yes I’ve taken a liking to Bottas, and I hope he continues with the upward trend, although it has to be said the nomimally faster cars he past were all disadavantaged by one reason or another. the current formula requires cars to be set up perfectly with regard to tyre balance, and given the prevailing conditions were caught out, and ended up out of position.

8

James,

Would it bring better racing if teams could declare their compounds before a weekend (with enough time for Pirelli to organize logistics)? They could figure out what strategy was fastest using the tires they wanted… seems like right now we have everyone trying to just make the best of what they have- some do better than others. Teams that got it right for a weekend would have a big advantage over those that didn’t and it would be pretty interesting to see a race mixing a 3 stop/super-soft strategy vs a 1 stop with more durable tires. It would bring some freedom in a very restricted formula.

9

I always felt bad for Pat Symonds receiving the punishment that he did, warranted or not. I’m glad to see him in a good team again and I hope he is able to help them turn things around and become a top team again.

10

I lisetened to the race on Radio 5 and I have to say I was really disappointed with the commentary. I appreciate this might not 100% be the fault of the commentators but three things struck me. Twice the commentary was interrupted to report on a Boxing story – surely that could have waited until after the race. Secondly, surely the majority of the listeners would be F1 fans who know a bit about the sport – why then continually treat us like idiots and explain over and over again what the KERS function does on an F1 car. Thirdly, it’s on the radio so we can’t see the gaps between the cars therfore we need more regular information as to where the cars are in relation to eachother.

11

Well let’s just correct one statement as you describe the medium and hard compounds as super durable. – They are not! They are simply the more durable of the Pirelli compounds. They don’t compare to Bridgestones in terms of durability. So why are races sometimes dull. Well for starters the cars are loaded up with fuel. – I don’t accept refuelling can’t be done safely in this technological age as it would be very easy to disable the car while the hose is connected. Over reliance on aerodynamics is another for more than one reason. It has allowed a team to get a huge performance advantage due to their prowess in this area, and downforce is dramatically reduced in the dirty air behind a leading making overtaking more difficult. The real answer to making F1 more exciting is dramatically reduce aero, increase mechanical grip, and bring back safe refuelling. The cars would be lighter, and far more responsive in the first half of the race. In spite of the regulation changes I’m not expecting much in the way of excitement in 2014, apart from powertrain failures, overall the cars will be heavier and slower. I still expect Red Bull to lead with regard to aero. I’ve also noticed a bias regarding the Hamilton – Rosberg situation. When Rosberg get’s the upper hand it’s big news, but when it’s Hamilton hardly a mention. As it happens I think they are both great drivers, and just need a bit better car to challenge for the championship. The differences we’ve seen are really with regard to set up and tyre balance, but the pendulum seems to swing both ways, what’s more I think Hamilton has done well with a new team and a car that’s not to his liking particular with regard to brake feel.

12

” closest Webber came to him was 0.7 secs behind, so he was never able to mount a sustained passing move. “

That was down to Webber, not his car. It’s the same car Seb is driving, fhs, yet Webber makes it seem ordinary and easily beatable. A top driver would have taken GRO within 2 or 3 laps, not follow him half a race.

WEBS thought he was a real top flight ace with his “perfect” pole lap in Ab Dab. But to watch him slam hard on the brakes long before GRO every corner was very revealing…..

13

+1 Alonso / Raikkonen/ Hamilton in an RB9 handling car would have taken him

14

This may be a dumb question, but why can’t Pirelli make a tyre that lasts, but has little grip for the whole stint. At least then we would see all the drivers driving as fast as they can.

15

And did Shumi refuel during those 4 stops and 5 sprints….?

Maybe you are not comparing hard apples vs soft apples in the same recipe for the sweet apple pie you remember after all.

16

Lotus is clearly the 2nd fastest car.. And I’m so frustrated to see Kimi not racing there!! I mean, I could possibly have been a Lotus 2nd and 3rd.. Look at Abu Dhabi, Kimi was the only driver who matched Vettel on long runs the Friday.. Plus he had 5th place on the grid until he got disqualified.. So potentially, there was another podium for Lotus!! FRUSTRATED! Hope Hulkenberg gets the drive to give Lotus their championship fight they deserve!

17

It was 4th. He seemed to get on top of the handling of the tyres and eliminated the under steer with the short wheel base E21- I think he was a genuine threat for Seb at the last 2 races !- very unfortunate he’s not racing

18

4th I think

19

Should just bring the Medium and Hard to every venue with a Soft or Super Soft tyre for qualy (Depending on the track)

On topic: Great effort by Bottas and Big John well deserved.

20

One trend I would like to see end is Frenchmen in cowboy hats. Grosjean was outstanding to get second place, but let himself down by doning the wrong head attire.

21

Perhaps Pirelli has already made the decision not to sign the famously “not yet signed” contract for next year and just doesn’t want to be bothered anymore?

22
Mike from Colombia

One can only wish

23

I wouldn’t mind. Kumho, Bridgestone, GoodYear, Michelin – they all can do an equally good if not better job.

24

I didn’t think this race was anything like the races of 2010. All race we still had drivers lapping well within themselves to conserve tires, worrying about temps.

Rocky telling Sebastian that it’s not how fast we can go but how far is very telling and highlights what’s wrong with this sport.

25

James, could you explain to those of us that are interested why there’s apparently no middle ground between Pirelli’s exploding tires and the Bridgestone approach? I don’t see how Pirelli can be taken seriously when they elect to bring an unimaginative selection of tires to convince the teams not to expect them to bring a quality range of tire choices.

26

There is middle ground – it’s all the other races we’ve had this year where the strategy played a part and we had some good racing (behind Vettel)

27

Thanks for the response! Any chance the sport will nix DRS?

28

I’d guess that would be unlikely unless they make changes to the aero regulations – it’s the over reliance on aero grip that made the DRS ‘necessary’ in the first place. If aero was less dominant, cars could close up for passes without the significant drop in performance and the DRS would be completely unnecessary.

29

Thanks for exploring the performance of the Williams. It was a fascinating result given the changes made to the car…and just nice to see the team and Bottas get a result.

The explanation doesn’t seem to go far enough to explain how outright pace could improve so drastically. Did removal of the Coanda system not result in a loss of downforce? We are constantly told how downforce translates into pace, so where did the extra pace/downforce come from?

30

I agree with Richard above. I would like to see somebody go flat out the whole race and see if the extra stop for rubber is worth it. Isn’t that how Alonso won in Spain? Also, I don’t think it is boring and predictable because of RBR and Vettel. I put it on the other teams for not keeping up.

31

I had to leave for work so didn’t watch the podium interviews.

Did see a .gif with Webber walking off though Andretti wanted a photo or something? Can anyone elaborate on this please? Many thanks!

32

I think it was Mother Nature .. But I don’t imagine he would do a Kimi and say I gotta take a sh..

33

Looking at the race history Vettel had noticable tyre deg very early and was forced to pit when he did. Both RG and MW were in far better shape when they changed 2 laps later. It looks like Lotus could have pushed harder and made a real race.??

And Maldonardo looks like he fell asleep at the wheel on lap 45. If he destroyed his tyres why didn’t he pit?

34
Tornillo Amarillo

Great for GROSJEAN, BOTTAS… the names are changing, because we are not mentioning Hamilton, Alonso or Kimi for different reasons.

Is there any possibility that PEREZ goes to Lotus?

35

One thing that helped me keeping tuned, is appreciating how great a run Sebastian Vettel is having.

I just hope Rocky stops predicting the apocalypse every time his driver goes purple, he should just embrace it and advise him on when to do his fastest lap. He kind of ruins the ‘show’ even more.

Apart from that I would bet on Grosjean, Hulk or Ricciardo ending Vettel winning streak. I don’t believe Ferrari’s infrastructure’s good enough for them to do wonders next year and Hamilton probably won’t do much as long as Pirelli stays in the sport. And especially if he keeps the same engineer it seems…

And hopefully Pirelli doesn’t stay for one stop races. There is a beauty to watching historic performances, but no fun at all with this little action. F1 needs something extra to be enjoyable, “pure racing” is ultimately pretty boring.

36

I think RB have been sandbagging in order to avoid any techincal changes not in their favour. After all, it was their lobbying that got the tyres changed to suit their car. If they started winning by too big a margin, the other teams would change the rules back!

37

Redbull lobbied so hard the tyres on the cars began exploding and everyone was fooled into thinking there was a safety issue…

Do not underestimate the powers of the dark side of lobbing Bull 🙂

38

Ironically after Silverstone it was Alonso who stated the tyres were dangerous and had to be changed.

39

“Not by any means a classic race …”

Yeah, you can say that again. I thought I’d never see the day, but I must now admit, at the moment, that the following is true:

Toronto city council meetings are more entertaining than Formula 1.

Usher in the Apocalypse, for it is surely upon us. 🙂

p.s. where’d the Pirelli cowboy hats go to, for the podium finishers? That was a nice (and different) touch last year.

40

Are you suggesting we ply the drivers with crack and vodka before a race? That would actually make for interesting racing….

P.S. I now live just outside Toronto and used to live in Toronto proper- this whole thing is such a colossal embarrassment that just won’t go away

41

Like you I live in the ring around Toronto, though I’ve never lived in Toronto itself.

It is truly surreal what is happening down there. Truly defies belief. God help Toronto if Ford actually wins re-election next year!!

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