Insight: How Rosberg came through, Ricciardo was compromised and Alonso got away with it
Strategy Report
Posted By: James Allen  |  22 Apr 2014   |  12:06 pm GMT  |  297 comments

The UBS Chinese Grand Prix was not as thrilling as the Bahrain GP, which preceded it, but from a strategy point of view and in terms of revealing the decision-making process that goes on behind the scenes during Formula 1 races, it was a fascinating event.

There were a number of talking points, one of the main ones being the Red Bull team trying to manage its two drivers, asking Sebastian Vettel to move over so as not to prevent team mate Daniel Ricciardo challenging Ferrari. Vettel initially refused, then relented. There was some confusion about what strategy each driver was doing. So did it cost Ricciardo a podium?

Another was the relative performances of Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg; multiple factors worked against Rosberg in the race, but he still came through to second place through determined driving and clever strategy moves by Mercedes.

Pre-race Expectations
The temperatures in Shanghai (18 degrees on race day) were among the lowest we’ve seen recently and Free practice on Friday had shown that this – and the nature of the corner layout in Shanghai with two 270 degree right hand corners – meant that front left tyre graining was a limiting factor for most runners. This would re-appear as a major factor in the race.

The Pirelli choice of soft and medium tyres was the right one for the event, with the medium not suffering too much from warm up issues while looking like a good consistent race tyre, judging from the Friday long runs. It was fast and consistent enough to mean that teams would likely favour it as the race tyre. The soft was faster for a few laps, but by eight laps into a stint, the medium was quicker. This decided most teams by around lap 25 at the latest that two stops was the way to go.

In terms of the choice between two or three stops, pre-race models showed the two stop to be quicker than the three by about 5 to 6 seconds, but one needed to handle the tyres very carefully if two stopping. The general trend this season compared to last has been one less stop; so whereas the soft tyre was good for only six or seven laps at the start last year in a three stop strategy, this year the majority of the leading runners went for two stops in the end.

The length of the first stint would be crucial as would the performance on the medium tyre in the second stint.

With a wet qualifying, everyone had new sets of slick tyres for each stint.

Red Bull strategy call: Did Vettel cost Ricciardo a podium?

There has been a lot of talk about the incident in the second stint of the race when Red Bull asked world champion Sebastian Vettel to let his young team mate Daniel Ricciardo through and he initially refused.

Ricciardo had outperformed Vettel in qualifying, grabbing a second place grid slot, with Vettel third.

On the grid however, in front of Ricciardo’s slot, there was some oil from a support race, which had been dealt with by marshals with some cement dust. This played a part in him getting a poor getaway at the start and falling behind Alonso and Vettel.

However he was able to run a longer first stint than Vettel, who suffered more front graining. The German stopped on lap 12, the Australian on Lap 15.

This is a tactic called “offsetting” and as we will see later it was also used to great effect by Mercedes on Rosberg’s race in China. The idea is to run longer than the car you are racing, accepting that you will not gain track position at that point and will lose some time initially, but you will gain later by having fresher tyres for an attack.

Riccardo was primed by the offset to get ahead of Vettel in the middle stint and challenge Alonso for the podium. Alonso had stopped on lap 11 and Ricciardo stayed out until lap 15, so he had a four lap offset and slightly more pace in his car, so he was in a position to fight Alonso. This would play out for him in the final stint of the race.

However the problem was that he had fallen behind Vettel with the poor start so the team had to decide whether to ask Vettel, who was slower and struggling with tyre graining, to let him through or to let the pair race.

Red Bull’s instinct was to ask Vettel to let him through. This was the right instinct for a maximum team result. If you are going to do this you have to do it immediately. Vettel refused initially and Ricciardo say behind him for several laps, losing vital laps and three seconds to Alonso in the process.

Red Bull says that it was considering moving Vettel to three stops at this point, but this is unlikely for a number of reasons; doing that would have forced Vettel to pass a lot of cars and thus significantly increased the risk of an accident.

And it would have dropped him into the Hulkenberg/Bottas battle, which he would have struggled to get past as the pair had the extra Mercedes power and were involved in their own scrap.

If three stops was a serious consideration he would have taken the soft tyre at the first stop – instead of the medium – and run a 14/15 lap stint on it.

By lap 24/25 everyone had decided that two stops was the way to go and so when Vettel’s engineer told him to “stay out, it helps us” this indicated that they had committed to leaving him on a two stop. He was never on a different strategy to Ricciardo.

By this point Ricciardo was already past Vettel, although he said afterwards that he couldn’t tell if he was being let through or not.

If Vettel had fully intended to let him through, firstly Ricciardo would have known about it and secondly neither of them would have needed to go onto the tyre marbles in the move.

Alonso was a little compromised by Mercedes’ strategy with Rosberg, as we will see, but was still able to be very clever in the way he managed the gap to Ricciardo in the final stint and he eased off on the last lap, so the gap appeared smaller than it was.

Several leading F1 strategists think that if Vettel had yielded immediately Ricciardo would have caught the Ferrari with around 4 laps to go, but agree that passing him would have been difficult.

We were denied a thrilling battle at the end, but Red Bull were in a difficult situation, for the possible gain of Ricciardo having a chance of challenging Alonso for a podium. On one hand it was worth it, because that would have been a better team result than they did achieve, but on the other hand it wasn’t a certainty and it resulted in a negative impression over the Vettel team orders situation.

It will be interesting to see what they learn from this and how they manage it in future races, should the situation arise again.

But the fact that they followed the correct initial instinct – to get Ricciardo ahead of Vettel – showing that Vettel does not necessarily enjoy any superior status.

Rosberg beats the odds to finish second
Nico Rosberg’s second place did not receive much coverage, as all the attention was on Hamilton’s 25th win and the Red Bull team orders story, but it was impressive how he came through the field despite quite a few setbacks and a poor start.

His car had no telemetry, which meant that the team had to ask him to monitor fuel use and they had no idea of how much damage his car sustained in contact with Bottas at the start nor about his Energy Recovery and storage situation, which is a vital part of strategy these days.

Rosberg started fourth and was sixth at the end of the first lap, but his real challenge was to pass the two Red Bulls and Alonso. He picked off Ricciardo through strategy. He pitted on lap 13, moving to the medium tyre, which told Red Bull that he was two stopping and challenged them to cover him. Ricciardo didn’t, which shows that Red Bull was looking at the offset to Alonso and didn’t think they could race Rosberg.

This took the German past Ricciardo when the Australian stopped.

With Alonso Mercedes’ strategy was the opposite – they went for an offset, but first dummied Ferrari by sending mechanics out on lap 33, as if they were about to stop. As Alonso was ahead on the road, his team brought him into the pits, but Rosberg continued. He built a four lap offset and then had much newer tyres to pass the Ferrari in the final stint.

This pushed Alonso into a 23 lap final stint, which was longer than ideal in his battle with Ricciardo, but circumstances explained above show that he was able to get away with it and score Ferrari’s first podium of 2014.

The UBS Race Strategy Report is written by James Allen with input and data from several F1 team strategists, from JA on F1 technical adviser Mark Gillan and from Pirelli.

Kindly supplied by Martini Williams Racing – Click to enlarge

Look at Ricciardo vs Vettel in the first and second stints. It’s clear the Australian has better performance and tyre life. Note also the time he loses behind Vettel and how that intersects with his line relative to Alonso’s.

For a full interactive graph click here Interactive graph -China

Strategy Insights
Strategy Briefings
Share This:
Posted by:

Add comment

E-mail is already registered on the site. Please use the Login form or enter another.

You entered an incorrect username or password

Sorry that something went wrong, repeat again!

You make a valid point regarding vettell and his so called under performing car and the problems it may or may not have and equally ricciardo is doing a sterling job as the new boy but lets be honest vettell is doing so badly that anybody could be made to look half decent in the other red bull but my over all point is there has to be a clear distinction between two drivers and there respective talents and history its ridiculous to suggest that ricciardo be afforded anything that puts him on an equal footing with vettell the last time that happened it was lewis Hamilton and Alonso at maclaren and we all know what happened there they both spent too much time and effort focusing on each other and raikkonen sneaked the wdc you cannot have two equall drivers because at some point you have to make a choice between the two could you imagine vettell and ricciardo been treated the same upto the last race of the calendar and either of them could win the wdc based on who came out on top in that last race then been told go and race boys may the best man win we in the garage are completely neutral at least one if not both of the drivers would try and sabotage the other ones race resulting in a bloody catastrophe for them both and the team formula 1 drivers are selfish, self absorbed paranoid and very insecure and they do not and will not ever share what could be there glory

kenneth chapman

@ flesh….’red bull should show him [vettel] that level of support and favouritism’. really?

i believe that each year should see a reset of the pecking order within the team especially when a new car is introduced each and every year.

let us not cloud this issue by introducing other teams and their strategies.

basically i would hope that ricciardo is being given the exact same level of support that vettel gets. horner did state this at the very beginning of the season. what we have witnessed is, again, vettel giving horner the finger, in a literal sense.

don’t be mislead by the ‘i relented and let him past’ angle. that was a ruse to salve some of vettels fastly diminishing credibility.

now he is getting a new chassis and marko is saying that maybe there is a ‘hairline crack’ that is hindering vettels performance!! these chassis can be tested to isolate problems like this and yet we have not heard anything about these tests.

as i said earlier, i do think that they,red bull, have some chassis changes in mind that will give vettel a degree of performance not shared with ricciardo. red bull have form so why would they change the habits of a lifetime.

if i am wrong then expect a ‘mea culpa’ but my suspicious mind thinks otherwise.


I think its easy to vilify red bull for extending vettell every ounce of leeway both now and historically especially given that Mercedes have openly allowed to let there drivers battle it out at the moment, but I have a feeling that may change but lets be honest vettell has delivered red bull so so much success over the past four years why would you not continue to show him that level of support and favouritism Ferrari have done it with Alonso and if maclaren had done it with Hamilton instead of dividing their loyalties with button lewis would of stayed with maclaren in formula 1 teams there can only be room for one number 1 and even for a moment if that number 1 feels he and his position is been compromised his performance level will diminish and seldom does it return formula drivers are a rare breed and they need to be treated accordingly

kenneth chapman

following on from what i posted earlier re vettel being given a new chassis i have had some time to more fully reflect on what is happening.

horner stated earlier that vettel was having difficulty in coming to grips with the changed technique in driving these cars. that was also the tenor of vettel’s own reasoning.

it now seems that vettel will be receiving a new chassis…why? i have no idea. usually a new chassis is only delivered if the old one has developed an unfixable flaw. have red bull found a tweak that they can incorporate without falling foul of the FIA which will deliver an improved performance for the goldenchild and therefore eliminate the edge that ricciardo has been able to establish?

knowing the MO of horner et al i have every reason to expect that something is not quite right here and maybe we are witnessing a bright new star being hobbled at the start of the season. i hope not but we already know that horner is only there to do the bidding of vettel.

daniel would be wise to watch his back.


For some reason this time this whole “DR would have never gotten passed alonso if only..” annoyed me so much this week. FA gave up something like 3 seconds on the final lap only because it WAS the final lap, and anyway, had the race been longer like DR wanted that would have been reflected in everyones strategy, possibly stretching their first stint just about enough to make to the end in the same exact fashion – again – with the same result, not to mention the tyres would have been all developed with enough rubber to reflet longer races anyway 😐


It was quite appropriate since the initial post was about how marshals waved the flags at incorrect times… 🙂

kenneth chapman

well that may have been the case but it would’ve shifted ricciardo’s star rating a few notches higher.

i just hope that he can continue on his merry way without too much ‘interference’from the ‘pit wall mafia’.

behind closed doors i would suspect that vettel is throwing shoes at all and sundry. he is now going to get a new chassis. if the shoe was on the other foot would ricci have got a new chassis? i very much doubt it. i would think that they would be peddling the story that ricci wasn’t yet up to speed and the jury is out regarding his potential.


Superb analysis. That’s the type of articles that I enjoy the most on ypur site James.

What was your feeling about Ferrari aside the dummy from Mercedes? Did they play it out well or would you say they’ve been flattered through other teams’ strategies?


Race results being classified two laps earlier means that it really didn’t make any difference as Ricciardo would have had to give 3rd place back to Alonso if he had caught and passed him at the end.


That’s true


That’s true in hindsight, but it doesn’t change what was going on at the time.


Would have resulted in another trip to the Appeals Court


I still don’t understand why Redbull didn’t pit Ricciardo at the same time as Roserg. Nico caught upto Daniel pretty quickly but the was dropping back before the pitstops .


I’m amazed at how convincingly Ricciardo is beating Vettel this year.

I thought Vettel was special, I was clearly wrong.


Just because Ricciardo is beating Vettel doesn’t mean that Vettel isn’t special, it just means that maybe Ricciardo is even more special 🙂




The drivers talk a lot of team talk these days…”great result for the team”, “happy for my team mate” and so on and it’s all a load of bull. They’re all there to win for themselves, not for anyone else.

If I was a top driver in the highest form of motorsport, I wouldn’t move over for anyone, team mate included.


Alonso knew he would’ve been overtaken by Ric if Ric had passed Vettel that’s why he said he was lucky despite his good drive and standing on the podium. Pity Stefano wasn’t there and Alonso paying tribute was inevitable, also the preparation from Stefano will bring it up till July.

Will miss SD, such a pleasant character win or lose and have always liked the way he spoke with sincerity. Like to wish him the best in his future endeavors.

I thought Massa was a bit wild, must be his frustration pent up from the years playing second fiddle to Alonso. There was a possibility Massa could’ve taken out a few cars. Willaims has the pace though, it’s the craft of driving which can be improved.

Oh no, Vettel’s gonna get slugged big time. Emotions from fans keep the fire alive, good for F1.


The explanation that Red Bull gave with reference to Vettel and Ricciardo being on different strategies, and then changing their minds later in the race, is a pure smokescreen to cover the fact that Vettel did not respond to a team order.

Whether we like them or not, team orders are a fact of F1 life. Teams are out to maximise the number of points they win, and actually don’t care which driver gets them. This only changes when one driver has a chance at the title, and needs to be ahead. Either way, its the the team’s call to maximise points. Red Bull believed (correctly in my opinion) that Ricciardo has a better shout at taking Alonso for 3rd, and to maximise that opportunity they need to get him past Vettel immediately. Vettel refused, and displayed his true nature. I have a lot of respect for Vettel as a racing driver, but every so often the charming mask slips. He is being outdriven by Ricciardo, he doesn’t like it, and while he was happy for team orders to be applied in his favour, he does not respect them when they work the other way. Horner was covering for him. For me, I’m loving the way Ricciardo has stepped up and he is the star of 2014 so far.


Team orders are nonsense. They are killing the sport. Just let the guys race fair and square. Please.


From a purist viewpoint I agree with you, however team orders have been around for as long as the sport has existed. Even in 1955 Fangio was instructed to let Moss through to win at Silverstone. It’s a fact of F1 life.


The British Grand Prix was at Aintree in 1955, also it’s never been confirmed that Fangio let Moss win though there are definitely some suspicions.


This is a team sport which has worked to SV s advantage for years, now I’m sure Seb doesn’t like the fact he is compromised by the new cars but it is clear he is not as fast as his team mate so in a team sport you move aside for the better performing player. They do it rugby or any other team sport you might not like it so maybe a bit of bench time for Seb might put it better in his brain !!


I think RB need to be clearer on the team radio for team orders. I’m sure if they told Vettel that Ricciardo is running at 0.5 seconds faster than him, and that Ricciardo could catch Alonso whereas Vettel could not, he would have complied more easily.


Next big updates will be with fuel. Ferrari had new fuel in China. Red Bull will have new fuel in Spain.


Niki Lauda gave Lewis Hamilton a ‘money can’t buy’ reward for securing his first-ever F1 hat-trick – a ride on his own private jet.

Lewis has his own private jet, so how much of a reward is this??


Maybe if Lewis wins 5 in a row he’ll even let him fly it.

Can you do burnouts in a jet?


James, You mention about Mercedes crew selling a dummy to Ferrari in the pits forcing Ferrari to pit sooner. I remember that being illegal in the past. Was that so? If so, when did it become legal and why?


Vettel is only interested in Vettel, I hope he has a really poor year, and Dan beats him every race….


What do you expect from a WC? To be more interested in his team mate than in himself?


I expect all professional drivers to respect their team’s orders.

It is a team sport after-all.

I also wish teams would choose not issue such instructions, unless the benefits are without doubt (e.g. an additional 2 points will help teammate behind win WDC).


Alonso Vs Ricciardo

Did the race strategy employed by Red Bull hinder Ricciardo’s chance at catching Alonso, forgetting about the Vettel issue?

Alonso made a much earlier pit stop that Ricciardo and ended up a long way in front of Ricciardo after they had both pitted. This meant that Ricciardo had a sizable gap to make up.

Should Red Bull have pitted him earlier to avoid the gap?


The extra effort required to pass Vettel would have also taken a toll on his tyres which could have given DR that little extra he needed to catch FA faster possibly so therefore SV needs to not argue and just move over DR had already caught him and there is the proof he was faster.



A poor strategic move by RBR there.

Especially since it quickly became clear that the price for staying out longer was quite steep.


Vettel was first online road so they had pit him first. Either way their strategy was poor as Alonso was not made to overtake Vettel. If Vettel could have held him up for a couple of laps, with his deteriorating tyre, it might have given Ricciardo a better chance of catching up. The Ref Bull doesn’t have the SL pace to overtake though. If he could have sustained pressure for a number of laps… But Alonso has been around long enough to have adapted knowing the RB could not get near where it counted


True to but still it is possible to pass FA it’s been done before and will happen again you just need the chance to get up behind him in the first place


Definitely. They should have avoided the undercut. No podium for Ferrari then. But you never know.

GP Back to Adelaide

Any news on this James?

From pitpass: “Reports that the flag error is linked to the F1 Live Timing app, which is proving increasingly erratic and unreliable, remain unconfirmed.”

There has been nothing but reports of bugs and lag from the 2014 pay-up-front edition of the official live timing app. You’d think that if they were going to gut and skin the original and give you “extras” with the new paid version that it would at least work. It wasn’t working at all for FP1 in China. And it could possibly have led to very embarrassing situation for F1 at the end of the race…(if Vettel had let Ricciardo through without delay). I bet KK isn’t grinning about it

As much as Bernie assures us that there will be a new improved paid version in June, I feel that F1 has already scored an own goal on this matter. I’d like to know the following:

1. Is there anywhere you can write to – a feedback page for example – to report the issues?

2. Is there anywhere online that you can get a refund?

3. Do the new plans include a windows version? If I’m doing o/s business travel with a Samsung slate running Windows 7 (which unlike android / iOS, supports all my business software) and a blackberry then how do I access the full package?

Talk about an entire sport shooting itself in the foot…


I agree I paid for the app on my iPad and it is honestly pretty crappy, it lags and the live TV coverage in Oz is faster which didn’t used to be the case. When the app first came out I was in the webber supporters stand in Melbourne and we were all amazed at its speed of info at the track but now it’s just rubbish, having no FP1 was just wrong. Don’t sell it if it doesn’t work lads. 🙁


So Vettel basically refused team directions until he got sick of seeing Ricciardo’s front wing in his mirror and was coaxed into believing they were on different strategies, when they weren’t.


Imho i thought it was a rather good race strategy wise.Alonso as usual totally out drove his car and Dan did the same,the two mercs were in a totally different leauge while Sebastian threw his dummy out of the pram. At what point does Christian horner finally realize that he has no control over the world champion?. He just looks a fool (and i am sure he is not) every time he has to change his story or whitewash over the cracks.The redbull team is risking a huge divide in their garage.Dan is obviously the peoples choice in that stable while Seb is the goldenboy for the management (at the moment) fair play to Mercedes for letting the drivers race..we are in for a memorable season but maybe for the wrong reasons


RBR, they slipped up. Or SV did. We now know it would have been close but he was going faster so should have been allowed to go through. SV made his decision without a thought for the team. Horners stance in the team is really poor. RB get bad publicity after every race for all manner of reasons.

LH is flying at the mo and it does not look like Nico can keep up. However NR dresses it up he has been comprehensively beaten at every race they both been in. If Merc can keep his car going I see no reason why LHshould not win the DWC.


James, if you get a chance can you kindly elaborate what set-up difficulties Vettel and Raikkonen are facing and what their respective teams are doing to address that (or have done)? Both of them seem to have been caught out by these new technologies. Definitely they are not that bad compared to their respective team-mates. It would be really nice if all of the top drivers had good cars so that they can fight well in the front.


I doubt there’d be anything wrong with their cars for 4 consecutive races.

They probably just need to adapt to the new car designs, and they are struggling to do so.


For Kimi and Sebastian last year’s rules were quite good. This year’s are not so much to their liking. But I guess they will improve with time.

Top Tags
SEARCH Strategy