What really happened in behind the scenes decisions that shaped Hungarian GP
Strategy Report
Posted By: James Allen  |  29 Jul 2014   |  6:57 am GMT  |  417 comments

Among F1 teams this week, the word has been going around that Sunday’s Hungarian Grand Prix will make an ideal test case to use in future on new race strategy engineers coming into the sport. The teams will show them the videos of the race and all the real time data playbacks and ask them, “What would you do in this scenario?”

As these Strategy Reports have shown countless times, decision-making is the nub of F1 races and Sunday’s event, with its changeable conditions and two safety cars, was full of fascinating scenarios, which teams had to decide on quickly.

With the benefit of hindsight, there are decisions that would probably have been made differently, but hindsight isn’t one of the tools at your disposal when you are making split second decisions.

Here we will analyse some of the most talked about scenarios and look at how the decisions were arrived at.

Lewis Hamilton

Could Mercedes have played it differently with Hamilton?
As interest in, and understanding of, the strategic side of F1 racing grows, many fans have questioned whether Mercedes played the wrong card with Lewis Hamilton, putting him on the slower medium tyres at the second stop on lap 38, with 32 laps to the finish. Should he not have gone for two stints on the softs from that point?

This decision led to the intersection of Hamilton and Rosberg around lap 50 as the German on a three stop strategy came up behind his team mate who was running to the finish on his medium tyres. Hamilton refused to let Rosberg through, as he did not wish to lose further points to his teammate in the championship.

This team order was both unnecessary and unhelpful to team spirit, as the team has since acknowledged. The pair are racing for a championship, so why should one move over, even if it is common practice in a “two-stopper ahead of a three-stopper” scenario?

We’ll come onto the messy start to Rosberg’s race later, but Hamilton’s strategy was dictated first of all by passing Vergne quite easily (something Rosberg had failed to do) and then by running in clear air until the end of the tyre’s life. This took him to lap 38.
It was Alonso’s stop on lap 38, which Ferrari did because they didn’t want to be undercut by Hamilton, which triggered Hamilton’s second stop. Mercedes pitted Hamilton a lap later, to maintain track position over Rosberg, who was was coming through and getting close to being inside the margin for Hamilton’s pit window.

So why did they put him onto medium tyres? They did this because Alonso had put on new softs, so there was little point in doing the same plan, as they felt Hamilton would not be able to overtake him.


In practice sessions and the race to that point, no-one had done 32 laps on a set of softs, which is what Alonso would need to do in order to make it to the finish without stopping. From practice the predictions ere 21 laps maximum. Factor in cooler temperatures and you could push it to 25 laps. Add in some skilled tyre management by the driver and you might get to 28-29 laps. But 32 laps was hard to imagine. It highlights what an outstanding drive it was by Alonso.

Mercedes certainly didn’t think that they could reach the finish on softs, but they could on mediums. So the strategy, which gave Mercedes the widest range of options with Hamilton, was to go on the mediums; that way he would beat Alonso when the Ferrari most likely stopped again and rejoined behind him. Failing that he could try the undercut if he was in his slipstream and do a final stint on the softs to finish ahead of him.

Hamilton wasn’t going to win the race at this point, Ricciardo already had it under control in a superb drive which featured an ideal blend of patience, waiting for opportunities and boldness, taking the opportunities to overtake aggressively when they occurred. The strategy was perfect, helped by the first Safety Car, which vaulted Ricciardo ahead of Rosberg, Bottas, Vettel and Alonso. Ricciardo did the main damage to Mercedes with his pace between the Safety Car periods and he was also helped by Vergne holding cars back.
If Mercedes had pitted Hamilton for softs and then again later for softs he would still have been beaten by Ricciardo. So he was racing Alonso and Rosberg for second place.

He beat Rosberg, but of course, it transpired that Alonso and Ferrari decided to go for it and tried to make the finish on the same set of softs. This wrong-footed Mercedes and Hamilton, who due to the pace offset from soft to medium, could not pass Alonso.

With hindsight, it was a mistake, of course. Had they known that Alonso was going to go 32 laps to the finish on the softs, Mercedes would have put Hamilton on softs on lap 39 and asked him to attack Alonso, whom he would have passed easily in the final stages.

Hence why the 2014 Hungarian GP will be a case study for future F1 strategists – what would you do in that scenario, knowing what you know at the time, not what you know in hindsight?
There were other decisions like this, such as Williams decision to do two stints on medium tyres with Massa. This was probably due to a lack of confidence as much as anything.

Massa was second behind Ricciardo on lap 23, when both pitted. This gave them 47 laps to the finish, which Ricciardo did on two sets of softs, the ideal strategy. Williams have not always enjoyed the best tyre management, although there have been some notable exceptions this season, especially with Bottas.

The reason Massa pitted was that Raikkonen was entering the pit window gap behind him, so his hand was forced into pitting earlier than he would have liked; just 15 laps into the stint on softs, rather than the target 22 laps.

From there Williams were not confident of making it to the finish on two sets of softs so they went for mediums. This worked against Massa as he wasn’t able to rebuild the gaps after the second safety car. In practice though he would probably have still finished behind Rosberg in fifth place.

F1 safety car

How did the top four cars at the start miss out on pitting under the safety car?

F1 teams have very sophisticated video and data technology, which allows them to stop and replay real time data from races, down to milliseconds to analyse sequences of events.
The scenario which occurred at the end of lap 8 was highly unusual and it caught out the leading four cars at the time; Rosberg, Bottas, Vettel and Alonso.

When Ericsson crashed, the leader Rosberg was in Turn 13, close to the end of the lap. A yellow flag icon was shown by Race Control for Turn 13, but teams don’t pre-empt Safety Cars based only on that.

It was a few seconds later that the TV image was shown of the damaged car and it became likely that a Safety Car would be deployed. At this point, Rosberg was already past the pit lane entry, so he was committed to another lap. Bottas, Vettel and Alonso were 10 seconds behind him at this point – the Mercedes had been extremely fast on intermediate tyres. They just about had time to react, but didn’t react quickly enough to make the call to pit.

The bad luck part was that, unusually, the Safety Car itself went out on track very quickly and actually picked up the leader, Rosberg, who failed to get through by a few metres. It therefore also caught Bottas, Vettel and Alonso in its wake. Normally the Safety Car goes out at such time as cars that have missed the pit entry are able to go around at the official 80% of race lap speed and make the stop the next lap.

The problem for the leading four here was that the Safety Car itself only travels at 55% of the race lap speed, so they lost tonnes of time behind it and by the time they had made it in and out of the pits, Rosberg had dropped to fourth, Bottas to 11th, Vettel and Alonso to 7th and 8th.

This was very unfortunate as the Safety Car is basically and equalization metric; the cars are meant to all do the same pace, but here that did not happen.

After criticism of the Race Director’s decision not to send out the Safety Car in Hockenheim last week, it looks as though he was a bit more responsive this weekend and whereas Rosberg benefitted in Germany, he clearly lost out here. Leaving aside the human decision making side, the sequence of probabilities is such that this scenario is unlikely to happen again for a long time.

Rosberg was now in a different race, mixed up with cars on a variety of different tyre specifications and on a track where it is hard to overtake cars on similar tyre specifications unless you are prepared to be very bold.

To compromise him further, he was passed by Magnussen, and when he tried to repass, he lost ground and let Alonso and Vergne past him. He then could not pass Vergne, who had good straight line speed in the Toro Rosso and was very sound on the damp but drying track.

With some issues on braking, making no headway between the two Safety Car periods, and seeing that Ricciardo was making tremendous progress in clear air during this time, Mercedes feared the chance of a podium was slipping away and decided to change strategy and bring Rosberg in for a set of softs and send him back out into clear air so that he could use the performance of the car.

Daniel Ricciardo

They pitted him on lap 32, which was 23 laps into his stint on the soft tyres and 38 laps from the end. This committed him to another stop later in the race and put him on course to stay behind Ricciardo until the end of the final stint. At this point Rosberg was 20 seconds behind Ricciardo and both had one more stop to make, with the Red Bull race pace pretty strong.

Despite a wobble when his ERS had a problem, it was already fairly clear that Ricciardo was going to win the race at this point. Rosberg was fighting Alonso and Hamilton for a podium.

Report Sm Rect bann

The UBS Race Strategy Briefing is written by James Allen with input and data from several F1 team strategists and from Pirelli

RACE HISTORY CHART, courtesy of Williams Martini Racing
Look at Ricciardo’s pace (curve heading upwards) which from mid race onwards was a match for anyone in the field, note also how he built the winning advantage between the two safety car periods.

Screen Shot 2014-07-28 at 16.24.50

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Simulation of the 2014 Hungarian GP will be the reference test as is the Kobayashi Maru for Starfleet: Impossible to pass!!



I stumbled across this, this evening whilst reading up on algorithms for a project I’m working on.


I (and I think a lot of your readers) would be fascinated to learn more about how F1 teams use these sorts of tools to make decisions during races. Perhaps a future article?




There was no mention of McLaren’s unfortunate roll of the dice with the Intermediates after the first safety car. That call took them out of the race completely.

Nevertheless I love the action the safety car brings, I’m not sure standing starts from next year are the way to go but what I do know is that if I was the one making the calls on the pit wall as to what to do in a race like we had in Hungary I would certainly get it wrong (every time I’m afraid)….

Tornillo Amarillo

Off topic, now they would thinking, every team would cheat in the last race for 50 points, specially the underdogs of the WDC, and after that last race in Abu Dhabi who cares if they cheat…

That first last race for 50 points would be pretty interesting… Could Ricciardo catch up?


James you say “So why did they put him onto medium tyres? They did this because Alonso had put on new softs, so there was little point in doing the same plan, as they felt Hamilton would not be able to overtake him”

So what chance did he have in overtaking him with the mediums? None.

Surely the real reason is that they didn’t feel that Hamilton would be able to run his softs to the end of the race and that he and Rosberg would then be competing side by side for the last 30 laps – which they didnt want. Hamilton had 2 sets of brand new soft tires in the garage.

kenneth chapman

must admit to having a chuckle when i read of ricciardo’s frivolous comment after he put the pass on alonso, ‘that’s how it’s done, ladies’. great sense of humour at a critical time of the race! cool guy.


Oh forgot. Early in the race Rosbery forced Bottas right off the track. He needs reminding that if you do unto others, it’s gonna get done to you.


I understood it was a known fact that tyres last longer at the end of a race. The cars weigh less and the track is rubbered in. If Mercedes haven’t caught on, their stats men need sacking.

As for not believing Hamilton’s Mercedes running the same tyres as Fred’s Ferrari was at some disadvantage – that is beyond belief. No car is faster than a Mercedes so far this year when they are on the same tyres after the same number of laps.

Can anyone explain why Mercedes have 2 ‘bosses’ on the pit wall during the races? Isn’t Lowe there to make strategy calls during the races. Is Woolf there to look after his boy, because he’s only getting in the way from I can make of it.


When watching the race, one thought crossed my mid re: Hamilton’s stop on lap 38-39. I understand that Merc was responding to the Alonso’s attempt to block the undercut. But from what I was seeing Hamilton’s lap times were not dropping off. Given that Alonso was coming back out into traffic, would it not make more sense for Hamilton to run a few laps in the clear and close the gap to Alonso ? He may even have come out ahead after the pit stop.

It certainly looked like Mercedes was not aggressive enough in their pit strategies for this race. I understand the call to go to mediums. I have no problem with that decision at the time. But it doesn’t seem that they adjusted tire strategies to what the track (and lap times) were showing. Hamilton’s car at that point was showing longer life than expected on the soft tires.

Of course this is all speculation, maybe Hamilton was complaining about the set of softs he was on.

And I’m biased, I think that Mercedes strategies have not showed much in race adjustments. Maybe they need Ross Brawn back 🙂 Make him strategist for whoever qualified 2nd 🙂 But then again when you have the best car by far, you don’t develop aggressive in race strategies….


I have a major problem with the decision to go to mediums at the 2nd stop. That decision was made before Rosberg’s stop, when Hamilton was still stuck two positions behind him! But when Rosberg pitted, and emerged in traffic, Hamilton was able to jump him through Vettel spinning out and then passing Vergne. So then, with Hamilton ahead of NIco by a pit-stop and then some, and with no potential traffic to drop into, and with Alonso taking options on lap 38, it should’ve been easy for them to change the strategy and switch Lewis to a 3-stopper, the same as Rosberg. They would’ve had a full minute to decide on this … I think 5 sec’s would’ve been enough for me to size up the situation on the pitwall. It had the extra benefit as well of making sure that the two drivers wouldn’t intersect on track.

I hope Wolff and Lowe are pounded with this missed opportunity scenario, from now until the next race. How they could miss out on such a historic opportunity (a win from pitlane!) is beyond belief.


James ,

Please note the above posting had a comical theme (though the commentary was acceptable however excited the chap became)

I like the fact this posting is still awaiting moderation…

As you couldn’t comment on a fellow colleague 😀

So totally understand the neutral silence 🙂


The pace car really shouldn’t have come out when it did. Poor decision. It was very entertaining hearing Rosberg cry over the radio about Hamilton not letting him pass. Hey Rosberg, maybe you should drive faster if you want to pass. Having said this, that was a rather bold move by Hamilton driving Rosberg off the road at the end of the race. The claws are out and I see a cat fight the rest of the season. Sweet.

Ricciardo, what a race. You are a rock star.


Ok, in order not to contradict my initial point, I’ll reword my last paragraph dismissing time gaps: after the first Safety Car deployment, Ricciardo passed from P6 to P1, gained 5 positions, whereas Alonso passed from P4 to P8, lost 4 positions.

Another fact of interest is that the 6 seconds deficit Ricciardo accumulated from Alonso during the first stint for being stuck behind Button despite he seemed faster, was precisely what made him, and Button, not to miss the pit entry when the first Safety Car was deployed.


Mr. Allen:

You said: “Ricciardo did the main damage to Mercedes with his pace between the Safety Car periods…”, but I have to disagree here because any gap gained by pace before a Safety Car is cancelled after its deployment; only position matters in that situation. Ricciardo was leading between the Safety Car periods whereas the Mercedes had different luck: Rosberg lost one position but Hamilton gained seven positions.

In my opinion, it was the three stops strategy that Ricciardo/Red·Bull chose right after the second Safety Car deployment what made him challenge Alonso and Hamilton for the win in those last laps. That short last stint on softs turned out to be 1.5-2 seconds faster than Alonso’s and Hamilton’s pace, which allowed Ricciardo, and also Rosberg later, to recover the gap deficit they had very quickly and, in Ricciardo’s case, to overtake them with a significant car advantage.

Interesting that most teams decided to keep their drivers on track after the second Safety Car deployment; it makes me think that then they thought it was the safer strategy —even Red·Bull did it with Vettel.

As an Alonso fan, I’m very disappointed with what happened after the first Safety Car deployment: its exact timing altered too much the order, as it put Ricciardo in the lead by chance, which gave him the fundamental advantage he needed to win: he went from P6 and 6 seconds behind Alonso to P1 and 6 seconds ahead of Alonso. I seriously doubt that he could have recovered all that even with the faster stops strategy he/Red·Bull chose after the second Safety Car.

kenneth chapman

what position did ricciardo fill after the second safety car relative to alonso?


P6 Ricciardo and P1 Alonso, but obviously Ricciardo with one more pitstop. Then it was when he/Red·Bull chose the three stops strategy that turned out to be the right one.


All Mercedes did was deny us a grandstand finish. Lewis on soft tires would have been 1.5 – 2 seconds faster than Alonso in stint 1 and 3 seconds+ faster per lap in stint 2. Lewis had all of his softs left from qualifying. Something Nico did not.

Lewis on a 3 stopper would have won this easily I feel. Sure it relies on overtaking but Dan made it work and are we saying his car is as good as the Merc? No. Or that he is as good as Lewis at overtaking? Maybe. We just don’t know but we were denied the charge from Lewis.


More conservative thinking from Mercedes. I agree with you. I have another thought on strategies below


When Fernando Alonso and another pitted (can’t remember who) Ted Kravitz pronounced “I don’t expect to see them again”. When Lewis Hamilton was given a set of medium tyres one lap later my heart sank. I instantly phoned my brother to discuss just what a hideous and fatal mistake Mercedes had made. If I could judge this in real time from the comfort of my armchair why can’t Mercedes with all their… oh wait… it is actually blatantly obvious why, they are arranging strategy by committee and incapable of flexible and intuitive action.

The medium tyre should have been consigned to the waste bin at the start of the race, as it was by every team bar Williams and Mercedes. It was obvious to any one with half a brain that it wasn’t going to have any extra longevity because it was going to be worn out before it got up to temperature.

I am not a rocket scientist but I know for a fact that I would have given Lewis an excellent chance to win that race. And I do not buy the “he’d never have caught Ricciardo” because Lewis had 3 sets of brand new softs and would have blown past him the same way Daniel actually got to do to Lewis.


The issue I have, James, is one that maybe you can shed insight on.

It was widely reported that there was very little difference between the soft and the medium in terms of degradation. However, there was a big difference in performance, which was obvious to see in the race.

Given that there was not much of a difference in terms of degradation between the soft and mediums, I just don’t see any other call but to go with softs and hope that you can get by Alonso and eke the tires out to the end, while hopefully having enough of a gap on Ricciardo to take it easy after he gets past Alonso.

Lewis probably could have gotten to Alonso within about 10 laps on the softs while not taking too much life out of them. With more grip on the tires at that point, it would have been easier for Lewis to get the run off the final corner and DRS him. There’s every chance he could have gotten by Alonso before Ricciardo made his final stop and pulled enough of a gap to look after the tires and have a prayer of holding off Ricciardo.

And if the tires did go off, the worst that could have happened would have been that Ricciardo and Rosberg get by and finishes third- right where he finished anyways. The rest were too far back to have a go at him.


There was a difference in tyre life though – the medium would go longer – hence the decisions on Vettel, Hamilton etc

Remember degradation is the loss of performance over a series of laps, bit the tyres life



re: Degradation. Yes, that is the definition. My point about the performance of the softs vs. mediums was that the softs had more performance to begin with.

There may have been a difference in reality. I was just going on what I had seen from sources over the weekend: one of which, ironically, was Lewis Hamilton, who made comments on Friday along the lines of mine. I’m perfectly happy if my comments were wrong, but it turns out that maybe they were not.


Looking at the graph it’s clear Hamilton should have been pitted around lap 55. He was clearly ahead and would have stayed ahead of Rosberg.

Although no one could foresee Vettels spin seeing it happened right after Rosberg pitted, after Hamilton cleared Verne – he had the Pace

Looking at Rosberg after he pitted his pace on the soft, Hamilton could have won with DR 2nd possibly 3rd for Rosberg – Alonso 4th.

Would have loved to be in the after race meeting, if a graph such has this was shown.

Can the 2nd half of this epic season get any better.

James, when are you going to do the half term report?


Toto Wollf has written on his blog about the alternative strategies:

“When the safety car came out we chose to split the strategies, and offset ourselves to the cars ahead, in order to create opportunities to win, or worst case finish on the podium. When we did so, Nico was running two positions in front of Lewis. We put Nico onto an aggressive three-stopper, and Lewis onto a two-stop, with a long final stint on the prime tyre.”

This is what I find disturbing about Mercedes strategy calls and makes them so different from Ferrari for example. They make a decision and change of circumstance simply means that they either persist with the decision or try to get back to a position where the original decision still has validity. As Toto says (and it seems quite a defensive statement), when they made the decision Nico was running two positions ahead of Lewis. But then two things changed after they had made this call; 1 Lewis ran a couple of laps longer than expected, 2 Nico was expected to be behind Lewis after the pit stop. Rather than react to the changed circumstances they instead chose to persist and attempted to get back on strategy by asking Lewis to move over. In their strategy world he simply wasn’t meant be there.


Alonso’s 32 laps on the softs was astounding and Ric was such a smooth operator.

And good on Lewis to be disobedient, I dug that a lot.

To James and all the fans lets make a collective wish that we have a similar weather condition for Spa and thrill us with even a better race than Hungary. This year has been very very good, much more than I expected.


The amount of bad luck Vettel has had this season is incredible. He just can’t seem to catch a break this season… And Ricciardo seems to have everything going for him..

Not counting Austrilia.. Since Ricciardo got disqualified.

1) Bahrain.. Power problems

2) Spain.. gearbox fails.. starts P15

3) Monacco… Seb running third, Kimi running 4th.. loo and behold, Vettel’s engine goes kaput and kimi picks up a puncture and Ricci inherits 3rd.

4) Canada… Hulk holds Vettel up on in-lap.. speeds up for Ricci when Vettel is in the pits

5) Austria.. ECU goes to sleep for 60 seconds

6) Silverstone … unlucky with pit strategy..held up by Alonso

7) Hungary… loses out to first SC.. Wrong mode at SC restart allows Alonso to overtake him.. Spins due to mistake by trying to push a little extra because Rosberg pitted … As always, things fall into place for Ricciardo..

For those saying Hamilton pressured Vettel into making the mistake, I’d like to point out that it was actually Rosberg pitting that lap that forced Seb to push a little harder as Seb would have no DRS to defend against Hamilton.

And everyone wants to read this as Ricciardo showing up Vettel??


“Look at Ricciardo’s pace (curve heading upwards) which from mid race onwards was a match for anyone in the field, note also how he built the winning advantage between the two safety car periods.”

Love your work James, but this last comment makes absolutely no sense.

The winning advantage was not built between the two safety car periods. Any advantage is negated by the safety car period. The winning advantage was gifted by virtue of the first SC giving Ricciardo track position. Once he got into first, like all frontrunners, look at Rosberg’s first 8 laps, with clear air, he’s going to exhibit good speed. That’s expected.

As for Ricciardo’s mid-race pace, the only one who seems to exceed it is Rosberg, but of course, of the frontrunners he was the only other one on a 3-stop strategy. One wouldn’t expect the other podium finishers, Alonso or Hamilton to be on the same pace as they were on the 2-stop strategy.


Few races back I commented on how James Allen glorifies Ricciardo. Now I eat humble pie. This affable Aussie is indeed a future potential champion. Looks like he has the speed, the guts, the finnese and head bolted to his shoulders. Apologies James! Kudos Dan!



Do you think it might be possible to provide a bigger version of the Race History Graph? Or have it so you can click for a larger item?

I think its great how you provide these strategy reports, but it would be nice to have a larger version to look at and see things a bit more clearly.

Keep it up!

Craig in Manila

Am getting very tired of all the talk about strategy.

At least in rallying they tell you the name of the co-driver who is telling the driver what to do but, in F1, it’s some guy/girl sitting in front of a computer who then relays scenarios/strategies to the pitwall for deciding upon best one. Pitwall then tells driver to speed up or slow down or pit now and also decides what tyres he should use.

Just remove pit-to-car communications : let the driver decide what he wants to do based purely on what he feels and what he wants.

He can then be held accountable for the driving and the strategy and, at end of the year, we have a true driving champion and no questions about whether the Team were doing something to favor one driver over the other.


i see what you mean but I think there are many racing series which follow the principle you have described. f1 is different from any other racing series and enjoys the most following.


It does baffle me that they haven’t adopted the old ChampCar/NASCAR rule: When the safety car comes out, PIT LANE IS CLOSED.

We should not have a situation where teams are making an instantaneous decision to get cars in to the pits.


Great idea Tim, But F1 management like to even things up with all kinds of things including safety cars and I doubt they will allow “genuine racing”


I agree, it would make it fairer (preferred). But I do enjoy the way it mixes things up sometimes.


Exactly, the Safety Car did the right thing in picking up the race leader, but because the SC comes out from the end of pit lane, it might happen more often than not that the race leader has passed pit entrance when the SC comes out. Thus it’s far more likely for this predestined bad luck to occur. The simple solution is to close pit lane until the leader has been picked up by the SC and then the field has packed up, just like they do it in the US, only then is pit lane opened and the lead car gets to choose whether to go in or not. The way it is now, is patently unfair and results in a gimmicky outcome. I’m baffled that people don’t seem to realize that Ricciardo won because of the two SC periods. Without them, he would have finished off the podium.


I agree 100%. They could justify it in the days of refuelling – you can’t have cars running out of fuel. But these days there’s no need to be able to access the pit lane under the safety car.

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