Did Red Bull use Sebastian Vettel as a strategy play to help Daniel Ricciardo in Italy?
Strategy Report
Posted By: James Allen  |  09 Sep 2014   |  4:29 pm GMT  |  193 comments

Did the Red Bull team show signs in Monza that it is already lining up behind Daniel Ricciardo rather than four times world champion Sebastian Vettel? Was Vettel used as a strategy pawn to help maximise Ricciardo’s points haul and keep him in the title chase?

That is the question raised by the strategy the team gave to the two drivers and after the race Vettel allegedly made a comment about the amount of “faith” the team has about him at this point. So what was that all about?

And what other key outcomes in the Italian GP were decided by strategy decisions? All will become clear here.

Jules Bianchi
Pre race considerations

With the conservative choice of medium and hard tyres and a long slow pit lane at Monza, this was a clear one-stop race and that reduced the strategic possibilities. It also made going aggressive a risky thing to do as there was little leeway with no further opportunities to stop for fresh tyres.

One key element to factor in was the “warm-up slope” on the new hard tyres for the second stint. This means that the new hard tyre took time to warm up and this had to be factored in when trying to undercut the car ahead. A gap of at least 1.5 seconds was the ideal margin to avoid this.

Six cars tried to copy what Sergio Perez had pulled off in 2012; a contra strategy, starting on the hard tyre and trying to pass cars later in the race on the faster medium tyre. It didn’t work this year.

Vettel and Riccardo
Ricciardo prevails from Red Bull’s intriguing strategy decision at Monza

Leaving aside Nico Rosberg’s driving error, which handed the victory to his Mercedes team mate Lewis Hamilton, the most interesting talking point from the Italian Grand Prix was Riccardo beating his team mate Vettel, despite starting one place behind him on the grid and dropping to seven places behind on the first lap.

Starting 8th and 9th respectively, Vettel climbed to 5th and Ricciardo fell to 12th on the opening lap and yet from here the Australian came through to pass his teammate on Lap 47 and finish fifth. So how did he do it and was Vettel used as strategy pawn by Red Bull in this game, at the expense of his own race effort, to help Ricciardo?

When the race settled down in the opening stint, Vettel found himself behind Kevin Magnussen, who had proved so hard to pass at Spa for Fernando Alonso and who had a straight line speed advantage over Vettel of 10km/h.

Red Bull felt that Vettel was faster than Magnussen and that if they could get him in front he would stay there and he would be able to get after Felipe Massa and the final podium position. Mindful of what happened on track to Alonso at Spa, they decided to get him ahead using strategy.

They went very aggressive with his strategy and brought him in on Lap 18, which is right at the limit and six laps earlier than the optimum fastest strategy. It worked and gave him track position over Magnussen.

But it meant that Vettel would have to manage the hard tyres for 35 laps. This proved too much, especially as the aggressive strategy requires the driver to hammer the tyres in the opening laps of the second stint to make it work and undercut the car in front. His tyres faded in the closing stages and Ricciardo was able to pass him for fifth place.

However there was a double benefit to this plan – another reason for them to pull Vettel in early. And it helped Ricciardo to achieve his result. Here’s how it worked: they left Ricciardo out for a long first stint and as he was running in clear air he could preserve the tyres while running at the target pace. He did this brilliantly; it’s clearly one of his skills.

Sergio Perez and Jenson Button

By pulling Vettel in early, it forced the cars racing against the Red Bulls to stop earlier than they would have liked. Perez, for example pitted on Lap 19, Raikkonen on Lap 20, Alonso and Magnussen on Lap 21, Button Lap 22 – all well short of the ideal lap 24. In other words it forced them off the optimum strategy.

They then offset Ricciardo by taking him up to Lap 26 and that meant that he had significantly fresher tyres for the second stint and so he was able to pass them all, including his own team mate Vettel, who ran out of tyres before the end. It was brilliant. And speaking to strategists from other teams they all say that they would have done exactly the same thing as Red Bull in the circumstances.

To be fair to Red Bull, they felt that this was Vettel’s best chance of beating Magnussen. But there is no doubt that it gave Ricciardo the 5th place result after qualifying only 9th and on a weekend where damage limitation was the name of the game. It kept him in touch with the two Mercedes drivers in the championship, with some more favourable tracks to Red Bull like Singapore coming up.

Valterri Bottas, Kimi Raikkonen
Clever use of hybrid boost the key to overtakes

Another interesting aspect of Ricciardo’s drive was the way he passed cars, not necessarily using the Drag Reduction System to do it. For instance he passed Perez and Vettel into the second chicane without DRS.

This was an example of a new strategic dimension this year, which is the use of energy from the hybrid system to pass and defend. It is becoming an increasingly influential factor in the racing, even though it’s hard for fans to see from the outside or on TV.

The Energy Recovery System can give a boost on demand, which can be used to pass or defend. At Turn 1 in Monza, for example, the car in front isn’t allowed to use DRS, so he has to use up a lot of battery boost to defend. This depletes the store and so the chasing driver can then use his battery boost into the second chicane and get enough speed to get alongside and challenge.

Smart teams and drivers focus their energy boost on areas where other people are less likely to prioritise. This is something that the hybrid system has brought to the racing this year, which wasn’t possible in the days of V8 engines and DRS – we’ve seen it at many races, but Monza was a vivid example.

We will go into this in more depth in future articles, but fans who enjoyed the battles and Monza and who have enjoyed the drives of Ricciardo and Bottas in particular this year, should be aware that a lot of the opportunities for their overtakes have been given to them from clever use of energy recovery.

And it has produced some great racing.

Report Sm Rect bann

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

If you want to leave your comment on the points raised above, please do so in the comments section below.

Courtesy of Williams Martini Racing – Click on Chart to enlarge

Contrast the lines of Vettel and Ricciardo. Vettel’s tyres start going off in the second stint and his pace isn’t there, compared to Ricciardo who pits late and has a very strong second stint.

Also compare the relative pace of Red Bull and Williams – after qualifying badly the race pace of the Red Bull is quite good relative to Williams who qualified well.

Screen Shot 2014-09-09 at 14.53.32

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Friend of mine told me that he reckons Vettel is simply not motivated this year and explains why that is the case.

Everyone knows that RedBull does not have the championship winning car. So why try so hard to score 3rd place or lower? After all, he already proved to the world with his 4x WDC. Perhaps, Vettel is set to go elsewhere?? He only has one year contract and will be available next year.

As a Kimi and Vettel supporter, I find this year to be much less interesting to watch.

That said, I really enjoy the young rising star in the name of Valtteri Bottas. Love his clean cut overtakes, his amazing spacial awareness (feels like somone who had decades of racing experience and way better than Nico’s dumb move), and finally his smooth decisive driving style. His driving style reminded me of the great Michael Schumacher.


Personally I think that is a load of rubbish. Sebastian is a RACE driver, they only want to win. If they didn’t then they wouldn’t have made it to that level in the first place. Even with a car that isn’t competitive for outright honours a top level driver in the premier open wheel category would AT LEAST do what they can to beat their teammate, regardless of if they are in the top or bottom team. Again if they didn’t think that way they wouldn’t be there in the first place.

I also find it interesting JB that you are making comments (quite rightly I might add) about Bottas with the way he is driving yet don’t acknowledge Ricciardo who is pretty much doing the same thing! You can’t deny his battle with Alonso in Germany and overtake on Hamilton in Hungary and overtake on Vettel at Monza wasn’t a class act to only name a few (then there is the pass on Perez in Canada etc). Is it because he is beating Vettel? Now if Bottas was Sebastian’s teammate in the Red Bull beating Sebastian by driving the same way and Daniel was driving like he is doing now in a Williams would you still be praising Bottas? I hazard a guess you wouldn’t and instead would make exactly the same positive comment about Ricciardo. There is no doubt BOTH Bottas and Ricciardo are 2 of the up and coming drivers of the future.


Just, scrolled up to read a few comments above… Wow’ I never knew there were so many Vettel Experts around.

Trust me those who count Seb shalt be proven wrong…. but then again, they’ll find new excuses to neutralize him.


There is something quite not right between Seb and Redbull, been noticing since Australia. I think he would be Asset-Fantastic at Mclaren Honda.


Very happy for Williams!

They now have archieved 5 podiums so far this year

They had only ONE point at the same time last year


to all… i mentioned earlier that i have an image of the ricciardo/raikonnen passing move. the image can be found on ‘F1 FANATIC…ITALIAN GP images…..i would urge those interested to take a look. superb!!!!!!!


love RIC’s excellent passing….but that particular one was made better because Kimi is such a pro and avoided being clouted by RIC…just my opinion


Superb indeed!!!


that image just goes to show how professional some of these drivers are. the space would have to be mere millimetres at the very best!!!!

reminds me of webber at eau rouge with alonso. now a head- on shot of that would be interesting to see…if one actually exists.


Vettel pitted as he was being hunted down by the cars behind him, I really do believe RBR provided a strategy for each driver based on their position in the race in the first 20 laps.

If however they did sacrifice Vettel to get the four cars behind him to also pit early for Ricciardo then they are geniuses.

I think we should wait to see what happens in Singapore, Seb is brilliant there and should be able to beat Dan. If Dan is behind Vettel after the first lap and subsequently beats him through Strategy then I think this article is on the money


With how much it must cost RB to keep a four times champ i would imagine that team talks are in the mill. The honey badger has really shown his worth for probably a fraction of the wage budget so why wouldnt RB want to favour him. Seb was a fast driver in the old formula but has really lost his way this yr. You dont suddenly become a bad driver so i really dont think its all down to him,look at the scaps between Alonso this yr,they have been some of the best races i have watched. With RB urge and drive to be on top and to appeal to the younger elements of the sport i really do feel for the OLD MAN vettel..his days are numbered in that team imho…i can see the mchonda being a better bet


McHonda. Inspired!


The ERS graphics this year is quite confusing to the viewers… I noticed on a head to head, coming into the first chicane, that both cars had already mostly depleted all their ERS…. does that mean it doesn’t reset at the start of each lap as with KERS (i.e. using a more realistic approach – where it fills up automatically as energy is recovered, and that can be reused whenever). Or was it just a delayed graphic?

Hoping future articles would cover ERS use in more detail.


Strategy might have favoured Ricciardo a little more then Vettel but the writing was already on the wall and has been throughout this season; Ricciardo is just better at driving this style of car.

Reduced rear downforce and greater torque is what Seb is struggling with, he just isn’t savvy enough with his right foot. Watch any of his ‘stunning pole laps’ over the previous 4 1/2 years and you can see how aggressive he was over the kerbs and at the limits of the track, something which was a lot easier to acheive with high floor-driven rear downforce and narrow torque band engines.

Removing the stabilising effect of the blown diffusers, reducing the mechanical grip with harder tyres and introducing an engine with greater torque (band and peak) and it’s no wonder why he’s struggling.

Dan is just ‘driving’ the car better, something which Seb will have to get used to and he will be back. What I am convinced of though is that Webber just wasn’t good enough and if Dan ws in the car during that period I’m sure Seb wouldn’t have had 4 titles to his name.


Its not that Vettel cant drive a car without the blown diffuser. He did pretty well in 08, 09 and 10, unfortunately for him he learned a new technique to extract that little bit extra from the blow diffuser concept by altering his driving style in 2011,12 and 13. This technique was so different that few other driver was able to adapt to that style or use it as lethally as Vettel and it was one of the reasons why he was always on the edge. While dan was used to driving a car over the last 2 years that would slide around a lot much like what the Redbull does now. So its easier for Daniel to adapt to 2014 than for Vettel to unlearn driving without the blown diffuser without being being able to push as much into the corner. That saying lately he has shown some improvement compared to the start of the year and has beaten his teammate in the last 5 qualifications he only needs to find his pace in the long runs. Once he does that he’ll be matching Ricarrdio more often 😉 Although there is no way he’ll beat his this year



The fact they’ve made a load of bluster about it not being the case, in F1-terms, it must be true!


Seb’s not bad for a no. 2 driver!!


Pretty ordinary for a number 2 driver. At least Webber won a few races.


Hi James,

Great analysis as always, but it doesn’t mean you’d escape the wrath of your maths teacher, I’m afraid. The two things my maths teachers moaned about, more than anything else, were:

– “Always specify the units!”

– “Always label your graph axes!”

Class dismissed.


When they pitted Vettel and the rest followed I wondered if that was designed to be a sucker punch for Ricciado.

They say 1 year in politics is like a lifetime, I bet Vettel would be thinking the same about F1.


Not sure I understand the assessment that Vettel’s strategy was designed to help Ricciardo? If it was that easy, then surely all Perez, Raikkonen, Alonso, Magnussen and Button need to have done was pit at the same time as Ricciardo and they wouldn’t have dropped behind? Or, alternatively, using the logic that they “needed to pit to compete with Vettel”, surely Ricciardo is in the same boat and would have suffered just as much? I get that his position allowed him to get clear air, but that’s nothing to with Vettel pitting is it? And on top of all that, having to make all of those overtakes in order to even catch Vettel seems like an extraordinarily optimistic strategy

Nah, for me was just great driving by Ricciardo who I think over the past few races has shown he is without a doubt worthy of his drive and a real contender for some time yet


I’m enjoying the Merc success but would love to see RBR catch up a bit for next year. Would be brilliant to see the unrivalled chassis-building and aerodynamics of RBR pitted against the brute force (and still very good chassis) of the Merc. Imagine the two swapping favourite status from race to race and track to track. It’d be a great season to watch.


Great analysis, but Kyvat’s trace deserved a sentence or two.


James the ERS section is highly insightful, thanks. Requires a clever and a thinking driver to achieve the full effect. So after all the hybrid does have many plus points, like piloting a spaceship and making sure it arrives. Am enjoying this season very much I must admit.

Gotta say Vettel is taking this year very well from Ric’s dominance. Don’t blame RBR favouring Ric, it’s only natural. But I like to see Vettel catch up soon though, rather embarrassing from a four time world champion.


1. Was this premeditated? Ricciardo and Vettel looked to be running different set-ups. Was Vettel set for qualy and Ricciardo to save rubber for the race?

2. Would Red Bull have have had faith in Ricciardo to get passed Magnussen in the same situation?

3. Given that Vettel is harder on his tires, he should have been given the opposite strategy. So it seems clear RB didn’t have faith in him to make the overtakes or they did indeed favor Ricciardo to take the most points. Probably both factors were in play there.

Overtaking with boost- and the strategies to maximize it, are available to all drivers. Ricciardo and Bottas are clearly the best exponents of this. Are the rest of the field “old dogs failing to learn new tricks”?

I’m sure this is the case. While established drivers are struggling to get up to speed with the new cars, the new generation of drivers are already pushing the envelope with the new toys.

This doesn’t bode well for Vettel, Kimi or Button. Nor for the teams hanging their hopes on big name drivers like Ferrari or MacLaren (if they get their way). Alonso is spared blushes because he doesn’t have a rookie teammate, but that could change too.


9/10 and 3/10 based on what?

Look at the lap charts above Ricciardo dint make any impression on the train of cars behind Magnussen and then Vettel until the last phase of the race where all of them were hindered by excessive tyre wear due to stopping 8,9 or 10 laps before Ricciardo. Remember Kimi and Ricciarddo scrap, Kimi was able to give more resistance and brake later because his tyres were still degrading its similar to Bottas Magnussen. Once he was past Kimi the other guy had no defense only because their tyres had degraded excessive by sliding around running close behind the car in front and the fact that they pitted way earlier dint help too

. If Alonso dint retire or Kyvat dint have issues it would have been clear to everyone that it was only possible because of tyre wear on the guys in front. Look at Kyvat chart too if it werent for brake wear he would have finish ahead of Vettel too and so would have Alonso too if he hadnt retired. Bottas, Ricciardo, Kvyat chart show that pitting later would have given the guys behind Vettel enough ammunition to And the 9/10 you attributed to Ricciardo have been in races where he has been on fresher tyres at the end of the race i.e Hungary and Canada.


Have you ever thought Kenny that the fact Ricciardo wasn’t making an impression on the cars behind Magnussen and Vettel etc pace wise was because early on he was saving his tyres to make that longer first stint so he could attack on those fresher tyres at the end? That is exactly what strategy is all about!!! That is the hallmark of a SMART driver, which Alonso has previously commented on how smart Ricciardo is with how he races. By continually saying he only passes near the end because he is on fresher tyres only re-enforces his racecraft/smarts/ability to make the tyres last. He is on fresher tyres because earlier on in the race he has been pacing himself to make the first sets of tyres last longer so he can attack at the end on those fresher tyres! That is what racing/racecraft is all about! If he didn’t have that ability he wouldn’t have been in the position to take advantage of the fresher rubber in the first place!

On the other side of the coin his podium in Silverstone also highlighted how he can still push on worn tyres. Even the Mercedes Engineer as well as Hamilton in the ready room prior to the podium couldn’t believe that Daniel managed to make the tyres last so long. THAT is why Daniel is doing what he is, by driving smart, pacing himself and making the most of the strategy put before him. Driving fast all the time is one thing, but as Hamilton has proven as arguably the fastest driver in the field he hasn’t always raced smart by not always conserving when he needs to and not controlling his pace when the situation requires. He only seems to know ‘flat out’ which has consequences like in Canada where he just kept pushing until his brakes gave out, whereas Rosberg was more controlled which allowed him to finish the race with the same problem. This goes a long way to explain why Hamilton isn’t leading the championship or closer to Rosberg.

Hungary was another example and your simple comment at the end about essentially only passing due to fresher tyres again highlights his talent however doesn’t show what REALLY happened during the WHOLE race. SO many people were commenting on how good Alonso was in making his tyres last so long at the end of the race, it surely was impressive. However no one seems to highlight the FACT that RIcciardo’s middle stint on the SAME compound was only 1 lap less than Alonso’s ‘legendary’ run. Again that long middle stint, whilst not setting the world on fire, still kept him within the striking range that allowed him to attack at the end with the obvious results of that race win. That is how you drive SMART, races aren’t won by setting a cracking pace in the first half of the race. It is like a game of chess, you make the right move at the right time and don’t always go like a bull at a gate at the very start. This is what Ricciardo has been able to do with great effect, adjust his driving so he is in the right position at the right time. That is one of the reasons why he has been there to take advantage of the Mercedes misfortunes and is the only ‘non-Mercedes’ driver so far this year to win a race. Sure he only won most of those races because of a Mercedes ‘problem’, however he had to be able to get himself into the position to take advantage of that situation in the first place!


Ricarrdio was only lethal at the very end when the front runners were running out of grip, they were in a tightly contested battle running close behind each other, which isnt ideal for the tyres as it causes them to wear out more due to more sliding while cornering. Daniel could carry more speed out of the corners and hence get a better toe to overtake and in addition his tyres being fresher allowed him to be confident in braking later and making the apex. If he were in the train of cars running ahead he would have suffered the same fate as others


Advantages don’t have to be big to be significant in the overall result.

If Ricciardo has similar or better tyres when he reaches Vettel he will get passed 9 times out of 10. For Vettel right now, the same estimate would be 3 out of 10.

That’s how the team thinks. The “if”, “but”, and “maybe it’s just a little” arguments don’t figure.

What they will see is that a better start and not being pushed off at the start, would have seen Ricciardo even further ahead.


Being Australian I always take note of how Ricciardo is going each race and during this race I was thinking this was going to be great for him once Vettel pitted early. Especially since his next lap after Vettel pitted was his fastest at the time. Great strategy and great recovery drive.


Hi James,

I enjoyed the comments around the use of ERS and the difference it has made.

Competitive racing has been the most exciting since the 90s. I have really enjoyed the overtaking and duelling on track.

So the 3 highlights of the year must be Mercedes Engines, Daniel Ricciardo & ERS



despite all the issues with vettel and his ‘problematic’ performances i doubt whether he will up stumps in 2015. RB would i suspect want to keep him in the event that next years car will be both better, performance wise and more suited to his driving style…if that is what really matters. if he left this season who would replace him? kvyat is still to raw,IMO, but then again that could be worth the gamble.

ultimately i think that vettel will be there next year but after that, who knows…


Seb picked a very good year to be beaten. There is no prize for third.


” It is becoming an increasingly influential factor in the racing, even though it’s hard for fans to see from the outside or on TV.”

And this in a nutshell is exactly what it wrong with F1 now. A crucial part of the overall racing is kept hidden from viewers in a “blackbox”.


Loving these analytical articles where you focus on 1 or 2 key points and delve in to them. More of these! =]


Given Ricciardo’s pace during the races relative to Seb, is it also possible that Seb is now sacrificing his race pace by setting up his car for qualifying?

It is not clever and would be a disadvantage in the long term obviously but at least he then isn’t getting out qualified AND out-raced. Also allows for conjecture that the team are favoring Ricciardo, damage control for what is happening to his reputation.


That would also enable Seb to get amongst the Mercs at the start to try and unsettle them.


I htink everyone is reading to much into this.RBR had two differant stradegies to cover each eventuallity. Unfotunately for SV it was not his that worked out the best. A SC or an accident could have changed the whole complection of the race. Depending when and where.

SV his having a mare of a season, oh dear, how sad, never mind.

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