Spanish GP debrief: Who made the bigger mistake – Red Bull or Ferrari?
Spanish GP 2016
Strategy Report
Posted By: James Allen  |  17 May 2016   |  10:02 am GMT  |  422 comments

Max Verstappen’s victory in the Spanish Grand Prix owed a lot to the collision between the two Mercedes drivers at the start, but once they were out, what swung it his way was pure race strategy decision making and flawless execution from the 18 year old.

This race pivoted on a key decision; to switch to the riskier three-stop strategy. Both Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel lost the race because of this call.

Here we will analyse this momentous decision and look at why it was made and how it affected the outcome; but which team made the bigger mistake – Ferrari or Red Bull?

Lewis Hamilton

Pre-race considerations

Before the race Pirelli said that three stops was a marginally faster strategy, but the experienced team strategists were all saying that they would be surprised if anyone did anything different from a two stop with a short stint on softs at the start and then two stints on mediums.

Simulations in recent years have shown that a three-stop is more risky at Barcelona, with the extra 22-second pit stop and with the need to pass a two-stopping car in the closing stages.

Overtaking has always proved difficult on this track unless there was a significant difference in tyre life or car pace. Even then, the lead car needs only to get a good drive out of the final chicane to have enough of a margin across the start finish line to hold onto the position.

Friday running showed that the degradation numbers all pointed to a comfortable two stop; the soft tyre was good for up to 14-16 laps, which meant around 30-32 laps each on two sets of new mediums to reach 66 laps. Straightforward.

Vettel, Ricciardo

Red Bull switches strategy for Ricciardo, Vettel covers, Verstappen wins

As much as Verstappen won this race, Ricciardo and Vettel both lost it.

The most controversial decisions were Red Bull’s surprise move to switch Ricciardo onto a three-stop strategy on Lap 28, when he had the race under control and even more controversially, Ferrari’s decision to follow him.

Once the two Mercedes cars were out of the race, there was a golden opportunity to win a Grand Prix for both teams, who badly needed it.

The whip hand was with Red Bull. They had track position advantage with Daniel Ricciardo ahead of Max Verstappen, while Ferrari were third and fourth with Vettel and Raikkonen.

Both teams felt that the Ferrari was faster. But the red cars had underperformed in qualifying, leaving the door open for Red Bull. Surely they would be aggressive on strategy to go for the win?

Vettel lost time behind Carlos Sainz early on, but once clear of the Spaniard, he looked quick.

Ricciardo stopped first on Lap 11, followed by Verstappen and Raikkonen a lap later. Vettel stayed out until Lap 15 to start building a tyre offset to the others. This was not the move of a man who was planning to stop three times. Quite the reverse.

Daniel Ricciardo

Still, Red Bull felt vulnerable to a Ferrari attack. In selecting their tactics, they may have recalled Suzuka 2013 with Vettel and Webber racing against Lotus and Romain Grosjean. Back then they pitted the lead car Webber, onto a three stop strategy, knowing that Grosjean would react and Vettel on a two stop could win the race, which is what happened.

But this was different. The obvious thing to do in Barcelona was to ask Verstappen to drop back three seconds behind Ricciardo, dropping Vettel out of range of undercutting the Australian. From there Ricciardo would be certain to win the race and a team victory would be secure. Verstappen would probably have finished third in that scenario.

But they either didn’t want to ask Verstappen to do that or didn’t want to prioritise Ricciardo for the win. Perhaps a supremely strong result for Verstappen on his Red Bull debut would justify dropping Daniil Kvyat in favour of the Dutchman. Perhaps, based on his track record of accepting team orders at Toro Rosso, they didn’t think he’d comply!

Daniel Ricciardo

Verstappen looked slightly quicker than Ricciardo in the second stint, but the Australian was also driving to a two-stop plan and so was pacing his tyres.

Either way, the strange moment came on Lap 28 when Red Bull pitted the lead car, Ricciardo, committing him to a three-stop strategy. The problem with 3 stops in that scenario is three-fold; he had already lost three or four seconds by running at his pace compared to an optimised three stopper, plus you don’t get enough back from the pace of the extra tyres to make up for the 22 seconds lost in the extra stop, plus you commit to having to overtake 2 stoppers at the end of the race.

So it was a big and unnecessary risk for the lead car and none of the other teams’ race strategists could quite believe it when Ricciardo pitted. Christian Horner said after the race that they did so to pre-empt Vettel three stopping and splitting the strategies was the best way to cover their bases.

This sounds a little like a retrofit of the story to the events, but to be fair to them there was an argument for splitting the strategies to make Red Bull have to work for the win. It was just very odd not to give the lead car with the most experienced race winning driver the best strategy.

Ferrari F1
Ferrari make an even bigger mistake

At this point Ferrari could have laughed out loud and carried on with both cars on two stop strategies. Yes they would have to deal with a fast finishing Ricciardo late in the race, but they would have two cars for him to try to pass and that would have been hard.

Meanwhile they would have had two cars against Verstappen, which meant that they could have undercut him with Vettel at the second stop and won the race.

The key for Ferrari at this point was to put pressure on Red Bull, but Ferrari failed to do this. Vettel followed Ricciardo’s switch to three stops and condemned him not to win the race at that point.

They did have Kimi Raikkonen still in the game with Verstappen, covering his two-stop strategy, but again they were unable to put enough pressure on the teenager and didn’t try the undercut on the second stop.

Verstappen, Raikkonen

Verstappen was allowed the luxury of pitting first on Lap 34, with Raikkonen coming in a lap later. He followed closely to the finish but didn’t make life difficult enough for the teenager.

How to read this approach from Ferrari? The most likely scenario is that they lacked confidence; especially with chairman Sergio Marchionne dropping in on race day, after they had underperformed in qualifying. Having told them they ‘have to win’ before the race weekend, the team needed to respond to the pressure by being bold but they looked more like they wanted to avoid taking a risk that might backfire in front of the boss.

Sergio Marchionne

But with no pressure from behind as Williams and Bottas were a long way in arrears, they could have tried some aggressive moves; there were no negatives.

Red Bull and Mercedes have both noticed this lack of confidence and will seek to exploit it; Ferrari has to address it internally so they can be more bold in future races, as they were many times with strategy last season.

The UBS Race Strategy Report is written by James Allen with input and data from several of the leading teams’ strategists and from Pirelli.

Report Sm Rect bann

Race History Graph, courtesy Williams Martini Racing – Click to enlarge

The zero line is the lap time of an imaginary car doing the winner’s average lap speed every lap. It is intended to show the gaps between car performance.

Note the massive gap back to Bottas (solid blue line), showing no threat to Ferrari from behind. And yet they didn’t want to take a risk to try to win.

Spanish GP 2016

Williams Martini Racing

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Most unspoken overtake of GP Spain. In the same corner in the background behind of two colliding merc, Sainz made a good move on Raikkonen. Unlike Hamilton, Sainz dived in and immediately pulled his car to outside.

Nic Maennling

Who made the biggest mistake ? Lewis and Nico. The others were just racing.


Red Bull should always make sure that Ricciardo finishes ahead of the sprog, he is far better looking and therefore more attractive to the sponsors. And a child is only good for selling chocolate bars!


Lewis hamilton made the biggest mistake by trusting Rosberg to leave him room!


Clear fix by Red Bull to get some headlines. The hand of Bernie lingers over this and whilst it grabbed the desired headlines, if I was RIC I would punch Christian in the face and look for another seat.


please someone give me an answer regarding this new formula one,when is the general public going to see these engines and all this technology on my car?star with the tires(personally i will buy pirelli tires or ever used pirelli tire) now for these turbos when are going to see them on my car.Enough of this formula one is losing its fan base,they have lost me.iI only read James Allen articles,i do not watch this garbage even on tv.




hmm, a bit sloppy, missing in my previous post are off course strategy influencing groups:
4. Car aerodynamic characteristics
5. Track


From a data science/predictive analytics perspective (that’s what I do) I would say there are three major input groups in predicting the right tyre strategy for a race:
1. Tyre specific input: compound, track temperature etc
2. Pit timings: crew performance, in/out
3. Driver characteristics: overdriving/braking errors/too much “bad air” in corners etc

I have the impression that the strategies are primarily based on input group 1, which is quite silly I think. If I would have to give a gut estimate on percentages of what group influences the strategy I would say:
group 1: 60 – 70 %, group 2: 1-3 % and group 3: 30 – 40 %.
The driver has a much greater impact on the best strategy. In that sense it is completely bullocks that Pirelli gives 1 generic “best” strategy and one alternative for every race. What would be much better is that every driver would get a personalised
best strategy for every race taking group 3 input much more into account. I think they will have the data to do so but they will not do that for apparently, politically obvious reasons.
From all the data which must be available it should not be that hard to derive a better predictive model for each driver. Maybe they have this data and models and because Redbull apparantly had no historic data on MAX in the RB12 and that’s why Ricciardo’s three stopper went wrong. Time to recalibrate the predictive models @RedBull I would say !


Red Bull made no mistake in their strategy. Their decision was a deliberate and cruelly despicable means of informing RIC that he is the number 2 driver from now on.


As can be concluded from the graphs above Max personally nuked the three stopper by perfectly balancing speed and tyre preservation. It’s not that hard to be faster on a couple of laps but the average over a complete stint is key. I think that Max, at least in this race, has proven he was the driver which intuitively found the best balance and in the mean time give Raikkonen zero chance on a pass. And all this in his first weekend in the car. Therefor he was clearly the best driver. I think this shocked at least the paddock the most, realising that Max, at least in driver skills, is already better than most established drivers.
If there will be one improved renault engine available in Monaco I would give it to Max


All this racing only can be seen when no Mercedes around.

F1 need to do something to equalise the field.
Mercedes did a fantastic job. Don’t penalise them. Make other team catch up, fast.


Saw this comment from Christian Horner

…”But team boss Christian Horner defended Red Bull’s decision to put Ricciardo on a three-stop.

“It was clear that Ferrari could only beat us if they tried with three stops, so it made sense to put the better-placed car with Vettel and at that time it was Ricciardo.

“You’re always smarter afterwards,” he added.”…

I don’t think so. If that’s the way the RBR strategists think, then RBR would not have won so many races be brilliant strategy calls. This sounds like a clumsy attempt at justification.


Thanks James, very insightful. From your graph I think it is also clear that the problem was the fresh tires (Softs and Medium) did not give enough advantage over the steady pace that Verstappen and Raikkonen were having. In fact Vettel was only gaining on them in the first two rounds with fresh tires, but after that barely keeping up rather than gaining. Verstappen was saving his tires the first 10 rounds in his last stint, so waiting for Raikonen to catch up. Even with that Vettel only gained 4s of the 9.5 he has behind Verstappen after the pit. Ricciardo only gained 5s on softs out of the 20s he was behind after the pit. After that he gained another 10s on his fresher mediums, still 5s behind Verstappen before his tire blew up.
In other words, the passing was not the problem of the 3 stop, their problem was the 3 stop strategy was so slow they did not even come close to the point where they could start thinking about passing.
Were Verstappen and Raikkonen much faster than Pirelli envisioned, or were Ricciardo and Vettel slower?


Renault says its data confirms that they have made the step up they expected. End of the underwhelming Ferrari challenge, move over for Red bull now I Guess.


I think Mark Webber summed it up the best in his tweet Redbull loves records


Great summary, James. Sometimes the strategists manage to completely outthink themselves and forget that on many circuits, having track position is still supreme.


they can be more bold in future races

It’s bolder.

Carlos Marques

I think Ferrari need to bring Ross Brawn out of retirement. He’s one of a few people who can play the high-stakes poker game with Mercedes and Red Bull.

I suspect if he was in command on Sunday he would have laughed at Mercedes (for crashing) and then Red Bull (for taking one car out of the way early in the race). He would have both Ferraris attack the lone Red Bull in a coordinated fashion to get a 1-2 or a 1-3.

I don’t think Ferrari will go anywhere when they’re all afraid of making a mistake on Sunday because the big boss is watching…just sayin’


Wow, amazing how this article and its comments lose no time to spot favouratism. It’s a pity many people get more out of painting the world in heroes and villains and taking sides, rather than enjoying the sports, and trying to understand it. A more intelligent ‘analysis’ can be found here:


You’re kidding right?

That website and it’s owner are the biggest Vettel worshippers. I’m quite certain he prays three times a day only saying sebs name.


Just because this article doesn’t fit your view of what happened, takes into considerations facts omitted by other articles (like ignoring the evidence that RBR had a pretty clear image of what was possible to achieve on the hard tires, thanks to the drivers using them in the first stints) and rises some questions you consider irrelevant, your best comment is to accuse the authors of partisanship and claim that this article lacks intelligence.
I think you can do better, try adopting a balanced stance as well.


It was interesting to see how during the last race it was Max who beneffited from the best strategy. It makes me think also happened during his time at Toro Rosso where Sainz’s strategies always seemed less favorable. It is now Ricciardo’s turn to battle Dr. Marko’s new boy. All the best for the Spanish driver, he deserves to jump into a top team next year!!


Three things not covered: (1) Ricciardo highly likely pitted following Vettel’s undercut (be it late indeed)… not as an opportunity for Verstappen to win. Asking Verstappen to coast and spoil t 3 sec would have handed second place to Ferrari. It would have been a move backwards, where Ricciardo was asked to move forward. Leaving positions to competition is a bit counterintuitive for any F1 team. Red Bull might have lost all, both the win AND the second position to Ferrari. Well, then you look stupid. (2) Look at the race history graph, you clearly can see (what Verstappen said on TV as well) that between lap 21 and 25 he was closing in on Ricciardo (into the turbulent one second time frame), Ricciardo reported to the pits he could not go any faster at that moment in time. Asking Verstappen to “slow down brother :-)” would have “ferraresque” indeed… like back in Schumacher’s days asking Barichello to coast. Luckily not Red Bull’s style. Other way around: Ricciardo was not asked to leave the win to Verstappen, he could have driven faster at some point AND save tyres to make him get Verstappen’s strategy. Let’s not say Ricciardo couldn’t, at least he didn’t. (3) So… along those lines, Räikkönen was intentionally granted second place in favor of Vettel as well? In that case, let’s make it a complete conspiracy: Ricciardo is said to be talking to Ferrari, Horner and Arrivabene have been setting this up together… this way Ricciardo will only get cheaper if he’d like to position himself as Räikkönen’s replacement. In all… yes, Red Bull should have reacted immediately after’s Vettel undercut, but all the rest is nothing more than a conspiracy, that is largely busted by facts.


The real story of the weekend was surely another phenomenal display by McHonda! Truly outstanding, mesmerising pace……and reliability thrown into the mix! Ronald and his team, wow!


you seemed to have missed Alonso.. stranding for his home crowd.. Not happy!


I’m glad that you too believe in them, it’s of great comfort to find another faithful fan of McLaren, supporting them in their struggle to return to greatness isn’t easy and not for everyone.


Sensible as I am to these kinds of subtleties, I think I detect a note of sarcasm.


😉 Your detectors do not disserve you.


Am I the only one who thinks it’s not inconceivable Max will win the DWC this year?


I have a five Euro bet on that he will. Odds were, at the time (literally about twenty minutes after his moved was announced) at 1000/1. They dropped the next day to 125/1. I thinks it’s completely possible, especially with trouble brewing at Mercedes.


No, I am certain there are a couple of over enthusiastic fans out there, that hope and believe it is possible.
But it won’t happen; don’t get me wrong, I would love it, because for this to come to past, extraordinary things must happen on the track, including some out of this world driving, and this, we all crave it.


If he misses out on just a few points we will be talking about conspiracy theories regarding the lost points in Australia (when TR pitted Sainz first despite Max having track position)


Many thanks for this analysis. Very thorough for both Red Bull and Ferrari. On Monday morning I wondered if Red Bull split the strategies to prevent a Ferrari undercut of both their drivers at the second stops. But then Ferrari could have simply kept both their drivers in position and undercut the one remaining driver (Verstappen) at the 2nd stops. In the end, they followed Ricciardo by doing the 3 stop with Vettel, and then undercut so aggressively that there was no offset to the leaders. Not great times for the Scuderia, but can they bounce back?

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