Canadian GP debrief: Did Ferrari’s decision making cost Sebastian Vettel the victory?
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Sebastian Vettel
Strategy Report
Posted By: James Allen  |  14 Jun 2016   |  6:47 pm GMT  |  99 comments

Ferrari has had chances to win Grands Prix this year, but has not been able to take them. In Australia the race got away from them due to strategy and in Canada they made a big strategy call early in the race, which handed track position advantage to Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes. But did this call cost Sebastian Vettel a win, as in Melbourne? Or were they right to try it, even though the result went Hamilton’s way?

We will analyse this and some of the other notable results, like Valtteri Bottas’ first podium of the season and Carlos Sainz’s recovery to the points from the back of the grid.

Max Verstappen

Pre-race expectations
After seven races it is already clear that the races are more enjoyable this year, due to the wider choice of tyres and as a result strategy is more important to the outcome than ever.

Canada has always been touch and go whether to choose a one stop or a two-stop strategy. One-stop gives you track position, but two stops is faster.

A two stop is invariably preferable if you can run in clear air, but on the tyres available this year, Ultra soft, Super Soft and Soft there were not many in the paddock that felt that a one stop was feasible. Force India, for example, a team that can normally get results from doing a stop fewer than its rivals, was not able to attempt a one stop strategy this year in Montreal.

The Ultra soft was the fastest qualifying tyre, so that was the starting tyre for the Top Ten, but the Super soft didn’t perform well in the Friday practice sessions, so few teams had any desire to use it in the race. Apart from the two cars that started on it and Perez, who had a nightmare with it, only Ferrari decided to use it for a stint in the race. It’s never good to be the outliers in a situation like that.

Ferrari did some practice running and data gathering on the soft tyre, mainly with Raikkonen on Friday; once again it turned out to be the best tyre for the race. It had less graining and degradation than the others and because it was longer lasting it gave better flexibility to the strategy.

Ferrari did use it for five laps in Saturday’s FP3 session, which meant that they did not have two new sets of softs available for the race if they were going for a two-stop plan. This was their first mistake.

Ferrari F1

Did Ferrari cost Vettel the win with the early strategy call to pit?

Having taken the lead from the Mercedes at the start, Vettel was in a strong position in the first stint of the race. He was able to hold Hamilton outside DRS range, in other words more than a second behind. And the bonus was that with Max Verstappen falling back and Nico Rosberg having gone off track in a close call with Hamilton at Turn 1, the second Mercedes was down in 9th place. So there was no threat from behind to the lead battle. Vettel and Hamilton were going to finish 1-2; the only question was which one would win?

Ferrari planned a two-stop strategy before the race. Hamilton said that Mercedes did too, but the reality was more subtle. Mercedes were more open minded about which way to go and they planned to take their clues from the early laps, tyre warm up and general performance of the soft and Ultra Soft tyres then decide.

The turning point moment was the retirement of Jenson Button’s McLaren on Lap 11. It was an engine failure, so there was no debris to clear. Therefore it was clear that this was likely to be a short-lived Virtual Safety Car period, when it was activated.

Ferrari were in a two stop mindset and they saw an opportunity with the VSC to take a stop and save some race time, as the saving is around 6 seconds compared to racing speeds. They didn’t get all of this saving because the VSC ended while Vettel was in the pit lane.

Ferrari F1

By stopping at least 8 laps before the optimum stop lap for a two stop strategy, they lost the track position to Hamilton, but also lost the levers to control the race. Stopping early meant that Vettel had to deal with traffic, whereas he would have had a gap to drop into if they had waited another 8-10 laps.

But the biggest problem was that they fitted the Super Soft tyre, which wasn’t performing that weekend. The ideal would have been to fit new softs, which would also have given more range and flexibility.

So what was the thinking? It’s clear that the thinking was rushed in the moment of the VSC. Certainly bringing Raikkonen in was a mistake, as the VSC had ended by then so he gained none of the time benefit and ended up in traffic on SuperSoft tyres, which was a double whammy for him. It was surprising that Ferrari didn’t hedge their best by splitting the strategies, but Raikkonen was slower than Vettel all weekend.

Ferrari clearly felt that the Mercedes was a faster car and that they needed to do something different and more aggressive, to beat Hamilton on the day. If they had stayed out, Hamilton would have likely undercut them at the second stop because the Mercedes can run longer in the final stint, so Mercedes would have pitted early for the second stop and won the race that way. Ferrari wanted to try to set a different agenda and you can understand that.

By stopping early, they knew that this would push Mercedes’ strategist into switching Hamilton onto a one stop strategy, without knowing for sure what state the tyres would be in at the end.

Pirelli F1

Pirelli had briefed that it was possible to do 50 laps on a set of softs, but wear life should not be confused with performance life. Pirelli’s note merely said that the tyre would not wear out for 50 laps, which did not mean that the performance wouldn’t drop off a cliff before then. The art of this game is in the tyre model you build through practice sessions and in how you adapt it to the varying conditions and temperatures.

The first indication Mercedes had that it was definitely going to work was when Rosberg was forced to pit on Lap 51 for a puncture. This allowed them to examine his soft tyres, which were 30 laps old and extrapolate the performance life. They knew then that Hamilton would be able to hold on and win the race.

Conclusion
Did Ferrari make mistakes? Yes, they handicapped themselves by not being able to run two new sets of soft tyres in the race and there are other things they could have tried that might have been more effective than pitting under the VSC. They also seem to have got locked into a pattern of thinking about pitting under the VSC that they were unable to switch out of when it became clear the VSC was ending. These are split second decisions, so it’s easy to criticise on hindsight, but at the same time, if it starts to feel wrong, there is time to abort a stop and stay on track, especially when leading.

Did it cost Vettel the win? The consensus is probably not as Mercedes had a slightly faster car and better tyre life, so the Mercedes strategist would always have had undercut opportunities and other levers he could pull to win the race.

Valtteri Bottas
Williams take a big risk to get Bottas his first podium of the season

Williams has traditionally gone well in Montreal and although they again qualified poorly behind Red Bull, they beat them to the podium with a very bold strategy. Effectively Bottas did the same strategy as Hamilton, stopping one lap earlier and thereby getting track position advantage over the two Red Bull cars. He also took advantage of the mistakes made on Raikkonen’s strategy.

Williams have been criticised in the past for not being bold enough, but they took a chance on the soft tyres holding out and it paid off.

A great deal of credit needs to be given to Bottas and Hamilton for not locking up and damaging the tyres, as other drivers did. When you make a bold call to do the 70 lap race with just two sets of tyres, it’s essential that the driver maintains strong pace while not damaging the tyres and the Ultra and SuperSofts were both very fragile to lock ups and graining. If that happened, performance went out of the window.

Carlos Sainz
Sainz and Toro Rosso pull off a great recovery

Carlos Sainz had looked competitive in practice but made a costly mistake in qualifying which damaged the car and put him 20th on the grid.

From here he managed to come through and finish in 9th place.

Ironically this came about due to an aggressive two-stop plan, whereby Sainz was pitted two laps after the VSC. Toro Rosso could see that it was ending so did not follow Ferrari down the pit lane, instead they left it two more laps and brought him in for Soft tyres, which gave them flexibility in the second stint length.

Their next play was a chess move; they made moves in the pit lane and brought in Danill Kvyat from 13th place aggressively early in Lap 17. The idea was to get Haas and McLaren to react and pit Grosjean and Alonso, which they did. This opened up the space for Sainz, whose tyres were now in perfect condition. So this took him up to 11th place. It was a classic Toro Rosso/Red Bull move, using one driver to the benefit of the other and it worked for a good team result.

Sergio Perez had started on softs and took the supersofts at his stop on Lap 30, but they did not perform. So this gave Sainz the chance to take another position. Massa’s retirement gave him another.

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

Report Sm Rect bann

Race History and Tyre Usage Charts

Kindly supplied by Martini Williams Racing. Click to enlarge

Illustrating the performance gaps between the cars during the race. A line which moves steeply upwards shows strong pace. Sharp drops indicate pit stops.

Compare Raikkonen’s (dotted red) pace in the second and third stints to Vettels (solid red). Also compare Red Bull’s pace to Vettel’s, which shows how strong the Ferrari improvement has been.

Screen Shot 2016-06-14 at 18.17.39

Screen Shot 2016-06-14 at 18.20.34

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1

James, how much of Ferrari strategy gaffs are being caused by not having good data feedback from both cars/drivers. RAI has struggled this year. In FP2 RAI said he couldn’t make any sense of his Ferrari. There is precious little time to gather data leading up to the race. A lot of teams run split programs to maximize pre-race intelligence. Is RAI contributing his fair share?

I think one of the reason that VET was so successful in the past was the combined input that WEB and VET provided in setting up the car. I also thin it is a component of the success at Mercedes. Both drivers are extracting a lot from the car (albeit HAM more so that ROS, but only marginally so) HAM wins because he can extract the addition few hundredths out of the car in qualifying and because he has better race craft.

2

It is interesting that for the last 3 races in a row we have seen, the driver leading the race has blinked 1st and made a move giving away the most important thing in F1 – strategic leading position.

3

I watched the race in a foreign language and didn’t understand anything, and it was actually much more exciting because I didn’t realise Ham was 1-stopping. For much of the race I thought Ferrari had got the jump on strategy and I kept expecting Merc to bring Hamilton in for a short stint on the ultrasoft at the end, where he would have needed to be a second a lap quicker than Vettel to catch him. Once it got past lap 55 it suddenly dawned on me that he was going to stay out, and then I realised how Merc had outfoxed Fezza.

4
Tornillo Amarillo

James, if we can say the winner combination was 1 STOP – SOFT – MERCEDES PU…

why HULK did 2 stops for softs? What was wrong for not bettering P8 ?

5

Firstly, Pirelli needs to come up with a fifth tyre compound for dry weather- SUPER DUPER “this time it’s for real” MEGA ULTRASOFT compound.

Secondly, Ferrari’s pit-call had “disaster” written all over it. My first reaction, watching Vettel dive into the pits was, has he picked up a puncture ? But no, apparently Ferrari were working on a “cunning” plan.

A plan, which as per James Allen, was intended to force Merc into one-stopper. So, surely Ferrari would have calculated by pitting that early, they would force Vettel to overtake both RedBull’s on track (which he did). And on top of that he would need to overtake Hamilton towards the end of the race !!!

A plan, which would present Hamilton track position and running in “clean air”.

Before VSC, it was visible to all that Vettel was able to keep Hamilton behind and that too outside DRS zone or you can argue, Hamilton was nursing is tyres.
So why be creative.? Let Merc do the hard work, and try to find the strategy to overtake Vettel.

If indeed, as per Ferrari strategist Merc was the faster car, their only chance of win would have depended on Vettel keeping Hamilton running in dirty air and compromising his tyre life and fuel consumption and NOT by calling Vettel to the pits at least 6 laps before the optimum 2 stop strategy.

6
Tornillo Amarillo

I think Ferrari was pretty OK in strategy, but it was VETTEL’s errors (I think 3 times) than put him from 4 seconds to 7 seconds behind HAMILTON, don’t you think? Including the “seagull-gate”. Come on, if HAMILTON had put a foot wrong it had been a closer fight at the end.

7

James,

I totally agree with this great analysis, I have anything wrong to notice. Knowing the pace advantage of siver arrows car, Ferrari saw an opportuniy to reduce their pit stop time and did the right thing. Ferrari also forced mercedes to a sole stop strategy. It was a good move mainly because as you mentioned any team was convinced that the yellow tire, I mean the soft compound, could last so much laps. If the tires wasn’t last Ferrari had proably a 15 seconds win gap advtantage to Lewis Hamilton.
The only thing I can blame Ferrari is the could go the other way too by staying out and cover / copy paste Hamilton strategy as at that point in the race they were the leading car. Mostly knowing the fact that mercedes car fear dirty air and could damage his tires by following Vettel with 1-2 seconds gap. Secondly, we could have a great track battle between the two.

8

Very disappointing from Ferrari again. I actually think All the teams are now suffering from radio bans because constant 2 way feedback on car performance is making it tricky for the strategists to determine what the correct time is to bring them in. In the past we would never have seen RBR or Ferrari make questionable calls over several race weekends. I know they have telemetry but I think we heard Rosberg asking for more info but could not be told. Teams cant accurately judge driver feel and preference and its hard for a driver to “bridge the gap” whilst racing. I think the top teams are stuggling with this more as we are seeing some smaller ones making inspired decision like STR did at Montreal and FI at Monaco.

I understand at the time of the VSC it was absolutely the right call to try to bank some distance to Lewis and reality is they gained a few seconds out if it – possibly lost them back with the 2 stop, but the second the VSC stopped and Seb was rolling down the pit lane – that was exactly the time to keep Kimi out. Kimi was never in the fight for the win but he lost 7 positions in that move!!. Ridiculous!

I think Ferrari robbed themselves of at least a car length win to Lewis , maybe the other way round if they stopped within a lap of each other on a one stop. I think Ferrari were also better in the Softs as Kimi showed on Fridays long runs – he would certainly have challenged for 4th if not 3rd.

I know Ferrari are closer in outright pace but if you look carefully the Mercedes is much easier to drive on the limit with both drivers the Ferrari is still handful on the absolute limits and that means tyres wear / fuel consumption is a challenge on the edgier circuits..

9

Ferrari lost because they didn’t have the smarts Mercedes did with pitstop timing and tyre strategy and Vettel stuffed up too many times. Otherwise they could have easily won it. For the money these guys get paid l don’t think they earned it in Canada. Marchionne better do something quick.

10

“Italian confusion”. Berger

“All pulling in different directions”. Walker.

Vettel must really hate Alonso right now.

11

The Mercs don’t like dirty air. If you have them in it, keep them in it. Nico’s breaks didn’t like it.

12
Ricki Sanguinetti

Ferrari are busy learning an old Japanese art , Hara-kiri together with tyre data miscues.
Why do they continue to defend Kimi? To me,the answer is simple: they are using him to run tests on new parts!

13

Ferrari ability to make a lightening start is a worry for mercedes .
looking at the points table your cant assume its a mercedes 2 horse race as vettel has lost a lot of potential points.If Vettel starts winning KR needs to step up and finish at least 2nd.

14

Poxy race director had itchy VSC trigger finger. When watching Buttons car and seeing 2 marshalls were near it with a hole in the wall to push it through……..why have a VSC? It was a ridiculous decision, and misleading to the teams, especially Ferrari.

15

James would like to hear you thoughts on how close the Ferrari is to the Mercedes after the Montreal update… With Lewis messing up qualifying, different strategies on the lead cars and Rosberg and Raikonnen having an evening to forget, how much the gap has closed was not very clear…

Looking forward to exciting races ahead…

16

But the fundamental strategy mistake was in 2015 when Ferrari yet again developed a slower car. Everything else is smoke and mirrors. I notice commentators talking up the threat to Mercedes from Red Bull and Ferrari but the only issue is how big a mistake will Mercedes make in a race.

Hamilton is vulnerable to an engine change but we have seen that Hamilton doesn’t just race for the result, he has mastered using as little car as he can thinking of the season. Rosberg hammered his car for a poor result.

If Mercedes can solve their clutch issues (clearly Ferrari have a bit of engineering magic that Mercedes haven’t twigged) then they will run away with it. Hamilton most likely will then build enough of a lead that he can afford to take the hit of an engine penalty and settle for second at some point. – they’ve scrapped too many components to get him to the end. Rosberg isn’t as sympathetic to the equipment and will not have the headroom on the engines to use them to the max at the end of the season having used them up fighting to recover from his problems.

17

Ferrari pitted Raikkonnen on the same lap and strategy as Vettel, even though the VSC had clearly ended. When will the lunacy end? #inakiruedaout

18

Ferrari brought in Vettel early and dropped him back nicely right behind Ricciardo and Verstappen – what a great strategy!

19

“Ferrari did little practice running and data gathering on the soft tyre… 5 laps over the whole weekend.” This was the prime tyre for the race which they would need to run for the majority of the race. Why on earth and who’s decision was it to not gather any data on it?

20

No-no-no, they have had 3 new sets of softs, used one of them for data gathering, and after that made five laps run in FP3 session on a second set.
So, they had one completely worn out set, one completely new, and one 5 laps (7 with in+out laps) old.

21
Wilma the Great

If I extrapolate the pace of Vettels last stint onto his second one, it would seem like he would have been able to get ahead of Hamilton with two sets of softs, even if one of them has been used. I can’t understand, why Ferrari didn’t put on the softs in the second stint to leave some options available.

22

Ferrari at the time done what they thought was best going by the data from friday practice, even mercedes were thinking of a 2 stop but only reverted to a 1 stop to cover vettle when he stoped

23

Hamilton confirmed that Mercedes switched to plan B (which was a one stopper) BEFORE Vettel stopped.

24

Even if ferrari had left vet on a 1 stop strategy hamilton would still have one as the tyre life was much better on the hamilton driven mercedes, hamilton was cruising not on the limit

25

He was cruising because he was at the front. Had Ham still been behind Vettel after first round of pitstops, his tyres wouldn’t be as fresh and Vettel would have benefitted from clear air.

26

Strategy analysis and post-mortem are easy, in the split second when decisions are made is what counts. Akin like trading on the stock market – very easy to explain everything post-market hours 🙂

Anyway – you missed a point that Vettel was 4.1 seconds behind Ham with 10-12 laps to go. His 2 mistakes cost him else was there a possibility that HAM would have had to push and test his brakes and tires ? We will never know.

So !!!!

27

It’s arguable that the only reason Vettel made the mistakes was that he was pushing hard and the tyres weren’t up to it – he wasn’t getting the consistent grip. So, he could have gone slower and definitely not caught Hamilton but stayed in the track or he could have done what he did: push and chance that he’d catch and pass.

28

He made mistakes because Hamilton’s tyres and his pace was not dropping off as expected towards the end and 13 lap offset on the tyres was not good enough to catch the Merc. So he had to take a few risks. His mistakes do not impact race results in any way

29

To me, it seems that the ultrasoft tyres are not really that much different to the supersofts. Ham was able to make them last 24 laps and Max got 24 on used ultras. Kevin made them last 29 laps!
The performance difference doesn’t seem dramatic either. To me the ultras should be seconds quicker, but be very fragile as far as lifespan, maybe on
Yo last 10-12 laps, not 47 laps of Monaco.

30

Agreed.

31

reading through the comments, most fans are picking up on this now. We watched Monaco and accepted its the conditions, very little wear, but this is getting silly. We have yet to see the US tyre actually provide a significant lap time advantage that Pirelli talk about.

32

U R doing it wrong Ferrari.
Vettel should have kept pounding trying to keep Lewis under his dirty air.
It would wear his tires more and cause his brakes to overheat… or even crash.

Even if Lewis managed to undercut Vettel in a one-stopper, Seb could dive bomb Lewis and I bet he wouldn’t resist as his only enemy is Nico.

No risk, no reward.

33

Please explain how does VET pound it AND keep HAM in dirty air? The only thing SEB can dive bomb are the two seagulls

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