The one that got away: How the lessons from Spa will change F1 teams’ approach
Belgian Grand Prix 2016
Strategy Report
Posted By: James Allen  |  30 Aug 2016   |  5:15 pm GMT  |  53 comments

Race Strategy is always central to the outcome of the Belgian Grand Prix as there are so many unpredictable elements to this traditionally dramatic race.

This year the strategies were effectively upset by a Safety Car and then neutralised by a red flag stoppage after a huge accident for Renault’s Kevin Magnussen. This changed the race, brought Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso into play, despite the pair starting at the back of the grid, and proved costly for some teams that had pitted under the Safety Car.

There was pain too for those who had not got their strategy planning right weeks ago, when the tyres for this race needed to be chosen. Pirelli

There were important decisions to be made during qualifying on what tyre to start the race on and more decision making to be done throughout the Grand Prix.

Some strong results got away from teams here, as we shall see.

Pre-race considerations
This year teams have to select the tyre compounds they wish to bring to each race 8-10 weeks before the event. They have no way of knowing what the weather will be like that far out, but they should have good tyre models that tell them how each compound is likely to behave.

Last weekend the weather was exceptionally hot, by Spa standards, with track temperatures at 40 degrees. This led to blistering, where the tyre heats up too quickly and gas needs to escape, which it does by means of bubbles, or blisters on the surface. This problem has increased with Pirelli’s insistence on high tyre pressures. Finding a way to control that was critical to the weekend and one of the reasons why Force India did so well, scoring 22 points.

Nico Hulkenberg

The supersoft was only ever going to be a qualifying tyre and a very limited race tyre, with the soft also difficult to make last and the medium reasonably durable. It was strange that Ferrari, for example, went for more supersofts in its allocation, leaving it short on new mediums for the race and strange too that Williams’ Valtteri Bottas went into the race without a new set of medium tyres.

Teams were briefing that it would be a two or three stop race, with Mercedes clearly lining up pole sitter Nico Rosberg for a soft-medium-medium strategy and both Force India drivers looking at a supersoft-medium-medium race.

The key point about this year’s Belgian Grand Prix is that Mercedes were not as fast compared to the rest of the field as they have recently been, partly due to the high temperatures. And with Lewis Hamilton starting from the back of the grid due to multiple engine penalties, it meant a great opportunity for other teams to challenge for a podium.

Lewis Hamilton

Dealing with a race turned on its head
Ferrari’s challenge ended at Turn 1 as both Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen got caught up in a tangle with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen. This put paid to the chances of all three drivers reaching the podium and created an opening for Force India, Williams and Hamilton.

The top ten cars were split between those that had opted to start the race on the soft tyre and those that had gone for supersoft in the second part of qualifying, and thus had to contemplate a very short first stint. Six of the ten were on supersofts including the Force Indias and Williams, Verstappen and Button.

The early laps were not straight-forward as the startline collision and then a puncture for Carlos Sainz and a resulting Virtual Safety Car meant that there had been few racing laps completed by Lap 6, when Magnussen crashed heavily at Eau Rouge.

Belgian Grand Prix 2016

This brought out a Safety Car and an opportunity for the runners on supersofts to make a cheap pit stop. But they had done hardly any laps.

Both Force Indias took the decision to pit as did Romain Grosjean and Jolyon Palmer. For the drivers who had started on softs, part of that decision was that it offered more flexibility and protection against an early Safety Car such as this; stop now behind the Safety Car on Lap 7 and you are on a three stopper or a compromised two stop.

Many strategists were hedging their bets on whether it would turn out to be a red flag, as the size of Magnussen’s impact meant barrier repairs would clearly take some time. It was similar to the situation in Australia this year when a red flag gave a free tyre change to anyone who had not stopped. The risk of stopping under the Safety Car was losing position to those who did not in the event of a red flag. But if there were not to be a red flag, then there was a gain to be made.

Valtteri Bottas

Bottas fared worse than most as he was not pitted immediately under the Safety Car, but rather a lap later and went from 4th to 12th place.

The race was indeed red flagged on Lap 10, meaning that there would effectively be a new 34 lap race at the restart. The strategies up to this point were neutralised, but the drivers still had the same allocation of tyres available as before.

So not everyone changed tyres during the stoppage period. Verstappen, for example, did not change. This was because his medium tyres were still quite fresh and, on a three stop strategy, he didn’t have enough new tyres to make it work to the end, as he still needed his other set of new softs and mediums later in the race.

Daniel Ricciardo managed to make it to the end on two stops with soft-soft-medium, thanks to the red flags and a very impressive second stint keeping the softs alive after the restart. It was a brave call not to pit under the Safety Car, as it could have caught him out had the race not been red flagged, but the team read it correctly.

Daniel Ricciardo

He did not have the pace on that strategy to trouble race winner Rosberg, but he was able to keep Hamilton at bay, as Mercedes tried to do the opposite to Ricciardo in the hope of catching him.

Hamilton, like Alonso, had taken advantage of the red flag to get a free tyre stop and had gained track positions from some of the cars that had pitted under the Safety Car. He was lying in fifth place when the race resume, but lost time behind Hulkenberg in the early laps after the restart; it took him nine laps to get past. He also questioned the decision to use another set of medium tyres in the final stint, rather than softs.

Everyone expected the conditions to cool down as the race went on, especially with the additional delay for the red flag, but it didn’t happen.

Nico Rosberg Belgian Grand Prix 2016

There is a lot for the teams to learn from the decisions they made in Spa and it will lead to a review of decision making around Safety Cars and red flags. But above all it will lead to a review of the tyre selections they make months ahead of the event and also on event, to make sure that they have enough options going into the race on a Sunday to cover every eventuality.

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

Race History and Tyre Usage charts, courtesy of Williams Martini Racing – Click to enlarge

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There ought to be a story in MV’s reported comments that he gave the Ferrari’s a hard time with his on-track antics to let them know he didn’t appreciate them getting in his way at T-1 on the opening lap. Or words to that effect. Any chance of some detail on that sidebar?

Tornillo Amarillo

Hamlton … He also questioned the decision to use another set of medium tyres in the final stint, rather than softs

Do I miss something? I cannot get explained why he got another set of medium in the final stint, why if that set were already used (did he used them in practices?), why did not race Ricciardo, he was not even close, why was so hard to be close to him or to pass Hulk with DRS?


The track temps at Spa were unusually high so the soft tire was not giving the expected performance. Hamilton was able to easily pass Hulk because by the time Hamilton went to his used medium tire, Hulk had already spent quite a few laps on the medium and was a sitting duck. Finally Hamilton’s used mediums had only been used for an installation lap on Friday so calling them used is a stretch as they had not actually done any high speed laps.
Finally, I suspect Hamilton wanted to run the last stint on the NEW soft he had from Saturday rather than the more reliable used medium Mercedes put him on. However, if you look at Nico’s run on the medium it was clear the medium tire was the best race option on Sunday.

My question is why did Mercedes not race Ricciardo by switching Hamilton to a 2 stop strategy mirroring Red Bull. The 3 stop strategy put him 18+ seconds behind Ricciardo which was too big a gap to close even for a Mercedes. I think that decision is part of Mercedes view that they will never allow the car on the alternative strategy car to switch mid race unless there is a team priority (Like Monaco when a much slower Nico had to move aside for Hamilton).


I’m sure Mercedes would have loved to have run Hamilton for 15/16 laps on the Soft tyre and then moved to the Medium and cut out the additional stop.

However, Hamilton couldn’t do 16 laps on the Soft tyres. They were shot by the end of the 12 laps. The reason for that is probably due to a combination of the high temperatures on the day, the Mercedes being harder on its tyres than other cars in the field and Hamilton’s driving style.

Given that Hamilton only made the first set of Softs last 12 laps, he was never going to do 23 laps on the next set of Soft tyres either. So that meant another stop. With the extra stop, he was never going to catch Ricciardo before the end of the race – so the best he could ever get was 3rd.

In theory, they could have avoided an extra stop by putting the Medium tyre on at the stop on lap 21. However, the Medium tyre would then have had to do 23 laps. Without having solid data it’s difficult to be certain, however I suspect the numbers indicated that the car wouldn’t do 23 laps on the Medium tyre and they would have had to stop again regardless. If that’s true, then running the Medium at that point in the race is probably not the fastest way to the finish. Therefore, the Mercedes chief strategist went for what he felt would be the optimal tyre to guarantee the best placed finish for the car – which is, after all, his job.

So, the simple answer to the question of why they didn’t two-stop Hamilton and race Ricciardo is – on the day, they couldn’t do it.


I think the reason was tyre wear, given the timing of the red flag period it was too early to switch from mediums even to another set of mediums to make a two stop strategy work. Whilst those on Softs it was within the window for it to work.

Tornillo Amarillo

@Frederick: I cannot believe that any agreement between drivers and team could prevent the team to finish 1-2 !!

James, I would think we should go in more deep analysis about the tyre and strategy for Hamilton.


Why was Hamilton allowed to only run a 12 lap stint on the set of softs after the red flag. Once he got to 3rd position, Mercedes should have realized they had P2 in their grasp, they should have kept him out for the 16 laps like Ricciardo, then switched to the used mediums he had (they had only been used for 1 lap). At that point the only risk to Hamilton was Hulkenberg in P4, but the Mercedes was considerably quicker than the Force India at this stage so that was not a real threat to their strategy. That option would have allowed Hamilton to race Ricciardo for P2 and still kept Rosberg in line for the win. Their chosen strategy instead was to keep him on the 3 stop strategy and put Hamilton 18 seconds behind the Red Bull with no shot of advancing any further.

I can only suspect, they did not want Hamilton in P2 behind Rosberg with the scent of victory on his mind.


Could someone explain the race history chart to me? Why is it possible that ROS and RIC are faster than the zero line? What reference the zero line stands for? I thought it should be for the drive who is on pos 1 at the time.
Sorry for the noob question. :/


Pepr87, zero line is average lap time of the race winner over the whole race (SC periode averages are generally treated separately, I believe). Because the average lap time includes the slow laps with pitstops (sharp dips in the graphs), the race leaders generally post lap times that are above this average lap time, which results in an upward slope between pit stops. Therefore, their graphs can rise above zero at certain times. You’ll notice that Rosberg’s graph ends at zero.


The line is the average of race winner.


What I don’t understand is that when you are on the first lap and first corner it’s okay to overtake cars off the track like VER did in Germany to RIC and like he tried to do in Spa by going up the inside as VER was on the kerb and off the track, I’m guessing that it is allowed and they use the chaos as an excuse to overtake cars outside the track limits.

On to the strategy report, great analysis as always as it always explains certain situations in the race and why they chose those actions/decisions. Can’t help but feel that some people making these decisions are unable to make them under extreme pressure…is that the case?


Agree with Tyron’s question about VES exceeding track limits in Germany and Spa. Seems he gained an advantage in Germany and contributed to the 1st corner accident at Spa?


James I noticed I didnt see any overtaking at the bus stop this year. Seems everyone was waiting to use the drs which is disappointing


Didnt notice- but not surprised, Its very sad, DRS is the single biggest eliminator of talent in F1. For why would anyone risk so much when an easier option lies just around the corner.


I reckon you’ve ‘nailed’ that one. Agree completely.
For a number of years we saw overtaking attempts at the old ‘bus stop’ portion but little to none this year unless it wasn’t shown on TV.
Get within 1 sec at the DRS marker, and then it’s yours on ‘Kemmel’. Easy!


Is that right? I’ll check


“The supersoft was only ever going to be a qualifying tyre and a very limited race tyre, …”

Curious why you would say that? In most situations, we’ve repeatedly seen the softer tires last longer than the early predictions. And there’s the added likelihood of rain at Spa suggesting teams would want the softer slicks available for drying conditions.


Nice breakdown 👍
James any news on…
Will the FIA assess the durability of the side cockpit protection on KMags car, espeecially after they were ejected on impact?
Are the quick release locks, up to the safety tests pre-season ?
Or do they need to be reassessed ?
Are they safe for a super fast track like Monza.


If you watch the slow motion replays carefully, you will see that the right hand quick release did not give way. The sheer force of the impact (presumably from his head bouncing against it) broke the protector about 1/3 the way down its length and it was flung free from the car. One could argue it did exactly what it was supposed to do absorbing the impact from KMag’s head on impact. You can clearly see the remaining shattered stub of the right hand side still fastened to the front right corner of the cockpit.


I see what you are saying, like a bike helmet is designed to break in impact to absorb the energy but as Mark Webber stated that if the car had then started to role ala Alonso in Melbourne K Mags head would have rattled around in the cockpit like…. something really rattley (sorry couldn’t think of a good simile, where’s my Clarkson dictionary?)


Like dice in a Yahtzee cup?


A can a Winade for that analogy
Random79 well put👌


We heard from sky that from next year changes during red flag periods will be banned.
Personally I believe we should go back to no changes during SC period. If anyone has to pit for safety reasons, they can take a penalty.


Sorry but I have to disagree, that cars should recieve a penalty for pitting for safety reasons. We still see tyre’s exploding every now and then are you saying that they shouldn’t pit and hope the tyre doesn’t explode, what about if they lose their front wing and hence downforce should they not pit for safety reasons?

As from next year as I understand it if a race is red flagged no work can be completed on the car. Which seems a good change,


apologies: that should read ‘may be banned’ not ‘will be’


I’m not having a go at Charlie Whiting, but I was very surprised the race wasn’t stopped immediately following Mini Mag’s crash. The helicopter cameras panning in seconds after the crash showed that the repair of the barriers was not going to be the work of a minute, much later Burti’s high speed crash in 2001. Way too optimistic to think that the barriers could have been repaired after just a few SC laps.

Also, there was a huge amount of debris on the 200 MPH Kemel straight. If that didn’t warrant stopping the race immediately after Mag’s shunt, I don’t know what is. Mr Whiting should certainly be more “reactive”.

Baffled why Lewis Hamilton went onto mediums for the final, short-ish stint. Surely a rubbered in track, light fuel tanks and softs would have been a better combination, but perhaps Merc had reasons that the outside world is not privy to.


As well as being surprised at how long it took to show the red flag,
I was more surprised at how quickly it went green again.

The barrier was just hobbled together – a loose pile of tyres.
I would not like to the be the person signing it off for another
300kmph impact


At least he took action when earthmoving equipment was brought put from behind the barrier this time!


Agree Gaz Boy, Like Lewis I was miffed why Mercedes did that 12 laps on Softs- should have been a breeze. I know engineers like to play it safe especially in the hotter conditions- but that was ridiculous. They had a certain chance at 1-2 and Blew it!.


Sorry meant “didnt” do


Also why are they waiting so long (always for several laps) to let cars unlap themselves?
They always let them unlap, but never right away.


they waiting so long …

I guess they are waiting until after whatever had caused the safety car to be cleared away – I agree it can be frustrating waiting for cars to unlap themselves once the track is clear, but you can’t really have cars at full speed unlapping themselves when there are marshals etc on the track.


Area where the work is being done is under yellow, or double yellow (although we saw time and over again that means nothing to drives), so full speed can be driven elsewhere. On long lap like Spa, they can let the cars unlap themselves, and let the others race without those unlaping even catches up (happen before, and will again).
To many rules many of which even not being enforced, or being equally fair/unfair to everyone.


As I said, I share your frustration – but if there is a need for a safety car then there is a need for a safety car. If the unlapping cars are ‘set free’ and can run at whatever speed they like (before everything is cleared away and marshals and cranes are no longer on the track) then why bother with the safety car. Whether there is a need to allow the cars to unlap themselves is I guess another argument.


Maybe the solution is to let them drop down to their position within the formation, so no need to fly around and everything is done in few hundred meters, without waiting tor 2-3 laps more.


Do you mean drop to the back of the pack, rather than go around and catch up with the back of the pack? And ignore the fact they’ve done less laps? Personally I can’t see that being adopted – the real question, for me at least, is whether they should be allowed to unlap themselves in the first place. If they are lapped then they are lapped so far as I’m concerned but that ideology doesn’t really fit with the current thinking in F1 – they want to keep as many cars ‘in the race’ as possible, e.g. no more gravel traps. As I said, I share your frustration – just get the safety car in ASAP after the incident is cleared and if you are lapped then hard luck – hopefully your next race is better.


Yeah, I mean lapped cars just drop to the back of the grid to their positions.
Okay, they would burn bit less fuel for lapping one lap less, or use bit less of the tyres, but I don’t think that’s a issue at all.

I agree with you…if they are lapped they should remain so.
But since there’s a rule where they can unlap themselves, the easiest way is to let them drop down the queue. The safest too, since they will be doing that under SC pace.


They want the lapped cars to get out of the way of the front runners and the lapped cars want to get around to the back of the field as soon as they can – that means they will be going flat out and so the track must be clear & safe for them.


Did the red flag really bring Hamilton into play? He was already running 5th on mediums before the red flag. His tyres had more life in them and he was set to gain even more track position once the softer runners ahead pitted.
Arguably the red flag neutralised his medium tyre advantage at this point of the race.


Agree – Given the pace charts and life DR managed on Softs – Hamilton could of fought for P1 if the red flag had not come out


I wondered if they were just being conservative. Ham had suffered a little with the softs and maybe getting 3rd was considered good enough given the starting position.


I had the same feeling and was surprised not to see red flag almost immediately.


I’m not going to say you’re wrong Gaz, but when Charlie has reacted quickly in the past he’s often been accused of being too cautious.

As I’ve said before, poor Charlie – Whatever he does someone says it’s wrong.


Tyre changing should not be allowed under Red Flag.
The race should resume as it was before it is interrupted = with the same tyres (except if it starts raining in between, or the contrary, and then all drivers can change)


I would like to hear a somewhat detailed argument FOR the present rules allowing tire change/mods under red flag, as they make No Sense. Cars should halt on the grid, and no team onto the track exept as possibly needed to restart the engines.


Hear hear.
This ruined the most exciting race at Monaco in 2011 for years. Vettel was leading but on worn tyres. Button was second on newer tyres and slowly reeling him in. Then there was an accident and the race red flagged. Everyone got a free pit stop and changed tyres. So Vettel got fresher tyres, managed to keep Button behind and went on to win the race. I would loved to have seen the outcome of that and whether Button would have got past Vettel in the last couple of laps.


I came to this article to say this exact same thing. It really ruins it for those drivers that have nailed the strategy in the first part before the red flag. I believe the precedent was set at Monaco a few years back when Vettel was out front and was on tyres that had completely passed it with two cars right on his tail (I can’t remember who but I think it was Alonso, Button, and/or Hamilton) and it was set up for a very exciting finish seeing if Vettel could keep his car pointing forwards, the race was red flagged, Red Bull changed Vettels tyres and we were robbed of an exciting finish to the race. It is a rule that needs to be changed.

Also there has been very little that has been said about Wehrlein punting Button from behind. It could have been a very good double points finish for McLaren who were expected to get nothing from this race. Still considering it is a power circuit Hondo seem to have made further strides. Does anyone know when the last update to their PU occurred? Have they got further updates for the season? They have finally got past Torro Roso in the constructors, and it appears they are ahead of Williams as well on track but probably not enough races left and the front three teams are too far ahead for them to catch Williams in the constructors but they at least do seem to be going in the right direction.


Works on the car during red flag are allowed because there are high chances of debris damaging the tyres or the bodywork. But I guess the teams could show the FIA telemetry evidences in case they got some damage and change tyres “only for safety reasons”.


should adopt nascar rules. On yellow lights pits closes and no one can enter. Then after yellow out any car can pit. On red flag all cars stop ON TRACK and no activity until flag lifted then cars can pit as wish. So even for all.


But F1 isn’t Nascar.
Nascar isn’t F1.
I agree that they need to do something. FIA rule upon what is or isn’t acceptable.
Though they absolutely got it wrong with Max V defensive mini jigs against Kimi. Thst was downright nasty His Dad was known as the F1 Gravel and Sand pit King check out Autosport 90s edition they even gave him an award for being World Champion of The Gravel Pit . As he normally ended up in the Kitty Litter. Just hope Max doesn’t worship his Dad Joss too far, or he will end up in the Gravel and take other drivers with him.Then take on the mantle of Kitty Litter King Mk2.
German Manor driver just came in too fast and Button was braking and Wer ran into him. Dumb mistake from him and deserved a penalty.


Tyre changing should not be allowed under Red Flag….

I believe that as of next season that will be the case – although, be careful what you wish for. Taking away one of the possible strategies will possibly lead to a more professional race as everyone will be doing the same thing, i.e. they know that won’t be allowed to change tyres under a red flag so they will all dive in under the safety car instead and with everyone doing the same thing the chances for a shake up is reduced.


A tough call on tyre changes under a red flag. I quite liked seeing the teams sweat it out on Sunday, would they Red flag it or not? Do we put under the yellow or stay out? If everyone had to do the same it would take something away, and don’t forget the high chance of tyre damage after an accident big enough to bring out the Reds.


It won’t be from next year.

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