Analysis: How do you make F1 decisions in the rain and did Red Bull mess up the strategy for Verstappen?
Red Bull F1
Posted By: James Allen  |  15 Nov 2016   |  10:20 am GMT  |  242 comments

Likely to go down as one of the great wet-weather races, due to standout performances from race winner Lewis Hamilton and especially third place driver Max Verstappen, the 2016 Brazilian Grand Prix hinged on great driver skill as well decision making from the pit wall.

Whilst it was not decisive at the top of the Drivers’ championship, it was a hugely significant race in the struggle for survival at the back of the grid. Sauber finally scored points, to lift them into 10th place, ahead of Manor in the Constructors’ championship, unlocking tens of millions in prize money.

So how tough was it to make the right calls on Sunday and did Red Bull, for all of Verstappen’s brilliance, mess it up on the strategy side?

Max Verstappen

The Art of Decision making in the rain

The weather in Sao Paulo was hot and sunny on Friday and it deteriorated through cooler conditions on Saturday to constant rain on Sunday. Most rain-affected F1 races tend to be changeable from wet to dry or the other way around. It’s quite unusual to have a constantly wet race.

Pirelli has two tyres available for these conditions; the extreme wet and the intermediate. The crucial thing about deciding which of these to use is the crossover point, when one of them is demonstrably faster than the other.

On Sunday we saw the intermediate tyre at one stage lapping 1.5s faster than the wet and that was enough to persuade several teams to take a chance. Often there will be a ramp up of pace, as the intermediate gets warmed up and then the delta grows to two seconds, then three then five and so on until the whole field is on intermediates. That did not happen on Sunday and many strategists say it was never going to because of the prevailing weather conditions.

But it’s not as simple as spotting a pace advantage on another car and putting your car onto the different tyre. Each car has different risk profiles, depending on track position and car pace. So the leaders, who do not have traffic and therefore as much spray to contend with, have a fast car and track position, do not need to take risks.

Brazil GP 2016

Cars outside the top ten points positions are in traffic, which means lots of spray, and they are not able to use any car pace advantage they may have and therefore the risk of rolling the dice with the other tyre is lower.

The major risk is that there is an accident, which is more likely on a wet track and that brings out a Safety Car and/or a red flag stoppage. Then all the strategies are neutralised as everyone gets a free choice of tyres for the restart and cars that pitted for the intermediate have lost all their track positions. That is exactly what happened on Sunday.

So taking all these risk factors into account, when the weather forecasts all say that there is no sign of significant improvement in the weather, as was the case throughout Sunday’s race, then it is a bit like a fast pit stop versus a steady pit stop.

The fast one gains some time but there is a danger of a mistake or unsafe release. A steady stop loses a fraction of time but there are no slip-ups. The intermediate vs wet weather choice at Interlagos was like that.

So the smart thing for a strategist outside the top six to do was hedge their bets and split the strategies, putting one car on the intermediate tyre and leaving the other one on the full wet.

Daniel Ricciardo

In that way you’ll get it right with one and wrong with the other. For a team simply looking to score points that makes sense.

For a team like Red Bull that has its tail car out of position and lower down the order than expected (Daniel Ricciardo) it is also worth the gamble. But when Verstappen passed Rosberg for second place, it was extremely risky to then pit him for intermediates, putting him into traffic and putting all the team’s eggs in one basket, as we shall see.

Red Bull has split strategies to great effect in Spain and Malaysia this year, but strangely they did not do it in this race.

In a split strategy situation you need to put your lead car onto the strategy you think is most likely to come off. So at Sauber, for example, they desperately needed a point and they left their lead car (Nasr) on wet tyres while their tail car (Ericsson) went onto intermediates – and he crashed on them.

But as other cars went to intermediates, Nasr rose up through the positions and at one point was running as high as sixth place. At that stage the championship points predictor showed Sauber moving up to ninth in the constructors’ table. Toro Rosso did the same as Sauber and its lead car, Sainz, finished sixth. Both Renaults and both Williams did the same as Red Bull and got no points at all.

In all, 12 of the 22 drivers went for an intermediate tyre at some stage and all but two of them, Bottas and Magnussen, were forced to pull out of it. Max Verstappen
Midfield Teams – If in doubt, copy what Mercedes do?

Mercedes stuck to its guns and did not flinch when Red Bull twice tried to provoke it into stopping for intermediates. The Mercedes strategist did not feel the crossover numbers were compelling enough for the switch, he didn’t see the maths in it and also he had the most to lose from a bad call as his cars were leading the race. On top of that both drivers felt the wet tyre was the best option throughout.

We have seen in the past that some midfield teams follow what the benchmark team or driver does in this situation. Several teams scored good results in the 2010-12 period in wet/dry races by following what Jenson Button did in his McLaren. Button seemed to have an uncanny knack of feeling the grip and pitting one lap ahead of the crossover point from wet to intermediates. That gave him an advantage and won him races and it certainly boosted the results of those who followed him into the pits.

At Interlagos, Force India copied Mercedes and it brought Sergio Perez a fourth place and seventh for Nico Hulkenberg.

Max Verstappen

In reality though, a constant rain situation, such as was the case on Sunday, it’s not as simple as that; as there was nothing in the forecasts that suggested an easing of the rain, the numbers from the intermediate tyre performance were not enough. Strategists had to look away from the pit wall at the environment around them. One senior strategist told me he had a puddle he would check every few minutes to study the intensity of the raindrops splashing onto the surface; that told him the rain was at a fairly constant rate.

Red Bull’s decision with Verstappen was more based on the numbers and less on the environment and made little sense.

It cost him second place for sure, even if they believed that the gamble might bring them a win.

But the upside for the fans was that Verstappen’s recovery drive from 14th place was one of the highlights of the 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


Courtesy of Williams Martini Racing – Click to Enlarge

A graphic representation of the Race History in terms of the lap times of each car. It shows the relative pace of the cars and the gaps between them in the race. Upward curve is good pace, downward curve demonstrates slower pace. Sudden drop is a pit stop.

Look at the consistency of Lewis Hamilton’s pace through the race. That also demonstrates how consistent the conditions were. The spikes of pace from Ricciardo when he went to intermediates soon ebb as the rain does not abate and safety cars neutralise the strategies.


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Max totally tamed his Red Bull this race year. Looking forward to see him own the new beast next year. A million thanks Max for a jawdropping 2016. Enjoy your well deserved vacation.


Just hold on to the baby phone Vettel, but even more.. why are are all these rookies judging his driving?? We don’t have any bad moves from great drivers in the past? YOU WILL ALL BE SHOWN WRONG.. A bunch of wining sportsman.. that’s what they did when Senna and Schumacher arrived..


Why and Why should RB deny a better podium finish for its driver? It looks deliberate especially after Nikki Lauda’s interaction with RB… Are they indirectly helping a particular driver at the cost of their own? If yes, its unethical and unprofessional.


James, why was Danny Ric so far off the pace of Mad Max? After Monaco I really expected Danny to challenge the Mercs….


He said he struggled a bit to see where he was going, which is an equipment failure within his control

Generally when someone is much faster in the wet than someone else it’s because he has the tyres in the perfect temperature window

In Max’s case he seemed also to have found grip in the outside areas off the racing line.


Hi James,

Could you elaborate on the difference in performance due to tyre age when it comes to full wets in conditions we saw on the Interlagos track?

There are mixed opinions about the advantage Max had because of his (fresher) tyres. Pirelli seems to have issued a statement that tyre degradation was almost non-existant with all full wet drivers?


Best comment of the weekend.. Wining Vettel being covered in comment by VES.. “well, if he has a problem, he should step on the pedal”..


I know one thing..if Max was on Wets instead of intermediates when he was on P2 behind the last safety car than Lewis would have to show what he was made of to keep Max behind at the restart..we are robbed of that by the weird intermediates call from RB. But we gained the great recovery some, loose some.


verstappen tried and spun. look at how he fell back over 4 laps.


Information available to all the teams was that there would be rain, of various degrees of intensity, for the whole race hence a wet and difficult track to drive on and it really surprised me (as it did Martin Brundle) that a number of teams gambled by putting their drivers on intermediates. The most complete driver on the grid won the race and ensured that the championship would go to a decider in Abu Dhabi. But unfortunately or otherwise – depending on what side of the fence you stand – Hamilton wasn’t handed any favours by RB when Max was put on inters which cost him 2nd and Rosberg getting 18 championship points instead of 15. Hamilton was always going to be out of reach for Max but RB’s poor strategy denied him second place but his drive (recovery) to third was one for the ages. I think even Ricciardo’s first tyre change to inters was a mistake because it cost him considerable track position (down to 15th I think) and while he gained some places back any momentum he had was halted by the various race stoppages and increasing rain. Unfortunately for him he couldn’t repeat what Max did when they were both put on wets for the run to the finish but perhaps it would not have come to that if it were not for earlier decisions. I just think it wasn’t a day for intermediate tyres and RB gambled and lost for both their drivers, more so for Max.


RedBull have done reasonably well over the last few races by splitting the strategy, so I’m not sure why for this race they decided not to. Having the two cars on different strategies makes Mercedes think and hopefully blink, but the conditions were never really there for the intermediates to work. Which prompts the question, why is there such a huge difference between the wets and the intermediates on a drying track? It’s not like the wets are monsoon spec, otherwise they would work quite well through standing water, particularly with F1 levels of down force.

I’ve never engineered a car on the Pirelli F1 wets, but based on the performance of Michelins and Dunlops a brand new wet weather tyre (with its sharp edges) has a huge advantage over a 10 to 20 lap old version. Some (plainly not all) of Verstappen’s overtaking was facilitated by the tyre advantage. Not to mention RedBull’s prodigious down force helps.


According to Pirelli, the full wets ( of all drivers using them ) showed practically no degradation at all and Max performance was his, and not the tyres.

Besides that, Daniels tyres were 2 laps older so what’s your view on that?


A constantly changing race which ended at 2:15 in the morning where I live. Saying it was easy for Lewis with no spray is a misnomer…..Max lost it with no spray, as did Nico. Both lucky to still be in the race, especially Max. So why would Red Bull switch Max’s tires after he nearly crashed on full wets…..illogical and a huge error in tactics. He may have been able to win the race, but I believe Lewis would have kept him at bay. Max’s great drive at the end was with new wets and a lot of experience in the previous 50 odd laps figuring out the worst standing water areas. Great drive from him and exciting to watch…..and kudos to Lewis as he didn’t put a tire wrong and accomplished exactly what he wanted from his drive. If he wins the final race he will have 10 wins to Noco’s 9 and still lose the WC…..frustrating, especially when you consider it has been won before with only a few wins. But that is F1. Been watching since Moss, and still love it all.


Actually if you see the replays Max was in Lewis spray and Nico was also in the spray. Spray is on higher speeds more dense and keep “hanging” sometimes i was wondering how the hell they could see anything.


Let’s not forget Max’s tyres were 26 laps fresher than everyone else’s at the end there .. All the same, very impressive performance, and a wet duel with Lewis would’ve been fascinating to watch. Max must’ve read Senna’s book — not only for wet driving but racecraft as well. The kid is on his way.


I think Max’s fresher tires are a very key and overlooked point. Seems like most of the people he passed were on extreme wet tires that they had been on since what, lap 29 ? The others he passed were on intermediates, which looked like the wrong tire for the day. A brilliant drive, but I think the fresh tires were a massive advantage.


If you look at the laptimes HAM did you see the tire degradation does not had much influence.


You are forgetting tyre wear. As the tyre surface wears away the channels for clearing the water get smaller and can’t move as much water. This reduces the tyres ability to clear the standing water and would therefore force the driver on the worn tyres to be more cautious.


Ricciardo had the same fresh wets.



he didn’t fit new tyres.


Hamilton was classy, always has been in full wet conditions. Being out front with no spray helps but it would only be a very small advantage. Verstappen was great but hus rookie mistakes hitting the white lines means he’s not the greatest yet!

I see toto has come out and said “a mechanical issue will be a nightmare if it decided the title race”.

He always seems to make comments like that and then low and behold….. hamilton will be champion in abu dhabi!


rookie mistakes, you must be joking… you saw a different race then I did…. it was a lesson to all the other drivers….


Apart from this, I do believe Hamilton was the fastest out there as well. You could see when Max was running in second place before he spun he was going from 1.4 to 2.0 seconds. We will never know if he would have hold on to that 2 second gap for reasons of spray or whether Hamilton was just a bit faster, nevertheless from a RBR perspective and if you go for “all or nothing” it was understandable I guess. It was a bit strange that literally a minute or so before they pitted we heard a radio message to someone saying the rain was going to intensify but hey ho. you win some, you lose some I guess.

I guess it’s just as strange as having a delayed start, messing around behind the safety car and as soon as they release the field the first guys come in to switch to inters. Sure, they may have had it wrong but it makes you wonder that if they can drive on these things then why couldn’t we have a normal start.


I think when Max had more patience, he could have raced Hamilton. It seems that the Mercedes unit power has a lot more extra power and then they have to take it back. So Max shouldn’t be afraid when Hamilton is driving away. When you look at the other races. You could hear the team saying to Rosberg, later you have more power. And also the blow up of Hamilton’s engine is the prove, that Max could chase Hamilton… So I think it was a crazy thing to do to change to intermediates, because we heard on the Dutch tv that it would rain heavier instead of less….


Lewis engine would never had gone to pieces in the wet conditions so engine power was not relevant in Brasil. Driveability and downforce was.

Without the pitstop, Max would have scored a 2nd place but with the pistop, he had a (small) chance for a race win and RBR decided they would gamble, knowing their care ws the most likely to get heat enough into the inters to make them work.
It was the SC that made the track conditions so bad that they could not get the inters to work for them, ever…

So, in hindsight you can say they made the wrong decision but to be honest, i value this P3 more than i would have valued an anonymous P2, in Lewis spray.


well, we never actually know, it is always what if…. But I think Max could have challenged Lewis, if he didn’t changed to intermediates… it is still guessing… and off course the near crash didn’t help….


This was one of the best mistakes ever!


“I reflected after the podium on Lewis’s demeanour, and I can understand his view of the race. His engineer Bono told me at the airport that LH spun his rear wheels up once climbing the hill but otherwise it appeared a faultless and uneventful race, which is impressive to say the least in those conditions.”

I really think the media at large is forgetting the performance (when one slip wipes out ANY. Hope of championship) Hamilton delivered. I know I’m a fan and I’m the first to say how impressed I was MV but it’s one thing delivering this under pressure and another when you effectively have little to lose.

I know it’s not popular to praise Ham on such forums but seriously recognise the composure he and Rosberg displayed when SO MUCH was at stake.


HAM did a great job. That’s why he is on 1e place..
But his performance is lost in the sensational act VES put together.


A question about strategy if I may. Obviously, Lewis wants anybody on the podium at Abu Dhabi except Nico. But what is acceptable to achieve that? If after turn 1 the order would be HAM, ROS, VES, RIC, can Lewis slow down just a bit to back up Nico into Max? It would be good for him, but bad for the team… Would this be a smart thing to do, or is it not done? Please enlighten me!


Red Bull think they will be more competitive in Abu Dhabi than they were in Brazil (in the dry)

So Nico can’t take anything for granted. Verstappen’s tail will be up, but it’s the kind of track Ricciardo shines on so they will be pushing each like crazy and Rosberg will be mindful of that.

But the conditions are very stable, Mercedes have the fastest car so he should close it out.

Lewis will not do anything underhand and anyway he’s the one at risk with a DNF, Rosberg has the points advantage


James, what was the cause of all of the ‘helmet fogging’ during the race? (And please don’t say ‘the rain’ ;)) Lewis, Nico, Daniel and a few others at various times were complaining about very poor (and in some cases Nil..) visibility with visors. Was this a helmet/visor brand issue?


The Spray of the Safetycar in cause of Lewis and the others had the same problem with the car in front. The visors were not setup good enough or defective sealing was the cause.


Rosberg deserves some credit for not pulling a JapaneseBanzaiSennaBoomProst move, there were plenty of opportunities in Brazil but it seems he wants to win or lose in a fair way. The Red Bulls could really spoil his party. As you say, Daniel will want to make up for last weekend and Max will be on it no matter how often Toto calls his dad/grandpa etc. Going to be interesting.


James on the subject on the RBR drivers I think this last race could be very important about who has the upper hand in the psychologically stakes going to next season . Whoever comes out on top in Abu Dhabi between Max and Dan will probably have the upper hand going . I have a feeling that if RBR are in title winning position next year ( and I think they will be) and Max beats Dan then all of the confidence Dan got from beating Seb in 2014 will recede into oblivion . Max has time on his side at 19 where as Ricciardo is 27 and next year might be his only opportunity to be WDC before Max starts to peak as a driver especially if McLaren, Mercedes or Ferrari are snapping at RBR’s heels .

However, I personally hope we get a real surprise in 2017 and Kimi wins a belated 2nd WDC.


Kimi only can win if it’s a completely dry season. Looking at his performance in the wet in Monaco and Brazil ( and to a lesser extend Silverstone) he does not deliver in the Wet.,


What do you base all these feelings on ST?


The graph 16R20BRA is wrong on the Kvyat analysis.
It is missing an horizontal line to show the change of tires among 8 and 43.


Interesting race, looking forward to next year with Hamilton & Verstappen at the top! Race as they should be, wheel to wheel! Without knowing in advance who will win!


The race was great fun but Red Bull prevented it from being potentially the best wet race ever by fitting intermediates on their cars. Mind boggling decision.


does anyone know if Vesstappen was set up with more downforce than some of the others. His passes on Raikonnen and Rosberg were amazing under the circumstances and suggest that he may have had a very different set up or else Rosberg and Raikonnen were being too cautious. We have seen that in the past where some team decides to take a gamble on set-up which can make a big difference sometimes.


To answer your question directly: no I don’t have that data but given the performance against the Ferrari’s but in particular against Ricciardo I wouldn’t say he set his car up for rain. VES made a mistake in sector 2 in his second Q2 run, he was going 1 or 2 tenths faster than his previous run. In the end he beat Ricciardo but only just (less than a tenth?). So if he had a “rain setting”, so did Ricciardo.


Without underestimating his talent, Kimi and Rosberg are far from the best in the rain. And at the end of the race, he had much fresher tyres than those in front of him. In Monaco, under less adverse conditions he crashed many times until he was out of the race. So I don’t buy all the hype. He’s brilliant though. Lewis on the other hand drove a faultless race, pulling comfortably away and finding lines only Max was able to find


Looking at the data on top you can see the chart and the consistent times Lewis set. Based on that you can rule out tire degradation, his laptimes were very stable and the tires did not drop.


just like Pirelli mentioned…


That graph shows who the current big hitters in f1 are .Hopefully Renault make the leap next year and help Red Bull get alongside Mercedes-Benz. There is nothing I want to see more than those 4 cars mixing it up. The radio will sound much more panicked when the Mercedes drivers realise they just dont have to worry about their team mate.


“there was nothing in the forecasts that suggested an easing of the rain”. I believe that sums it up. I was amazed at the number of drivers who switched to intermediates when they did. OK, one or two maybe had little to lose (apart from the car….) but I certainly couldn’t understand a team switching both cars to intermediates. Even more unbelieveable was stacking them in the pits.


Great analysis as usual James.

Just a quick question, was there a reason that VET pass on ALO and VES pass on VET where each doing the overtaking pushed the other cars off the track not investigated or is it that when your car is in front you can legally push the other car off track?

Based on ALO comments we might see a big crash.


Alonso was silly trying to race Vettel on the outside … he’s always gonna get run out of room out there. 100% his own fault! Just silly pig-headed driving. Vettel did somewhat the same thing with Verstappen later … he was beat, but didn’t want to accept it.


ChrH made fun of the fact that TotW called JosV for his son not to interfere with the championship battle – but in a way complied by pitting MaxV


Alonso was just stupid. He got passed fair & square & came roaring back from the outside when Vettel was already in front. That’s crazy!


I think Rosberg got to keep his second place because it was chaos behind him. If RB had played it right, both their cars would have beaten him. He’s just hopeless in the rain. In Monaco this year his was at sea. The guy’s incredibly lucky. The VSC allowed him to keep second place in the States and the RB strategy blunder handed him second place in Brazil. Add to that Hamilton’s engine failures and I just find it hard to swallow the fact the the better driver doesn’t get to win the championship. But it’s a mechanical sport right?


Seems to me that Mr. Vettel was promoted on the Strength of an upgrade, as has been the Flying Dutchman! So let’s not underestimate the accumulated brilliance of Mr. Newey!


It’s a pity Danny did not had the same upgrade then.


According to the tyre history chart, Wehrlein, Button and Ricciardo used four sets of wet tyres. I thought teams only had three, so did they put a set back on that had used earlier in the race?


they can use used tyres too.

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