Bold strategy and flawless execution: Vettel Bahrain GP win echoes Schumacher, Brawn era Ferrari
Sebastian Vettel
Strategy Report
Posted By: James Allen  |  18 Apr 2017   |  11:43 am GMT  |  229 comments

The Bahrain Grand Prix was set to be a good acid test of the new F1 as it is generally one of the tracks with the most overtaking and we’ve seen strategy play a key part due to the way the tyres perform on this track.

This year the battle between Mercedes and Ferrari swung Ferrari’s way due to a combination of factors, including Sebastian Vettel’s very strong pace on supersoft tyres, especially in the second stint and Mercedes’ relative weakness on them; this is something we saw with the softer compounds in Australia and there is certainly a pattern emerging.

Ferrari has understood the new wider Pirelli tyres, especially the softer end of the range, better than its main rivals.

Ferrari F1

Once again Ferrari were bold on strategy and used the undercut on Mercedes. A Safety Car, which should have upset Ferrari’s strategy, as in China, immediately followed it but this time Mercedes failed to capitalise on their stroke of luck, due to a pit stop delay and then Lewis Hamilton got a time penalty.

Meanwhile there were some strong performances in midfield, especially Sergio Perez, who stuck to a set strategy and delivered a strong seventh place from 18th on the grid.

Here we will analyse in detail the big decisions, why they were made and how they created the race result.

Mario Isola, Pirelli
Pre-race considerations

This year’s race took place later than last year and the temperatures were really high until Sunday, when they fell. At the same time the wind changed direction from Friday to Saturday and Sunday, when it became a headwind on the main straight and on Sunday the wind was very strong.

As a result the information gained on Friday in FP2 was not carried though as some teams expected. Critically, Mercedes was caught out on its performance on the supersoft tyre. On Friday they thought they were okay on them, on Sunday they were outpaced by Ferrari and it played a big part in why they lost the race.

However for a team like Force India, who have a driver like Perez, who can look after the tyres while maintaining good pace, they never deviated from their belief that the tyre degradation would decrease significantly from Friday to Sunday and that a two stop plan, with the first two stints on Supersofts, was the way to go. Perez also got a slice of luck from the Safety Car.

Last year was an unusual race where many cars, including the podium finishers, all changed their strategy during the race. Normally that spells disaster and this year the drivers who changed strategy during the race certainly lost out to those who stuck to their convictions and went for it.

Sebastian Vettel
Vettel surges as a series of unfortunate events thwarts Hamilton

Last year Hamilton lost a place at the start to Nico Rosberg, who went on to win the race. This year, starting from second on the grid, he also lost a place to Sebastian Vettel, who had been disappointed to qualify third.

Bahrain is the third highest ‘start bias’ of the year, meaning that it is number three in the chart of tracks where the clean side of the grid has an advantage over the dirty side. Hamilton was on the dirty side, Vettel the clean.

Ferrari boss Maurizio Arrivabene had called on his team to be ‘coragiosa’ (bold) and the strategist Inaki Rueda again took him at his word, as in China, employing an early undercut on Bottas on Lap 10.

Mercedes could see this coming, of course, and could have pre-empted it by pitting Bottas on that same Lap 10. There was a risk for Vettel as he would be coming out into quite a bit of traffic, including Perez, Sainz and Grosjean. Mercedes saw that traffic and were hoping for one more lap to be able to pit Bottas and pre-empt Ferrari’s strike.

It was a mistake not to take it, but from there they split the strategies to try to create a compromise for Vettel with Bottas on supersofts and Hamilton on softs.

Then fate intervened again, as in China. Handed a lifeline by a Safety Car being deployed for Lance Stroll’s collision with Sainz, Mercedes had the chance to pit Bottas without losing any race time and regain the lead.

Vettel should have fallen behind him and Ricciardo, and possibly also Hamilton, who would have had to wait for service in the pit lane behind Bottas and would have lost the position to Ricciardo.

But Bottas had a slow in lap and a slow pit stop while Ricciardo was held up by Hamilton on the way into the pits, for which Hamilton was handed a five second penalty.

Safety Car Bahrain 2017

It all played into Vettel’s hands; he retained the lead behind the Safety Car. Given a second chance, Vettel took it and did the great work in the second stint that won him the race.

Bottas was up to a second a lap off Vettel on the same tyres in that second stint, which underlined Ferrari’s raw race pace and also indicated that the Mercedes was not working on the supersoft tyres.

Hamilton, on soft tyres, spent 10 laps behind Bottas in that stint from Lap 17, losing five seconds to Vettel. Once Hamilton got past Bottas on Lap 27, he was able to pull away from Bottas at eight tenths of a second per lap.

That told the Mercedes strategist James Vowles that he had to change the strategy for Hamilton and fit used softs for the final stint rather than the planned supersofts. It was yet another compromlse to add to the start, the time penalty and the slow pit stops. Fortunately they had saved that set of used softs for the race, as had Ferrari, as an insurance policy, other teams had not, including Red Bull, who were committed to a supersoft led race.

In the final stint Hamilton’s pace was very strong. And after being allowed through under orders by Bottas to mount an attack on Vettel, Hamilton cut the gap, as Vettel managed his tyres.

However the German turned the power unit up with around six laps to go, to take the sting out of Hamilton’s attack and to show that he had some margin. He held on to win the race; a great collective effort by Vettel and the team, which is why he was so happy afterwards.

It was reminiscent of a Michael Schumacher/ Ross Brawn era Ferrari victory; bold strategy, great driving and flawless team execution.

Sergio Perez
Memories of Grosjean Haas result in 2016 inform strategy decisions

One of the things that made this a good race was that Pirelli brought a tyre selection that led on the supersoft, a tyre that shows some degradation. This meant that the teams had to really think carefully about their strategy and we saw a real mixture of strategies, with the decision on whether to use soft tyres or supersoft tyres for the second and third stints split roughly 50-50. This is certainly what we want to see this year, rather than conservative selections where the likelihood is of almost no degradation and one stop strategies, where drivers finish in car performance order.

The soft may have been the better race tyre and Mercedes may have struggled on the supersofts, but some teams built their result on them.

Sergio Perez went from 18th on the grid to seventh by using a supersoft led strategy and sticking to it. The data from Friday’s practice showed the degradation to be around 0.18s per lap, but factored in that this would decrease on race day as the track improved and the coating of sand on the surface was lifted.

Perez has become one of the very best drivers at looking after the softer tyres for long stints while maintaining good pace. Here, like Vettel, he managed a 23 lap middle stint on supersofts, but unlike Vettel he was not running in free air, so it was a great performance.

He made a strong start, up to 13th, and then passed Palmer for 12th. The Safety Car also played into his hands, where he made his pit stop and he lost only 9.1 secs, compared to 21 for stopping at racing speeds.

This helped him to get past Grosjean, while Sainz and Verstappen hit problems. So Perez was ninth at the restart, behind Ericsson who was doing a one-stopper and Hulkenberg.

Hulkenberg, Perez, Bahrain 2017

Renault put Hulkenberg onto soft tyres at the pit stop under the Safety Car, giving him the option of one stopping, but it meant that Perez was able to use his pace on fresh supersofts to pass him and he made it stick by keeping the tyre alive for 23 laps, to extend the stint. Hulkenberg switched strategy and pitted again which confirmed Perez’ result. He couldn’t get close to matching his qualifying pace in the race conditions.

Williams were probably a little surprised to see how close Perez was at the end of the race. Williams had 2 new softs, which was the best race tyre overall. The Force India qualifying pace had been relatively poor so they perhaps would not have expected to be so competitive in the race.

Massa’s middle stint was compromised by being overtaken by Raikkonen and Ricciardo and his pace suffered relatively at the end of the stint despite being on the soft tyre.

Perez has been in consideration for a Ferrari seat before and drives like this will certainly revive that consideration.

Pascal Wehrlein
The alternative plan

Pascal Wehrlein marked his return to F1 action with a strong performance to finish 11th in the Sauber, which is the slowest car in the field. This was done with a one-stop strategy, starting on supersofts and then switching to softs for a 45 lap final stint. He was pitted on Lap 11, so gained nothing from the Safety Car, but by going one stop he had 24 seconds of pit stop time he would save. In a slow car like the Sauber this time bleeds away every lap, but he picked up places as the cars ahead pitted for their second stops, like Kvyat, Alonso, Palmer, Ocon and Hulkenberg. The latter two re-passed him easily, but he managed to stay ahead of Kvyat and Palmer, both of whom have much faster cars.

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

Race History Chart

Kindly provided by Williams Martini Racing – click to enlarge

The number of laps is on the horizontal axis; the gap behind the leader is on the vertical axis.

A positive sign is an upward curve as the fuel load burns off. A negative sign is the slope declining as the tyre degradation kicks in.

Compare the pace of Vettel and Hamilton with their team mates, again a different class. Raikkonen’s pace in the final stint is puzzling in that it is more on a par with Vettel’s.

Observe also how Perez manages to keep the pace going for a long middle stint on supersofts to keep ahead of Hulkenberg on softs.

Bahrain GP 2017

Bahrain GP 2017

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Hi James

Thanks for the great articles on strategy. I really appreciate them. I was just curious about your comment on start bias. How is this calculated? Do you have a list of the races on the calendar by start bias?

“Bahrain is the third highest ‘start bias’ of the year, meaning that it is number three in the chart of tracks where the clean side of the grid has an advantage over the dirty side.”



Oh… please. That was just pure dumb luck. China and Bahrain were both won on who happened to be at the right place, at the right time during safety car periods. Nothing points to an all out benchmarker between Merc and the suddenly awoken Maranello donkey.


I am not sure I agree. I believe Ferrari should have still stuck with the ‘overcut’ strategy and that they were lucky LH had that 5 sec penelty! Yes, it looked like an aggressive and, in the end an ultimately successful strategy, but the overcut still could have been a stronger plan. The Ferrari is stronger in race trim and kinder on it’s tyres, so taking the undercut moved them back towards Mercedes for the final exchanges…again only saved (to a degree) by the LH penalty.



Great insight on the Strategy teams @Ferrari (Rueda) and Mercedes (Vowles). You had mentioned last year that Ruth from the Haas team had joined the Ferrari team and i wonder if she is also in part responsible for the bold strategies we are seeing.
I love your “behind the scenes” so would it be possible to get one on how the strategy teams work, who all are involved trackside at the factory and how decisions are made with and without data. That would be great.


No she was a junior at Ferrari in Alonso years

She was at Haas and moved to Sauber last year where she planned the Brazil result Nast pulled off


My mistake – I remembered it to be Ferrari not Sauber.
But please it will be great if you can do a piece on the strategy units…


The graph shows Valteri slightly outpacing Hamilton from about lap 32 to 41. Although it was the front half of his 3rd stint vs the back half of hams 2nd.


Excellent and insightful as ever JA.

In your opinion, would Lewis have probably won without the 5 sec penalty? (Fresher tyres, higher engine modes etc etc)

Should Merc have let Lewis past Bottas much sooner? As soon as it became clear VB didn’t have the race pace to challenge Seb


Even without the 5 second penalty and VB letting LH past much earlier, Merc would still be looking at a 2/3 finish, all the damage was done by the slow VB in lap and the slow stop on both cars.

Not sure it’s just me but Merc look a bit sloppy and slow to react strategy wise this year, have the years of dominance blunted them somewhat?!


Brilliant from Ferrari and Vettel.
Thanks for the report James, good to see the details.

Raymond Petersson

Thank you James for greate analysis! On the ten last laps Bottas lost 13.110 s to Hamilton, 10.181 s to Raikkonen and 1.739 s to Ricciardo. Bottas problem in the whole race must have been to keep the correct temperature in the tyres, or?


From these comments im supprised that most feel ferrari are so much faster than merc

With ferrari having a heavily revised car merc i thought was the quicker car on race day……when merc unlock the true performace of the w08 the pecking order will resume.

I loved the way lewis was closing the gap mid to end race reminded me off the old formula one…..i personaly love it !!!!


Yes, Ferrari performed well. Mercedes less so. I think it’s a bit of a stretch to claim it echoes the Brawn/Schumacher years though


@JA great article. rich with Data, analysis and good stuff. oh no bias too. that’s what need to see and read. roba buona




Mercedes needs to adopt a new racing philosophy. The moment vettel pitted they should have covered him with one car or the other, allowing strategic flexibility. The weekend was scrappy, from hamilton’s drs problem, bottas’s tire pressure, air guns and poor strategy. Overall, the team has to take this one on the chin, regroup – come back swinging in russia.


I don’t think a team can “adopt a racing philosophy”. Every situation is different. In this case it’s easy in hindsight to say what they should have done.

Maybe the philosophy you should be pushing is for Lewis to make better starts…


Here is the one unanswered question for me:

Lap 9 to lap 10 the top 4 cars are separated by less than 1 /12 seconds. On lap 10 Sebastian pits, Mercedes then keeps BOTH drivers out until lap 13 under the safety car. This “strange” decision to gives Ferrari/Sebastian three unchallenged fast laps through traffic on new super-soft tires. I cannot understand why this happened. Unless I am wrong, the logical response to that strategy when you have two relatively competitive cars to your opponents one is to split your strategy in order to keep the opposition guessing. Max and Red Bull figured it out immediately on lap 11, yet James Vowles at Mercedes did not jump on that option. In my opinion, they should have put one Mercedes on super-softs (to mimic the lead Ferrari) and let the other car chase the riskier one stop strategy. This would have kept the Mercedes advantage; 1. they would still have the option of switching to a two stop strategy later in the race if Sebastian proved to be remarkable faster on the super-softs, 2. It protected would have protected their lead even with an obviously compromised Bottas – alternatively, they could have given Lewis the first pit option for super-softs to fight Sebastian and keep Bottas out on the one stop strategy. The only logical explanation has to be Mercedes locked into a one stop strategy from the start and believed the early pit decision by Sebastian gave them the upper hand especially since Ferrari committed to a two stop strategy. Under this light the safety car compromised that decision because all of a sudden Sebastian went from being 15 to 18 seconds behind the two Mercedes cars to having the whole field close up with Sebastian gaining back all the time he lost when he pitted early.

Under this scenario, the SC that hurt Sebastian in China, rewarded him in Bahrain! That is the kind of F1 season so far – less pure genius and more fate and luck.


Ferrari are better on their tires, so they can pit earlier than Mercedes ever wants to, and as the undercut is traditionally big in Bahrain, Seb was in front as soon as he pitted. Merc needed to be 1-2 out of Turn 1, and then allow the leader to stretch it out by 4-5 seconds ahead of #2. That was the only way they were going to counter the undercut threat.

So many Ferrari fans were down after qualifying in Bahrain, but it only buys you 8 metres … Ferrari were always within a second of the lead. Better race pace and better tire management gave Ferrari a 3 second jump on Mercedes, and that was that. Race pace is king, dunno how many times I have to say it … couple that with superior tire management, and Ferrari is clearly the better race day car, which is when the points are handed out. IF they maintain that advantage through the year, then they will win out.


There is a great read on Mercedes at Bahrain on their F1 website. In summary, right now the strategists are avoiding the softer compounds because they have LITTLE or NO IDEA what their performance window is and how to exploit it (watch the James Vowles video for how clueless they are right now). That means they were targeting a strategy that put them on soft tires for the second stint, and since the team believed the soft tire had a 30 lap window they were stretching out the first stint to find that 30 lap optimum. Unless the Bahrain test solved something for them the ONLY apparent weakness in the W08 car is the ultra soft and super soft compounds. You never want to go into a car with the feeling you are still “experimenting” with tires.


In one.

Might not of worked but it’s clear Merc are asleep at the wheel on strategy when competing against a team.

The equality mandate will cost them dearly.


I think Bahrain proved the equality mandate is very tentative. We may never know because Bottas is still more than a few tenths slower than Sebastian and Lewis right now.


“That is the kind of F1 season so far – less pure genius and more fate and luck.”

I don’t know man. Crews in Brackley and BRIXWORTH are SO FAR AHEAD OF EVERYONE ELSE and Lewis Hamilton is in “the league of his own”.


Once vettel was in front he was always in control. Hamilton was fast but vettel was managing it with the engine turned down.

Great effort ferrari! More of the same please!


A quick question to the racing experts: What are the possible causes for the Verstappen brake issue? Verstappen said the pedal went to the floor, so I would expect this to be a hydraulic issue, possibly due to overheating, but is this at all possible with the F1 brakes and fluids? Can being stationary in the pitlane, thus uncooled brake callipers cause a vapour bubble?


I´m more for a disc overheating and burn out. I don´t know the materials of it but such high temperatures (not only shining red but bright yellow) could have destroyed it.


Verstappen was pushing too hard trying to pester lewis. Overheated his brakes, ended his race. Kid is talented but extremely reckless, great for spectators – question mark for the team?


“question mark for the team”

Depending on what team you are talking about. Ferrari and Mercedes certainly have no complaints 🙂


There are two brake circuits for safety reasons so a total brake failure is unusual


James: I read in the German press today that MV had a brake disc explode on him, thus the loss of retardation.


That would do it!


If both systems rely on the same fluid characteristics, and both circuits are overheated… What I don’t know: how do these Brake by wire systems work?


James, Did mecedes extend Hamiltons 2nd stint to long?


Would have been real interesting had Lewis not incurred the penalty.

The penalty dictated him making the second stop. Without it I think he stays out and has (at least) a chance of keeping Vettel behind him. With the penalty, all Vettel needed was to run within the 5 seconds to take the win.

His only hope was to pit, serve the time, and hope he could run Vettel down on fresher tires.


Good evening,
Could someone explain the graph for one driver in order to understand how it is plotted? For example, in lap 12 Bottas is -30+ seconds with respect to lap 1? Thank you in advance


Hi Dan,
The graph is plotted as the number of laps on the X-axis and the drivers time relative to the average pace of the winner. It’s a bit confusing but one of the few ways to plot this information and it makes sense once you understand it.

So for example say Vettel won the race and his average lap time was 1:30 per lap, the drivers time would be +/- to 1:30 on lap one, 3:00 on lap two, 4:30 on lap 3 and so on.

In answer to your question about Bottas, becasue they had just been behind the safety car, and pitted, the total race time was 30 seconds slower than a hypothetical version of Vettel that completed every lap at the same pace.

This is why you always see the winners car finish on +/- 0 seconds as they finished on the exact same time as the hypothetical version of themselves, they just got there a different way (by pitting or being behind a safety car).

That make sense?


thank you for your reply.
1. In this case, as in many others, the winner didn’t finish on the Y = 0 axis (horizontal reference line). It must be that the average race lap time is computed as Mr. Lampardi above mentioned (the sum of laps lead by leaders divided by the total number of laps).
2. The winner does finish on the Y=0 if he is the only leader(or as you can see in China 2016 he leads the vast majority of the time and there is only 1 other leader for a short time)

Ricciardo Aficionado

The Y axis is a measure of dark matter emanating from the black hole at the centre of the Andromeda Galaxy, adjusted for the out of phase Gamma wavelength received by a multiple of the redshift occurring in BeetleJuice, our nearest star.


what an honour to have you among us Mr. Neill deGrasse Tyson.


“The number of laps is on the horizontal axis; the gap behind the leader is on the vertical axis.”

Sorry, James, but that’s clearly not correct, else somehow Vettel has finished -35 units behind, i.e. 35 units ahead, of the winner.

Whilst the gaps between drivers’ progress lines, and the gradients and changes in gradients of said lines, do still tell us what you say they do, the vertical axis zero line isn’t showing anything especially obvious this year.


WHat a Coragiosa Headline to the great analysis!

Inaki Rueda is the name of the Ferrari Strategist this year you say? That name rings so bold aswell ! Like the Anunnaki have finally landed (:

Tornillo Amarillo

James, does Massa have a problem managing tire degradation -unlike Perez- or it is the Williams? It looks like he fade at the end of any race.


Yes it does

Williams has been heavier than FI but Perez is really good at this


Fantastic insight as ever into what’s probably a overly complicated explanation of what’s really going on.
So here’s my idiots guide to Ferrari’s current success.

Design car on assumption that Mercedes will be on pole and car needs to be able to run in dirty air. (Crazy beautiful side pods).
Stay right on the Mercedes tail pipe.
Win race.
I don’t need a graph to tell me that.
(He said slurping on a mug of tea and smoking a woodbine).


Toss in a better/more experience pair of drivers and hunger after years of not winning a Championship. If rumored development at engine side is true then Ferrari will be Champions this year.


So. It would seem that Sebastian has managed to do what Alonso could not. Which is develop a car and team around him. He is proving himself to be overrated. Maybe he is very politically astute, but I doubt his driving ability. At this rate Verstappen will be champion before he gets his third. And he’s been involved in the most glaring scandals yet turns up smelling roses. Maybe his past ills have come back to haunt him.


Alonso developed a Renault with a smaller budget than Ferrari, against the most dominant driver of all time, back when open testing was available and a driver could actually develop a car, and win two world titles. Anyones opinion can’t take that away from him.


I’ve always said fernando is a very decisive character with poor social skills. Immensely talent but unable to foster groups of individuals to his cause. I also think he has poor car setup, as his talent allows him to drive anything.
While not as talented as lewis or fernando, vettel more than compensates with work hard and relentless pursuit of excellence. Hopefully, the current climate in f1 forces lewis into a more proactive role in car development and testing – something he abhors.


James, you wrote “Raikkonen’s pace in the final stint is puzzling in that it is more on a par with Vettel’s.” He was similar in the 1st stint, too. The 2nd he seemed to orient himself on RIC. Could it be that he has to save more fuel than Vettel (maybe he used too much in the beginning for overtaking massa twice)?


There is definitely an air of that era about the current Ferrari team.
And whilst I applaud their performance in the first 3 races let’s not forget that by all accounts (financial at least) they damn well ought to be.
You cannot deny the aggressive strategy calls they’re making are certainly tightening up the Mercedes posterior muscles.
I seem to remember RBR being pin sharp on strategy calls when up against it (2016 Monaco aside). So if they get in the mix I really don’t see Mercedes coming out on top.

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