Insight: What is the secret to picking your way through F1 Safety Car chaos?
Strategy Report
Posted By: James Allen  |  27 Jun 2017   |  2:17 pm GMT  |  156 comments

This year’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix was highly eventful and although the three drivers who stood on the podium had been through a lot to get there, the strategy talking points were not the obvious ones.

Last year every one was surprised at how few incidents there were on the new Grand Prix street track in Baku.

A high-speed street track lined with walls and some very tight sections, the indications were that this would be a race punctuated by Safety Cars and maybe a red flag, which would have a significant bearing on race strategy. But in the end it was a relatively straightforward race.

This year we had three Safety Cars and a red flag; we also had three potential winners of the race missing the chance (Hamilton, Vettel and Perez) and arguably another missed the chance through engine failure (Verstappen).

The key to making the right moves in this race was having very good simulation software, which constantly assesses the risk. You are measuring the risk of a Safety Car once an incident happens, then the risk of a red flag, the risk of going off track on cold tyres and countless other detailed risks.

Baku is unique in that you spend more time calculating risks and making decisions on that basis, than you do looking at tyre degradation curves!

Here we will look behind the headlines to see why things unfolded as they did for the podium finishers in particular.

Baku 2017
Pre-Race expectations

This was another race where the tyres were not ideally suited to the track layout and surface.

Pirelli’s softest tyre available was the supersoft but that was capable of reaching the end of the race from whatever point in the race it was fitted, so that removed a key element of the race strategy side for the teams and put the emphasis on managing risk.

Practice had shown that a simple one-stop strategy with around 24 laps on super soft, picking the right moment to stop for softs and emerge in a gap in traffic, was the best way to go. Had the ultra soft been available then it would have been more marginal and the decision making trickier.

But it quickly became clear that this was an abnormal race for other reasons; the significant issue was the tyres going cold behind the Safety Cars and having no grip at the restarts. This was critical to race outcomes as there were opportunities to pass into Turn 1 at the restart if you set yourself up properly for it. Ricciardo did and it made his race.

Interestingly, further back in the field, Sauber used the ability to pit for new hot tyres under the Safety Car (with no threat from behind) to attack at the restart with tyres at over 100 degrees when the others had dropped to 50 degrees or below. They scored a point with Wehrlein for only the second time this season and had there not been a red flag it could have been more.

Although this was smart thinking, it was born out of necessity as much as tactics as, for some teams, the main risk that needed to be managed was sliding off the track on cold tyres.

It was like Monaco where low energy from the track means that under the long Safety Car periods the tyres come down to critical levels of temperature.

Daniel Ricciardo
Ricciardo picks his way through the chaos with two secret weapons

Daniel Ricciardo had two weapons up his sleeve – apart from his own sense of opportunism and ingenuity – that set him up for the win. He had new sets of supersofts available and the Red Bull was very effective at warming up the tyres.

He had the new tyres because he had crashed in qualifying, so he was able to use these in the race and it gained him some advantage when he was forced to stop early on Lap 5 to remove debris from the Ferrari from his brake ducts.

Red Bull put him onto the softs at this point and then they lucked out when the Safety Car came out not long after as they could then get him off the softs and onto the faster Supersofts (and a new set what’s more) for the rest of the race.

He lost that advantage when the race was red flagged and everyone was allowed to change onto the supersofts, but he had another new set to use, while Stroll and Massa had to fit used tyres.

Using the Red Bull’s ability to warm the tyres efficiently paid dividends at the restart after the Red Flag stoppage as he was able to draft the two Williams cars, who were battling each other rather than thinking about resisting Ricciardo and he passed both.

Bottas, Stroll
Bottas and Stroll – two different routes through the Safety Cars to the podium

The Safety Cars played a significant role in Valtteri Bottas finishing second, after going a lap down early on after contact with Kimi Raikkonen.

And Lance Stroll’s crew played it cool in terms of balancing the risk at the first Safety Car, pitting him on the second lap, rather than the first. Why was that?

Stroll was 4.8 seconds behind Massa and was coming through Turn 14 when the Safety Car was deployed, not quite enough to pit behind his teammate without losing time ‘stacking’. It was certainly not a major risk. But Williams didn’t want to pull him into that situation.

So Williams sent him around again. Luckily he had a large enough gap back to Magnussen and Ricciardo that he did not lose positions when this happened, as you can sometimes.

The way the Safety Car works is that for the first two laps you have to drive at a prescribed slower delta speed. So in that sense it is like a Virtual Safety Car. Once the Safety Car picks up the leader, from Lap 3 onwards, that’s when it can cost you significantly to stop, as the other cars are able to speed up to catch the back of the train behind the Safety Car.

The field closes up and you cannot afford to drop out of position then, as you will lose a lot of positions.

Stroll had looked strong and comfortable on this circuit layout all weekend, not hitting barriers or taking risks, but still turning the kind of lap times the Williams is capable of.

Once the cars ahead of him fell away and a podium beckoned, he drove without mistakes and lost the second position to Bottas because the Mercedes was much faster, rather than because of anything he did.

In fact if the race had been a few laps longer Bottas would probably have caught Ricciardo.

The Finn made a mistake early in the race running wide into Raikkonen, but his recovery drive was first class.

Being a lap down he needed a Safety Car to be able to unlap himself and once he got that he was always likely to get a good result. The advantage of lapped cars being able to unlap themselves in that situation creates the possibility for a race like Bottas and that’s certainly a good thing for the show.

Sergio Perez
Force India left to rue another missed opportunity

Last week we highlighted how Force India could have had a podium in Canada even without the ‘team orders’ row between Perez and Ocon, when they missed a strategy play during the race.

This week was far more costly as they would have been first and second had the two drivers not hit each other, damaging the race of both.

It’s exciting that they have two well matched drivers with the rookie pushing the more experienced driver, but this kind of incident cannot be allowed as it hurts the team badly. With Stroll on the podium for Williams, Force India needed a big score.

If the team needed to have a word with Perez after Canada, the balance of fault on this one lies with Ocon, who has been sensational so far this season, but he pushed just a bit too hard this time and he will no doubt have been reminded of his responsibilities to the team. It will not have played well with his bosses at Mercedes, who prioritise team results over all else.

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.

A typically chaotic race history chart with three Safety Cars and a red flag stoppage. Worth noting is the pace of Bottas after the stoppage and also the comparison with Ricciardo.

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Tornillo Amarillo

James, can I ask you what if DRS is disabledin the last 2 laps?

Like it is disabled in the first 2 laps. I don’t remember if it is also disabled the first 2 laps AFTER a SC.
I think there is loophole here. Bottas overtaking Stroll on the finish line just because he had DRS is painful, I think even for Bottas.
If you rule DRS is disabled the 2 last laps, everybody should just adjust his strategy to that situation, it’s fair. If you overtake because you have save tyres, that’s perfect! Could we get boring 2 last lap because Vettel cannot overtake Hamilton..? Well, fix that with strategy Mr Ferrari, and vice-versa.
Of course to ditch DRS completely is a better solution, but a complex one too.

The other thing, Bottas unlapping himself… It’s not fun to put a Merc just ready to attack behind the midfield, isn’t it? Another loophole, HE SHOULD GET CAUGHT BY BLUE FLAGS as anybody else! Recovery drives are commun nowadays, isn’t it? AND THEY ARE ALREADY BORING if helped by red flags!!
You can say that unlapping is good for the midfielders, yes, but Bottas robed position to midfielders.

Maybe an article of this could be elaborated to clarify. Racing should encourage “any” car to take advantage of any situation. I think most of the loopholes are around the red flag, SC and VSC regulations.

Thank you, you are always listening and I appreciate it!


I think at the restart there is an argument

Not last two laps

It’s rare for what happened Sunday to happen!

Tornillo Amarillo

OK, thanks a lot. So we could agree that FIA should reevaluate at least the unlap thing for the restarts after SC.



In the first restart, Lewis almost caught and passed the safety car.

Imagine for a moment, that he did in fact catch the safety car, then realised it at the last second and then backed off by just lifting off momentarily (not braking) before the safety car line.

Suppose this action caused Vettel to overtake him before the safety car line which is not allowed.

What happens then?


The worst thing about this whole Hamilton Vettel collision is that it gives #TeamLH an excuse to savage Vettel at every turn of events now, and they will do.


It seems HAM should take as much responsibility as VET, what did he think was going to happen when you do not do the normal acceleration process going around a corner, you accelerate. Other motorsport categories penalise the leader if they slow too much after safety car restart and are not maintaining a safe speed.

Simple race craft, brake before a corner, accelerate through or after and what HAM did was blatantly antagonistic and deserves to be punished as this set a dangerous precedent that the leader can cause an accident behind him and endanger the safety of fellow drivers.

Wow, some good excitement from the race and the publicity generated is what F1 wants. Improves the value.


Anyone know what happened to Massa’s car after the restart?

Bouncing like crazy, visibly undrivable, suspension looking like it was locked in one position…


Clarkes, the rear damper failed apparently.

Tornillo Amarillo

If I were… if I were… If I were… If I were…

Tornillo Amarillo

Ocon, who has been sensational so far this season, but he pushed just a bit too hard this time and he will no doubt have been reminded of his responsibilities to the team…

I disagree, Ocon is for F.India what Max for Red Bull, Ocon is ahead of the team, ahead of Perez in his focus, he is just starting to show what is capable of.
Ocon asked for permission to overtake Perez in Canada, and it was denied. So after that, Ocon just have to overtake without permission to send a message: this is serious racing and I’m no here to begging to go to the top!
Don’t forget that after his message, Ocon finished P6 in Baku…!, not bad at all.
The only worry for Mercedes is… should they keep Bottas or hire Ocon straightaway for 2018?
I should not let Ocon leave the Merc family if I was Wolff… it’s easy to take drivers from Force India, even if I was Ferrari I would put him in Kimi’s place next year!

Tornillo Amarillo

I understood Massa had to pit first, but why to pit Lance the next lap? I think was risky, however it unfolded well.

James, wouldn’t be better to let Lance out until the “next Safety Car”? In such a gamble in theory…
1. which position he would have finished? and
2. which position if no SC after that ?


If Valtteri is not racing could you ask him to buy me a burger?


James has the FIA or Charlie Whiting explained why they preferred the safety car over the Virtual Safety Car in Baku? It seems to me that the first SC was OK, but all the subsequent SC were actually contributing to the mess that became the Baku GP. I thought VSC was created for the type of situations we saw in Baku, where cars must slow down to double yellow speed while marshals are on the race track.

In addition, I would like someone to give me a definitive answer to how it is possible that “the pinnacle of motorsports” the FIA has failed to implement a regulation on what kind of brooms the marshals must be issued with. In this day and age it is amusing to see how many marshals today do not have brooms to sweep away debris.


they wanted to make it more fun for us to watch. bunched up = more exciting..


Kimi had a chance on the outside after, takes the lead, and then Bottas just clips the inside curbs and torpedoes into him.

Almost exactly the same as in Spain, where he bumped over the curb and then into Raikkonen, who clipped into Verstappen, taking bot drivers out of the race.
The stewards decided it was a racing incident. Which can happen, but twice the exact same scenario?


Great report as usual. Thx James.
On Force India, my take is Ocon could have left more room for Perez after that first corner as they were both on a straight line. Ocon intentionally squeezed Perez as a payback for him not allowing him to pass to challenge the front runners in Canada. Unfortunately both pay the price for their karma.


How come Wehrlein only used Supersofts according to the Tyre history, is it not mandatory to use two different compounds?


The tyre history graph is wrong. Wherein changed to soft tyres on his first stop – and then changed back to super-softs a lap later.


does it matter?


There were some great moves from Ricciardo, but one that hasn’t been mentioned was on the very first lap when a gap appeared down the inside of the two Williams’. I said to myself ‘why didn’t he go for it?’ Verstappen would have, Vettel would have. The answer lies in staying out of trouble. Three cars wide wouldn’t have made it around that corner, so he made a wise decision.
How many cars could have won ‘if’?


Agreed Daryl -that there is the difference between Danny and Max.
As the young bull said to the old bull -“hey, let’s run down and mod one of those cows”, to which the old bull replied..”no, lets walk down and mod them all”!


How many cars could have won if? All of them, except for Ricciardo. He did win it.

Shoulda coulda woulda! 😁


all on the breaks! even i was impressed by that..


It’s amazing that Ricciardo is able to seemingly turn his misfortunes around to an advantage: in Monaco he was outqualified but that turned out to a race advantage and here in Baku he crashed out in quali but that set him up for a race win even as he (therefore) had new sets of tires available. Well done to him!

I doubt Force India would have been 1-2, remember that the red flag was caused by their getting together. I think that had this not happened Lewis would not have had his headrest problem, therefore he would have easily won the race. Still it would have been an (almost guaranteed) double podium for them.
Admittedly, I still think Ocon is to be blamed mostly for the incident but I think there’s a lot going on we haven’t actually seen or heard. If you check this video at around 6 seconds in, you can see Perez makes a move on him as he clearly doesn’t want to be overtaken. Had Ocon not reacted they would have gotten together already.
I think that with 2018 looming there’s a lot of friction starting to happen between a lot of team mates. FI, but also at Sauber for example and let’s not forget Toro Rosso. To a lesser extent you can see something similar happening at Red Bull although it seems both drivers there seem to be taking it out more on the car/team than on each other.

Ricciardo Aficionado

The secret is luck and a cool head. A chat between Marko and Ricciardo during the RedFlag was broadcast. They were talking about getting the jump at the restart. So that was the plan.
When a boss like Marko puts the pressure on to execute such a tenuous strategy for success, that’s going to take one cool cucumber to pull it off.
“Utterly brilliant…” Martin Brundle called it. No understatement there.
It seemed a jinxed kind of race. The carnage predicted for last year seemed to pile up to this year. Lots of hot-headed shenanigans putting a lot of contenders out. I don’t think it’s any kind of coincidence that three of the more relaxed guys got onto the podium.
Now, where was that extra engine mode for Lance when Bottas came steaming home like he was standing still? No one can seriously suggest Merc customers have access to the full potential of that PU. Ron was right I reckon.


it’s no longer a secret, now that you’ve told everyone..

Ricciardo Aficionado

Merc customers getting dudded was never a secret.



According to Mark Hughes of Motor Sport Magazine Danny Ricc actually told Marko what he was going to do during that discussion, specifically that he would overtake the two Williams drivers on the restart. Pretty brazen er confident stuff from the West Aussie. But then again he was dialed in for the whole race.


I remember hearing that conversation beneath the inane babble of the pundits and commentators, and I thought to myself that Ricciardo sounded calm, and did not doubt his ability to overtake both the Williams at the restart.

When he backed up his words with deeds it turned into the race winning overtakes. He is brilliant, but because he is not younger, a couple of tenths quicker, and doesn’t drive like an aggressive, lary boy racer, he gets overlooked. Maybe if Ricciardo had clipped Massa’s front wing and ruined his race people would have praised him all the more. Or maybe he could have run Stroll into the wall on the exit of turn one and then played the victim. Some people might have claimed that we have a future three time world champion on our hands.

Ricciardo Aficionado

I’ll put my hand up and claim we have a future champion on our hands. On the other hand, Dan has got his hands full with that pretty handy teenager you mention. Hands down it’s the handiest lineup on the grid.


Yes Baz, he clearly lacks the Peter Pan, Prima Donna gene!


Great analysis James! Learned a lot. This was a race with so much going on, it was really hard to follow some of the more subtle plots that your strategy insight now neatly spotlights. Thanks


It was pretty much a typical Indycar race with luck, good and bad, and just a lot of strange happenings, leading to a topsy-turvy result.


“In fact if the race had been a few laps longer Bottas would probably have caught Ricciardo.”

I’d dispute that, looking at the lap times it’s pretty obvious that Ricciardo was simply driving at whatever pace was necessary to ensure a race victory. To quote Alain Prost, “winning at the lowest speed possible”. After the last tyre change on lap 22 there is the usual increase in pace due to the lightening fuel load up to lap 30. Between the laps 31 and 38 and after assuming the race lead on lap 33, there is consistency in lap times together with an increasing gap over the next placed car (Stroll). This holding speed strategy continues to lap 45, where Ricciardo slows to match Stroll’s slowing place, whilst maintaining an uncatchable lead of over 4 seconds to the fast finishing Bottas.


@ gary…yes, i was of the very same opinion. The corresponding downturn in the graph between the two cars supports thattheory. There was no way that Bottas would’ve passed Ricciardo even if there were a handful of laps extra.



Marko has also stated that in view of what happened to Verstappen Dan’s engine was turned down to a ‘safer mode’ once he was in the lead and in free air.


FYI, the same had to be done with VER’s engine during FP.
The 2015 STR at least was reasonably reliable, last year’s RBR12 was pretty reliable.
But if the only recipe to let this year’s Renault engine last the race is indeed;
– avoid stressing the engine in FP and Q1/2
– forget about trying to split MB and Ferrari in Q3
– refrain from all early overtakes
– afford yourself just one or maybe two decisive moves tops in the latter part of the race, fingers crossed
… than this RBR13 is one sorry excuse for a racing car.


James, do you think that behind closed doors, that the Force India team is having somewhat of an internal meltdown? I mean, their drivers threw away a one-two finish. That would have just been massive for them.


they told ocon to find his own way instead of asking for help from his teammate and now they have it..


Seems like they need to change the safety car rules yet again (regarding how the leader acts when behind it). Also, I’ve never understood why a car gets to unlap itself during a safety car, that seems totally unfair to everyone else.


it is to give those not lapped a chance. Example here would be if there was a lapped car between 1st and 2nd in the safety car period and the restart happens then 2nd car has no chance to attack for lead if there is a lapped car in between.


if the safety car bunches the field up, only the lead car can control the pace..


When are Pirelli going to revert the compounds to the same as last year? They moved them all at least one step harder for this year, so now we have the ridiculous situation where a tyre called “supersoft” can complete an entire race distance with ease! It’s crazy that the (not soft at all) ultra soft wasn’t available for this race. Pirelli are just making themselves look ridiculous, how much money have they spent on manufacturing the hard compound tyres for this season? All wasted as none of them will ever be used!


many complained about the tyres, drivers said they wanted to be able to push all the way to the end of races.. there it is!


Aveli, the drivers couldn’t push the previous gen tyres because they had chemical bonds artificially added to the compounds that were designed to break apart at a certain temperature. Pirelli rightly removed these stupid bonds for this year, but ghen masked the making last years medium, this years super soft etc.


i have a clear understanding of materials and would be most grateful to you if you could tell me which elements this bind you state was between and what type of bond was it?


Secrets are very simple for Baku or any other chaotic race,

– Do not crash
– Don’t get penalties
– Hope that the car doesn’t break
– Capitalize on opportunities


Thanks, james!

1. Ricciardo won it for his permanent smile. Good vibration
2. Bottas simply deserves to win up to 5 races this year
3. Stroll earned 3rd place because he was mocked and demoralized earlier by everybody.
4. Vettel didn’t deserve to win because he was depressed and frustrated since his miserable q3 performance. Bad vibration
5. Hamilton was meant not to win because the cat, the pussycat was there in Baku over the weekend. Mega bad vibration.
6. Alonso, „we would have won today„will keep talking in conjunctive until the end of his career – next year.
7. Perez didn’t deserve to win because of what he did to Ocon in Montreal. Karma!
8. Verstappen will never become a champion because of his mysteriously unpleasant nature. Sorry, but a very bad vibration.


The entire race was controlled by Karma!
Nice call Meth!


@Methusalem, “Verstappen’s mysteriously unpleasant nature”
I fear that after 600 years (that’s your age if I remember correctly) your character judgement leaves a lot to desire.
The only mysterious thing is why you perceive his character to be unpleasant.
He is quite friendly and cheerful in interviews, even now! He is very frustrated but name one driver who wouldn’t be when confronted with such a string of setbacks. For several top drivers, one single disappointment when in P2/3/4 would suffice to start sulking and complaining. Max suffered multiple such setbacks and after a couple of hours to clear his head, has just carried on. (Needed some time away from the press this time but hey how much can you take when you’re ambitious?) Quite mature and definitely NOT unpleasant.


Your tyre history graphic isn’t correct for Ericsson or Wehrlein.

Ericsson changed his tyres under the red flag on lap 22 and did 29 laps for the final stint, making 3 stops (including the drive through the pit lane and the red flag).

Wehrlein ran a double-shuffle at his first stop. He stopped under the first safety car at the end of lap 12 and went to the softs (not the super-softs as the graphic indicates). He then did a lap and went back to the super-softs at the end of lap 13. The graphic suggests he was on super-softs for the whole race, which would be a breach of the regulations.

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