Do Baku GP strategy decisions show F1 teams’ mentality on title prospects?
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Strategy Report
Posted By: James Allen  |  01 May 2018   |  4:41 pm GMT  |  193 comments

This year in F1, with heated competition between the three top teams we are seeing not only close racing but drivers, teams and especially strategists being put under pressure.

And the inevitable consequence is some bold moves on the one hand and mistakes on the other.

Baku was a good example; Ferrari seemingly in control with pole position and the lead of the race, but able to turn that into just a fourth-place finish for their title contender Sebastian Vettel and a fortunate second place for Kimi Raikkonen, who had a collision on the opening lap and dropped down the order.

Already in 2018 we have seen three of the four races turned on a Safety Car. In Baku this is always a strong possibility, in fact the strategists say that along with Monaco and Singapore this is one of the top three races where you actually factor the Safety Car into your planning and skew your tyre strategy accordingly, even if that means you have sub-optimal race pace should no Safety Car occur.

This is why we saw drivers staying out a long time on their initial set of supersoft tyres, waiting, hoping, for a Safety Car, that eventually came.

We also saw decisions which arguably revealed a snapshot of the mentality of each of the top teams to their championship priorities. Mercedes prioritise the constructors’ championship and the race win; they kept both drivers in the hunt for the win and the largest points haul with their decision making.

Ferrari again prioritised the drivers’ championship, as they have clearly done all season, while Red Bull let their drivers race – despite a warning sign when they banged wheels – something you would not allow to happen if you really believed you could win the championship or were stockpiling constructors’ points.


Pre-race considerations

All three tyre compounds were again in evidence on the grid, but with a wider spread than normal, indicating the different tyre models each team had. For a number of teams, including the top five Mercedes, Red Bulls and Vettel’s Ferrari, the tyre to be on at the start was the supersoft as it was only marginally slower off the start line than the ultra but had much better durability and would comfortably take you into the Safety Car window.

It was also durable enough to take some cars to the point at which they could switch onto the ultrasoft for a late race burst, which is what Mercedes did with Hamilton.

It wasn’t as warm a day on Sunday as it had been for Friday practice and one of the key considerations as the temperature dropped further in the late afternoon, was the warm up of the tyres. It was hard to get the soft tyre to switch on for many teams. In contrast, this was one of many things the Ferrari was doing better than its rivals.


Vettel calm despite losing again
It was telling that Sebastian Vettel was calm after the race, in which he had lost the lead due to the team’s reaction to a split strategy by Mercedes and to his own misjudged move at the restart at the Safety Car behind Bottas.

The reason for his calmness was that, once again, they had come to a circuit that should favour Mercedes and yet Ferrari had the upper hand in qualifying and the race, just like China. The Ferrari is the fastest car at the moment in both conditions – seemingly on all types of circuit.

But in a similar scenario to China, here they failed to capitalise on their pace advantage. This time, Vettel finished fourth, allowing Hamilton both to win the race and take the championship lead for the first time this season.

Hamilton had been forced to stop on Lap 22, his strategy compromised by a lock up that flat spotted his tyres. The team had no choice but to put him on a set of soft tyres to the finish.

So, he was now on a suboptimal strategy and he found it hard to get the tyres working.

Mercedes objective is always to win the race with either car and to maximise constructors’ championship points. For Bottas, now the driver most likely to win for Mercedes, the game was to try to get a big enough gap over Hamilton to stop and fit ultra softs for the final stint to attack Vettel.

For Vettel decision time came as they approached Lap 30. The supersoft tyres were holding on well and he had a margin of ten seconds over Bottas; so, no reason to be the first mover in this chess game.

His tyres were slowly deteriorating, but he still had another five or six laps to go before being able to safely fit ultras. By that time Hamilton could be three or four seconds behind him after the stop and able to get a tow, although Vettel would have the faster tyres. And the falling temperature was not favourable to the soft tyres.

In retrospect it would have been better to stay out until either a Safety Car or the switch to ultras, as Bottas did. But a decision has to be made one way or the other and Ferrari and Vettel chose to stop to cover the strategy of Hamilton, their drivers’ title rival, rather than Bottas.

These decisions are all about lots of small factors; expected tyre warm up is one, but also critical is the amount of time lost in a pit stop, which was not as clear in everyone’s minds as at some circuits due to lack of past data, the blustery winds, the strange layout of pit-in and pit lane exit, plus the chance of a tow down the straight that can give you an unexpected 4/10ths of a second.

The margin of error in predicting a pit-stop time in Baku this year therefore was as much as 1.5 seconds, without any kind of mishap at the stop. Still recovering from their Bahrain pit stop accident, Ferrari were clearly not at ease in this decision and wanted some margin.

On the few occasions where you have an undercutting car that is not immediately faster than you and an overcutting car, which you are faster than, you stay out.

Especially at Baku, where the Safety Car is a factor in strategy planning. So, by stopping Vettel first, when not under direct threat from Hamilton, Ferrari handed Mercedes the chance to stay out and maybe luck into a Safety Car. When the Red Bull pair hit each other, Lady Luck smiled on Mercedes.

Bottas got a free pit stop and the race lead, Vettel did the right thing and pitted again, fitting the same ultra soft tyres, as did Hamilton. This set up the drag race at the restart and as Vettel felt compelled to try a move on Bottas, as much out of defence against Hamilton’s attack, as offence against Bottas, he misjudged the braking distance and ran wide, flat spotting his tyres.

Bottas had a tyre failure due to debris, so Vettel’s fifth place became a slightly less painful fourth, but Mercedes got what they came for, which was the race win.


Perez, Sainz and Leclerc stand out on a difficult day
If the competition at the front this year makes for more exciting viewing, the midfield is again hugely entertaining and in Baku there were three excellent results for Force India’s Sergio Perez (3rd), Renault’s Carlos Sainz (5th) and Sauber’s Charles Leclerc (6th).

For Perez and Leclerc this felt like a win, for Sainz he showed his doggedness in coming back from a sub-optimal strategy and an early stop on Lap 16, off the ultra softs onto the softs, which put him into traffic.

Leclerc showed remarkable pace and composure. He started the race on the supersoft, looking to stay in the hunt and capitalise on a Safety Car if one arose.

His race was with Williams’ Lance Stroll, who tried the undercut on Lap 22. At this point Leclerc was also ahead of Perez, who went onto finish on the podium, so the decision was whether to cover the team that they are fighting in the championship or to try to stay out and luck into a Safety Car that would keep them ahead of Perez.

Perez was not their race. They covered Stroll, while Perez, who had pitted on Lap 2 under the initial Safety Car for softs to give himself the maximum window of opportunity, went all the way to Lap 40 and took advantage of the second Safety Car and the chaos that engulfed the Red Bulls and Vettel in the closing stages.

Romain Grosjean was right with Perez before the Safety Car and also had the same opportunity, but he crashed when warming up the tyres before the restart and another big points result went begging for Haas, just as in Melbourne.

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

All photographs: Motorsport Images

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. The thing to look at is the gaps between the cars and also the relative pace of the cars.

A positive sign is an upward curve indicating strong pace as lap time falls.

Look at Vettel’s trace before his stop compared to Hamilton and Bottas. He is not under any real threat from Hamilton who is not closing the gap noticeably, while Bottas continues on a similar level on the supersofts after Vettel stops, showing that there was still life in them.

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1
Ashish Sharma

Ashish, you are over estimating the lap time difference between new and old tyres at that circuit, there is very little degredation at Baku…………………………..

Once again reply has been disabled so starting a fresh thread.

1. Overestimating the benefit of the soft over used SS. – No, I’m not. There is sufficient evidence to back it. We can look at Stroll and LeClerc who did similar SS+S strategies and Hamilton’s lack of pace is the clear outlier.

InLap-OutLap

Lewis – (106.315*[Lap21] and 107.306[Lap24]) = 0.991 slower

Vettel – (106.507 and 106.298) = -0.209

LeClerc – (108.041 and 107.749) = -0.292

Stroll – (108.868 and 108.049) = -0.819

Since 1 Lap pace is often skewed, I’ve even checked the average of 5 laps on both side of the pit stop.

5LapsBeforePits-5LapsAfterPits

Lewis (107.017, 106.597,106.331,106.12,106.315 and 107.306,106.582,106.507,106.329,106.381) = 106.476 – 106.621 = Hamilton is on an average 0.145 slower per lap after pits

Vettel (106.702,107.521,106.621, 106.746,106.507 and 106.298,106.28,106.422,105.839,105.958) = 106.8194 – 106.1594 = Vettel is 0.66 seconds faster per lap after pits

LeClerc – (108.288, 107.956, 108.211,108.392,108.041 and 107.749,107.629,107.814,107.419,107.655) = 108.1776 – 107.6532 = LeClerc is on an average 0.5244 faster per lap after pits

Stroll – (108.45,108.97,108.549,108.488,110.315* and 108.868 and 108.049,108.504,107.814, 107.913, 107.435) = 108.665 – 107.943 Stroll was on an average 0.722 faster per lap after pits.

* I have ignored 115.171 (Lap 22) for Lewis where he made the error for comparison as this would skew the results. I have also ignored the 110.3 that Stroll did on Lap 21 because i don’t know if he had an off or something.

2. Did Bottas luck into the faster strategy – Bottas’ race reminded me a lot of Vettel’s win in Monaco-2017, where both were left out on alternate strategies and lucked into the better option as the SS had a second wind in it. James had done a piece on it, where he mentioned that despite the luck, it was Vettel’s stunning laps on 37 and 38 that got him the win, and it would have been interesting if he had analysed Bottas’ race in such detail. (https://www.jamesallenonf1.com/2017/05/insight-key-indicators-that-show-whether-ferrari-favoured-vettel-in-monaco-f1-gp/ ).

While Vettel and Verstappen were both slowing down on the SS, Ricciardo did do some good laps between Lap30-35, so yes I agree with you that the SS had some performance in it. That said, whether Bottas’ 1’45.1 was as stunning a lap as Vettel’s in Monaco is something James or strategists with access to more data can answer, though post-race comments from both Mercedes and Hamilton seem to suggest that was the case.

2

Ashish, I appreciate the efforts you have gone to, but in reality this doesn’t tell us how the tyres were working on the Mercedes, the differences between how the different cars use the rubber has been the major talking point of this season, how many times have we seen the Merc finding different compounds favourable than their rivals? If we look at Lewis’ lap times when he came out of the pits on his new softs, we should ignore that 107 first lap as the Merc struggled more for tyre warm up than the others, an average of his next four laps gives us 106.449, which is very similar to the 106.476 avg he had pre pits. This doesn’t tell us if the problem was with Lewis, with the way the Merc uses it’s tyres, or just a general mix of both. We can’t know what Valterri would have done on the softs as he didn’t use them, we can’t know if new softs were half a second faster than used super softs on the Mercedes and we still can’t know what would have happened if the safety car hadn’t come out.

3

I think we can see that now. Ferrari has the better car right now.

4
Ashish Sharma

@TimW

Ashish, I’m not saying that Lewis drove the perfect race, or that he was happy with his performance, just that he was quicker than Valterri. Lewis made that error, ran a decent chunk of the race on the slower tyre, and was still net ahead of his team mate.

And that is what i disagree with. Just as @Jimothy is wrong to infer that Bottas “had better race pace” because he did the fastest lap, you are wrong to infer that Hamilton had “better race pace” because he did 20 fast laps on the SS.

While I’m not a big fan of the Pirellis, or the conditioning and care that they require, often the faster race pace is going slow on these tires so that they can last long enough for the better strategy (which was SS+US in Baku). Bottas managed to do it while Lewis didn’t.

I looked up Lewis’ Post-Race conference comment where he has mentioned how Bottas did an exceptional job and how we struggled in the race. The statement also seems to imply that Bottas would have been net ahead even without the safety car.

“LH: Obviously, I could hear constantly I was battling with my team-mate over time, over the pitstop window and ultimately Valtteri had done an exceptional job. Obviously, I did a good job in qualifying and put myself in a good position – but there were a lot of faults in the race, which is rare for me – but I struggled with the car, struggled with the tyres and that’s something I don’t take lightly, so I’ve definitely got to go away from here and work even harder to make sure that there’s not a repeat performance-wise of today for myself.”

Replying here as it seems you can’t reply after 5 times. 🙂

5

Ashish, we will never know if Lewis would have come out ahead, all we can say for sure that it would have been extremely close. Those 22 laps (44% of the race) were the only time we got a direct comparison between the two Merc drivers while on the same tyre, and Lewis was quicker, it seems hard to believe that Valterri wanted to be that far behind his team mate, or that Lewis wouldn’t be well aware of the potential consequences of pushing too hard on those tyres, but again we will never know what would have happened if Lewis hadn’t locked up. I’m not trying to belittle Valterri’s performance, I just question if he had earned the ‘quicker guy’ tag in that race.

6
Ashish Sharma

” it seems hard to believe that Valterri wanted to be that far behind his team mate” – No, he didn’t. Mercedes have confirmed that. He was struggling more than Lewis in the early laps – [https://youtu.be/jd5juRvnEH8?t=260]

“we will never know if Lewis would have come out ahead, all we can say for sure that it would have been extremely close” – Mercedes have confirmed [https://youtu.be/jd5juRvnEH8?t=380] that Bottas would have pitted with 10 laps to go without the safety car, and would have caught Vettel with 2 laps to go, while they did not have any options with Lewis but to consolidate 3rd. Hamilton saying that he was fighting on the pit stop window and Bottas doing an exceptional job seem to all but confirm that Bottas was going to come out ahead.

“Lewis wouldn’t be well aware of the potential consequences of pushing too hard on those tyres” – Even, the teams don’t know the tyres yet [https://youtu.be/jd5juRvnEH8?t=11]. They started the race with the assumption of doing the SS+S strategy, but Kimi showed how even the Ferrrari struggled with the Soft.

“again we will never know what would have happened if Lewis hadn’t locked up” – I think it all comes down to whether you see the lock-up as an unforced error, or caused by Hamilton’s trying to push even when he struggled with the car and tyres. On a weekend where he has completed 12 seasons with a Grand Prix win, we don’t have to go very far to find examples when Hamilton worked around the problems of the car to get great results. But this weekend the troubles got the better of him, making it one of the rare days when Bottas was quicker than him.

7

Ashish, ten laps before the end is lap 41, and they pitted under the safety car on lap 40, so Valterri should have been pushing hard to build a gap already, but his last two laps before the SC were virtually identical to Lewis’. The gap at that point was 20.139 seconds, so either Valterri had massive pace in reserve and was about to deliver a wonder lap, or it would have been too close to call. The gap between them when Lewis came out of the pits on lap 23 was 17.826 seconds, so Valterri pulled a gap of 2.313 seconds in 17 laps, and 1.6 of that came on lap 36 alone when Lewis got badly blocked trying to lap Gasly. Like I said, we have 44% of the race where Lewis was quicker, 35% of the race where they were basically lapping at the same speed, and the remaining 21% was spent behind the safety car, or with Bottas out. Still not sure how this earns Bottas that ‘quicker guy’ tag.

8

Ashish, you are over estimating the lap time difference between new and old tyres at that circuit, there is very little degredation at Baku, Valterri’s tyres were older than Lewis’ but they were still a step softer. You are also ignoring the effect of diminishing fuel load on Seb’s lap times, his lap before pitting was a 46.507, after pitting he did a 46.298 followed by a 46.280. He does get into the high 45s some laps later, and then deivers that 45.5 on lap 38, (not sure if he got a tow from kmag, but he did lap him then), but obviously some of that lap time gain would have come from having a lighter car.

Doesn’t Valterri’s pace in the ten laps you mention point towards the used supersofts being quicker than the new softs? As you say he was matching the faster Ferrari! We can’t know what sort of lap times Bottas could have done on the ultras, Lewis’ times weren’t that spectacular, but he likely wasn’t pushing that hard, Seb had damaged his set going off the circuit which just leaves Kimi, his fastest lap on the Ultras was a 46.523 on lap 50, but he had done a 46.865 on lap 30 when his softs had been on for 29 laps and he had 20 laps more fuel on board!

9
Ashish Sharma

@TimW – It is rare that you disagree with what Hamilton says.

35% of the race where they were basically lapping at the same speed

In these laps after Lewis pitted (Lap 21-41), Bottas was the much faster driver, though both were doing the same lap times.

Lewis was on fresh softs versus Bottas’ who was on 20 lap old SS, so should have been ~0.5 sec a lap faster. If Lewis wanted the “quicker driver” tag the 17.8 seconds gap should have reduced to 5 seconds or so, but it actually increased to 20 seconds.

Remember in the third phase (lap41-51) Lewis was going to be on 20 lap old softs while Bottas was going to be on new Ultras so that was an easy 10 seconds delta in favour of Bottas

We can use Vettel as a benchmark for both ( Was it just Hamilton struggling with the Soft which ruined his race, or was Bottas actually quick) – It was a bit of both.

1) Was the Soft faster than used SS – Vettel was doing high 1’46’s at Lap 30 on used SS, and when he shifted to news Softs he went to low 1’46/high 1’45, about 0.5/0.7 seconds faster.

a. Hamilton struggled more than others with the Soft. Even on new Softs he just barely matched his pace on the used SS going at ~1’46/1’46.5, while Vettel’s pace shows that new softs were faster than used SS.

2. Was Hamilton right in saying that Bottas drove an exceptional race (based on what he did between Lap 21-40) ->

If you see Vetttel’s race he plateaued at ~1’46.5 from Lap 25-30 before coming in, while Bottas went from 1’46.5 to 1’46s in those laps. He holds to 1’46 for the next five laps(30-35) and then is almost at 1’45.5 for the next five(35-40). The 1’45.15 on Lap 37 was a stunning lap.

a. Whether it was because of tyre management or low degradation, these 10 laps on 30 lap old tyres where he almost matched the faster Ferrari, ensured Bottas a sure second with a chance of a win. This is why i think Bottas was the quicker driver.

10

For Vettel to win the title Räikkönen needs to start delivering. Mercedes strategy of winning the race with either driver works perfectly against Ferrari’s “all the eggs in the Vettel basket” strategy. Merc have two pawns to play against Vettel. I think they did the correct thing in covering against Hamilton but to see that through Vettel also had to get onboard with that and ensure he beat Hamilton rather than chasing Bottas, as the article says above though Vettel’s move on Bottas was as much about defending from Hamilton as attacking Bottas, he misjudged it slightly.

I know Räikkönen has been unlucky and certainly was in Baku but if he delivered in quali he wouldn’t have been in the position to crash with a Force India. Having him up there gives Mercedes another problem rather than just going for the pincer movement on Vettel all the time because at the moment if it doesn’t work there’s nothing to lose, RB are too far off the pace to punish but Raikkonen shouldn’t be.

11

Vettel didn’t care to loose points as both Hamilton and Vettel think Ferrari are faster.

It may have to do with that whole oil burning thing. Now that has been closed in qualifying maybe Red Bull will be right up there.

12

A thought/ theory – Is Hamilton underperforming to make his team mate look good so that he is retained and not replaced by Alonso?

13

Could be, or another theory would be that Valterri is too nice and has helped him win, so he dosent want to use the dirty tactics against him like with Rosberg or Alonso.

It will be interesting to see if Hamilton would bang wheels and run him off track like he did to Rosberg, or refuse to let him by if the team asks him to like ROS or ALO, i think Hamilton really needs to hate his team mate to perform at his best.

Or he could just be getting old, thats what Bernie seems to think.

14

‘Lady Luck smiled on Mercedes’, and Gentleman Luck smiled on Force India Mercedes. LOL!

15

Get it wrong and the pit wall are the biggest lot of idiots, get it right and they at best get a bit of credit in the brilliant win by their talented driver.

Tactics is at best intelligent gambling

16

The Ferrari strat is a mess from so many perspectives. It’s bad publicity even more so when they have the car to beat. What happens with the moral within the team, especially when things do not go to plan. What about mentality. They always seems to feel they are an inferior team that can not afford to let their drivers race properly, at last that is the feeling I get as a spectator. When a team is chasing they need to take risks and be bold like RBR. When they are at the top maybe less risks but confident. Both scenario take two drivers pushing hard with the opportunity to win.

17

I suppose if you’re Kimi you must be hoping that the team keep trying to favour Seb, as they usually screw up and you come out ahead 🙂

18

Bottas would probably have won the race without the safetey car. One can argue he was not pushing as hard as Hamilton with this strategy in mind already from the start. One thing I dont get is in what way Perez did a great race, he did a couple of great laps, until then be made costly mistakes. With this reasoning Kimi did a superb rare, merely driving the car to the checkered flag, altough again with a poor strategy. Mercedes seems to have the right balance when it comes to strategy, giving the driver who has the best shot at winning the appropriate strat. Altgough absolute parity is another question. In RBR there probably is much bias towards Max altough it can seem equal at the races, and they can race eatch other. The Ferrari strat is a less in so many perspectives. Sure they dont let go of this extreme first driver mentality bur it is so counterproductive. It’s bad publicity, even more so when they have the car to beat, what happens to the morality

19

Yes, Ferrari definitely have morality problems! 🙂

20

What I would like to know is what happened to RBR in the first part of the race. Both drivers were complaining that the battery didn’t charge on the straight but the response back was like nothing is wrong keep going. At some time they were losing 5 seconds in one lap !! Defending of the Renaults on ultras may have cost them some time and the battery problems too but 5 seconds? Strange thing is they could keep up the first couple laps but then times dropped like hell. All this after there fastest pace in long run tests.

In terms of Ferrari, they should never have pitted Vettel this soon. If they didn’t Vettel would have one the race.

Oh and what about Magnussen pushing Gasly almost Into the wall on the straight twice while doing 300km/h+ ? Amased nobody is talking about this.

21

The response back was strat mode 7 and who knows what else because we aren’t privy to all radio comms. Or are you suggesting the RBR engineers were on a loo break?

22

Nah just the whole thing making them loose so much time in such short notice. It’s shocking how fast they were loosing time at certain moments while they should of head a very competitive race pace.

In terms of privy radio messages you are correct, but post race i heaven´t heard or read anything about it from team or drivers. While i think about it maybe the lap 40 drama has overshadowed these issues.

23

Ferrari keeps scoring own goals. SEB was doing his part until they pitted him for Softs. I don’t know why. There was no threat from LEWIS as he could not reduce his gap on his new tires and was doing his all to keep BOT from over cutting him into second place. SEB, LEWIS and BOT were all running on pretty much same pace that time. By pulling trigger on SEB, Ferrari lost lead and made themselves vulnerable to SC threat unnecessarily.

Too much focus on LEWIS! With his pace and tire he was on, he was already out of contention for top spot. It was BOT they should have been looking out for. They gave up track position and SEB had to take risk of overtaking on cold tires due to their strategic error.

After race 4, Ferrari should have been sitting well ahead of Mercedes in WCC.

24

I think they might not have calculated that Bottas would go as far as he did on his first set of tyres. They probably saw it as Ham going for undercut, BOT for overcut, but not Bot staying out for another 10 or so laps.

25

Undercut with LEWIS was clearly not working as we saw. LEWIS was trying hard to maintain less than 20 sec gap to BOT in front to avoid him getting over cut by BOT.

So for Ferrari, only possible threat was BOT. He was too far behind SEB to do any undercut. How do you avoid getting overcut?

By running longer than your opponent , not pitting before him. Ferrari played into Mercedes’ hand by pitting before BOT and rest is history.

26

Interesting article. Does RB know that they have no chance to compete for the title, ofc they do. It’s a Renault PU isn’t it! Not that it is a bad PU but still short on the other 2. Anyways, why is RB in F1? Purely commercial reasons. They are not in F1 to support the sport, they are not there to brand an engine, a car brand or otherwise. They are there for exposure and as a result of that a favorable feeling with targeted customers and sell more cans. There drivers need to have a profile that fits in their marketing strategy, their race strategy needs to fit in to it too. The whole philosophy of the RB team needs to be inline with the overall marketing strategy of RB. Not more not less. Sure the team members will do everything they can to win a title and the drivers will do the same, (prob for more selfish reasons though). But…… in the end RB is all about RB, like Merc is all about Merc and Fer about Fer. The top 3 teams have different marketing strategies and therefore different goals to be reached. In my opinion that is not only justified but in the end it might give even a bit more entertainment/show on track, (and Liberty loves that too).

27

If they’re thinking that way, I’m surprised. They’ve been able to give Ferrari and Merc a hard time in every race through aggressive strategy. It’s a bit early to limit their ambitions to third place.

28

“Red Bull let their drivers race – despite a warning sign when they banged wheels – something you would not allow to happen if you really believed you could win the championship or were stockpiling constructors’ points.”

Alternatively it could be that Marko’s influence is hampering Horner from reining in the walking accident that is Max at the moment. At some point this is going to have to change.

At least Danny will be comforted to know that he seemed to be faster all weekend than his tearaway teammate. I wonder if he’s found some technical thing, or is it just extra confidence after China.

29

Why isn’t anyone talking about Bottas’s almost perfect race? He is the only one out of the 6 drivers from the the top 3 teams that didn’t make a mistake, didn’t lock up, missed his breaking point, or hit his teammate. Save for the error in qualifying in Oz, he has been the better Mercedes driver and if not for his team’s so-so strategy calls and the debris tyre blowout in Baku, he would probably be leading the championship.

Bottas has driven as good, if not better than, the rest of the usual “headline” grabbers.

30

Absolutely agree. He’s outperforming the car at the moment, whereas Lewis seems to be flatlining. To be fair we saw last year that when the car was difficult Bottas’s more gentle approach seemed to coax more out of it. This is just a continuation of that.

31

@ Grabyrdy…No one can out perform the car! I’m sure that you are well aware of that fact. What we are seeing is, IMO, is Hamilton using excuses for his inability to adapt or else a lack of commitment. Despite what all the legions of Hamilton supporters have relentlessly proclaimed… he is vulnerable. If we are to believe what we are told they are driving identical cars which more or less proves the point that there are other drivers on the grid who are equally as good as Hamilton, given the same tools. There are other issues to also contemplate…like, as another poster hinted, is he purposely not performing in order to make Bottas look better thus reducing the chances of Bottas being replaced with perhaps Ricciardo. For a very long time i have promoted the concept of ‘ CNP’ [ contract renewal performance ] as a reality. Drivers faced with the prospect of non renewal will always improve their performance in the lead up to termination of the ‘silly season’. I have very little doubt that Bottas will be retained as a result. That prospect somewhat dismays me as i was rather hoping that DR was a likely future incumbent in a team not hell bent on discriminatory practices like Red Bull.

32

Before the safety car he was a net third.

If he pitted under normal race condition he would come back on track in third place. He would of course have a tyre advantage that had the potential to move him up the order but not guaranteed.

Due to Lewis getting a flat spot we don’t know what Merc we’re planning on strategy to get Ahead of Seb. It would probably have been a split strategy so Ferrari could not cover both Merc cars.

When Merc saw the poor performance of the soft tyre on Lewis’s car they realized keeping Bottas out was the best plan. Nothing to do with what Bottas did in the race just the the way it panned out on the day.

33

When you are that slow you won’t make mistakes.

34

When you are that slow you won’t make mistakes.

Are you talking about Bottas? he got fastest lap of the race by over 2 tenths.

35

Jimothy, race pace is measured over a race distance, not one lap.

36

@ Rockie

He was still setting fastest laps on old tyres while his teammate was missing corners and flat spotting his tires.

37

Fanf1. Valterri set his fastest lap on the supersofts, Lewis was on the softs. Very little degradation in Baku.

38

FanF1, fair enough, sorry I missed your main point.

39

@TimW

I was replying to an exaggerated post that was only ever meant to disparage Bottas, nothing else.

“When you are that slow you won’t make mistakes.”

A preposterous post deserved another, don’t you agree?

40

Jimothy, race pace is measured over the whole race, not one lap.

41

Jimothy, if it was true, then it isn’t an excuse of any kind, just a statement of fact, but like I said before, you have no idea if it’s true or not so the whole conversation is pointless.

42

Jimothy, you have no idea if it was or it wasn’t. I heard lots of drivers complaining about the strong winds throughout the weekend, so maybe it was the cause.

Either way, its a weak excuse for a 4x WDC, Vettel could have blamed the wind for his lock up too but he seems a bit more mature than his older rival this year.

43

Jimothy, you have no idea if it was or it wasn’t. I heard lots of drivers complaining about the strong winds throughout the weekend, so maybe it was the cause.

44

And let me guess, you believe Hamilton when he said his lock up was caused by the wind too right?

45

Amazing that Sainz got an honorable mention for doggedness in the midfield when his Spanish compatriot in a slower, damaged car didn’t get mentioned. Unless the Mclarens are no longer considered midfield. They are the slowest of all Renault engined cars…

46

Yet ahead of the works team in the championship…

47

Perhaps James thought that Alonso had already covered it all, in describing his race afterwards, and didn’t need to add to it.

48

On January 2018, Zak Brown admitted that Alonso, for the most part of 2017, had a better car than Vandoorne.

“They did not always have the same parts,” Brown said.

“Both cars were looked after identically, but sometimes we only had one update available. The gap was created by the car and not by the skills of the drivers.

“We are very satisfied with Stoffel’s performance.”

Who knows? Maybe it’s still the same at Mclaren and that’s why Vandoorne is still way down in performance. Perhaps Alonso’s 6th place was the true performance of the car and Vandoorne, with his lesser car, could not get to this level of performance. We will find out again in January 2019 when Brown spills the beans once more.

Besides, Alonso was passed by Le Clerc in a Sauber who was passed by Sainz, who we can assume is driving with the same parts as his teammate, the highly regarded Hulkenberg.

The facts show that Sainz had a far more standout performance than Alonso, who could be driving with a better car than his teammate.

49

What has a teammate got to do with it? You’re proposing What Ifs despite one car being massively damaged with any strategy out the window? If McLaren believe the team mate performance evens out, it didn’t appear so in this post-race piece…

https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/formula1/43973625

50

I’ve been here long enough to know that Benson is Alonso’s biggest cheerleader. Sorry, that honour belongs to you. 2nd biggest. You should ask BS Benson about Kimi. Just make sure to duck.

A “what if” scenario of 2018 regarding the pace difference between the Mclaren teammates was actually confirmed by Brown in 2018. So I’ll wait for Brown to confirm that the two Macca boys have the same car this year, thank you very much.

Yes, the car was damaged and that’s probably why Le Clerc finished ahead of him. The real pace of the car was probably meant to finish ahead of Le Clerc without the damage. If he finished ahead of Le Clerc with a damaged car, then I’ll let you extoll his virtues.

We cannot really know what the true pace of that Mclaren is because we obviously can’t compare his pace to his teammate’s until Brown confirms that they have the same car this year.

So I’ll wait for Zak Brown’s confirmation in Jan 2019.

51

Oh their drivers are identical in ability that’s why they get paid the same amount. Didnt realise i needed your permission to extoll on here. So you’ll just assume that the cars are different then? I’d warn you about assuming, there’s a famous phrase about what it makes of you, but from the sound of things it’s far too late for you…

52

A very interesting article. I think I may be alone in thinking that when the safety car came out Ferrari threw away the race by pitting Vettel for a 2nd time. If I’d have been making the strategy call I’d have gone for holding track position as I think even at safety car pace not pitting Vettel would have taken him past Bottas when Bottas pitted. Maybe more analysis could be done to see if I’m right.

I know there was the issue of other cars having newer tyres but given the problems of warming them up Vettel in the car that had been quickest all weekend overall and in a straight line would have had a decent chance of keeping the lead in my opinion. Looking at the data I see that Raikonnen did 39 laps on the tyres that Vettel was on so surely his tyres could have managed a 21 lap stint without putting him under threat.

Just curious to know what others think about this?

53

I was surprised when they did it, but just assume they knew more about the state of his tyres etc than I did.

54

Both Mercs on the ultra soft tyres would have jumped him down the long straight. Even with his softs up to temp the Tyre delta, the tow and the DRS with be impossible for him to defend against.

55

Vettel would have had serious issues on tyre warm up if he’d stayed on the harder soft tyre, especially sitting behind the safety car for so many laps.

56

4 races in and Bert Mylander is leading this year’s championship. Go Bert.

Doesn’t he drive a Merc?

57

James enquiring minds would like to hear your thoughts on the major talking point from the race, obviously referring to crash between the two Redbull driver’s. I’m somewhat surprised it only garnered a sentence out of you in this report.

58

‘enquiring minds’ Sarsippious? It seems from your other comments on this incident that you’re only interested in points of view that precisely mirror your own.

59

@ Sars….likewise.

60

What happened to Bottas’ tyre that came off his car after his puncture? All the shots I have seen show it coming off in the middle of the track and then nothing of what happened afterwards?

Did a marshal run and pick it up when it was safe?

61

Such a crazy race, Leclerc is showing his class isn’t he? It would have been interesting to see how Lewis got on against Valterri if they had both made it to the end, and also to see what would have happened if there had been no late race safety car, Lewis was the quicker guy this weekend, but Valterri would have had track position in scenario 1 and better tyres in scenario 2.

So the ultrasoft can do twenty laps, and the supersoft can do 40 laps plus qualifying?! Come on Pirelli, give us some tyres that live up to their names please!

62

Lewis was the quicker guy this weekend

But VB got fastest lap of the race.

Hamilton made a mistake and so did Vettel but at least Vettel owned up to it, Hamilton blamed the wind for his.

63
Ashish Sharma

Lewis was the quicker guy this weekend

Disagree. He was quicker in qualifying, but had a very poor race. (Which i think he himself has admitted. He went off-track on the supersofts, was on the sub-optimal strategy and i think was slated to finish behind both Vettel and Bottas if the safety car hadn’t intervened.

I agree we were robbed of a fantastic end, because i wanted to see

1. Would Bottas have pitted and come out ahead of Hamilton. The gap was hovering at 20 seconds [Hamilton losing 4 seconds because of his off-track excursion and flatspotting his tyre i think was enough to cost him second]

2. Could Bottas chase and overtake Vettel on the Ultrasofts

3. If Bottas emerged behind Hamilton after pitting, would Mercedes let Bottas through [Yes, is what both Toto and James have implied], and would they then engineer a reswap if Bottas failed to overtake Vettel.

64

Ashish, Lewis had dropped Valterri comprehensively in the first stint, even with Lewis’ error Bottas wasn’t close enough to get by. Lewis’ pace on the softs was similar to Valterri’s on the super soft, so it seems reasonable given these two factors to say that Lewis had better race pace. It would have been close between them if there had been no safety car, I think 20 seconds wasn’t quite enough for Valterri to have come out ahead, the net loss seemed to be more like 21 plus seconds, plus he would have had to go through the warm up phase which the Mercs were struggling with all weekend. It’s hard to gauge what his pace on the ultras would have been, Lewis wasn’t much quicker in the last laps than he was before the final stops, but he wasn’t really being challenged by Kimi, so could have been taking it easy.

65
Ashish Sharma

@TimW

There are two ways to look at it.

1. Lewis was faster than Bottas in Stint 1, building up a gap of 8 seconds in 20 laps, and on new softs was able to match Bottas on 25 lap old SS, so he had better race pace.

2. Lewis pushed the tyres too hard in an attempt to chase/match Vettel [The Ferrari was the faster car], set the fastest lap on 21, and flat-spotted on 22. Forced to then run the Soft, he again tried to match Bottas keeping up the gap at 18 seconds, but failed to match him when Bottas started pushing before his pit-stop. So Bottas drove within the limit of the SS to make the SS+US strategy work, while overworking the SS forced Hamilton onto the worse SS+S strategy.

I think you prefer the first explanation, but given Lewis’ feedback “the tyres felt like wet”, the uncharacteristic mistake when he went off, and his downcast demeanor at the end of the race, I think it was more of the latter.

When the car is extremely limited by the tyres, Bottas tends to do well, and from what Hamilton said it almost seemed like his struggles at Monaco 2017.

66

Ashish, I’m not saying that Lewis drove the perfect race, or that he was happy with his performance, just that he was quicker than Valterri. Lewis made that error, ran a decent chunk of the race on the slower tyre, and was still net ahead of his team mate.

67

Sebastian and Lewis were significantly faster than Bottas until Lewis ruined his strategy with the flat spot. It is key to note as you said Lewis lost 4 seconds to Bottas and Sebastian due to the error and was still 5 to 6 seconds ahead of Bottas when he switched to the soft. I think the one wild card Mercedes had at the start of the race was to push Sebastian into an earlier stop on the soft and then keep Lewis out longer to switch to the ultrasoft. I am saying this because when you examine the sector times Lewis was significantly faster in sector one and sector three, BUT both Ferrari were carrying enough down force in sector two to be at times more that 3/4 of a second faster negating the Mercedes raw speed advantage in those other two sectors. Plus they were trading fastest laps in the first stint with Lewis hovering in that 2 – 3 second gap between them. I believe in Baku the sector two is the hardest on the tires compared to the fast speed sector one and three.

It is clear the ultrasoft was the tire that Mercedes was aiming to go for before the Lewis flat spot ruined his strategy. Mercedes knew that because they were watching Kimi in the second Ferrari struggle to get the tires to work, throw in a cooling track and the soft was just too hard for Baku in April. The problem for Mercedes was they could not risk a ultrasoft switch for Lewis when he came in as they had seen excessive graining on their long runs on Friday (when the track was warmer).

I think at the very best (assuming about a 20 second pit stop) Bottas and Lewis would have been head to head or Lewis a little bit ahead (I had approx. 19 seconds when the RBR disaster occurred), but there would have been no team order calls as Bottas on the ultrasoft compound would have easily outpaced Lewis on the back straight and would have legitimately passed him before the turn 1. From Lewis radio calls complaining about Blue Flags he had already resigned himself to that reality.

Like you I would have been interested to see how aggressive Mercedes would have gone with Bottas to pass Sebastian (10 to 12 seconds ahead on track). Plus with Bahrain and China on his memory would Bottas have been willing to make the high risk high reward attack on the Ferrari?

68

Mercedes were looking at that eventuality had the SC not arrived. BOT on ultras chasing SEB on 10 lap old Softs. They thought it was possible to win from that position. However, the ultras were no better than softs in warming up and only a couple of tenths faster.

Ferrari pitted SEB to avoid him coming just 6-8 seconds ahead of LEWIS/BOT. In Baku, slipstream effect was seen from 6 seconds behind. They were worried that Mercedes would eat in to their lead 0.4 sec a lap and eventually overtake with DRS. But they seem to have overlooked their own advantage in second sector. What they were losing on sector 1 & 3 was promptly regained in sector 2. Ferrari were just too cautious and handed the lead to Mercedes without believing in their own strengths.

69
Ashish Sharma

and was still 5 to 6 seconds ahead of Bottas when he switched to the soft

Lewis wasn’t 5-6 seconds ahead of Bottas after his stop, just 2 seconds. If you look at the gaps at

1. Lap 21 (Hamilton leads Bottas by 7.936 secs)

2. after the flat spotting on Lap 22 and Pit stop(20.377) on Lap 23;

3. Bottas leads Lewis by 17.826 seconds, i.e. a 8 second lead is down to a 2 second lead adjusting for a 20 second pit-stop

[The 4 second number was from Sky or BBC commentary]

Was Bottas flattered by the faster tyre?

For the first 20 laps Seb and Lewis went fast, while Bottas was 1/2 second slower on an average, but this paid off for him. Lewis flat-spotted his tyre and from Lap 23-29 Bottas was almost a 1/2 second a lap faster than Vettel on the same tyre. After that it is difficult to judge as both Lewis and Vettel were struggling on the soft and Bottas despite being on a 30 lap old tyre was on the faster tyre.

Who would be ahead?

Lewis had managed to take the Gap down to 18.5 seconds by Lap 35 but then couldn’t keep up [The soft was a bad tyre in Baku to be on]. By lap 37-39 Bottas had it back up to 20, it was 20.139 by Lap 39. But for the safety car, I think Bottas would have completed one more lap and come out ahead of Lewis. Bottas’ actual pit stop was 20.192

All numbers are from Racefans (https://www.racefans.net/2018/04/29/2018-azerbaijan-grand-prix-interactive-data-lap-charts-times-and-tyres/ ).

70

Agree TimW

Who would you rate top dog out of Gasly and Leclerc ?

Both driving for different teams both showing they have the talent.

71

Bkf, they are both supposed to be special, and I think they have both showed it this year. It’s difficult to gauge how good either man is as both have unknown quantities as team mates, but I would say that the really good guys make themselves known, no matter what they are driving.

72

I think Ericsson has been round long enough for us to make a judgment – good in a bad car but not outstanding. Would you agree with that ?

Saw Leclerc in the F2 races at Silverstone last year and he was hugely impressive, not only driving off into the distance on the first race but a few incisive and well-judged passes in the reverse-grill race. He’s taken a few races to bed into F1,which is both normal and smart, and in I think we saw in Baku an indication of how good he’s going to be.

73

Grabyrdy, I certainly don’t rate Ericsson particularly highly, but he did better against Wehrlein than I thought he would, and Sauber continue to employ him while equally monied drivers are no doubt banging on the door. I hope Leclerc does well, he seems a likeable young man and it’s always great to see the very talented young guns making their way. I will try and find the Silverstone F2 race, sounds interesting. I vividly recall Fernando Alonso winning at Spa in F3000 18 years ago, an extremely impressive performance.

74

So the ultrasoft can do twenty laps, and the supersoft can do 40 laps plus qualifying?! Come on Pirelli, give us some tyres that live up to their names please!

I fully agree. There is no evidence of this tyre range being a step softer. Drivers struggling to ‘switch on’ on the softer tyres is a joke.

What compounds matters is Pirelli insisting on very high minimum tyre pressures which just means even less grip. This should be scrapped. It’s on the teams if they have a blow out.

75

#NickH.

Didn’t min tyre pressures come about because the teams / drivers were blaming Pirelli for failures. ( remember Bernie having a word with Seb about being too public on the issue) Similar rule on not putting tyres on back to front came after failures being blamed on supplier.

Drivers struggling to switch on tyres is a car design / driver issue which is why not every one is having the same amount of trouble.

Now I do agree with you that tyres are an issue but not just compounds. Qualification rules for top ten, limits on number of tyre sets available for the weekend and the must use two compounds rule all add to the problem.

if the new wing rules (2019) do allow for closer racing , expect more tyre problems from trying to overtake for too long.

76

Don’t get me started on the tire pressures …

77

It’s an impossible task for Pirelli. The softer the tyres, the more likely the cars will be engineered to be kind on the tyres. That way you can stop once and save 20 seconds plus keep track position. This is probably why they are struggling to “switch them on”.

The only way to guarantee two stops is to mandate using all three tyres during the race.

Michelin would be in the same position.

78

Remember Michelin did OK when they were in F1. We didn’t have the issues that you’ve mentioned.

Apart from that Indy race, but that was a one off.

79

until they start having blowouts and everyone blames pirelli

80

Nick, There was a rumour that Ross was talking to Michelin, I hope that’s true. You can understand Pirelli’s conservatism, as in a single supplier era there is no glory in winning, only ignominy in failure, but they have to push it more than they are now.

81

Yes, please get rid of them. We’re still stuck with them for this year and next. I tried to give them a chance, but it seems every time they’ve gone the wrong way in decisions.

We need lower pressures, wider operating windows, no terminal thermal deg. We want a tire where someone can push really hard but get less life, or be kinder and be able to go longer. We don’t want tires that shepherd all drivers into similar tire use strategies, all the time. Multiple routes to victory is part of the essence of great motor racing.

82

We don’t want tires that shepherd all drivers into similar tire use strategies, all the time.

Yeah nail on the head. Well summarised.

83

Tim, Re Michelin I hope that’s true.

84
Ashish Sharma

Has Vettel not got the memo?

While it is clear that Ferrari are after the WDC with Vettel and see Hamilton as the main title rival, Vettel’s actions seem to go counter to the plans.

The squeeze on Kimi at the race start in China which left him vulnerable to Bottas, the lunge down Bottas in Baku when the strategists had covered Lewis and accepted the chance of a second place (in Baku I think he could have covered Hamilton without trying a pass on Bottas – https://youtu.be/Iculr0LElws?t=354) were both unnecessary.

Much as I hate Kimi being thrown under the bus, if Ferrari are going to do it, I’d at least hope that all three (Vettel,Kimi and Ferrari strategists) are on the same page.

85

Having watched some replays I think Vettel could have actually made the pass, a bit of a block pass. But he braked 10 metres too late for that.

86
Ashish Sharma

I agree there was a chance that he could have made the overtake, but he shouldn’t have been trying to as it was a high risk move.

The Ferrari strategists had already decided to cover Hamilton and risk a late safety car which could lose the win.

Vettel got unlucky with the Safety Car, but given that Ferrari+Vettel were covering Hamilton the strategic option was to cover Hamilton at the restart and take the second place rather than try a high risk pass.

If a similar situation arises, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone comes over the radio to say, ” We are racing Lewis.”

87

That’s not a block pass corner, and Hamilton would have got him on the exit if he’s tried it on Bottas. 10 metres is a hell of a late brake there at that speed.

88

@Pauld.

Please enlighten me My Friend! What exactly is a ‘block pass corner?’ This is something I have never before heard of…

89

Yup – fully agree. The engineering / design team have done their part in delivering (again?) a car with title credentials. Drivers and strategists need to lift their game.

90

Grosjean after he binned it. “I think Ericsson hit us”.

Hahaha

91

Ferrari after having the best car in opening round is not leading with Vettel.

On the other hand Hamilton who is lackluster in opening rounds is leading the championship.

Bottas has rotten luck.

So many opportunities for other drivers to prove their worth. Many have grabbed with both hands. Great to see.

92
Jonathan Warren

I was hoping for some analysis of the Red Bull decision to pit Ricciardo first, and how that let Verstappen get ahead again, leading to the incident between them. Could this have been avoided if Verstappen had been pitted first?

93

When both cars are on the same/similar strategy, RBR usually pit their lead car first. Dan passed Max, was the lead RBR car, hence he pitted first.

As far as strategy for RBR goes, I do think after the two drivers bumped wheels, something should have been done by Horner. Max possibly should have been told to back off and let Dan through, so that Max could concentrate on having a clean race to bring home some points for the team, while Dan (who appeared the faster of the two), should have been released to chase down P3. Just a thought…

94

Yes, but I don’t think anyone thought that the new tyres would take so long to warm up. Normally the car that pits first gets a big advantage from the fresh tyres, but in this race it worked the other way around.

95

Good question. Seemed like Ricciardo got pitstop “priority” to get a new set of ultrasofts first, but got behind nevertheless. Was stopping first a team or driver decision? I was very surprised to see Verstappen ahead after his pitstop.

96

@ garry…the. The thought crossed my mind that this was a great way to take Ricciardo out of the frame to the benefit of Verstappen under the guise of leading car gets first dibs. What was essentially an ‘overcut’ turned into a ‘haircut’.!!!!! The pit wall would know how long it took to get the heat into those tyres.

97

I don’t know how intelligent or dumb these race strategists are. From my armchair, I could make out that there was issues with tires getting in working range, less degradation and supers going way beyond their range- this was clearly an overcut territory. There was enough evidence on the track with failed undercuts before hand.

RIC got himself in trouble with overtaking MAX and then pitting. He should have just kept himself behind till pit stop and easily got himself overcut on MAX.

With too much knowledge sometimes you miss the obvious.

98

@kenneth, not so sure about that. Ricciardo’s out-lap was 1.2 s slower than Verstappen’s, so he probably had more problems getting the tyres up to temperature. I think Ricciardo mentioned some traffic on his in-lap, costing another 7 tenths or so with respect to Verstappen (comparing both in-laps). Without these losses, Ricciardo would have been in front. It really surprised me that he wasn’t.

99

@ garry…I’m not sure either but given the post incident statements made by the team i wouldn’t put that point out of the ‘possible’ frame.

100
Martin Wingate

“It was also durable enough to take some cars to the point at which they could switch onto the ultrasoft for a late race burst, which is what Mercedes did with Hamilton.”

But Mercedes didn’t do this. Hamilton had to switch to the softs earlier than wanted.

They did however do it with Bottas.

101

I think the word Tried to do is missing here. IMO Merc wanted Lewis to extend his first stint as late as possible and shod in some new ultras to give him a free hand at the lead. The eventual overshoot and flat spotting of tires changed their plans.

102

I was going to rant against this racing where outcome largely depends on guessing when to put on certain tires as being inconsistent with one of the manufacturers goals of making these thoroughbred machines relate to their street products (ie. puny displacement engines and da hybrid) they sell, at least in the minds of the buyers. However the new car I purchased came with Pirelli P Zeros, which are terrible on a slick road, so I guess they got me.

Its no different than NASCAR, guessing when the yellow flag comes out to even things out. But to me, that is boring racing. Ask Bottas.

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