2018-09-05 14:44:49 UTC
(This seems to me to be a particularly accurate analysis.
It is best viewed on-line to see the charts.)
Strategy Report: How Ferrari’s battle plan fell apart
James Allen analyses the Italian Grand Prix, one of the best races for
years, with the right mix of super high speeds, close racing, emotion
and strategy intrigue which kept the outcome in doubt until the final laps.
That Mercedes won the race, against the odds, on Ferrari’s home soil is
a major blow for the Scuderia that had the best car at Monza and locked
out the front row.
To turn that position into a second and a fourth is a major
disappointment. Pundits have pointed to their lack of soft tyres in the
Pirelli selection for Monza and homework on them, as well as the timing
of pit stops as the main reasons, but neither were particularly an issue.
So how did it happen and what part did Ferrari’s strategy play in the
Ferrari: team orders or not?
There is a very human dimension to the drama at Monza, with Kimi
Raikkonen towards the end of his career and potentially to be replaced
by Charles Leclerc next season, understandably wanting one last race
Under normal circumstances that would not be a consideration in a tight
championship battle between Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton.
All season long – in fact for several seasons – Raikkonen has been put
to work on sub-optimal strategies, pulling Mercedes cars into the pits
early or challenging them to compromise their race strategies, to help
The last time he was on pole position, in Monaco last year, Ferrari
managed to elegantly move Vettel ahead in the race and Raikkonen had his
contract renewed. Here the circumstances were different; he knew that
the wishes of the late chairman Sergio Marchionne were for Leclerc to
replace him and that it is only a matter of time before that is
Raikkonen took an unexpected pole on Saturday as Vettel was fed out late
on to the track for the decisive run in Q3 and effectively lost the
chance to pick up a slipstream from Hamilton, but gave one to Raikkonen.
So the Finn saw his chance for a final win in front of the tifosi and
his young family.
If you are serious about trying to win a championship against an
adversary like Hamilton, who is in the form of his career, then this
shouldn’t be a consideration. There are always ways and means to achieve
desired outcomes, but only when controlling the race from a position of
Vettel, however, didn’t feel that support and was in a difficult spot;
he didn’t just have Hamilton behind him to consider at the start, but
Raikkonen too and the lead he should have had after qualifying.
The danger from Hamilton was clear; he would be very aggressive at the
start as it was his best shot given that the Mercedes had been a couple
of tenths slower all weekend.
The mistake Vettel made – or felt forced to make by the circumstances –
was in trying to get the lead on the opening lap from Raikkonen, rather
than focussing on keeping Hamilton behind and crossing the line 1-2 at
the end of the lap to control the race.
Vettel tried to pass his teammate on a sub-optimal line into the second
chicane and Hamilton saw his chance, forcing his car into the gap on the
outside and the pair touched, sending Vettel spinning down to 18th place.
This is big-picture strategy, the canvas on which the detailed race
strategy decisions about tyre degradation and timing of pit stops is
later painted. If Raikkonen has a clause in his contract saying that
there will be no team orders in the event of a pole position, as
suggested, then that is something that could be dealt with later once
control of the race had been established. Many a tough negotiation has
gone on via team radio down the years.
By risking everything at the start, the whole battle plan fell apart.
Switching focus to Raikkonen
So now Ferrari had to focus on making sure Raikkonen won the race. In
Vettel’s hands the Ferrari would have eased away from the Mercedes, as
in Spa and Silverstone and taken the win.
Raikkonen couldn’t shake Hamilton off and this led to the strategy
mistake that cost him the race.
It was not the fact that Ferrari had brought only one additional set of
soft tyres – apart from the set each driver had for the race. There was
no issue there; they did the right thing working on the supersoft, the
more tricky tyre to understand and master in limited Friday practice
running due to rain. It was more important to optimise performance on
that tyre for qualifying and the optimum first stint of the race.
Nor was the mistake in bringing Raikkonen in first, on Lap 21. This was
exactly the right move as to do the reverse would have led to an
undercut from his opponent, given how close Hamilton was.
The mistake was the degree and length of time to which Raikkonen was
asked to push on the new set of soft tyres after his pit stop. By going
hard for five or six laps, he damaged the tyres and that opened up the
chance for Hamilton to exploit that weakness later in the race to
overtake for the win.
Mercedes told Hamilton to stay out when Raikkonen stopped and to push
hard. His lap time was strong, but rather than pit him, they extended
his stint a lap at a time as the tyres were holding up. He kept this up
to the end of Lap 28.
And all the time Hamilton was pushing to the limit on tyres that would
soon be obsolete, Raikkonen was being told to push on new tyres he would
need to the end of the race.
This was the strategic mistake; Raikkonen build a larger net lead than
he would need – especially as Mercedes had Bottas in play up ahead who
would inevitably stay out and hold Raikkonen up – and in doing so he
caused a rear blister that would ultimately cost performance and the
Bottas comes into play
In the Belgian GP strategy report we alluded to the fact that from this
point onwards the second drivers would have a decisive role to play in
the outcome of the championship – and hinted that Bottas would now be
used to help Hamilton. His contract had just been renewed, so he knew
exactly where he stood.
This is what happened in Monza, as Bottas was left out on track a long
time on the supersoft tyres. He was fighting with Verstappen for a
podium, but he also could play a part in holding Raikkonen as the older
Finn caught the younger one after the stop.
Bottas wasn’t exaggerating and driving slower than he could have;
indeed, he set a personal best lap time during this phase, with a
1m23.8s on Lap 31, but Raikkonen could have gone muchfaster. Hamilton
was doing 1m22.1s and Raikkonen could have been on that pace too.
On Lap 33, Bottas began to make some moves in corners that compromised
Raikkonen and the lap time dropped to 1m24.7s as Mercedes caught the
Ferrari in a pincer.
With Raikkonen now struggling with his tyres, Hamilton duly wrested the
lead with just nine laps to go and Ferrari who started the day first and
second, ended it second and fourth all as result of strategy, both big
picture and detailed.
This is how championships are won.
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.
Look at Raikkonen’s push laps around Lap 21-27, this is when the damage
was done. Also compare his pace behind Bottas around laps 31-34 to
Hamilton’s pace as he catches them.
Tyre Usage Chart