Spanish GP: Strategy Review

Hamilton cruised to victory at the Spanish GP on Sunday 20 seconds clear of his teammate in second place. The race was a fairly easy one for the championship leader, especially once Ferrari decided to bring Vettel in under safety car and put on fresh medium tires. From there on out it was a simple case of staying on the track that brought Hamilton his second win of the year. 
Vettel was the first of the leaders to pit on Lap 18, attempting to undercut Hamilton who had a 7.5 second lead on him at the time. With a pit-lane delta of about 21-23 seconds, Vettel came out 30 seconds behind Hamilton after his out lap. Over the next 5 laps, Hamilton continued to stretch his lead over Vettel, even though the former was on fresh tires. By the time Hamilton pit on Lap 25 he had close to a 33 second over Vettel and would end up coming out of the pits with fresh medium tires 12.5 seconds in front of Vettel. 
Hamilton’s tire management during the first stint while he was on the softs was spectacular as he was able to pull out a lead on Vettel even once he had pit. It allowed the Mercedes car to go seven additional laps past what Vettel did on softs comfortably. This made his second and final stint, 40 laps on the mediums, relatively easy for Hamilton. 
Besides the difference in pit-stop laps between the primary contenders, the first stint strategy was what we had expected for this race. The interesting strategy component of the race came on Lap 41 when a virtual safety car was deployed. While Hamilton, Bottas, and Verstappen all stayed out, Vettel decided to pit from second place while the virtual safety car was out. He put on fresh medium tires, but because of a very slow 5.6 second stop from his team, he came out behind both Bottas and Verstappen. Had he had a good stop, he would have come out about one second in front of Verstappen but still behind Bottas. 
For the rest of the race, Vettel struggled to make up any time on Verstappen while Hamilton continued to pull away from the field. Vettel finished just off of the podium in fourth. 
Now, let’s break down the decision to pit Vettel under the virtual safety car.
If Vettel didn’t pit under the virtual safety car, he would have had to stretch his first set of medium tires 48 laps, which is right at the edge of how long the data indicated the mediums could go. Both Bottas and Verstappen would have had slightly fresher tires (2 and 17 laps) and be about 5 and 12 seconds back, respectively. The fact that the two guys behind him had fresher tires could have partially played into the decision to pit as well, especially if Ferrari had any thought that the other teams would need to pit as well.
What’s interesting is that Bottas had tires with 15 more laps on them than Verstappen at the end of the race and was only losing around two tenths a lap in the closing part of the race. This leads us to believe that had Vettel stayed out, he would had a good shot at holding off Bottas and a near lock on third place even if Bottas got by him. 
But this assumes Vettel’s tire wear would be similar to that of Bottas’, which it wasn’t. After the race Vettel said, “we were going quicker through the tires today” than other teams, so it’s unlikely the one stop strategy would have worked for Ferrari. The two stop strategy employed for Vettel on Sunday was necessary to get him to the finish. If he had more speed on the medium tires, he might have been better able to track down Verstappen for a podium finish at the end. 

While initially a head-scratcher during the race, after breaking down Ferrari’s strategy, it appears they made the right call by bringing Vettel in. If he and the team knew the tires weren’t working well for them at Spain, it was preventative to bring him in and get fresh tires for the rest of the race, especially under the virtual safety car when his loss of track position would be minimized. Leaving him out on tires that weren’t aging well could have put him at risk for a puncture or very poor traction at the end of the race, causing him to slip even further down the grid. 

The Qualifying Lap That Could Have Been: Belgium 2016

Vettel’s best qualifying lap for the Belgian Grand Prix was 1:07.108. His theoretical best lap time was almost a full tenth faster at 1:07.013.

Wait what? His theoretical best time?

A driver’s theoretical best time takes his best time from each of the three sectors throughout the qualifying session, no matter what lap or round they came in, and adds them together. This new theoretical best (from now on referred to as TB) is the best time the driver could have hoped to achieve if he ran all of his best sector times on the same lap.

Now, this isn’t a perfect indication of what could be done by the driver. For example, perhaps the reason one driver has such a low sector one time (helping his TB) is because he braked for the corner that began sector two way too late and ran off the track. That sector one time he posted will still be included in his TB, but it’s important to note that he could never complete a full lap while posting such a fast sector one time. So his TB time will be slightly above what you could actually expect from him if he were to qualify again at the track.

The Top Ten at Spa

Here’s a look at the data in full from Belgium for the top ten drivers who qualified. The light blue column shows where the driver would have started if the grid was set using TB lap times. I’ve also included a driver “TheoBest” in red whose time is the best sector times of the session not necessarily from the same driver. For this race TheoBest is made up of Rosberg for sectors one and three and Verstappen for sector two.

If a driver’s difference between actual qualifying time and ultimate (TB) qualifying time is zero, that means he ran all three of his best sector times on the same lap.

Click to enlarge

Some Quick Takes on the Results

  • Raikkonen had the most to gain from stringing together his three best sectors on the same lap. He would have shaved two tenths off of his time and jumped from the second row to first on the grid. 
  • Massa had the greatest difference between his actual and TB times with a 0.823 second difference. Even with such a large difference though, he would have only gained two spots and move into eighth place on the grid.
  • Rosberg was 0.264 seconds off of our made up driver, “TheoBest.” The only sector he lost time on “TheoBest” was sector two. 
If you’re interested in getting updates on ultimate qualifying laps for future grand prix let me know in the comments below.
by Drew

Perez Is Actually In A Pretty Good Position With Force India

Sergio Perez said on Saturday that he would be open to leaving Force India for another opportunity if his current team can’t find a way to move up the grid and compete for wins and championships. “That would be fantastic to move up the grid [together]” Perez said, “but if another opportunity comes in the future, it wouldn’t be that bad as well.” If a spot opened up at Mercedes or Ferrari, I think most people would agree that Perez should take it — both are competitive teams with a good history of success and have the money. But the odds of that happening appear to be pretty slim right now. Even so, Perez isn’t in a bad position by any means.

Force India does appear to be climbing as of late, as does Perez himself. Since 2008, Force India has improved on or equaled their prior year’s position in the constructor’s championship all but once. Their first season in Formula One yielded a tenth place finish, and last year they came away with fifth, 51 points shy of Red Bull — the same Red Bull that won the constructor’s championship four years in a row starting in 2010. The team also has the luxury of running Mercedes engines, which powered the dominant performance of Mercedes AMG Petronas the last two seasons. The team had a combined 21 top-ten finishes in 2015 between Nico Hulkenberg and Perez, and finished third in Russia thanks to the latter.

FORCE INDIA TEAM PERFORMANCE

All of the success last season also came after a troubled start, with Force India’s B-Spec car not making its debut until Silverstone. Money problems plagued the team before the season and prevented them from even testing their car in the first two off-season tests. Otmar Szafnauer of Force India commented on the team’s late start to last season, saying “had we been able to [develop the car] at the beginning of the year, who knows where we could have finished?” The team will have a much cleaner start to 2016 and field a car they’re proud of when the green flag waves in Australia. Coupled with momentum from a strong finish to 2015, Force India looks to be in a great position to excel next season.

Sergio Perez’s stock as a driver has also risen the past couple of seasons, with 2015 ending in a ninth place finish in the championship — ahead of his teammate, Hulkenberg. Perez has shown significant improvement since he found his first Formula One ride at Sauber in 2011. Perez cracked the top ten for the first time in average finish (9.2) and was just outside in average start (10.3) last season. He also scored more points than in any prior season (78) and finished all but one race — a break failure in Hungary took him out on lap 53. There’s no denying Perez’s uptick in performance, especially since he joined Force India in 2014.

SERGIO PEREZ PERFORMANCE

Perez will be joined by Hulkenberg once again at Force India in 2016. Both drivers will have multiple years driving for the team under their belt, and besides the rumors of a re-branding to Aston Martin, things appear cool, calm, and collected at Force India from the outside. Next season will be a great test for Perez and his team to keep their momentum going and challenge for the next notch up on both the constructor and driver’s championship ladders.

To do the latter, Perez will have to score an estimated 100.4 points, the average number of points eighth place in the championship scored over the last five seasons. That comes out to 4.8 points per race for a 21 race season like we will see next year. A seventh place finish in every race would easily put Perez over that number — but to do that, he would need to improve his average finish by 1.2 places next year, which doesn’t seem likely without major help from the car. A few good race results like his podium in Russia would bring his necessary average finish down considerably though. How the development of next year’s car goes will play a big role in Perez’s quest to climb up another spot in the championship.

Perez may be looking around for a better offer in the future, but things aren’t so bad right now. Himself and his team are both on an upward path heading into the new year.

-Drew

Championship Update: Hamilton Clinches at USGP

Lewis Hamilton won the United States Grand Prix, and in doing so clinched the 2015 Driver’s Championship. It wasn’t an easy race by any means, though. Nico Rosberg started on pole but was quickly moved aside (literally) in turn one. Then the battle commenced with the Red Bulls of Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat — Sebastien Vettel even joined in on the party to make it a five way battle for the lead.

Upper right hand corner, Hamilton and Rosberg rub in the first turn.
In favor of brevity, we’ll skip forward to the closing stint of the race — mainly because most readers have seen the race or previously read about it. The race saw multiple safety cars, both virtual and real. The final of which helped Rosberg jump Hamilton in the pits with less than 15 laps remaining.
Rosberg prevailed towards the end of the race and had the lead over Hamilton until an unforced error sent him off the track. Hamilton slipped by and Rosberg slotted in right in front of Vettel. With a Hamilton win, Vettel would have needed second place to keep the championship fight alive. He was unable to get by his fellow German and claimed the last spot on the podium.
Rosberg had the lead behind the final safety car.
With the result, Hamilton is now 76 points ahead of the field with three races remaining. The maximum number of points any one driver could claim in the remaining races is 75. This is Hamilton’s third driver’s championship which puts him tied for fifth on the all time championship list. Vettel is the only active driver with more championships (4) than him.
by: Drew B., Founder

The Last Time Qualifying Was Postponed to Sunday

Qualifying for the United States Grand Prix was pushed back to Sunday morning because of rain and standing water on the track. Q3 was cancelled Sunday, leaving Nico Rosberg with yet another pole position start. Lewis Hamilton took second place followed by both the Red Bulls and Force Indias.

The last time a qualifying session was postponed to the following day was at the 2013 Australian Grand Prix. Sebastien Vettel started on pole but Kimi Raikkonen took home the race win starting in seventh. Lewis Hamilton ended up in fifth place while his teammate Nico Rosberg was forced out of the race due to an electrical failure.

If that were to happen today, Lewis Hamilton would clinch the 2015 Driver’s World Championship with a ninth place or worse result from Sebastien Vettel.

More information on the 2013 race can be found here.

by: Drew B., Founder