Hamilton exhausts his options in search of a superior strategy

2015 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix lap charts

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In Brazil, a close threat from Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari meant Mercedes were reluctant to allow Lewis Hamilton to risk an alternative and potentially inferior strategy to give him a chance of passing Nico Rosberg.

But in Abu Dhabi the threat from the closest Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen was not as strong, and when a slow pit stop moved him even further away, the Mercedes strategists had more room to get creative with Hamilton’s tactics.

By lap 30 Hamilton had reduced Rosberg’s lead from over six seconds to little more than one. He was poised to get within DRS range of his team mate when Rosberg came in for his second pit stop of the race.

Raikkonen, third, was over ten second behind Hamilton at this point, and on the following lap the Ferrari driver appeared in the pits for his final stop. But the team were slow to switch his front-right tyre, costing him around four seconds. He rejoined the track behind Vettel, who let him through, but both were held up by an intransigent Fernando Alonso .

This all meant Mercedes had more free air behind Hamilton to play with. Within a few laps Raikkonen was taking one-and-a-half seconds out of him, but the limiting factor behind Hamilton was no longer the presence of the Ferrari but how far he could eke his tyres out.

Mercedes’ Toto Wolff said the team “wanted to leave strategy open to do something different with the offset and give him the best chance of the win”. Hamilton was kept out much longer than Rosberg so his final stint would be ten laps shorter.

Could Hamilton have stretched this stint out long enough to spend the last stint on the super-soft tyres and therefore attack his team mate? Romain Grosjean ran a similar strategy to Hamilton and he did use the super-soft tyres for his final stint, although it was two laps shorter.

But tyre performance always varies from car to car and also within teams. It was clear on Friday that of the two Mercedes drivers Hamilton was having the most trouble with the super-soft tyre, a fact borne out by their first stints in the race, when Rosberg pulled almost five seconds on Hamilton in nine laps. Nor was Hamilton convinced the super-soft tyre was the right way to go: “I’m not sure which one was better,” he said afterwards, “but the [soft] tyre was quite good.”

As Hamilton noted afterwards the only obvious way to have given him a more competitive strategy would have been to bring him in for his final pit stop sooner – i.e., move him closer to Rosberg’s strategy. Of course this would have left him with less fresh tyres later in the race with which to attack Rosberg.

It all comes back to the point that in normal circumstances one strategy is superior and teams can figure it out well in advance of the race. Had there been been a quicker strategy available Rosberg would already have been on it, because Mercedes would have no reason to put their leading car on anything less than the best.

2015 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix lap chart

The positions of each driver on every lap. Scroll to zoom, drag to pan, click name to highlight, right-click to reset:

2015 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix race chart

The gaps between each driver on every lap compared to the leader’s average lap time. Scroll to zoom, drag to pan, click name to highlight, right-click to reset:

2015 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

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    Keith Collantine
    Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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    29 comments on “Hamilton exhausts his options in search of a superior strategy”

    1. the best strategy would be to pit the next lap after ROS and try to pass on track because today he has the pace. Why they dont do that? i dont know, but it make no sense to keep HAM that longer and take the same tires as ROS

      1. I would say that a scenario where you’ve got two drivers in the same car on the same tyres of approximately the same age is where you’re least likely to see a pass on-track. A case in point would be the last race.

        1. You are right although Hamilton had more pace than rosberg on the softs and had proved he can go from 7seconds back to Drs on the same tires. Furthermore Hamilton couldn’t make super softs last and didn’t have new ones so that was never a plan and everyone knows that when you push these tyres they drop off in laps em thermal deg as proven Hamilton dropped back with ten laps newer tires. If I knew all this (gf filmed me shouting it during the race) then the engineers should have known this. Hamilton was about to overtake so the best bet would have been to pit the next lap. Not because he would have past because we don’t know that, but because there wasn’t another quick strategy anyway. The only way that was ever going to work was a safety car and everyone knows that.

          1. that 7 seconds to DRS was over many laps. He’d have surely needed more than half a second advantage to make a pass.

            1. 19 laps so going from 7s to 1s is a rate of 0.3/lap. That included overtaking a long running Vettel too though but not sure if that really made much difference.

              There is also the unknown of if Rosberg was in a conservation mode during that period which exaggerated the difference.

              I think pitting the lap after Rosberg would have given Hamilton the greatest chance of overtaking and would likely have resulted in some close racing at the end even if Hamilton could not actually pass.

        2. easier to pass in abu dhabi. less long fast corners like brazil. And I’m sure DRS works better at Abu Dhabi too. @keithcollantine

        3. Usually I would agree but in this case it seems like it could have been an Austin 2014 all over again.

          The strategy they used makes no sense at all. Rosberg was only catching Hamilton at just over 1s/lap for and the tyre offset was around 19 laps. How was Hamilton expected to close down a 12.5s gap with a tyre offset of 10 laps with only 14 laps to go? That is 0.9 a lap just to catch up with half the tyre offset that Rosberg enjoyed and was only able to gain by 1s/lap.

          Hamilton had a lot more pace in that 2nd stint and if he had pitted the lap after Nico would only have been around 2.5s-3s behind. Hamilton would have had 24 laps to close down that 3s advantage, if he could close at an average of 0.2s/lap he would have caught Nico with 9 laps to go which would have at least resulted in some closer racing.

          Part of me does think Mercedes did it on purpose to ensure the 1-2 and the records that went with it but Mercedes have made plenty of rather odd strategy decisions over the years so it is more likely just a mistake to add to the list over the years.

      2. The best strategy is the one that’s failed more often than not?

    2. Finally, a solid article on what actually happened. Most of the comments here suggest Mercedes switched Hamilton’s strategy to avoid an intra team battle, which is ridiculous.

      1. Can you show me where Lewis asked to be kept out so long ?

        1. Did you forget when he asked to stay out till the end of the race?

      2. Yeah, simply a case of them rolling the dice on strategy, gaining nothing but losing nothing. Not sure why it became a conspiracy theory topic.

        1. Because there’s nothing else worth taking about? :)

    3. Who cares about Romain stint on super soft and Hamilton Friday?

      Track temperature and car weight were different from Friday!

      In a race which there’s nothing to lose, let Lewis and Nico gamble and their own thing: go with super soft or go to end of the race!

      Let the drivers race FTGS!!!

      Mercedes seems paranoid, control freak and bureaucrat like McLaren!

      1. Any other option would have been even worse for Hamilton.

    4. It all comes back to the point that in normal circumstances one strategy is superior and teams can figure it out well in advance of the race.

      This line is sums up perfectly. Not just today’s race but previous two races as well.

      And this is also the reason why I am in favor of shortening the F1 weekend and reducing the number of practice sessions. Teams have too much information which allows them to reach the perfect strategy for each race. And hence, we see boring races where driver skill plays lesser role. If there is a problem in setup, it is fixed before Sunday. If there is a problem in driving style, it is fixed before Sunday.

      Lesser practice will increase the uncertainty of races.

      1. A quick and easy fix for this would be for Pirelli not to announce the compounds available, and instead simply turn up to each race with an option and a prime tyre which the teams must then run on Friday to work out what the compound will do in the race.

        Removes the ability of teams to work out in advance how long each tyre will go, means them having to do proper investigative work on the Friday. Costs nothing. Seems a win-win to me.

    5. Has anyone noticed any weird result pattern or series of coincidences every time Dr Dieter Zetsche attends a GP?
      Well, I have!

    6. Keeping him on the track for so long and fitting the same tyre was absolutely ridiculous.
      They guaranteed Rosberg’s win. Or in a better way, ended any chance that Hamilton had to try to win the race. The work to cut the gap to less than a second was throwed it out the window. F1 desperately needs that other teams challenge Mercedes.

      1. The work to cut the gap was erased by the tires and their inability to handle being pushed let alone their inability to deal for very long in a bloke’s dirty air. Better tires/ more mechanical grip, and less emphasis on aero downforce are badly needed as has been said a million times by me and others, including F1 insiders themselves.

    7. Hahaha! Exhausts, he “exhausts” his options, I…I see what you did there, I see it @keithcollantine. When is your next stand up gig? I’ll buy front row seats.

      He exhausts, LOL…Keith kills me sometimes.

    8. More like: exhausts his brain cells

    9. I think mercedes went with it, to prove to everyone they were right last week, as any sensible person knows. Last week it was the best strategy and this week it was the best strategy to pit right after Rosberg. The whole “Lest try something different even though it is 100% worse, cause doing something is good” idea is ridiculous. Different strategies make no sense when you are 1-2 in a race and you have the same tyres compound on the same stint. Lewis his “how much can i lose if i go with these tires to the end” comment shows why he shouldn’t make the calls while driving. i am sure that when he got out of the car and thought about it, he realized it was a bad idea. Maybe the fighter in him wanted to go all or nothing, but Rosberg was gaining 2 sec a lap on him by then and it had no chance of success. The lesson is that drivers often think they know what’s best for them, but often they don’t, cause they are emotional and don’t have the whole picture.

      1. See what you’ve missed here is each race is separate to the other. Rather than saying they proved them selfs right you’re forgetting the circumstances. Hamilton had only just got close was faster on softs and you can follow and pass round this track that’s why he should of pitted straight after. At the other two races you can’t follow as easily and he had been stuck for the whole race hense why it would have been worth the gamble. Stop painting everything with the same brush things are always more complex than they seem. No conspiracy theories just a wrong strategy decision, again.

        1. it doesn’t matter if he is stuck behind and can’t pass or not. You have strategy 1, which is the fasted. The you have an alternative, which is slower. How can you justify the alternative?

          1. Yeah really LH was only faster because he was killing his tires at the same time. Following in dirty air is simply not on in this current formula, no matter the track. LH didn’t earn the optimum strategy, but he did have every chance that Nico has had all season, to get pole, to lead the race initially, and get first dibs at the same strategy that both drivers would likely be using, just jogged by a lap between the two drivers since they can’t pit two cars at once. Bottom line for me, some of the heat should be off Nico now for not ‘simply’ competing earlier in the year. We see that LH can be just as handcuffed in dirty air, so what I take from this is the two Merc drivers are much closer than they have appeared, and what a shame F1 is still so hooked on aero.

            1. I give up no one is listening to what I’m saying, like seriously not even properly proving me wrong. I would be fine with that as everyone is wrong about something usually all the time. But not one person has proven me wrong they’ve just deflected the argument Hamilton should of got pole etc etc. stop deflecting Hamilton closed very fast rosbergs tires were going off Hamilton was about to pass and made those tyres last another ten laps he was not using up all his tires otherwise he would have had to pit!

    10. It seems the best strategy in modern F1 would be to win poll and as a back up plan to that have a better start than your team mate and run him wide at first corner.

    11. He didn’t have a new set of super-softs, unlike Grosjean (and Vettel, for that matter).

      And by pushing his second stint hard early on, he didn’t have enough tyre life to either eke out enough laps for a used super-soft stint or without stopping one more time.

      These are main points for me as far as Hamilton’s strategy considerations went yesterday.

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