Red Bull’s split strategy adds spice to title fight

2016 United States Grand Prix pre-race analysis

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A split in tyre strategies between the front runners has added further intrigue to what already is a crucial race for the championship.

Lewis Hamilton badly needs to trim Nico Rosberg’s points lead this weekend. A Germany-style race where he takes the win while the Red Bull drivers separate him from Rosberg would make his title hopes much more realistic.

While the Mercedes drivers will start tomorrow’s race on the soft compound tyres the closest driver to them – Daniel Ricciardo – will have gripper super-softs on his Red Bull. The uphill climb to turn one is a brief 364 metres, so those Mercedes engines will have little chance to make their superior grunt tell against a quick-off-the-line Red Bull. On paper, Ricciardo stands a decent chance of muscling at least one of the silver cars aside.

United States GP qualifying in pictures
“Yeah, that’s obviously the plan,” he said after qualifying. “We will see how tomorrow plays out. The track conditions changed quite a bit today so I think we’re going to have similar conditions tomorrow as we did today so that could have a bit of influence. We did look good yesterday.”

“I’m the only one, I think, on the first two rows that starts on the super-soft. Sure that tyre probably won’t last as long but it might give me a bit of an advantage at the start so we will see how it plays out and have some fun.”

Ricciardo used a starting tyre advantage to take the lead at Shanghai earlier this year, but on that occasion he had the benefit of starting from the front row. If he can get ahead, Red Bull’s ability to eke its tyres out and therefore tolerate earlier pit stops and take advantage of the ‘undercut’ gives him a hope of victory – albeit a slim one.

Red Bull have their options covered, however, with Max Verstappen starting on the soft tyres. Getting stuck behind him would be bad news for either of the Mercedes drivers, although part of Verstappen’s defensive armoury has just been stripped from him following the latest rules clarification from the FIA.

And Verstappen, of course, will have a pair of Ferraris starting immediately behind him on super-softs. We could see quite a concertina effect going into turn one at the start.

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With Mercedes’ constructors’ trophy secure for another year and Hamilton desperate to score points, Rosberg can be as muscular as he likes in battle with his team mate. And he is well placed to give his team mate a dose of the medicine he got at turn one last year.

That’s assuming Hamilton gets a decent getaway, of course, which is not something that can be taken for granted. In the eight previous occasions he’s started from pole position this year he’s lost three lead five times, and on one of the three occasions he kept it that was only because the race started behind the Safety Car.

Rather like Red Bull, Force India will have two lines of attack covered in the race. Nico Hulkenberg will start in front of both Williams drivers.

Meanwhile Sergio Perez is the only one of the four who can start on new tyres, having failed to get into the top ten. That advantage plays perfectly into Perez’s hands – if anyone is going to be able to complete the race with one pit stop fewer than the rest it’s him.

Qualifying times in full


Q2 (vs Q1)

Q3 (vs Q2)
1Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’36.2961’36.450 (+0.154)1’34.999 (-1.451)
2Nico RosbergMercedes1’36.3971’36.351 (-0.046)1’35.215 (-1.136)
3Daniel RicciardoRed Bull1’36.7591’36.255 (-0.504)1’35.509 (-0.746)
4Max VerstappenRed Bull1’36.6131’36.857 (+0.244)1’35.747 (-1.110)
5Kimi RaikkonenFerrari1’36.9851’36.584 (-0.401)1’36.131 (-0.453)
6Sebastian VettelFerrari1’37.1511’36.462 (-0.689)1’36.358 (-0.104)
7Nico HulkenbergForce India1’36.9501’36.626 (-0.324)1’36.628 (+0.002)
8Valtteri BottasWilliams1’37.4561’37.202 (-0.254)1’37.116 (-0.086)
9Felipe MassaWilliams1’37.4021’37.214 (-0.188)1’37.269 (+0.055)
10Carlos Sainz JnrToro Rosso1’37.7441’37.175 (-0.569)1’37.326 (+0.151)
11Sergio PerezForce India1’37.3451’37.353 (+0.008)
12Fernando AlonsoMcLaren1’37.9131’37.417 (-0.496)
13Daniil KvyatToro Rosso1’37.8441’37.480 (-0.364)
14Esteban GutierrezHaas1’38.0531’37.773 (-0.280)
15Jolyon PalmerRenault1’38.0841’37.935 (-0.149)
16Marcus EricssonSauber1’38.0401’39.356 (+1.316)
17Romain GrosjeanHaas1’38.308
18Kevin MagnussenRenault1’38.317
19Jenson ButtonMcLaren1’38.327
20Pascal WehrleinManor1’38.548
21Felipe NasrSauber1’38.583
22Esteban OconManor1’38.806

Sector times

DriverSector 1Sector 2Sector 3
Lewis Hamilton25.066 (1)38.153 (2)31.780 (2)
Nico Rosberg25.361 (2)38.086 (1)31.599 (1)
Daniel Ricciardo25.368 (3)38.279 (3)31.842 (3)
Max Verstappen25.377 (4)38.454 (6)31.909 (4)
Kimi Raikkonen25.540 (5)38.435 (5)32.156 (6)
Sebastian Vettel25.645 (6)38.431 (4)32.144 (5)
Nico Hulkenberg25.777 (7)38.467 (7)32.177 (7)
Valtteri Bottas25.911 (9)38.564 (8)32.419 (9)
Felipe Massa25.943 (11)38.603 (10)32.568 (12)
Carlos Sainz Jnr25.920 (10)38.795 (11)32.348 (8)
Sergio Perez25.887 (8)38.593 (9)32.591 (13)
Fernando Alonso26.132 (17)38.822 (12)32.463 (10)
Daniil Kvyat26.058 (15)38.858 (13)32.564 (11)
Esteban Gutierrez25.964 (12)38.929 (15)32.880 (17)
Jolyon Palmer26.146 (19)38.877 (14)32.724 (14)
Marcus Ericsson26.013 (13)39.192 (21)32.835 (16)
Romain Grosjean26.043 (14)39.020 (17)33.095 (19)
Kevin Magnussen26.293 (22)39.030 (18)32.787 (15)
Jenson Button26.184 (20)39.107 (20)33.036 (18)
Pascal Wehrlein26.239 (21)39.012 (16)33.292 (21)
Felipe Nasr26.119 (16)39.216 (22)33.248 (20)
Esteban Ocon26.139 (18)39.097 (19)33.399 (22)

Speed trap

PosDriverCarEngineSpeed (kph/mph)Gap
1Pascal WehrleinManorMercedes341.2 (212.0)
2Esteban OconManorMercedes339.6 (211.0)-1.6
3Romain GrosjeanHaasFerrari338.0 (210.0)-3.2
4Kimi RaikkonenFerrariFerrari336.9 (209.3)-4.3
5Esteban GutierrezHaasFerrari336.3 (209.0)-4.9
6Felipe MassaWilliamsMercedes334.5 (207.8)-6.7
7Sergio PerezForce IndiaMercedes334.4 (207.8)-6.8
8Lewis HamiltonMercedesMercedes334.3 (207.7)-6.9
9Nico RosbergMercedesMercedes333.4 (207.2)-7.8
10Felipe NasrSauberFerrari332.5 (206.6)-8.7
11Valtteri BottasWilliamsMercedes332.4 (206.5)-8.8
12Jolyon PalmerRenaultRenault332.3 (206.5)-8.9
13Sebastian VettelFerrariFerrari332.0 (206.3)-9.2
14Nico HulkenbergForce IndiaMercedes332.0 (206.3)-9.2
15Marcus EricssonSauberFerrari331.5 (206.0)-9.7
16Fernando AlonsoMcLarenHonda331.4 (205.9)-9.8
17Kevin MagnussenRenaultRenault331.3 (205.9)-9.9
18Max VerstappenRed BullTAG Heuer329.3 (204.6)-11.9
19Jenson ButtonMcLarenHonda329.0 (204.4)-12.2
20Daniel RicciardoRed BullTAG Heuer329.0 (204.4)-12.2
21Carlos Sainz JnrToro RossoFerrari327.4 (203.4)-13.8
22Daniil KvyatToro RossoFerrari326.3 (202.8)-14.9

Remaining tyre sets

Lewis HamiltonMercedes201102
Nico RosbergMercedes201102
Sebastian VettelFerrari102003
Kimi RaikkonenFerrari102003
Felipe MassaWilliams111003
Valtteri BottasWilliams111003
Daniel RicciardoRed Bull102003
Max VerstappenRed Bull101112
Nico HulkenbergForce India200103
Sergio PerezForce India200113
Kevin MagnussenRenault102022
Jolyon PalmerRenault102013
Daniil KvyatToro Rosso102013
Carlos Sainz JnrToro Rosso102003
Marcus EricssonSauber103012
Felipe NasrSauber103012
Fernando AlonsoMcLaren201013
Jenson ButtonMcLaren200131
Pascal WehrleinManor201013
Esteban OconManor201112
Romain GrosjeanHaas102022
Esteban GutierrezHaas102013

Over to you

How do you think the crucial start will unfold? Will Red Bull cause trouble for the Mercedes drivers?

Share your views on the United States Grand Prix in the comments.

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Author information

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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4 comments on “Red Bull’s split strategy adds spice to title fight”

  1. Good article Keith, however the figure could be improved by showing their starting positions also.
    I predict that HAM will be pressurized by both ROS and RIC at the start, and will drop behind RAI or VET. And then we will get a very exciting race.

  2. Table of Remaining Tyre sets needs some fixing

  3. I was questioning why Riccardo went for the SS in Q2 and not the softs. On paper it probably looks a bit silly. If he starts on the sorts, then it will take problems from Mercs for him to finish any higher than third and a win is almost definitely out of the question.

    Starting on the super soft tyres is him giving himself a chance at the win. It’s a high risk, high reward situation as he could easily finish 4th behind the 3 soft shod cars. But he isn’t going to win the championship this year and he has a reasonably comfortable 3rd in the championship.

    Aim for third and hope something happens in front, or go for the win? Go for the win!

  4. For me, the main consideration is a different one:
    What if Lewis takes the lead after the start (and resists the temptation of pushing Nico off the track …). Winning ahead of Nico would be nice for him, but not quite enough. Will he resort to his 2015 tactic of driving as slowly as possible in order to make Nico vulnerable to attacks from behind? Owing to the Red Bulls’ split strategies, there is an increased chance of a successful undercut. But there’s also an increased chance of losing control over the race, and if a Red Bull manages to jump Lewis, Nico could finish as low as 4th and still be better off than if he finished second behind Lewis.
    So this could well swing both ways. If Lewis wants to use the Red Bulls against Nico, he’ll have to find a perfect balance. If he drives too slowly, Mercedes could simply give Nico the undercut (as they’ve already threatened in 2015) to avoid losing the race to Red Bull. If he just goes flat out, his win could be safe (Nico has little reason to risk an accident, 2nd place is not a major setback with the lead he has), but Nico’s 2nd place would be, too.
    The optimum strategy could consist in keeping the quicker Red Bull 1.5-2 seconds behind himself, then reacting to his pit stop one lap later, thus barely clinging to the lead while Rosberg has no chance to defend against the undercut.

    But yeah, this scenario doesn’t account for all the things that could happen at the start. Two coins will be flipped at the start, there’s a considerable chance that one or maybe even both Mercedes could experience another bad start. And then there’s Ricciardo on the supersofts, too close for comfort. And maybe the Ferraris as well, if they manage not to crash into Verstappen, that is …

Comments are closed.