Safety Car, Silverstone, 2018

Did Grosjean’s crash spare Mercedes’ blushes? Six British GP strategy questions

2018 British Grand Prix

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Did the second Safety Car period at the British Grand Prix prevent Mercedes from running into trouble with their tyres? Was Daniel Ricciardo’s second pit stop a mistake?

Here are six crucial strategy questions from the British Grand Prix.

Were Mercedes right to leave Hamilton out?

Before the Safety Car was deployed, Lewis Hamilton was closing on the cars ahead of him, aided by fresher tyres due to making his pit stop later than his rivals.

Mercedes did not bring Hamilton (or team mate Valtteri Bottas) in for fresh tyres when the Safety Car came out. Did the team make the correct call, or should they have brought him in for a fresh set?

Hamilton expressed some doubts about the decision on the radio at the time, but after collecting second place he was convinced the team had got the call right.

“The guys pitted in front of me, that was an opportunity for me to get up into third. I think it was the right decision. If I’d followed them in I would have come out behind them, we’d have equal tyres and I would have struggle to get by them and most certainly wouldn’t have been second.”

Had he pitted, Hamilton would have restarted the race in fifth position. Realistically the best position he could have hoped to finish from there was third, given that Max Verstappen retired and Bottas ran into trouble with his tyres. A better result would have depended on passing one of the Ferraris despite being on similar-age tyres.

Were Mercedes right to leave Bottas out?

Bottas was in a similar position to his team mate when the Safety Car came out, except his tyres were six laps older than Hamilton’s. Afterwards he said the team made the correct decision at the time.

“We took the risk to stay out, to try and win the race, because on-track it’s always more difficult [to overtake] with a similar car. Honestly at that point when we stayed out if the team would have asked me if I wanted to try and go for the win or settle for second place, for sure I would go for the win.”

However his tyres began to fade late in the final laps. He lost the lead to Vettel on lap 47 and was passed by Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen too. Had Bottas pitted along with Vettel he likely would have finished second.

“Now looking back, for sure, for the result it would have been better to stop,” he said. “It’s a fact.”

Mercedes’ team principal Toto Wolff said it was a “50-50” call whether to leave the drivers out, and gain track position, or pit for fresher tyres in the hope of attacking the Ferrari’s on-track. Therefore Bottas and Hamilton were told to do the opposite to the Ferrari drivers ahead of them, both of which pitted.

It was a 50-50 call with a 50-50 result: It paid off for Hamilton and backfired for Bottas.

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Did the Grosjean-Sainz crash save Mercedes’ strategy?

Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes, Silverstone, 2018
Bottas slipped back on worn tyres
It could have been worse for Bottas. The race originally restarted on lap 38, meaning he had to make his worn tyres last 14 laps. Then Grosjean and Sainz tangled at Copse, bringing out the Safety Car again.

This is significant because when Mercedes committed to their strategy they had no way of knowing they were going to get an extra four laps behind the Safety Car. It gave Bottas’s worn rubber four laps of relief: Behind the Safety Car, tyre degradation drops to almost nothing.

This was why Vettel was complaining the Safety Car was lapping too quickly, eating into the green-flag running at the end of the race which he knew would take a toll on his rival’s tyres.

Without the extra Safety Car period, when the race resumed, Bottas would have been in trouble with his tyres sooner and more seriously – potentially enough to cost him fourth place to Daniel Ricciardo.

And what about Hamilton? His tyres stayed in good shape until the chequered flag. But without the second Safety Car period he too could have suffered earlier tyre degradation. Mercedes’ gamble would not have looked so clever had Raikkonen passed him to seal a Ferrari one-two.

Wolff defended the team’s tactics after the race. “I think it was absolutely the right decision to do. There was 16 laps to the end [when the first Safety Car came in]. We were on some quite fresh mediums that would last and gaining track position was the important one for us, which triggered our decision.

“I think that both strategies are valid. Doing the opposite was the choice we went for and at the end it brought us a two and four [positions] and I think considering how the race started, we need to accept the result as an OK outcome, as real damage limitation.”

Mercedes’ strategy team should breathe a sigh of relief after the British Grand Prix. One week earlier they had been pilloried for committing an error which cost Hamilton the lead. At Silverstone the Safety Car aided their damage limitation.

Should Mercedes have saved more soft tyres?

While Mercedes left both drivers out under the Safety Car, Ferrari pitted both drivers and Red Bull brought in their one driver who hadn’t already made a second stop. Ferrari and Red Bull had the advantage of being able to put their drivers on new sets of soft tyres. But Mercedes, despite bringing as many soft tyres as their rivals to the weekend, didn’t have any fresh sets left for the race.

According to Wolff, the fact they didn’t have any fresh softs left did not influence their decision not to bring either of their drivers in.

“We could have saved a [set of] softs in Q2,” said Wolff, “[but] I don’t think it would have made a big outcome because we wouldn’t have pitted.

“We decided to go for the track position I think it was the right call to do. We wouldn’t have won the race otherwise in my opinion. I’m fine with that.”

However it bears pointing out that all the drivers on medium tyres who didn’t pit within two laps of the Safety Car being took the opportunity to fit fresh soft tyres if they had them. The only ones who didn’t were those who didn’t have any: Bottas, Hamilton and Esteban Ocon.

The temptation for Mercedes to at least pit Bottas, whose tyre were more worn than his team mate’s, would surely have been greater if they’d had fresh soft tyres available.

Did Ricciardo’s second pit stop spoil his race?

Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull, Silverstone, 2018
Ricciardo’s second pit stop made little difference
Ricciardo had every racing driver’s biggest Safety Car aggravation: Pitting moments before the track goes yellow. Red Bull team principal Christian Horner explained why they split their drivers’ strategies.

“We [had] obviously both cars running line astern. At that point in the race it was marginal whether the one-stop versus the two-stop was going to work. We felt that Kimi was going to have to stop again so we decided to take the stop with Daniel, try and bank that track position, and leave Max on a one-stop, then you’ve covered both scenarios. Max, because he’d been in clean air, his tyres were running slightly cooler than Daniels’ and we split our strategy at that point in time.”

The Safety Car scuppered that plan. “Unfortunately for Daniel two laps later the Safety Car came out which gave everybody ahead of him a free stop.

“But had we stayed out and he’d had to stop under a Safety Car, the time he would have lost in a stacked stop, he would have been in an identical situation. So the reality is at the point we made the decision it was to split the options. He ended up in the exact same position that he would have been in had we stayed out, with the Safety Car.”

Ricciardo could have stood to gain had the race stayed green and Raikkonen’s second pit stop had dropped him behind the Red Bull. But given the Ferrari’s performance advantage plus the benefit of newer tyres, it’s hard to imagine Ricciardo would have kept him behind.

Did Vettel need the Safety Car to win?

Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari, Silverstone, 2018
Vettel reckoned he had it all under control
Unsurprisingly, Ferrari and Mercedes saw this one very differently. Vettel had worse tyre life than Bottas over his first stint and the Mercedes driver caught him rapidly as the second stint began. So did the Safety Car help him keep Bottas behind?

No, says Vettel:

“I think in the first stint it was crucial to open the gap, which we did. And then in the end, I think Valtteri’s tyres were a little bit in better shape but in the second stint we were largely controlling and I think it would have been fine until the end.”

Maybe, says Bottas:

“I think without the Safety Car of course it’s only guessing. But at that point just before when it came it felt like our pace was quite strong compared to Ferrari. I was closing on Sebastian and we had an advantage at the end of the first stint. The second stint was going to be very long.”

Looking back at a similar scenario at the Bahrain Grand Prix, it’s hard to imagine Bottas would have had more luck passing the Ferrari at Silverstone. As it turned out, Vettel was able to pass him with the benefit of fresher tyres which allowed him to use DRS through Farm to close up. On very worn tyres, it’s doubtful Bottas could have done the same.

But these things can never be taken for granted. After all, recall what happened to Ferrari’s tyres 12 months ago at Silverstone.

Quotes: Dieter Rencken

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20 comments on “Did Grosjean’s crash spare Mercedes’ blushes? Six British GP strategy questions”

  1. In short:

    1 – Yes.
    2 – No. Track position wasn’t as imporatant at Silverstone, sticking him on the same strategy as Vettel would have given him a chance at the restart and would have prevented him losing positions.
    3 – No. Bottas was closing on Vettel and, with everyone nursing tyres (Ricciardo wasn’t a threat at that stage even on new tyres given how far back he was after his second stop) he was nailed on for second and had a sniff of victory.
    4 – Potentially. We only ever know if a set is “new” or “used”, we never actually know how many laps they’ve done. Even sticking Bottas onto a set of Softs that had done 3 laps in quali could have improved the result.
    5 – Yes. Red Bull had to roll the dice but he wasn’t in a position to get a podium even if the Safety Car didn’t appear.
    6 – Potentially. As mentioned at 3 Bottas was catching him before the safety car, but with similar tyre life and better straightline speed he may have been able to hold Bottas off.

  2. This was why Vettel was complaining the Safety Car was lapping too quickly, eating into the green-flag running at the end of the race which he knew would take a toll on his rival’s tyres.

    Is the context of the radio conversation, posted in this comment , not correct?

  3. Were Mercedes right to leave Hamilton out? – No, they should’ve pitted him for the one remaining ‘new’ (unused) set of the hard compound for the remainder of the race.
    Were Mercedes right to leave Bottas out? – The same answer as above.
    Did the Grosjean-Sainz crash save Mercedes’ strategy? – Possibly.
    Should Mercedes have saved more soft tyres? – In hindsight, yes, but in the end, certain things are difficult to foresee.
    Did Ricciardo’s second pit stop spoil his race? – Not really, although had the SC come out on track shortly after it then he possibly could’ve had a better chance for a podium position.
    Did Vettel need the Safety Car to win? – No.

    1. Not sure about Hamilton, but IMO leaving Bottas out was a mistake (even with Stroll’s clairvoyant skills).
      Luckily Grosjean’s crash and Verstappen’s misfortune limited the damage.

      Too many strategic mistakes by the Mercedes team; they’d run out of battery had they apologised for all on the radio.

    2. @jerejj they made the right decision for Hamilton, I don’t think first was within his reach, he would have had to make up for the deficit and regain the lost positions after the pit stop, for Bottas on one hand they made a understandable mistake, they preferred track position and having a shot at the victory, a gamble that ultimately failed, on the other hand his tyres were crying out loud and it would have been near impossible to resist a fresher soft tyres.
      Mercedes needs to sort their start problems, I wrongly taught that Lewis was sleeping at the start but Mercedes explained through their channel that they suffered wheel spin, nothing Lewis could have done.

      1. @abdelilah Mercedes seem to be suffering from wheel spin in the acceleration phase following a race start quite often. Bottas also suffered from it in the race before in Austria, which explains how both his team-mate and Raikkonen managed to get side-by-side with him so quickly off the line, and a similar thing happened to him in Brazil last season as well where he also started from pole but lost the lead to Vettel into T1 already, which ultimately proved decisive for the race win. A weird coincidence.

  4. 7th Strategy Question: Would Stroll score points had he stayed out on old tires until the Safety Car came out?

    A: LOL

    1. Funny, williams is now the minardi of the years when I started watching f1!

      1. Pay drivers, low performance, low budget!

  5. I personally think RBR decided to Pit Ricciardo to save a Baku style situation. Or just the uncomfortable situation that comes with your lead driver being slower than the one behind. Do you let them past or not?

    In clear air, Dan was quicker than Max in both the first and second stages. In the second stage, I was watching Dan catch Max again. He closed from 6 seconds back to being right on his tail. However, the minute Dan got within DRS range of Max, they pitted him. I was hoping to see a battle, but RBR took it away from us in that moment.

    I get that Ricciardo just got plain unlucky with the SC giving Raikonnen track position. However, the whole pit in thing was weird. Why pit him? He’s already closing on 3rd place (Max) and might or might not overtake him. 2nd place is out of the question at this point. 3rd was already his best option finishing position and he was closing on that anyway. My opinion is that RBR didn’t want to be in the position of their drivers crashing again or any other uncomfortable decisions. So they rolled the dice instead and tried to sell it as a good news story for Dan.

    Pitting for new tyres meant Dan had to overtake again to get back up to 4th. Dan’s a good overtaker, but the RB was 20km slower down the straights and the Ferrari has the best engine. He would have needed a big tyre difference to overtake Kimi again. He had the big tyre difference on Bottas at the end of the race but still couldn’t make it happen.

    I think RBR are feeling the heat of having 2 good drivers. They want it to be friendly and fair, but their drivers want to win. I think this is causing them to make bad decisions at times to try and seem fair or avoid conflict.

    In the first stint of the French GP, Max’s tyres were gone, so they pitted him. Dan was lapping quicker than Max but was behind him. Dan’s tyres seemed fine and he would have been way better served to run longer on his run. However they pitted him 1 lap after Max. It made no sense. I think RBR racing pitted Dan to avoid a situation where Dan overtook Max in the pits by running long. Raikonnen was in the same position and he ran long on his tyres in that stint and finished in front of Ricciardo as a result. Why did RBR pit Dan so early?

    I think RBR are feeling the heat from their drivers and it is clouding their better judgement.

    1. Brigitta Gyimesi
      13th July 2018, 22:24

      Ricciardo was simply lacking pace and the safety car came in just at the wrong moment, I don’t think we should read into this much more than what really happened.

      1. Ricciardo was lapping faster than Verstappen, and his tires SEEMED better too. If I were to make such a decision, I would bring in Max first. OTOH they ran a different setup on their cars, so maybe my tire life estimation is off

  6. -Leave Ham out: Yes, because he had nothing to lose by staying out, and much to gain. His tires were 6 laps younger, and even losing 1 or 2 positions would’ve meaned a net gain.
    -Leave Bot out: Hell no: nothing to be gained (track position +1, but under fire from behind) much to lose in case the tire delta is that high.
    -Did Gro save the Mercedes strategy? Marginally yes it saved Bot from ending in fifth, and closed the laps on Rai to attack Ham.
    -Should Mercedes have saved more softs? No, any younger tire would’ve been fine, even if it were a medium, according to the testing speeds on friday and qualifying
    -Was the Redbull decision a bad deal for Dan? Yes, of course, but they don’t have the possibility to predict a SC. What’s worse is: they pitted wrong car: they should’ve called Max to the pits instead, because he was struggling to keep up with the cars in front and behind, and would’ve lost position to Lewis in 10 laps anyway. It ( the tires) looked better on Ric’s car, and my guess is he would’ve been able to defend from Ham.
    -Did Vettel need the SC to win? My guess is no, because I don’t see Bot attacking with tires that scream for help already. The person who gained most was Lewis gaining 2 positions and close to 30 seconds. So in fact, for Vet and Ferrari the SC was a bad deal!

  7. Nice theory and all. . But quite unnecessary. The answer is there. VER was more gentle with his tires because he was on a one stop. RIC couldn’t make that work and cooked his tires so they decided to put him on a two stopper. They just explained it. … but of course maybe those facts only count as facts in some bizarre alternative dimension. So your theory might be true after all

    1. That’s what they said. I saw Ricciardo faster than Verstappen and already going for an overtake when they called him.

      Did you even saw the race?

  8. Brigitta Gyimesi
    13th July 2018, 22:28

    I can’t believe Mercedes really thought leaving out Bottas on old tyres was a better option than calling him in for fresh tyres without conceding position (since everyone else – probably not accidentally – pitted as well).

    1. It did turn out the better option for HAM though so there was the chance it was for BOT as well.

      1. Brigitta Gyimesi
        14th July 2018, 9:34

        Yeah, maybe, but that was a big maybe, I think. Hamilton jumped a couple of cars that most probably couldn’t have all passed him until the end as he was on fresher tyres than Bottas plus there weren’t many laps left, so for him it was a net gain. Bottas, on the other hand, gained only one place (though that was the win) but had to fend off Vettel in a feisty Ferrari on fresher and softer tyres. The only way this could have worked is if Bottas had some underlying pace to unleash, but honestly, I don’t believe there was much left in the car.

  9. Haha, it was delusional Bottas able to catch and pass Vettel without safety car condition. Vettel is “sandbagging” and nursing the tyre. Even if Bottas closing behind, Vettel still can push the extra 10hp potent mode to maintain his position. This year nobody could attack Vettel-Ferrari under same tyre condition; while Vettel has demonstrated overtaking Bottas, Hamilton and few others

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