How Russell’s surprise tyre choice shaped the British Grand Prix

2023 British Grand Prix

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Formula 1 teams went into the British Grand Prix with some doubt over what the best strategy might be due to uncertainty over how the tyres would perform.

Pirelli introduced a new tyre construction last weekend and teams hadn’t had a chance to evaluate it in track conditions which were as cool as they were by the time the grand prix started. Track temperatures dropped as the Silverstone skies clouded over shortly before the grand prix got underway.

Many expected the medium compound tyre would be the best option to start on. The soft compound wasn’t expected to last well, and the hard risked a slow first lap which can be penalised significantly at Silverstone.

“The C1 is a different compound, it’s one of the tyres they changed last year to this year,” explained Aston Martin’s performance director Tom McCullough before the race.

Race start, Silverstone, 2023
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“Here there’s often racing all the way to nearly the end of the first lap. There’s a lot of opportunities to overtake. A harder tyre is going to make that [more difficult].

“There’s pros and cons: After the first lap, you definitely, probably don’t want to be on the softer tyres, but for the first lap they’re going to be better. So it’s a compromise.”

In 2022, George Russell started the race on the hard rubber, but got away slowly and was caught by Zhou Guanyu and Pierre Gasly, triggering a major crash. He deviated from the norm again last weekend by picking the soft tyre, which proved an inspired choice.

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Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff said they realised the soft tyre’s potential on Friday, and chose to run it on the first of their cars on the grid. “We wanted to have an offset between the two drivers and the soft tyre provides a good getaway on the start, and was very resilient on Friday in the long runs.”

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Silverstone, 2023
More drivers followed Russell in running the softs
However the strength of its performance on Sunday was even better than Mercedes expected. “It was even more [resilient] on the race pace, so we were surprised to see how long it was going.”

Ferrari were in the dark over the compound’s performance as Charles Leclerc’s technical problem on Friday robbed them of the chance to properly evaluate the soft option. He had Russell in his mirrors from the start and had to defend hard to keep the soft-shod car behind him.

Seemingly expecting a two-stop race, Ferrari committed to an early pit stop for Leclerc in order to avoid Russell coming in first and ‘undercutting’ them. But team principal Frederic Vasseur admitted afterwards the call did not work out for their driver.

“We were fighting with Russell at this stage. We were scared with the deg[radation] at the end and we decided to pit early. But if I have to do it again, I won’t do it.”

While the majority of the frontrunners continued with their one-stop plans, Leclerc came in a second time during the race’s sole Safety Car period. Ferrari couldn’t buy a break, as after waiting until the second half of the race to bring Carlos Sainz Jnr in, the Safety Car appeared soon afterwards.

Those who hadn’t pitted until that point were rewarded, including the top two, but above all Lewis Hamilton who had been running seventh before Leclerc became the first of the front-runners to pit and was in third once the pit stops had played out.

Even Red Bull team principal Christian Horner admitted afterwards they didn’t expect to use the soft tyre, but Russell’s tactics changed their approach. “We’d originally expected it to be a medium-hard race, but because of the performance of Russell on the soft, it changed our strategy.”

That emboldened them to select the soft tyres for winner Max Verstappen‘s final run to the flag. “With the Safety Car with 15, 16 laps to go, we felt the soft tyre would give Max the best opportunity to break that DRS effect, which he used to great effect. I think already at the end of the first lap he was close to two seconds ahead. And then it was a question of managing the race thereafter.”

Lando Norris urged McLaren to consider the soft tyres, but they fitted him with hards. Perhaps they had more concerns over the performance of the softs on their car than others, but as Russell noted while he unsuccessfully tried to attack Oscar Piastri, the MCL60s looked especially good on the C1s.

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2023 British Grand Prix lap chart

The positions of each driver on every lap. Click name to highlight, right-click to reset. Toggle drivers using controls below:

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2023 British Grand Prix race chart

The gaps between each driver on every lap compared to the leader’s average lap time. Very large gaps omitted. Scroll to zoom, drag to pan and right-click to reset. Toggle drivers using controls below:

2023 British Grand Prix lap times

All the lap times by the drivers (in seconds, very slow laps excluded). Scroll to zoom, drag to pan and toggle drivers using the control below:

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2023 British Grand Prix fastest laps

Each driver’s fastest lap:

RankNo.DriverCarLap timeGapAverage speed (kph)Lap no.
11Max VerstappenRed Bull-Honda RBPT1’30.275234.9242
24Lando NorrisMcLaren-Mercedes1’30.5430.268234.2343
344Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’30.5450.270234.2243
481Oscar PiastriMcLaren-Mercedes1’30.8500.575233.4441
511Sergio PerezRed Bull-Honda RBPT1’30.9140.639233.2751
663George RussellMercedes1’31.1240.849232.7341
716Charles LeclercFerrari1’31.2550.980232.448
823Alexander AlbonWilliams-Mercedes1’31.2730.998232.3541
914Fernando AlonsoAston Martin-Mercedes1’31.3381.063232.1948
1055Carlos Sainz JnrFerrari1’31.3661.091232.1251
1118Lance StrollAston Martin-Mercedes1’31.5081.233231.7642
1210Pierre GaslyAlpine-Renault1’31.5391.264231.6842
132Logan SargeantWilliams-Mercedes1’31.6991.424231.2742
1424Zhou GuanyuAlfa Romeo-Ferrari1’31.7691.494231.148
1527Nico HulkenbergHaas-Ferrari1’31.7761.501231.0852
1677Valtteri BottasAlfa Romeo-Ferrari1’31.8521.577230.8952
1722Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauri-Honda RBPT1’32.0841.809230.3148
1821Nyck de VriesAlphaTauri-Honda RBPT1’32.3532.078229.6448
1920Kevin MagnussenHaas-Ferrari1’33.3563.081227.1729
2031Esteban OconAlpine-Renault1’33.8463.571225.989

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2023 British Grand Prix tyre strategies

The tyre strategies for each driver:

2023 British Grand Prix pit stop times

How long each driver’s pit stops took:

RankNo.DriverTeamComplete stop time (s)Gap to best (s)Stop no.Lap no.
111Sergio PerezRed Bull28.06128
221Nyck de VriesAlphaTauri28.2420.182127
316Charles LeclercFerrari28.2440.184118
422Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauri28.3530.293114
521Nyck de VriesAlphaTauri28.4130.353232
64Lando NorrisMcLaren28.4380.378133
710Pierre GaslyAlpine28.4580.398131
818Lance StrollAston Martin28.5610.501131
922Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauri28.6030.543232
1081Oscar PiastriMcLaren28.6550.595129
1114Fernando AlonsoAston Martin28.6790.619133
1224Zhou GuanyuAlfa Romeo28.7090.649233
1316Charles LeclercFerrari28.8050.745232
142Logan SargeantWilliams28.8470.787129
1555Carlos Sainz JnrFerrari28.8690.809126
161Max VerstappenRed Bull29.0560.996133
1744Lewis HamiltonMercedes29.1691.109133
1824Zhou GuanyuAlfa Romeo29.1771.117124
1963George RussellMercedes29.4551.395128
2023Alexander AlbonWilliams29.6341.574132
2177Valtteri BottasAlfa Romeo29.6621.602132
2227Nico HulkenbergHaas30.0031.943232
2324Zhou GuanyuAlfa Romeo34.3746.314336
2427Nico HulkenbergHaas41.97213.91217

2023 British Grand Prix

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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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3 comments on “How Russell’s surprise tyre choice shaped the British Grand Prix”

  1. Excellent article, but, Keith, Hulkenberg is mentioned twice in the final tyre strategies chart while Ocon is missing.

  2. I don’t claim to be a master strategist, but this race stands out to me as one of the times that teams were clearly making terrible decisions with tire choices. When we were over half distance, and some of the drivers that started on the Soft were still putting in good lap times, it was clear that the Hard was not needed. The only quick strategies were Soft-Medium or Medium-Soft. The fact that some teams put the Hard on under the Safety Car, when there were ultimately only 14 racing laps remaining, was a poor decision. It was lucky not to cost the McLaren drivers their positions.

  3. Prashanth Ramadas
    14th July 2023, 0:37

    Regarding climate it’s very tough for drivers to adjust with climatic conditions in different circumstances at different places. It’s always raining and generally tough to breathe the fresh air and so on.

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