Why Ferrari doubt any strategy would have got Sainz the points they needed

2023 Abu Dhabi GP data

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While Charles Leclerc delivered a second place he was never likely to better as long as Max Verstappen finished, Ferrari’s hopes of beating Mercedes to second place in the constructors’ championship rested on their other driver.

Carlos Sainz Jnr qualified a lowly 16th, but given Ferrari’s form in recent races, surely an eighth place finish should have been possible for him?

Sainz was running only one place higher than he started when a suspected power unit problem forced him to retire on the penultimate lap. What went wrong with his race up to that point?

With the soft tyre compound too fragile to take any distance at Yas Marina, most drivers favoured the medium rubber to start on, to minimise the risk of losing places on the long straights at the start. Ferrari were content to bide their time with Sainz, however, and start him on hards. This appeared to be paying off as the drivers ahead of him started to pit and, by lap 18, he was up to third.

But Sainz was losing too much time. He had been less happy with his car’s balance than his team mate all weekend. He crashed in practice and was eliminated in Q1. During the race, running in the turbulence of other cars exacerbated their tyre degradation, a problem Ferrari has grappled with all season.

Carlos Sainz Jnr, Ferrari, Yas Marina, 2023
Sainz’s first pit stop locked him into a second
On lap 18 Sainz was almost two-and-a-half seconds slower than George Russell, who had swapped his medium compound tyres for a fresh set of hards. In order to get Sainz to the end of the race with only a single further pit stop he would have to switch to mediums, and he was nowhere near close enough to the end of the race for that to be an option.

That left Ferrari with only one course of action, as team principal Frederic Vasseur explained. “When you have to pit on lap 20 you have no other option but to put a second set of hard,” he said. “Because if you put mediums on you have to pit lap 30.”

As the rules require drivers to use two different tyre compounds, Sainz was in the same position Oscar Piastri found himself in Las Vegas a week earlier. He had to make a final, second pit stop for a different compound. Ferrari were left hoping some kind of neutralisation in the running order would play into their hands.

“The option was to put hards [then] hards and to expect that we would have a Safety Car or a red flag,” said Vasseur.

With the race running green until the end, Sainz slipped to the lower reaches of the points. He clung on until the end before succumbing to the inevitable and gambling on a switch to soft tyres, only to be called in to retire shortly afterwards.

The root cause of Ferrari’s problem was Sainz wasn’t able to get as far into the race as they needed him to before his lap times dropped off. He changed tyres for the first time on lap 20 but Ferrari were hoping to reach “lap 35, or something like this, to do reverse than the others.

“The others they did 15, 20 laps with the medium and then 40 laps with the hard. The target was to have 40 laps with the hard to have a part of the race in clean air and try to compensate part of the deficit.”

Carlos Sainz, Ferrari, leads a train of cars, Yas Marina, 2023
Last pit stop left Sainz down in 15th
Given Sainz’s pace deficit, starting on a more conventional strategy was unlikely to have improved his finishing position, Ferrari believe.

“You can always try to redo the race and to say that,” said Vasseur. “But I don’t think so. I think the issue was the pace today and was not the hard or the medium.”

“The issue is that it’s not a matter of strategy, it’s a matter of pace,” Vasseur concluded. “We didn’t have the pace today and in this case all the strategies are the bad ones.”

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2023 Abu Dhabi 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 Abu Dhabi 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 Abu Dhabi 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 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix fastest laps

Each driver’s fastest lap:

Rank # Driver Car Lap time Gap Avg. speed (kph) Lap no.
1 1 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Honda RBPT 1’26.993 218.54 45
2 11 Sergio Perez Red Bull-Honda RBPT 1’27.493 0.500 217.29 44
3 23 Alexander Albon Williams-Mercedes 1’27.845 0.852 216.42 45
4 18 Lance Stroll Aston Martin-Mercedes 1’28.050 1.057 215.92 44
5 81 Oscar Piastri McLaren-Mercedes 1’28.138 1.145 215.7 38
6 4 Lando Norris McLaren-Mercedes 1’28.164 1.171 215.64 45
7 63 George Russell Mercedes 1’28.187 1.194 215.58 45
8 16 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1’28.199 1.206 215.55 44
9 14 Fernando Alonso Aston Martin-Mercedes 1’28.256 1.263 215.41 42
10 44 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1’28.372 1.379 215.13 52
11 3 Daniel Ricciardo AlphaTauri-Honda RBPT 1’28.571 1.578 214.65 47
12 2 Logan Sargeant Williams-Mercedes 1’28.580 1.587 214.63 43
13 24 Zhou Guanyu Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 1’28.746 1.753 214.22 43
14 10 Pierre Gasly Alpine-Renault 1’29.016 2.023 213.58 35
15 27 Nico Hulkenberg Haas-Ferrari 1’29.217 2.224 213.09 58
16 22 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri-Honda RBPT 1’29.256 2.263 213 55
17 55 Carlos Sainz Jnr Ferrari 1’29.452 2.459 212.53 42
18 77 Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 1’29.863 2.870 211.56 42
19 20 Kevin Magnussen Haas-Ferrari 1’29.934 2.941 211.4 46
20 31 Esteban Ocon Alpine-Renault 1’30.033 3.040 211.16 34

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2023 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix tyre strategies

The tyre strategies for each driver:

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2023 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix pit stop times

How long each driver’s pit stops took:

Rank # Driver Team Complete stop time (s) Gap to best (s) Stop no. Lap no.
1 81 Oscar Piastri McLaren 21.156 2 36
2 55 Carlos Sainz Jnr Ferrari 21.229 0.073 1 23
3 16 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 21.246 0.09 2 35
4 11 Sergio Perez Red Bull 21.274 0.118 2 42
5 1 Max Verstappen Red Bull 21.275 0.119 2 43
6 4 Lando Norris McLaren 21.432 0.276 2 33
7 11 Sergio Perez Red Bull 21.446 0.29 1 17
8 22 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri 21.486 0.33 1 22
9 55 Carlos Sainz Jnr Ferrari 21.564 0.408 2 56
10 63 George Russell Mercedes 21.65 0.494 1 14
11 1 Max Verstappen Red Bull 21.662 0.506 1 16
12 18 Lance Stroll Aston Martin 21.667 0.511 2 42
13 3 Daniel Ricciardo AlphaTauri 21.692 0.536 1 7
14 81 Oscar Piastri McLaren 21.697 0.541 1 13
15 3 Daniel Ricciardo AlphaTauri 21.74 0.584 2 31
16 14 Fernando Alonso Aston Martin 21.841 0.685 2 36
17 27 Nico Hulkenberg Haas 21.861 0.705 1 13
18 18 Lance Stroll Aston Martin 21.866 0.71 1 22
19 2 Logan Sargeant Williams 21.88 0.724 2 41
20 16 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 21.919 0.763 1 17
21 23 Alexander Albon Williams 21.919 0.763 2 43
22 44 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 22.045 0.889 2 35
23 27 Nico Hulkenberg Haas 22.081 0.925 2 33
24 63 George Russell Mercedes 22.084 0.928 2 34
25 2 Logan Sargeant Williams 22.124 0.968 1 15
26 31 Esteban Ocon Alpine 22.16 1.004 1 15
27 20 Kevin Magnussen Haas 22.163 1.007 2 22
28 23 Alexander Albon Williams 22.17 1.014 1 16
29 44 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 22.195 1.039 1 15
30 24 Zhou Guanyu Alfa Romeo 22.345 1.189 2 37
31 14 Fernando Alonso Aston Martin 22.462 1.306 1 12
32 77 Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo 22.665 1.509 1 29
33 20 Kevin Magnussen Haas 22.764 1.608 1 5
34 24 Zhou Guanyu Alfa Romeo 22.867 1.711 1 13
35 10 Pierre Gasly Alpine 23.091 1.935 1 17
36 10 Pierre Gasly Alpine 23.478 2.322 2 32
37 4 Lando Norris McLaren 24.061 2.905 1 14

2023 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...
Claire Cottingham
Claire has worked in motorsport for much of her career, covering a broad mix of championships including Formula One, Formula E, the BTCC, British...

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10 comments on “Why Ferrari doubt any strategy would have got Sainz the points they needed”

  1. Another set of excuses from the team. Nonessential excuses I would say. I would really like to know why they did not pit him for mediums around lap 40, they would at least have given themselves a fighting chance in a normal race situation, and in the case of SC (quite unlikely on this track anyway) they would still have had the upper hand with the faster tire. Stroll got a point with that strategy, and Ferrari were usually better on the softer compounds throughout the season.
    Another pitiful performance from the Ferrari strategy team IMO.

    1. * Nonsensical

    2. The goal with Sainz was to put him above Hamilton, this was the only chance to get 2nd in the Constructors.
      Stroll pitter after lap 42 and returned 13th with a 14 seconds gap to Hamilton. If Sainz did the same he would exit the pits in 15th 18 seconds behind Hamilton. Stroll finished 11 second behind Hamilton. Sainz would have to drive at least 1 second faster than Lance to catch Lewis, and this seems impossible. Ferraris might be better on the softer compounds than Astons but not that better.
      With your strategy Sainz could get 1 point for 10th but this wouldn’t help with the Constructors. Waiting for a safety car was a gamble but not waiting for it was a 100% loss.

      1. notagrumpyfan
        27th November 2023, 7:16

        Waiting for a safety car was a gamble but not waiting for it was a 100% loss.

        A safety car would also have played in their favour had Sainz pitted for softs around lap 40.

        The biggest problem with their strategy is that he didn’t attack Stroll during the early parts of the race. They waited to luck into second, rather than fight for it.

      2. Sorry, but I do not believe that is correct. At the time Ferrari could/should have pitted SAI (around lap 40) the situation at the front was yet unclear. A finishing order of VER-LEC-PER-RUS was entirely possible, as well as HAM finishing higher (likely) or lower (unlikely) than he did. The goal for Ferrari was to get as many points as possible and see what happens, not to finish above HAM.
        Additionally, as I mention in my original post, with a SC after pitting, SAI still had a decent chance, with mediums on a few laps against older hards for those in front of him, bunched pack and the good straight line speed of the Ferrari.

        1. * this was a reply to TT btw.

  2. FOMO, Fear Of Missing Out. Plenty of examples of Merc putting Lewis on desperate race strategies this year, when they should have just put him on the fastest strategy. Sadly Ferrari were hoping for something to happen, this is always the wrong way. Hopefully Ferrari give both of their drivers next year the benefit of the doubt. Not expecting anything from Mercedes, Toto clearly thought Lewis was the fastest car on track today. Shakes head. Still so slow down the straight, watching that Honda powered red bull destroy everyone else on the straights, ridiculous. Its almost like RBR have more fuel flow or something, and thats why they go easy in their first stint to save fuel for the rest of the race.

    1. This. They waited and waited until it was too late. That should have aborted the one stopper way earlier, when it was obvious that hard tires at the beginning didn’t really work. But Sainz was so slow anyway, maybe he could have beaten Stroll, but I doubt anybody else was in reach.

  3. Pirelli should bring one grade harder tyres next year.

  4. Two races ago the 2P for the Scuderia seemed a piece of cake.
    Then came the absurd incident with the valve cover at Lost Wages with the legal but unfair 10P penalty and then Carlos uncharacteristic failure to reach Q3 in Yas Marina and it all was ruined

    What irks me is that Merc got their way being the only team that insisted against the unfair penalty being waived, and they profited from that. AFAIAC, the team responsible for the 1955 Le Mans massacre (83 people plus 120 injured) might as well withdrawn from the sport for 203 more years. Would not have missed them a bit.

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