How Ferrari beat Williams and other tales from Australian Grand Prix
The opening round of the 2015 season produced a dominant win for the Mercedes team, with Nico Rosberg unable to do anything through strategy to den...
The opening round of the 2015 season produced a dominant win for the Mercedes team, with Nico Rosberg unable to do anything through strategy to dent the superiority of his team-mate Lewis Hamilton.
But strategy certainly played a crucial part in the outcome of the race for the final podium position between Williams’ Felipe Massa and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and other battles in this high attrition race.
This season with the UBS Race Strategy Report we will continue our in depth analysis of the key moments of the race, to bring a comprehensive review of the key decisions.
Pirelli has introduced a new construction for the rear tyres this year, combined with largely the same compounds as before and the result is a robust race tyre, arguably too robust, as the indications from Melbourne were that the target of two to three pit stops is optimistic and in some cases the race can be covered with just one. Degradation was relatively low in Melbourne this year with the medium and soft tyres Pirelli brought to Melbourne.
The numbers pre-race showed that using two sets of soft tyres compared to one set of softs and one of mediums was worth 18 seconds over a race, but a pit stop in Melbourne costs 23 seconds. So the net loss of stopping twice was 5 seconds.
And the warmer than expected temperatures on race day meant that the soft tyres in particular did not suffer graining like they did last year.
There were just 14 pit stops in the whole race, however that was also linked to the fact that just 15 cars took the start and only 11 cars finished.
Also affecting the strategy was the three laps early on spent behind a safety car, which was deployed for the first corner accident involving Lotus driver Pastor Maldonado. This added to the ease of making the race in one stop.
Ferrari beats Williams on strategy
Last season in this race, Ferrari failed to cover Jenson Button at the second stop and as a result Fernando Alonso lost fourth place, which turned into a podium with the disqualification of Ricciardo for fuel flow irregularities.
This year was the opposite and a good strategy call brought them a first Ferrari podium for Sebastian Vettel. The German started fourth on the grid behind the Williams of Felipe Massa. It had been close in qualifying, but the Brazilian shaded it and strategy was always going to be decisive in the race.
The Friday long runs in practice had shown that there was little to choose between the Ferrari and Williams cars on race pace. Vettel had carried out long runs on the medium while team-mate Kimi Raikkonen had used the soft. Williams were keeping an eye out for signs that Vettel had concerns on cooling, but the German sat back just over a second and a half behind Massa from the start and managed to conserve his tyres by staying out of the dirty air from the Williams.
Vettel had good pace in the opening stint, but was focused on managing the tyres, planning to attack Massa later.
But Williams were looking back at Ricciardo, who was less than 23 seconds behind them and waiting for him to stop, so they could stop Massa and not get held up by the Australian.
However at the same time they felt that Vettel was possibly faster and they felt vulnerable to an undercut, which is where the car behind stops before you and then attacks on fresh tyres while you are on your in-lap to the pits on used tyres.
Fearing that they would not be able to retain position if they were undercut due to the pace of the Ferrari, they decided to cover it off by pitting Massa on Lap 21.
Of course, he came out behind Ricciardo who was lapping in the high 1m 34s range, whereas Massa had been doing 1m 33s prior to his stop. In addition to this, Vettel had saved enough tyre life to attack with three laps in the 1m 32s range. This meant that when he stopped on Lap 24, he was able to rejoin a second ahead of Massa.
Williams were understandably disappointed with the outcome, because in reality they gave Ferrari the opportunity of the podium; no-one tried any undercuts in this race as the warm up of the medium tyre did not encourage it. Rather, the strategy was to try to force people into using up the softs early on, then go to the medium earlier than they wanted to.
But Williams will clearly have plenty of opportunities this season to race Ferrari for the podium, based on the current performance levels.
Some try an aggressive two stopper
Due to the tyre performance, this was a race where one stop was the obvious default unless you were behind on the grid and wanted to go aggressive, in which case two stops was an option.
The two notable cars trying a different strategy were Nico Hulkenberg for Force India and Kimi Raikkonen for Ferrari. One reason for Raikkonen to go with two stops was the fact that Valtteri Bottas wasn’t racing for Williams and so Ferrari could attack Massa with two different strategies and be sure of the podium.
The models showed in fact that on this strategy Raikkonen would not have caught Massa but he would have finished fifth ahead of Felipe Nasr’s Sauber if he had not had to retire.
Hulkenberg qualified 13th and finished 7th, partly due to the high attrition rate, but also he did the right thing at the first stop and fitted medium tyres, thus putting himself in an offset position against the cars he was racing against.
This race turned out in many ways as pre-season testing had suggested it would; teams that focused on reliability work and race runs like Mercedes, Ferrari, Williams and Sauber got strong results. It was strange that we had only 15 cars taking the start and 13 still running after the opening laps, which is what one would have expected to see in the first race of 2014, when the rules were new, rather than one year later.
It showed the degree to which some teams and manufacturers have been pushing the power units and other technologies too hard in pursuit of performance. For a team like Sauber, the strategy of ensuring that they had a reliable car paid dividends as they now have 14 championship points, more than Red Bull or McLaren and a great start to the season.
The UBS Race Strategy Report is prepared by JA on F1, with input and data from several F1 teams and from Pirelli
RACE HISTORY AND TYRE GRAPHS - Courtesy of Williams Martini Racing - Click to Enlarge
The Zero line is the average lap time of the winner every lap and the graph shows the gaps between the cars relative to that "ghost" lap time
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