US Grand Prix: How Ricciardo beat Williams pair and the curious case of Sebastian Vettel
It is noticeable in the last few weeks that Red Bull has lost ground in pure performance relative to Williams and Mercedes.
It is noticeable in the last few weeks that Red Bull has lost ground in pure performance relative to Williams and Mercedes. This is interesting because they have always been a team that keeps adding performance development parts to the car at the end of the season. It has been one of their hallmarks.
This year’s pattern suggests that they are throwing their considerable resources at 2015 now that it looks reasonably safe for them to finish second in the constructors’ championship. In Sochi and again in Austin Williams clearly had the faster car, which is why it is interesting that Daniel Ricciardo was able to beat the two Williams cars on race day despite qualifying behind them.
So how did that happen?
The US Grand Prix was another race in the 2014 season which did not turn out according to expectations in terms of race strategy, with teams forced to do two and even three stops in some cases, despite an apparently quite conservative choice of soft and medium tyres.
By the end of practice on Friday it was clear that pre-weekend predictions of a dull one-stop race were wide of the mark. Tyre degradation and wear were higher that expected in practice. Some teams were clearly in trouble, such as Force India and Raikkonen’s Ferrari in particular.
On race day many teams were proposing a race plan of soft-soft-medium, but in the end few runners went for the soft in the second stint and those who did, did not come out of it well.
The lead battle
Mercedes were clear about the best strategy for their drivers and unusually it meant both doing the same thing. Most of this season there has been scope for variation, giving the driver who is behind at the start an opportunity later in the race. Here that wasn't possible as the clear preference was to run soft-medium-medium.
The problem with this is it increases the risk, as the only way to pass is on track; at the start and during the stints. This is why if Lewis Hamilton was going to get past he had to make the overtake and that always carries an element of risk. It came off and changed the race.
Williams vs Red Bull
Ricciardo beat the Williams pair by undercutting a Williams at each of the pit stops, something that Williams could see coming but which they didn’t seem able to resist.
Ricciardo was always going to be on an aggressive strategy to have a go at scoring a podium from 5th on the grid.
Bottas was undercut because he lost a place at the start and thus was the second Williams on the road , which meant Massa had stop priority. Massa stopped on lap 14, as did Ricciardo, so Bottas had to go around again and when he came out Ricciardo had undercut him.
The key to the problem with the undercut on Massa was that Williams was the only team to opt to use the soft tyre in the middle stint. This was something that they had planned to do before the race and it caught Massa out as he had to do some tyre saving early in the second stint. The strategy models of other teams all showed that the crossover between the soft and the medium was 10 laps into the stint, which is early by any measure, so that told most teams that the medium was the better race tyre.
Massa also stayed out arguably a lap too long, perhaps concerned about leaving too many laps to do in the final stint. Stopping on lap 32 he had 24 laps on the medium to the end.
Perhaps stopping a lap earlier he could have covered Ricciardo and then held track position, forcing the Australian to pass him on the track in the final stint.
Massa lost a second on the in-lap to the pits for the second stop and his stop itself was a second slower than Ricciardo’s. That was enough to hand the advantage to Ricciardo, who undercut the Brazilian and was now up into the podium position he had targeted.
Bottas had a gap behind him, so could have tried coming in for a third stop and a set of softs with 10 or 12 laps to go and attack.
The curious thing about Vettel
Sebastian Vettel had a curious race, coming through from the pit lane, he should have been able to clear Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso and perhaps get close to Bottas in fifth.
Most other teams’ models showed Vettel’s fastest race being to run the first two stints on medium tyres and then the final stint on softs. Red Bull did not do that, they started on medium tyres and then pitted Vettel under the safety car to get him onto the softs.
He then stopped again, switching back to the mediums. Also he spent almost the whole race in traffic - he had clear air for only four laps in total – so that took extra life out of his tyres.
Vettel was heard to complain over the radio that he didn’t have the pace in the car to run the kind of lap times he expected.
He made a third stop for a set of softs with eight laps to go and managed to get up to seventh at the end.
It was a frustrating afternoon for him, summing up his season in many ways, on another day when his young Australian team mate made things happen for himself and got a podium against stronger opposition.
The UBS Strategy Report is prepared by JA on F1, with input and data from several F1 teams, from JA on F1 technical adviser Dominic Harlow and from Pirelli.
RACE HISTORY & TYRE USAGE CHARTS
Courtesy of Williams Martini Racing - Click to enlarge
Look at the end of Massa’s second stint (solid black line) and the way the pace tails off, by staying out a lap too long, which led to the undercut by Ricciardo. Look at Raikkonen’s (dotted red line) severe problems with tyre degradation, forcing him to stop three times.
Santander met with McLaren in Austin - report
Marussia listed as 'Manor F1 Team' on provisional 2015 team list