FORMULA 1: RACE STRATEGY
and 24 seconds. You ideally need at least
that margin over slower cars before
taking advantage of your pit stop window.
5. GAME THEORY
The best thing to do is never lock in your
strategy until you know what your
opponent is going to do. But you can’t
know that until after it’s happened... So
there is a certain amount of predicting and
trying to anticipate it. This is where gut
instinct can most effectively be used to
override software statistical computations.
6. SAFETY CAR PROBABILITIES
The historic probability of a safety car, or
virtual safety car, is fed into the strategy
equation, as well as how that probability
is spread over key stages of the race.
Pitting during a safety car loses you far
less time to the rest of the field than pitting
when a race is “live,” because those not
pitting are held to the safety car’s pace (or,
before catching up to the safety car, to the
mini-sector times displayed on the dash).
Relative to if you’ve just pitted or are about
to pit, you can gain or lose big time when a
safety car appears. That random factor can
lose or win you a race, unrelated to merit.
If you’re starting near the back, you
may gamble on an early safety car by
starting on the slower tire, ready to
change it under the safety car. If it
appears, you’ve fulfilled your obligation
to run at least two different compounds,
while allowing you to close back up to the
safety car-led field, hence negating much
of the pit stop’s time penalty. You can then
be on the fastest tire compound for the
remainder of the race. Typically, this can
be worth around 10-15sec of race time.
Timing of the safety car can also lose
you the race. The virtual safety car (VSC)
entails less jeopardy, in that it freezes the
gaps between the cars and, unlike a real
safety car, doesn’t allow a rival you’d pulled
out a lot of time on to close back up.
7. “HAIL MARY”
At the sharp end, teams are risk-averse
because it’s all about track position over
your rival and the smallest of details that
can give you that. Probabilities are
calculated and defined. Further back,
there’s way less risk in being strategically
extreme. If your car isn’t ordinarily going
to score points on pace alone, then rolling
the dice has no real downside and, every
now and again, a race-changing upside
when circumstances fall in your favor.
This was another race where the
“overcut” was expected to prevail at
the first stops as the front runners
switched from their ultra-soft Pirellis
to the harder super-softs, which could
take more than a lap to reach working
temperature. It created a potentially
explosive situation at Ferrari, for
whom Kimi Raikkonen was on pole,
ahead of teammate Sebastian Vettel.
Knowing that Vettel was going
to be given the “overcut” strategy,
Raikkonen initially tried pulling out
a gap on his teammate that would
have allowed him to retain the lead
regardless. But when Vettel then
came back at him hard and closed
a 2.4-second gap down to just one
second, it was clear their respective
pace was very closely matched and
that Raikkonen wasn’t going to be
able to do it that way.
Instead, the Finn cannily switched
his approach, suddenly backing off to
a relatively sedate pace, with Vettel
obliged to follow (nowhere to pass at
Monaco...). This way, Raikkonen was
extending the opening stint so that it
would take longer to establish the
required gap over traffic to drop into. The
longer the stint lasted, the less powerful
the “overcut” was, because the old
tires lost ever more performance.
Raikkonen was brought in first, and
Vettel had to push way harder than
expected to make the overcut work.
Knowing his best chance to overcome a
Vettel “overcut” strategy, Raikkonen
pushed hard from the start in Monaco.
(ABOVE) Safety cars, both real and virtual,
throw a random element into the race mix.
Relative to whether you’ve just pitted or
are about to pit, you can gain or lose out
big time when the safety car appears.
Free practice allows engineers and drivers
(ABOVE, McLaren’s Fernando Alonso) to
piece together a theoretical strategy.
THINKING THROUGH A GAMEPLAN