Spanish F1 Grand Prix - Race

How Mercedes’ tire strategy derailed them in Barcelona

Leave a comment

All the talk after the Spanish GP was, once again, dominated by tires. The grumbles in certain areas of the paddock are becoming louder and louder as race strategies were again decided by a team’s ability to make a set of Pirellis last long enough to complete a sensible stint.

Certain teams are better at this than others and, at the end of the day, it could be said that it’s a result of them doing a better job than the ones who struggle. A Formula One team’s job, after all, is to design a car to meet the challenges of the sport in its current form. It has to be said that the loudest complainers are noticeably the ones not finding things easy right now.

With that in mind I’ll take a quick look at two differing ends of that spectrum from Sunday’s race.

Race strategies are complicated things to plan; many factors that go in to making the decision and even once the decision’s made, it has to be flexible to cope with the unpredictable parameters.

Mercedes have a car, evident from the last three races, capable of being faster than anyone else over a single lap in qualifying and indeed that’s exactly what they were on Saturday.

Planning a race strategy from pole position’s a different prospect to planning one from further down the field and should clearly be a huge advantage at a circuit where overtaking is difficult. Assuming a good start, the driver in front should be able to dictate the race to a certain extent and pole sitter Nico Rosberg, starting along with all of the other front runners on the medium compound tire, did indeed get away in front.

His biggest problem, and one that came as no surprise to all involved, is the fact that the Mercedes F1W04 destroys tires considerably quicker than everyone else. On Saturday evening when the drivers and their engineers at the team, and indeed all of the teams, sat down to figure out their best strategic options, they knew this and had to factor it into their race plans.

The white walled medium compound tire, faster of the two but less durable, was the one to qualify on, but on a Mercedes it was never going to last very long in race conditions. At the start every car’s carrying close to 150kgs of fuel and that significant extra weight, combined with a track not yet at it’s most grippy and the need to fight other cars at close quarters, has a dramatic impact on tire life and therefore race strategy.

Hamilton: Mercedes has “a lot of work to do”

Their plan was, in all honesty, a damage limitation one, staying on the medium tire for as long as they could manage while holding off the field at the front and then using the harder compound for the remainder of the GP. Initial calculations had a three-stop strategy completing the race distance about 6 or 7 seconds faster than a four-stop one and so was optimal, but it would all depend on drivers looking after the rubber to make that work. Rosberg opted for the 3 stopper of medium/hard/hard/hard, but with the only way to make the hard compound last was for him to drive at a pace so slow he became a sitting duck. He predictably fell back through the field. Perhaps a four-stop race might have helped him a little, but in truth he was never going to catch the car in front and did just about survive the challenge of Paul Di Resta behind, so the outcome would probably have remained unchanged.

The eventual race winner, Fernando Alonso, who began the race fifth, would have had to look at things slightly differently on Saturday evening to Nico Rosberg. Also having to begin the race on medium compound tires, his optimal strategy relied on a great start, something Ferrari are generally able to rely on at the moment and duly delivered.

I thought their initial plan was to three stop, probably medium/hard/hard/hard or medium/hard/hard/medium, as the the car in the last stint of the race would cope a little easier on a set of medium tires and theoretically be faster.

In the end the Ferrari, with a handful of updates for this event, was able to push at a good pace and still keep the tires in good condition for most of the GP, in direct contrast to the Mercedes. This, combined with his stunning first lap, enabled to team to switch to a more comfortable four-stop race, allowing Alonso to push hard in each stint on a medium/hard/hard/medium/hard plan and stay ahead of the struggling pack. Again the two early spells on hards allowed the fuel load to burn off and the track to rubber in, before using mediums to set some blistering laptimes and secure his position out in front. By the time the final stop came around, the only set the team had left were already used from earlier in the weekend and so, with his position fairly stable, a set of hards saw him comfortably to the end. The stop actually came two laps earlier than planned because of a suspected, and now confirmed, slow puncture, but the hard work early on ensured it didn’t cost him track position. It was a superb drive by Alonso and ensured the team had options to play with when it came to deciding how to see out the race. They weren’t forced into anything or have to react to anyone else and so could use the four stop strategy to good advantage, pushing all the way.

To win from fifth position is unprecedented at this circuit and, while perhaps a sign of the Pirelli era, it’s actually more a sign of how badly the problems are at Mercedes. Their two cars, in P1 and P2 on the grid, finished in sixth and 12th, freeing up easy places for those further back and Alonso and Ferrari made great use of their start, racecraft and ultimately their race strategy, to take a dominant, flat out victory.

Marc Priestley can be found on Twitter @f1elvis.

Mansell: Button, Alonso must keep faith in McLaren

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - JULY 03:  Former F1 World Champion Nigel Mansell of Great Britain talks to the media during previews ahead of the British Formula One Grand Prix at Silverstone Circuit on July 3, 2014 in Northampton, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images)
© Getty Images
Leave a comment

Former Formula 1 and CART champion Nigel Mansell has urged Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso to keep faith in McLaren-Honda while the team goes through the “growing pains” of a new partnership.

Button and Alonso have both won world titles in the past, but neither have been able to even dream of a similar success in 2015 as the new Honda power unit has limited the team to just 17 points in total from the first 14 races.

Both drivers are set to remain with the team for 2016, but speculation about their future has been rife as a result of Honda’s struggles which even prompted Alonso to publicly vent his frustration over the radio in last weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix.

Speaking to BBC Sport, Mansell urged both drivers to keep faith in the McLaren-Honda project, believing that it could yet make big strides forward ahead of the 2016 season.

“Jenson deserves an opportunity to see if they can compete and win next year,” Mansell said. “I think this winter Honda can make a breakthrough and McLaren will be working so, so hard.

“They are a fantastic team. They’ve won so much in the past and, to use [McLaren Group CEO] Ron Dennis’s words, they will win again in the future. I have no doubt about that.”

Mansell himself walked away from McLaren after just two races in 1995, its first season with Mercedes engines. After winning the CART title in 1993, Mansell enjoyed four races with Williams in F1 the following year before joining McLaren for the 1995 season.

After missing the first two races of the year due to the car being too narrow, Mansell took part in the San Marino and Spanish Grands Prix before walking away from McLaren due to the car’s lack of pace.

The Briton hinted at his own regrets when discussing the matter, and wished McLaren the very best in its bid to get back to the front of the field.

“Between Alonso and Jenson they will be a formidable team, given the car and the engine to do the job,” Mansell said. “When you go through the growing pains, and I’ve been there a few times myself, stay the course because they could have the best team and best engine.

“They’ll have some really serious regrets if Honda get it right after they’ve gone somewhere else. Hopefully within 12 months they’ll be singing the praises of the team and Honda. I sincerely hope they’ll be winning races in a year’s time.”

WRC: Latvala claims third win of 2015 in France

AJACCIO, FRANCE - OCTOBER 04:  Jari Matti Latvala of Finland and Mikka Anttila of Finland celebrate their victory during Day Three of the WRC France on October 4, 2015 in Ajaccio, France.  (Photo by Massimo Bettiol/Getty Images)
© Getty Images
Leave a comment

Jari-Matti Latvala fought back to claim his third win of the 2015 FIA World Rally Championship season, beating Elfyn Evans after the Briton threatened to claim an unlikely victory in France.

For the first time since 2008, the Rally de France took place on the Mediterranean island of Corsica, but was hit by heavy rain and flooding that caused two of the stages to be cancelled.

Championship winner Sebastien Ogier and former Formula 1 driver Robert Kubica shared the early lead of the rally, but both dropped back due to technical problems.

Evans emerged as the leader after stage three on Friday, enjoying an advantage of 22 seconds over Latvala. However, the Volkswagen driver managed to reel the Briton in and take the lead after stage six before keeping his rivals at bay over the remainder of the rally.

Despite only finishing third on the final power stage, Latvala claimed his third win of the season ahead of Evans by 43 seconds.

“We’ve not had to push to the maximum at any point, but it was a faultless drive in difficult conditions,” Latvala said. “After winning last year, I have now done it again in Corsica and it’s important for me to show I can be competitive on all surfaces.”

Evans managed to hold on to second place by 3.2 seconds to record his career-best finish, while Andreas Mikkelsen rounded out the podium in third place.

Although neither Ogier nor Kubica could finish in the points, both salvaged something from the weekend by coming first and second respectively in the power stage.

The WRC returns in three weeks’ time for Rally de Catalunya in Spain, which is the penultimate round of the 2015 season.