Reader Rights: Importance of strategy in modern F1

Pit gantry wall

We often think that it is the Formula 1 driver who wins the Grand Prix, but we seldom see what goes on in the back end of the team.

Strategy is arguably one of the most important aspects of a successful Formula 1 campaign. No matter whether you are in the fastest car or the fastest driver on the grid, without a winning strategy, you can never really win.

Lewis Hamilton led the recent Monaco Grand Prix for almost 65 laps and had built a comfortable 20 second lead over second placed Nico Rosberg. The world champion was cruising to his second career win on the streets of Monaco.

Alas, this time around the safety car had to come out, after rookie Max Verstappen went on to hit Romain Grosjean on the first turn and rammed into the barriers – thankfully they were lucky to escape without any injuries.

Rosberg Vettel Hamilton Monaco podium

At this point, Hamilton’s tyres were going off and he felt that he could be caught by Rosberg and Vettel if they both pit for fresh tyres under the safety car. The team inexplicably called the reigning champ in for a fresh set of tyres and totally miscalculated the gap between first and second place.

This ensured that when Lewis came out of the pits, Rosberg had already gone ahead and Vettel was a nose of the Mercedes – the trio behind the safety car. Thereafter there was no way for Lewis to pass the German jockey in the prancing horse and he had to settle for the last of the podium places.

Hamilton was rightfully dejected after the race and who knows this could very well be a huge momentum shift that Rosberg needed to kick off his 2015 bid for the driver’s championship and (who knows?) Sunday in Monaco may well be decisive in the title race come the year end.

High profile strategy blunders are hardly unique to the sport, and there are two relatively recent incidents which come to mind when I think of failed strategies that cost drivers the championship.

Petrov Alonso Webber Abu Dhabi 2010

Flashback to 2010, the final race of the season in Abu Dhabi; Fernando Alonso in his Ferrari was third on the grid and Vettel was on pole. Alonso went into the race with a healthy points lead over Vettel and Red Bull teammate Mark Webber.

Come the safety car in the early stages of the race and Red Bull pitted Webber. Ferrari, very anxious at that time, covered Webber by bringing Alonso in the very next lap but did not cover Vettel.

As a result, Alonso got stuck behind traffic and managed to finish the race out of the top four, while Vettel in clear air at the front went on to win the race and his first Formula 1 title.

Ferrari had inadvertently put Alonso behind slower cars during the safety car period and the Spaniard could not make up further places and that cost him his third championship. Heads rolled that winter at Maranello.

Hamilton China 2007 McLaren retires

Rewind further back to 2007, Hamilton’s impressive debut season in Formula 1. He was all set to win his first championship as a rookie. But what happens along the way? Strategy ruins it and handed the title to Kimi Raikkonen.

It was at the Chinese Grand prix and it was raining, with all the teams were on the wet weather tyres. Hamilton delayed his pit stop by one lap… just one lap. When he finally came into the pits, his tyres were so badly worn out that he simply had no grip and slithered straight into the gravel outside the pit lane.

He beached his McLaren just a less than fifty metres from his pit box. As a result he scored no points in this race and this gave Raikkonen the chance to close the gap and snatch the title in Brazil.

Strategy is a key element to success in modern Formula 1. If you’re not the best at everything you do in this sport, there is no way that you can be at the top of the championship – and strategy is arguably the most important elements to get right… all the time.

Opinion piece by Shyam Shivkumar