GP UNGHERIA F1/2019 - DOMENICA 04/08/2019 credit: @Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

Race Strategy in Formula One

The Science Behind Success

Cambridge Kisby Journalist

Elation descended into outrage at last weekends Turkish Grand Prix, when championship leader Lewis Hamilton was forced to pit following controversial team orders. Not only did this cause the British driver to lose valuable points, but it also highlighted a key aspect of Formula One that is often overlooked. Race strategy is a science and it has long been proven that the most successful teams in Formula One, are those who plan furthest ahead.

It’s hard to believe that up to 13 weeks before a Grand Prix, team strategists will already be hard at work preparing for every possible outcome that can occur during a race weekend. A teams strategy can depend on a variety of different factors including track conditions, weather, time of year, or even the age of the circuit. All of these factors have a significant effect on the car and its tyres and can ultimately make or break a teams entire race weekend.

This war of deception and deceit is something that can be observed up and down the paddock as every team of strategists has access to the same information, however, how they use it is what sets the best of them apart.

When speaking with Beyond the Grid host Tom Clarkson, head Alpha Romeo strategist Ruth Boscombe revealed her perspective on the role of a strategist within the team and how big a part they play in a teams victory.

“If you start behind a slower car but do the same strategy, you’ll finish in the same place…strategy is just facilitating the best possible decision making and making those decisions in a timely manner”.

“You have to consistently develop and combine ideas to try and understand how you can consistently get a leg up over the other 9 teams”.

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This constant strategic battle between teams is something that can have a great effect on the outcome of a race, for better or for worse. In Sochi, Lando Norris cost himself his first ever race victory by choosing to remain out on dry weather tyres despite being asked by his team if it was the right call. Superior race strategy by Mercedes allowed Lewis Hamilton to capitalise on this mistake and earn his century of race wins by switching to wet weather tyres. In Turkey, the story was very much different, with Mercedes taking a damage limitation approach to Lewis Hamilton’s 5th place finish and bringing him in for new tyres with just 7 laps to go.

This risk and return relationship is something that strategists and their teams are constantly up against. However, as the technology within the sport continues to develop and teams have access to more and more data, how long will it be before the racing is taken out of the driver’s hands completely?

Although driving a Formula One car is still an extreme sport, head engineers and strategists still have the final say on a vast amount of decisions that would regularly be under a drivers jurisdiction including engine mode, fuel consumption, and car retirements.

In years gone by, the drivers were the only ones who could provide accurate information on how they felt the car could improve and would be the first voice in any team meeting. Unfortunately, those days are behind us and the long-established bond between man and machine has deteriorated into machines run by microchips; a bleak prospect for the future of Formula One.

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