How going ‘off strategy’ can get results: Reflections on the Hungarian Grand Prix

August 2, 2010

Mark Webber: the off-strategy expert with my co-author, Richard West. Photo: Jenkins, Pasternak & West

Mark Webber secured an outstanding victory in Hungary yesterday, partly due to luck, partly due to some outstanding laps on the shorter life ‘option’ tyre, and also because, in his words, he went ‘off strategy’. One of the most important things about a strategic plan is knowing when to abandon it, and that’s exactly what Red Bull did when the Safety Car came out on lap on Lap 14. The accepted wisdom is to make your pitstop as soon as the safety car comes out thereby changing your tyres when the field is going relatively slowly, and so you lose less time. The problem for Red Bull is that this was fine for Vettel, who was leading, but would have meant that Webber would have remained behind Alonso in third place, and they wanted a 1-2. So they kept him out. This meant he was now in front with a clear track and had the task of building up a 20second lead over Alonso to move to second place when he made his pitstop. It worked perfectly, but was also helped (inadvertently I think!) by his teammate Sebastian Vettel, who lost radio contact and became disorientated during the safety car period and allowed Webber to pull out a big gap between him and the rest of the field and so Webber disappeared into the distance when the safety car came in. Unfortunately for Vettel his tardiness in following Webber meant that he had exceeded the 10 car gap (does someone measure this?!) permitted by the regulations and so got a drive through penalty, which demoted him from a pretty certain win to third place. So Webber and Vettel swapped places, and it was nothing (as far as we know) to do with team orders.

The other point of note from the race was just how close F1 is to a major disaster, despite all the work on safety. In the rush to get in and out of the pits when the safety car came in, Rosberg left with a disconnected rear right hand wheel, which promptly flew through the Sauber pit crew bounced some ten metres in the air and came to rest against a Williams mechanic, Nigel Hope, who fortunately was not badly injured. In the confusion that followed Robert Kubica was released from his pit box just as Adrian Sutil was trying to enter his and a collision occurred, mercifully with no injuries, but it could have been so much worse. Finally we had Michael’s ‘tough’ move on Rubens that was within centimetres of disaster, Rubens could have been intimidated and lifted off, but he didn’t and there was great joy in the Williams garage, it was only for a single point, but for Rubens making the move stick on Schumacher was worth a whole lot more.

7 Responses to “How going ‘off strategy’ can get results: Reflections on the Hungarian Grand Prix”

  1. Ago Says:

    I go on with the first part of your story but then why did Vettel left Mark take such a big gap on the last lap under SC?
    Radio or no radio Sebastian could not be disoriented, everybody knows the SC turns off its flashing lights when it’s coming in…
    My own story would be that Vettel planned to let Mark take around 20+ seconds and then increase his pace (he was easily 1s quickler per lap than Alonso or Hamilton) to reduce that gap to 15-16s so that when coming back to the track after his pitstop Mark will be behind him but still in front of the Ferrari and the McLaren… Alas he got a DT and the plan failed…

    PS: Nobody has to measure a 10 cars’s gap, just stay close enough to the car you are following… and that’s usually what they do, so when they don’t there might be some very good reason… 😉
    That’s what I think…
    BTW Congratulations for your excellent blog !

    • Mark Says:

      Hi Ago

      This is an interesting theory and one which makes a lot of sense to me, particularly when you listen to the radio message to Vettel to cool it and ‘we’re all very upset, we’ll discuss it later’. However given Christian Horner’s open criticism of team orders, one we may never know the answer to!

      • Trevor Says:

        It is interesting to listen to the team radios on Vettel says on the race edit, via radio no less, “sorry guys, I f*ed up the restart!”.

        I think it was his own error, I think he did not mean to commit the offense, I think the radio was working, and I think he didn’t know there was the ten car lengths rule.

        Then again I may be naive in thinking that, having freshly experienced team orders from Ferrari.

  2. Ago Says:

    Of cour he f*ed the restart. But what did he f**ed up really ? the restart or his plan (or the team’s plan) ?
    When did he said that? After knowing he was going to have a DT or before ? The timing might change the true meaning of the message 😉
    I simply cannot believe a sharp and eager driver like he is was just relaxing… never seen that before in any F1 race. Have you?

    • Trevor Says:

      In the race edit they played it as the safety car pulled into the pits. We only have that timing to go on, but obviously he would not have apologised so long after, when he got the drive through.

      We all knew how fast the red bull was.. if it was their plan to bunch the pack behind Vettel, then it was pointless and they screwed up their own race. My point is I can understand a driver not knowing a rule, but how can an army of strategists and engineers not know the rule? Seems unlikely to be a strategy call, and also unlikely Vettel would help Webber out in the race out of his own will.

      And yes, behind the safety car I have seen some stupid driver errors. I’ve also seen Vettel do some pretty silly things.

      • Mark Says:

        And of course one of those silly things behind the safety car was in Fuji in 2008, when Vettel was driving for Toro Rosso he ran into the back of a Red Bull driven by – Mark Webber. Perhaps what happened in Hungary was another one of Webber’s ‘Karma’ moments?

      • Ago Says:

        I am not saying I am right, I don’t know the truth indeed.
        I am just using my common sense to try to understand what has happened.
        The facts are that at the beginning of the race Seb and Mark have the same number of points, Seb is on pole and obviously need a win.
        Now when somebody -including Seb- says he way “sleeping waiting the restart” I just cannot believe it.
        It is also pretty obvious -to me- that there is only one thing in Seb’s mind when he comes back on the track after his pit-stop: To get ahead of his team mate (that’s what would be in my mind anyway!) and in order to do that with the SC still running he’s got to stay as close as possible NOT to leave a comfortable gap… He also knows that overtaking (or at least racing) will be permitted from SC Line1 and that is before the start/finish line, so what is he doing way behind the other RB6?
        You tell me 😉

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: