x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Vagaries of strategy are spicing up Formula One

The Chinese Grand Prix was exciting as the Pirelli tyres allowed teams to try different tactics.

Mark Webber is congratulated by his Red Bull Racing mechanics after taking third place in China. His bold pit strategy was the key to him being able to make up so many places.
Mark Webber is congratulated by his Red Bull Racing mechanics after taking third place in China. His bold pit strategy was the key to him being able to make up so many places.

The idea of pre-planned race tactics has always amused me.

Motor racing is an unpredictable sport and strange things do happen.

Coming up with a race strategy does involve input from the drivers, but, more often than not, ideas are devised in the pits or in team meetings.

When I was racing I would always give my views on what I thought was the way to go from my experiences in practice and qualifying.

And I always thought it was funny that the team strategists would spend hours putting in numbers and looking at options to come up with the perfect tactics yet no matter how much planning they made the race never panned out exactly as they forecast.

They never do.

Having said that, Lewis Hamilton got it just right in the Chinese Grand Prix when his three-stop strategy led to his first win of the season.

I thought Shanghai produced a great race and I think a lot of credit for that has to go to Pirelli.

The tyre manufacturer has supplied a product that really has improved the racing and offered teams and drivers the chance to try different strategies, leading to great action on the track.

Hamilton and McLaren-Mercedes were the worthy winners but it was a genuinely unpredictable affair, with many of the front runners deploying different strategies as they continue to try and get a handle on the new Pirelli compounds, which degrade and lose grip much quicker than the Bridgestones did last year.

I think we can expect to see much more racing like this as I do not think any of the teams are completely comfortable with the tyres and how they behave, and you are going to see more cases like in Shanghai of brave strategy calls which can either make someone's race or ruin it.

Hamilton's three-stop strategy meant he was on fresher rubber at the end of the race than Sebastian Vettel's Red Bull Racing car and was able to chase down the world champion.

Both teams would have thought their plan for the race would have been the right one, but in this case it was McLaren who got it right.

Things might become more settled once the teams are confident of how the soft and hard tyres are going to hold up in different temperatures and the different tracks, but until then it is only going to be good for the sport and for spectators to have such exciting racing.

A week ago I was critical of Hamilton for not being able to look after his tyres in Malaysia, but he judged it very well in China and he was the fastest of the front runners in the second half of the race.

What I do like is that you are now seeing drivers being challenged and they are not driving flat out.

Mark Webber looked as if he was going to have a nightmare day when he was on the hard tyres early on - the car looked awful and he was facing a long afternoon.

But on the soft tyres the Red Bull came alive and he absolutely flew from there on and it was a fantastic drive from him and he fully earned his podium finish.

Webber's race was a one-off in terms of strategy as he was able to use three fresh sets of soft tyres because of the problems with the Kers (Kinetic energy recovery systems) that had left him only 18th on the starting grid.

Qualifying is now no longer the be all and end all of a driver's race.

For a long time grid position was vital as it was difficult to overtake in the race.

But while track position is still important, being on the right tyre is now more essential, because the difference in grip levels mean that overtaking is now much more possible, as we saw with Hamilton's late pass on Vettel.

We have seen teams sacrificing qualifying runs to save tyres for the race and I think we will continue to see that as technical chiefs fine tune their approach to the races.

We now have to wait until May 8 for the next race in Turkey and everyone has a chance to take stock of how they are doing and they all have work to do.

Red Bull undoubtedly need to work on their Kers system, which has caused them trouble in all three races. They have the fastest package and McLaren will continue working in their typical McLaren way to catch them up.

The other teams will all be hoping that new parts and development can transform their pace before the F1 circus goes to Istanbul.

Johnny Herbert as a former F1 driver with three career victories. His column is written with the assistance of staff writer Graham Caygill