The week after a grand prix, the race analysis from the various publications that bother to do this kind of thing, must be like a Chinese water torture for a team who got their strategy wrong.
Various opinions have been offered that suggest Ferrari could or should have won the race.
One view is predicated upon the fact that in 2014 there was a safety car on lap 41 and should history repeat itself, Kimi having stopped on lap 40 on the fresh softer tyre would have been in the box seat.
The safety car at times is a very important consideration in a team’s strategy planning, but prior to this year’s event, the chances of a safety car were a mere 15% based on the races run at the Sakhir Circuit since 2002. So with a low chance of a safety car, Ferrari were unlikely to factor this into their pre-race strategy.
Yet Mercedes pit wall strategy has to be questioned again because they failed to split the tyre strategy on their cars leaving them vulnerable to Raikkonen who indeed became Ferrari’s main protagonist.
It appears the timing of Mercedes pit stop and tyre decisions were reactive and based on covering Sebastian Vettel, but ignoring the possibility that Raikkonen could be in the mix later in the race. A famous F1 team can recall the severe penalty for failing in this way back in 2012.
Vettel pitted surprisingly early, lap 13 (tyres 16 laps old) when the Ferrari data from Free Practice showed they could run comfortably for 19-20 laps on the softer tyre compound. This move by Ferrari was clearly designed to force Mercedes hand and prevent them trundling around on a tyre preservation strategy as they had in China.
And it worked, because on lap 14 Rosberg was pitted and Hamilton likewise a lap later.
This created problems for Nico, because he was under two seconds ahead of Vettel when the German stopped and so he lost track position to the Ferrari driver, being forced to use up valuable tyre and braking resources to regain his place.
Hamilton was immune from this because when Vettel stopped, he was over 7 seconds ahead of the lead Ferrari.
Mercedes have said they will split the tyre strategy between their cars if necessary, though Ferrari’s surprise early stop from Vettel may have created a moment’s panic in the strategy room. With Rosberg never going to retain track position on Vettel – and with hindsight – the ‘cover all options’ decision should have been to pit Hamilton’s strategy against Vettel and Rosberg’s against whatever Kimi did.
This would have preserved track position of a Mercedes car ahead of the Ferrari on the same strategy.
Lewis would still have been able to stay out 2 laps longer than Vettel – and retain the lead, though with the advantage of starting the second stint with fresher tyres.
The reason for not leaving Rosberg out and running his second stint on the harder tyre compound may reflect on Mercedes current attitude towards their two drivers. It could be argued that Mercedes deployed Nico as a rear gunner to Hamilton, to fight with Vettel and diminish his race resources.
The encyclopaedic manual that defines the ‘rules of on track engagement’ between the Mercedes drivers, would normally see Hamilton pitted first in this situation anyway. Remember Rosberg had started the race with much better tyres than Hamilton, due to his excessively slow lap in Q2. He was not now able to use this advantage by running longer in stint one of the race.
Another reason for avoiding the medium tyre may be that unlike Ferrari, Mercedes failed to calculate the improvement in performance the medium tyre would bring – given the race temperatures were much cooler than in FP2.
So as many have questioned, could Ferrari have won the race by pitting Kimi earlier on either stint? Kimi did have a lot of rubber left in the soft tyre at the end of the race. His final lap was a 1:38 – which some observers point out was a time Hamilton had not set for several laps.
In terms of tyre degradation, Kimi may have run one lap too long at the end of his second stint, he was a second slower on his last full lap than the one previous. But this would have made no difference to the race outcome.
Should Kimi then have stopped earlier on his first stint?
He was 9.2 seconds behind Hamilton when the Brit stopped on lap 15 and by the time Kimi had fitted his new medium tyres and was up to speed on lap 18 with his new tyres, he had fallen back to 13.98 seconds behind Lewis.
Yet there was little deterioration in Kimi’s times prior to the stop. The three full laps before then were 1:41.148, 1:40.973, 1:40.898
But as we’d seen with Vettel, the newer soft tyre was about a two seconds a lap quicker so Hamilton’s first three flying laps after stop one were 1:38.145, 1:39.061, 1:39.284.
It is this lost time Ferrari are accused of wasting by not getting Raikkonen onto the prime earlier because this represents a little more than the total gap Hamilton had to the Finn before Lewis began to ease off at the end of the race.
Two factors will mean Ferrari’s strategists will sleep well at night, knowing the win was beyond their reach – barring a Lewis’ failure or a safety car.
Firstly, what Ferrari borrowed from possibly shortening the stint on the first tyre, would have been somewhat paid back by having to run the second stint longer. Also its impossible to know which exact lap a tyre will run out of ‘attack’ life.
At the time, this writer felt that Ferrari should have given Kimi just 15 laps on his final tyre, not 17. Of course he then starts his chase from further back.
Secondly, unfortunately for F1 fans, the new 2015 regulations designed to reduce downforce are definitely hurting the ability of a quicker car running close to one in front without damaging the tyre.
The 2015 front wing is higher, reducing downforce gains from underneath the car. This means the impact of the dirty air coming from the rear wings of the 2015 cars – is relatively higher than in 2014.
The FIA need to regulate to reduce downforce from the top of the cars and clean up the airflow behind the cars to promote better old fashion style drafting opportunities.
Had Kimi caught Lewis, he would have suffered a similar plight to Sebastian Vettel, who in a quicker car on newer tyres failed to pass Bottas for lap after lap. Vettel on Bottas is not the first time we’ve seen this kind of problem in 2015.
One final point of note. Had Vettel not had one of the shoddiest drives of his career, failing to put Nico on the Kimi strategy could have been even more painful for Mercedes – as the sight of two Ferrari drivers on the podium would have been eminently possible.
Of course these strategy calls are tight and no one is perfect, but Mercedes may wish to sharpen up their act in this department, before it costs them big time in a race.