Williams’ double strategy error costs them dear

Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain. Saturday 5 April 2014. Rob Smedley, Head of Vehicle Performance, Williams F1. Photo: Glenn Dunbar/Williams F1. ref: Digital Image _W2Q9917

Brought to you by TJ13 editor in chief Andrew Huntley-Jacobs

Track position is king in 2015. We have learned in the races before the British GP that overtaking amongst the top teams is at a premium. Even Lewis Hamilton has found himself frustrated when behind his team-mate in both Spain and Austria.

The aerodynamics of the 2015 cars are creating such air turbulence for the car behind, that the 2015 Pirelli rubber is understandably not effective in allowing the cars to follow closely, even when the car chasing would be much quicker in ‘clean air’.

This was evident at the 2015 british GP, in that Massa was able to hold up the seemingly quicker Valterri Bottas – even with DRS – and when Lewis Hamilton pitted, his first lap in ‘free air’ was two seconds a lap quicker than the cars he had been following.

So given that both Massa and Bottas had track position over the Mercedes pair, we have to question whether Williams could have done a better job retaining their lead of the race before the rains came.

Ferrari’s performance on the medium tyre was woeful from the lights out, and by the time they pitted fifth place Kimi Raikkonen at the end of lap 13, he was 10 seconds behind the leader Massa. Vettel in 6th place was also switched to the hard tyre a lap later, which meant the Ferrari’s were now nearly half a minute behind the leaders.

This left just Kvyat and Hulkenberg, having inherited fifth and sixth place, preventing any of the top four from having ‘a free pit stop’. The Red Bull and Force India were 12 and 13 seconds behind the leaders respectively.

Daniel Kvyat pitted on lap 18 and leaving just Hulkenberg as a potential stumbling block for the leading 4 cars from being able to stop and rejoin the race ahead of the field from P5 downwards.

Mercedes decided lap 19 was the moment to call Lewis Hamilton in and switch him from the medium to hard tyres. Lewis would have 4-5 laps in clean air before he would catch Hulkenberg, should the German driver fail to stop.

Fortuitously, Force India also decided lap 19 was also the right time to pit their German driver, so Hamilton emerged fourth place, and a clear track ahead.

Lewis was immediately 2 seconds a lap faster than the leading three who had yet to stop and this wasn’t due to the fresh rubber. Evidence from Vettel, Raikkonen and Ricciardo – who had made the same switch several laps previously – was that the new hard tyre was just fractions of a second quicker than the medium compounds they shed.

In desperation, Williams tried to cover Hamilton, pitting race leader Felipe Massa the next lap – but the moment had gone. Hamilton passed the pit lane exit as the lead Williams car was still getting up to race speed.

Rosberg also stopped along with Massa on lap 20, but after a side-by-side moment with the Brazilian in the pit lane, Massa emerged just ahead of the Mercedes.

Lap 21, Bottas completed the round of first pit stops by the top four drivers, and squeezed out behind Massa but ahead of Rosberg, who had again been held up for a lap by the lead Williams driver.

The rains came and the Mercedes of Rosberg was clearly more adept in those conditions. Nico passed both Williams cars even before switching to the intermediate Pirelli tyre as the track became progressively soaked.

In the cold light of day, Williams appear to have simply been incapable of taking the initiative to ensure at least one of their cars would end up ahead of the Mercedes pair after the first round of pit stops.

Rob Smedley faced the media and explained the Williams team philosophy. “We don’t want to favour one driver over another. It is a team effort and the main thing is we wanted to get as many points as possible for the team”.

“The team comes before anybody,” added Smedley. “It is Frank’s team: that is clear. And that was our number one objective. To get the points for the team.”

This response is an oxymoron because the strategy did not deliver the maximum points for the team. It further demonstrates Williams are not ruthless enough to do what it takes to win. Having been presented with the gift of both cars ahead of the Mercedes duo, the obvious strategy is to allow one of their cars to build a gap ahead of the Mercedes pair to cover their first pit stop.

It was put to Rob Smedley, that Williams had been naive at the 2015 british GP and that his former employer – Ferrari – would have been more ruthless in deploying spoiler tactics.

Smedley responded, “This is not any other team. This is Williams and we have our rules of engagement, and the rules of engagement are such that we were happy to see them race as long as they were not holding each other up.”

As to why Williams appeared to simply follow Mercedes’ lead, Rob had this to say. “We didn’t want to go too early because we wanted to make sure that we nailed the one stop, and make sure that we could make the one stop happen,” he said.

“That was absolutely our main priority because we knew that was the fastest strategy and it is always that cat and mouse game of not having to stop early, so you run out of tyres in the end. And that was the decision we were making.

“We were watching what Mercedes were going to do, knowing that they had a quicker car. You saw their in laps, they were quite stunning, their pit stops were very good as well.

“It was the balance of not waiting too long but not stopping too early so we didn’t run out of tyres at the end of the race.”

Williams ultimately failed in this regard, they waited just one lap too long to pit either of their drivers which most likely would have seen them retain the lead of the race.

Conversely, Mercedes took the first opportunity they found to grab the initiative by pitting Hamilton into ‘free air’, to exploit the extra speed Smedley knew they had.

Yet Williams’ strategy woes did not finish there. Even when the rain came, the Grove outfit were again slow to react.

Smedley attempts an explanation for why neither of their drivers failed to fit the intermediate rain tyre at the same time as Lewis Hamilton. “We were waiting until the right time to stop and I think Lewis stopped one lap earlier than us, and he made a really great decision there.”

“We were just trying to watch our sectors and that middle sector of the lap when he stopped was getting much quicker.

“The rain was just hitting at the pit exit area on the pit straight and when it did hit, Seb Vettel still had 15 seconds more to make that decision when it was clearly going to be wet and our cars were just past the pit entry.

“Once you pass the pit entry then we had to do another lap like that. It was disappointing we didn’t get that.”

Let’s remember, team’s regularly give their drivers pit stop instructions contingent on what another driver does, even if the competing driver is within just a second of another rival. Hamilton was now 14 and 19 seconds ahead of Massa and Bottas respectively.

Hamilton pitted from the lead, and the obvious and risk averse choice for Williams was to split their tyre strategy and pit one car for the intermediate tyres. Yet both cars trundled around for an extra lap, meanwhile the street wise Vettel followed Hamilton’s lead and stopped for the rain tyre; the result saw the German jump both Bottas and Massa before the grove outfit realised their fate.

Vettel snatched third place for Ferrari, and Williams missed the opportunity to close the gap to Ferrari in the constructors’ championship by 10 points.

When the internal investigation is done, the analysis has to be that Williams must improve their ability to control their drivers for the benefit of the team together with being more pro-active on race strategy.


34 responses to “Williams’ double strategy error costs them dear

  1. Lessons not learned from Austria 2014.. maybe they are content to be the best customer team? Second best to Mercedes if it means survival? To be ruthless, you could say Williams haven’t been good at pit strategy for 20 years.. !

  2. Summed up perfectly Judge. Had they let Bottas through and covered the Mercs undercut, there was a possibility of P1 and P4. Massa finished P4 even otherwise. Sadly i feel this would be moment where Bottas decides to join Ferrari next year.

  3. Agree that Williams dropped the ball but Bottas needs to take some blame. If he wants to be a world champion you want to be outqualifying Massa. Had he done that he would have been away with a rear gunner. He would have been in the lead until the rain came.

    • That’s assuming the start would’ve gone the way it did for Massa. He should have just gone for it and deal with anything the team had to say after the race.

      But one thing is evident with Bottas, he goes missing whenever it gets wet.

        • That was qualifying, I’m talking about the race.

          Qualified 3rd and finished 14th.

          • you seriously going to blame him for going backwards in that car in the dry? The point there was that the williams was shit, and when it rained his performance pulled it up the grid, he did alright in that respect in China 2014 too IIRC. I don’t reckon Bottas is quite as astounding as some do, but he’s had a Williams which has either been terrible, or the last two years; a drag efficient car that has been a handfull in the rain. Doesn’t excuse him loosing so much time in the wet at Silverstone, but there haven’t been that many wet races, and one like Suzuka 2014 where he went backwards, so did his team mate. I just don’t think there is enough info to suggest its just him, and not a car issue, and some suggestions from qualifying that he can find the grip for a single lap, just the car is too unstable over a race full of fuel.

  4. I was suprised Williams didn’t use Bottas to hold the Mercs up at bit, he probably could of dropped ½ second a lap to Massa and still held the Mercs, it is after all a team game. I was dissapointed, seemed to me they put the ego’s of the drivers first, something Frank would never of done in the past.

    On a side note, Kimi and Massa both got beaten by Alonso to a similar degree, so I have no idea what Ferrari would gain in swapping Kimi for Bottas, when Bottas can’t handle Massa. Makes no sense to me at all.

    • That logic implies Raikkonen=Massa=Bottas and Alonso=Vettel. So that would actually make sense to Ferrari. Not that I think you can just compare drivers like that.

  5. I was yet again very disappointed in Williams. This had echos of Austria 2014, which surely raises the questions again of if Williams were actually trying to beat Mercedes or not.

    First up, the Bottas defence vs Hamilton was incredibly poor. He had the chance at T3 to run Lewis clean out of road and then stick left to prevent a pass. He did neither properly – Ferrari driver material it was not.

    The pit stop, if Williams should have taken anything from Austria 2014 it was that they needed to be ready to stop on the same lap at the Mercedes, or marginally earlier. Given the box box box call to Lewis was played out over the radio whilst the drivers were still up at the top of Hanger straight I refuse to believe the team couldn’t react for one of there drivers at this point (n.b. this would have proven an idea time to pit Bottas to get him ahead of Massa if they had wanted).

    To then pit a lap later and claim it was because they were worried about the tyres lasting? Give us all a damn break, we’re not that thick.

    Additionally I’d add that Bottas didn’t help the team too much as he forced Massa to defend several times, and whilst Massa wasn’t defending that’s when he started to pull a small gap on the Mercs.

    Overall it looked like a race by a Mercedes B team who were desperate to try and make it look like they were trying to win, but ultimately aimed for P3 & 4.

    It was therefore quite satisfying to see that Vettel fluked into the idea lap to stop and change to inters.

    • I imagine it’s a little more complicated than you’re portraying there – if they’ve set out in the team itself that they won’t put ‘orders’ into play, then I can imagine that to break that rule wouldn’t go down too well. Much like Mercedes have their rulebook, Williams will too so they’ve got to either stand by it or open themselves up to potential trouble in future.

      For what it’s worth I still think Bottas should have been given an easier time of it getting passed Massa. It was a win-win situation. If Bottas just cleared off from Massa then you’ve got a leading car that’s gaining time on your competitors while you have Massa holding them up. If Massa was able to use DRS to keep on the back of Bottas while Bottas was setting faster times, then they’re effectively both benefiting from the fastest driver having track position. It would also have had the effect of the following cars taking more out of their tyres which would theoretically reduce their chances of blitzing an in-lap and getting the jump on them that way.

      I suspect though that ultimately they got caught out by suddenly finding themselves in a situation where they were 1-2. With all the talk of clutches and improving race starts at Mercedes, no-one would have expected them to both bomb as badly as they did off the line. Grip levels may have been low at the time, but they still both had a shocker of a start – the onboards from the Mercedes cars showing the Williams cars flying by said it all.

      Completely agree with the post about the strategy for switching to Inters though. Again, a nothing to lose scenario by splitting strategy.

  6. Would have been interesting to see Rosberg put up a little more resistance when Massa was alongside leaving the pits.

      • Agreed Massa had a wheel ahead but Nico was already between the lines. Wouldn’t it have been better to hold position and see who blinks first at the exit? Besides, if a car is alongside doesn’t that put it in the “unsafe release” debate?

        • My question precisely: Was that a safe release? I’ve seen several instances this year where it was deemed “safe”, but I just can’t see how the stewards would justify this…

  7. simple advice for Williams…..he who dares wins.

    also would add in my opinion very weak handed management by Williams from the pit wall, Christian Horner would have been proud…oh stop being silly indeed, don’t race, oh fine so if you insist, do race, just don’t crash, please!!!….poor stuff. Where’s a steady hand (calling Ross Brawn) when you need one?

    Bottas harrying Massa clearly put Massa on the defensive and slowed him down, not ideal either which way. Think Bottas had to accept the rear gunner as he failed to beat Massa in qualifying/off the line, just as Nico was done by Hamilton beating him in qualifying. (Nico for me had a great race FYI but was always going to be second best to Hamilton based on Hamilton getting the job done on Saturday – that’s praise for Hamilton by the way Fortis before you jump all over me, over half the battle is putting yourself in the better track position 🙂 ), same applies to Bottas – outqualify Massa and the chance was there, he didn’t , it wasn’t.

    As an aside I have to say I find the reaction of ‘WIlliams should have said – Felipe, Bottas is faster than you’ downright hilarious, no championship battle for either driver, yet everyone clamoring for the type of call that Alonso haters like to point to again and again and again to somehow argue Massa was just a poor victim of nasty team orders (Good to see Alonso pass both Manors and Ericsson by the way 😀 )


    • “Nico had a great race”….

      What race were you watching? He got squeezed by Massa coming out the pits and then choked when he allowed Bottas to pass him on the outside going onto the Wellington straight, despite actually being A car length in front going into T3.

      Nico started to have a good race when the rain came and he was finally able to get pass both Williams and then closed down Lewis from lap 39-43. Apart from that, he spent most of the race glued to Bottas’ gearbox.

      • Fortis – when are you going to accept that this year’s aero means it is nigh on impossible for the top three teams cars to to pass each other – even the great Lewis Hamilton has struggled to pass Rosberg this year and also couldn’t pass a Williams which had a true race pace of around 1 second a lap less than the Mercs – for 20 laps of the British GP.

        In fact let’s all brainstorm all the overtaking moves (not 1st lap) from Ferrari, Williams and Mercedes – on each other this year. It will take a lot less time than you think.

        I’ll kick it off – 2 by Rosberg in Bahrain on Vettel.
        1 by Vettel on Rosberg – Bahrain – but Rosberg had brake failure,,,

        • That’s wrong actually.
          Malaysia: Hamilton on Massa 1 time, Rosberg on Massa 1 time, Vettel on Rosberg 1 time, Vettel on Hamilton 1 time.
          China: Raikkonen on Massa 1 time (start), Raikkonen on Bottas 1 time (start).
          Bahrain: Rosberg on Vettel 2 times, Rosberg on Raikkonen 1 time, Raikkonen on Rosberg 2 times (start & brake failure).
          Spain: Vettel on Hamilton 1 time (start).

      • Just as Hamilton was glued to Bottas gearbox (well, apart from being glued to Massa’s gearox before running off the track)? The fact is the Mercs were unable to pass the Williams on track despite being waaaay quicker, and thats the big story.

        You really don’t need to take any praise for Rosberg as a personal attack on Hamilton, it is unrelated to Lewis performance, and doesn’t imply any criticism of Lewis. Hamilton didn’t need to pass either Williams on track, that’s his reward for getting pole position and having the chance at the undercut, and fair play to him, job done – like I said, more than half the battle is track position – (as a referece that doesn’t concern Lewis so maybe you can read with a clear head 🙂 – every race I despair that Kimi has the same race pace as Vettel and if only he hadn’t had a bad qualy, but every race he’s behind as he made a balls of qualifying – I’m sure the pro Kimi crowd (aparently in the majority) would be arguing the same last year versus Alonso, if only he could have qualified better – but so far this/last year he can’t and it’s going to be the nail in careers coffin for me. No good having the pace if you’re stuck behind eg a force india whilst your team mate camps out on the podium.

        Anyhoo, back to Nico and why I said I felt he had a great race…given that he handicapped himself (again) by losing to Lewis in qualy, and had a poor start, Nico ultimately had to pass both Williams on track to avoid getting handed a 13 point deficit to Lewis, and under difficult circumstances he got the job done (even St. Lewis went off track whilst leading and comfortable, so don’t pretend sliding pass both Williams was a piece of cake). Oh and Nico’s charging closing down of Lewis 8 second gap over 3 laps before the fateful pitstops earned him praise from me.

        Like I said, great race. Nico doesn’t get my vote for driver of the weekend, as he put himself on the back foot by being beaten in qualifying – but given where he was it was a gutsy drive and damage limited.

        If it makes you feel better I give Lewis driver of the weekend, as he took pole and won the race!!

        • I do believe I identified ‘the big story’ following the race in Malaysia. This year’s aero wash from the rear of the cars and the Pirelli tyre compounds – as combination is a disaster for overtaking.

          • credit where its due, you did indeed.
            For me the point was just rammed home in full HD, when I saw the pace at which Lewis was able to scamper up the road once he was released it filled me with despair…if he couldn’t overtake with that advantage whats the point in racing at all?

          • Isn’t it more the problem of the length of the new noses, and the knock-on effect on the rest of the aero setup of the car? I was under the impression that the changes that’s had on the way the aero works down through the rest of the car lead to the problems they’re experiencing when running in dirty air rather than a change in the wash itself.

            Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong on that, it was just what I’d cobbled together from various stories/reports I’d read.

          • We know the aero problem wont go away, just wonder how difficult would it be for Pirelli to change the tyre in the short term as they too are part of the problem?

            Along those lines, I read an interesting interview with Button about the tyres, and its not so much that the tyres degrade being a problem, more the way they degrade and they just arent a good race tyre. Which seems to be reflected mostly by those who can say something regarding the tyres. I’ll see if i can find the link, but it explains a lot, why the drivers don’t push and its not just down the way the tyres degrade, but also the way these tyres drive.

        • Do you realize drivers are almost driving to a time predetermined/given by the team. There is not much difference in race pace between teammates if one is not having a particularly bad day.
          Also, Silverstone was the first place this year where both Ferrari followed the same strategy up until the rain. Before we couldn’t possibly compare their race paces, it was a “myth” that Raikkonen had a better race pace. This race there wasn’t any difference between them in dry. Raikkonen wasn’t opening a gap, Vettel wasn’t falling behind him. Even if Vettel had little extra pace he would have probably waited towards the end of the race to get pass his teammate, so we still really don’t know much. Only thing we know is that Vettel wasn’t slower than Raikkonen with the hard compound even though Raikkonen was free and in clean air. Previously they were both stuck in traffic with medium compound, gap was pretty stable throughout.

      • @ the judge
        I am fully aware of the issues with overtaking, but my point still stands. He choked with Bottas, because he had the high ground and allowed himself to be bullied out of 3rd. So I really don’t know how this has anything to do with Lewis.


        I’m arguing your point that Nico had a good race, this has nothing to do with Lewis, because I made no mention of him. Nico was inconspicuous the entire race until the rain came. Don’t you think that had he been able to hold that position ahead of Bottas, he might have been able to pressure Massa, given he was the slower of the 2 Williams? I’m not saying passing him was going to be easy, but he would’ve given himself a better chance to get pass one instead of both cars.

        Let’s argue the merits and stop with the sarcastic nonsense and the continual references to Lewis. I’m not interested who you voted for, I’m merely disagreeing that he had a great race.

        • We’ll have to agree to disagree on this one Fortis, no worries, if I only wanted to discuss F1 with people I always agree with I’d just talk to the mirror 🙂

          I rate Nico a good race for overtaking twice in the wet in dangerous conditions to try to minimise the damage in the championship battle when it would have been easy for him to a) settle for safety and stay behind or b) bin it, and also for the pace he showed in chasing down Lewis in slippery conditions, had the rain not hammered down it could all have ended differently (I’m not interested in ifs or buts, Lewis won, Nico lost, simple, but it was a gutsy drive in the conditions is my only point – I’m always appreciative of gutsy driving in these conditions, they may not always get the result, but I love watching drivers push to the limit on slippery track, think Alesi in Japan 95 for a classic example of a race I enjoyed watching but won him nothing!).

          You rate Nico badly for not making the move on Bottas stick and thereby giving himself more work to do in the rain, thats your call, no problem with that.

          on the point on being squeezed by Massa I don’t think there was anything to be done, unfortunate timing on that one.

          looking forward to the next race, pity its 3 weeks away 🙂

          • “… if I only wanted to discuss F1 with people I always agree with I’d just talk to the mirror.” – Marek

            That’s precisely why I stopped talking the mirror; I kept finding I disagreed with myself. It’s quite frustrating…

        • Nico didn’t have a good race, I agree. Neither did Lewis (I’m only mentioning this because you think he did!)

          If you apply the same critique to both you’d see that neither were particularly impressive. Yet they came home 1-2 after starting 1-2. That’s what happens with a great car that’s got 1s on everyone you can have shitty days at the office and still come home winners.

  8. @WTF_F1

    re not talking to the mirror…have to admit I’d be in the same boat
    typical conversation from british gp would have gone along the lines of..

    Me: why don’t they just get Massa out of the way
    Mirror: are you mad, tell Bottas back off and block those Mercs!
    Me: great move by alonso there on button at the start, good to see the Macca boys take the battle for supremacy so seriously 🙂
    mirror: you can’t be serious. you looking to start something!
    me: no bother, do you want to take this outside!
    mirror: sigh, you always get me with that one

    on the positive side, who needs SKY commentary when you have a mirror 😉

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