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.