Red Bull Racing have become the master strategists in F1. It is rare they drop the ball under pressure and regularly make the right calls in the tightest of sports.
In the 2021 Abu Dhabi finale – under the safety car when Mercedes failed to pit Lewis – Red Bull Racing knew their only chance was to call Max in for fresh tyres. Mercedes froze in that moment thinking track position was more important. Their mistake was not realising if they had pitted Hamilton Red Bull would stay out.
The rest is history.
Only once this season have we seen RBR run a rear wing setting described by Ted Kravitz as a “barn door”. But they have more often competed with Ferrari for track position during qualifying by running a skinnier rear wing to improve straight line speed.
They can afford to do this as their car is kinder to the tyres than Ferrari’s.
Miami has 3 DRS zones and on the scant evidence to date, they will be powerful in the race.
In qualifying today, Ferrari surprisingly ran a lot more wing than Red Bull which was effective for qualifying, but RBR have gambled by giving up pole position their quicker race car will be able to take advantage of the DRS zones during the race.
Christian Horner explained to Sky F1 the few thousands of a second that sees his lead driver on row two were all part of the car setup strategy risk.
“We’ve got a very different race car to Ferrari tomorrow, they’re carrying a bit more down force, they’re quicker in some of the corners, we’re definitely going to be a bit easier through the corners but we’ll be much quicker on the straight tomorrow”.
The reason RBR settled on their car setup strategy is to do with track temperature. Tomorrow is set to be hotter than today and Ferrari have proven this year to be harder on their tyres than the team from Milton Keynes. Hotter temperatures mean cars with higher tyre degradation suffer even more.
The Ferrari choice to go with a higher down force package was their best chance to beat Red Bull in qualifying, but their higher tyre wear this year will now be exacerbated tomorrow.
Red Bull are gaming that the Ferrari decision will see their drivers needing an extra pit stop in the Miami searing heat. If so, Max or Sergio are now easily favourite to win the race.
Ferrari’s gamble is this circuit will deliver a safety car or two, and this will mitigate their higher tyre degradation problem.
To me I think Red Bull have called it right, but its good to see Ferrari trying buck the trend of them merely optimising their car and hoping for the best.
Sometimes it’s better to lose the battle to win the war, and in qualifying today Red Bull may have again demonstrated their ultimate F1 strategy superiority.