Red Bull strategy error cost Verstappen Singapore win

The mighty Red Bull team who have destroyed Formula One records weekend after weekend this season were halted in their tracks at the Singapore Grand Prix.

The Milton Keynes team brought an upgraded floor to the weekend which they ran on both cars during the Friday practice sessions. Unusually for the maestro Adrian Newey his design failed miserably to bring the improved performance the simulations had suggested they would.



Simulations lead RBR astray

So for free practice three there team reverted to the floor design that had seen them dominant in both Zandvoort and Italy follloeing the summer break.

This improved Verstappen’s times and he recorded a best effort which was just three tenths of a second behind the Ferrari of Carlos Sainz who topped the timesheets in FP3.

Yet simulations from back at base suggested Red Bull should switch their setup for qualifying which resulted in Max missing the top 10 in qualifying one place behind his sister team driver Liam Lawson. He missed out on a Q3 position by just 7 milliseconds.



Safety car record affects RBR thinking

However the log run data from the practice sessions suggested Red Bull would be competitive in the race and Verstappen has preciously won from a position lower than his starting [position of eleventh.

Singapore has a 100% record of having a safety car deployed in the race and too this end Red Bull knew they could offset the drivers ahead by deploying a different tyre strategy.

Yet the Marina Bay circuit changes for this year, removing 4 corners where 25% of the historic incidents causing a safety car to be  deployed, appeared to play heavily on the minds of the strategy team.

Red Bull started both their drivers from P11 and P13 on the hard tyre while the rest of the field around them chose the quicker but less durable medium compound. Their strategy team may have been into believing  the soft tyre  was not the way to go at the start from Max’s failure to make Q3. But in reality they were only 0.1 seconds slower in Q2 than Lewis Hamilton who was P5.

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Ferrari slow down the race

Meantime Ferrari who have known tyre durability concerns were instructing their drivers during the first stint to lap at a much reduced pace. Whilst this kept Verstappen in the game just 10 seconds behind the leader in P8, it meant while Sainz and Leclerc led the race they were clearly opting for just a one stop strategy.

Now the die was cast. Red Bull needed there to be no safety car before the teams ahead of them had run out of tyre life and this would allow Perez and Verstappen on the more durable rubber to leap ahead as their rivals pitted for fresh tyres.

Yet the predictable incident occurred and on lap 20, a safety car was deployed by race control. The leading cars all pitted for fresh hard tyres and Verstappen was now up to 2nd position.

But the several laps behind the safety car meant Perez and Verstappen’s old hard tyres cooled away too much and at the restart they were sitting ducks.

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VSC catches RBR out

As lap after lap was reeled off they fell down through the order as those who had fresh tyres easily passed both Checo and Max.

Eventually now two seconds a lap slower than the competition, Red Bull brought in both their drivers and fitted the medium tyres to go to the end of the race.

Having lost time by pitting for mediums just before the VSC was deployed Verstappen would have been around 15 seconds closer the the leader had he waited until  the VSC was deployed.

The Red Bull decision would then have been to fit  the soft tyre while Mercedes fitted the medium with just 17 laps to go giving Max the the pace advantage.



Red Bull too conservative

By running the quicker tyres than the competition on a two stop strategy would have seen Verstappen up with the leaders on a quicker tyre during the final phase of the race.

Mercedes proved a two stop was the optimum way to go but ran out of laps and on soft tyres the Red Bull which is kindest of all the cars in terms off degradation should have easily outpace the Silver Arrows pair in the final stint.

After the event Red Bull boss Christian Horner admitted the timing of the safety cars was crucial to their race strategy:

“Unfortunately, in the race, by starting on the hard we took, if you like, a strategic gamble, and the best way of that race paying us off is if you get an early Safety Car or a Safety Car sort of later into the race.

“Now, the lap that the safety car came out in was probably strategically the worst possible lap for the strategy that we were on because it gave the cars ahead of us a free stop.”

Wolff back pedals



Verstappen 0,25 behind Leclaerc

Yet had Red Bull planned for a two stop race, the safety car on lap 20 would have been perfectly timed to switch from the soft tyres to the medium compounds. So the fault was one of Red Bull’s making assuming their would be no safety car until later in the race.

Given the Ferrari strategy to runs slow as possible to protect their vulnerable tyre wear, Verstappen closed a 45 second gap to the leader and finished just 21 seconds behind Sainz at the chequered flag.

“All considered, the recovery that we had and the pace that we had, particularly in the latter part of the race to be 0.2s behind Charles at the finish line was a strong race,” concluded Horner.

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Red Bull failed to go counter strategy

“I think ironically enough, if we’d had a standard race, the strategy that we had with Carlos holding the front up because of the deg on those hard tyres, Max would have definitely come into play with the pace that he had at the end of the race.

“When you look at the distance, the delta that he was off the leaders by the end of it, if you take away that the delta for the free stop suddenly bang, he’s right in the game.”

When Verstappen switched to the medium tyre he was 45 seconds behind the leader, yet he finished the race challenging Leclerc for P4  just 21 seconds off the lead. 

However, Red Bull plumped for a standard one stop race strategy and had they the vision of Mercedes who believed the two stop strategy was quicker Red Bull would have set Verstappen on a soft, medium, soft/medium race plan which would surely have seen him in the mix for a win.

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