F1 Strategy Report Belgian Grand Prix 2016
Race 13 – 44 Laps – 7.004km per lap – 308.052km race distance – medium tyre wear
Following a much-needed break, Formula 1 returned from its summer holidays refreshed and ready for the challenge of Spa-Francorchamps. It proved to be a pretty exciting Belgian Grand Prix, particularly in the first 15 laps.
Nico Rosberg proved unchallenged at the front of the field to win the race, with Daniel Ricciardo a strong second for Red Bull and Rosberg’s Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton recovering from 21st to third after engine change grid penalties.
The famous race track sparked a whole host of interesting talking points when it came to F1 strategy, here were the main headlines:
Varied first stint strategies
It’s rare we see all three Pirelli tyre compounds being used for the first stint, but drivers lined up on the grid on a wide range of choices. Fernando Alonso and Hamilton, starting from the back, went for the mediums.
Several top 10 drivers opted for the softs after making it through to Q3 on the mid-range compound – the tactics had already begun in qualifying! The soft compound was the most popular for the first stint at Spa, with only six starting on the super-softs. We looked set for a very interesting strategic race.
Early stops for many
Getting caught up in incidents on the first lap caused several drivers – including Sebastian Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen, Max Verstappen and Felipe Nasr – to stop early on for repairs and a fresh set of tyres. A few also pitted to retire (Jenson Button and Pascal Wehrlein).
The safety car came out after Kevin Magnussen’s huge crash at the top of Eau Rouge (which he escaped from with just a small cut to his left ankle) and this prompted some drivers to pit, but then the red flag came out for barrier repairs.
Under the regulations, drivers were able to change tyres under the red flag and six of them – including the top three finishers – decided to do so. This gave them a free pitstop, a huge advantage at Spa.
A disadvantage for some
But the red flag proved to be a disadvantage for those who had pitted under the safety car, as they had already lost track position. One example was Nico Hulkenberg, who had been running second, but fell behind Ricciardo to third with his early stop.
It’s one of those dangers with reacting to incidents. Teams who pitted under the safety car assumed the red flag wouldn’t be shown, expecting to gain time from it, but others might have predicted a red flag and stayed out, knowing they could change tyres and get a free stop.
Changing things up
The race went from a clear three-stop strategy with a range of options to a simple medium/soft or soft/medium run to the flag. Most drivers went for the softs for the stint after the red flag and conclude the Belgian GP on the mediums.
Daniil Kvyat and Jolyon Palmer went for the super-softs for a final aggressive stint but they failed to make the most of it and gain positions. The super-softs suffered more in the warmer conditions but the softs worked well and even the mediums were competitive, while lasting a long time too.
It was unusual to see all three compounds getting used so much, usually the hardest of the three is largely ignored throughout the weekend but with smaller differences in the compounds and slightly cooler conditions compared to qualifying meant we didn’t see as much degradation and wear as many expected.
Three-stops don’t pay off
Hamilton’s race to third was largely helped by the early mayhem. At the safety car period he was running in fifth place. Mercedes put him on a more aggressive three-stop strategy, like Red Bull did with Max Verstappen, but while Hamilton had the pace to make progress and gain two more spots to take the podium, it didn’t work quite so well with Verstappen and he finished down in 12th.
Tricky tyre pressures
During the very warm free practice sessions on Friday, some drivers complained at the tyre pressures being too high. Romain Grosjean claimed his tyres were giving up mid-corner and there was a lack of grip. There was also high degradation and wear due to the high temperatures.
Pirelli opted to keep the tyre pressures and it didn’t seem to be too much of an issue during the race, which took place in slightly cooler and cloudier conditions. But given the number of drivers complaining after Friday practice (Felipe Massa even called it a “joke”), it makes you wonder whether the pressures should’ve been tweaked for Saturday and Sunday.
Jack Leslie @JackLeslieF1
Medium: Massa (22 laps)
Soft: Verstappen (17 laps)
Supersoft: Palmer (10 laps)
4 – Verstappen, Palmer
All the Data
Thanks to Pirelli Motorsport for the detailed infographics
Stints by Driver