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Formula 1

Gary Anderson: Hamilton gives Mercedes a strategic weakness

by Gary Anderson
5 min read

Formula 1 race strategy is a living thing, you can’t set it completely in the motorhome before the grand prix starts.

You can have a couple of guidelines and ideas, but at the end of the day it’s a bit like any other aspect of being competitive in F1 – you’ve just got to do a better job than the other teams are doing at that time in the race. If you don’t do that, you’ll suffer.

Strategy could be a deciding factor in the 2021 title fight between Max Verstappen/Red Bull and Lewis Hamilton/Mercedes given it’s so close.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Russian Grand Prix Race Day Sochi, Russia

As far as executing it is concerned, if you can read the strategy correctly then I think both teams can execute it pretty well.

But one thing I would have to say is I believe Red Bull is more black and white in its strategies. It decides on a strategy as the race circumstances develop, commits to it and does it. Right or wrong, it’s gone with it.

Compared to that, there always seems to be a bit of confusion about Mercedes’ strategy, it’s never quite as decisive.

Hamilton, I think, is a big part of that strategy reading. We obviously don’t hear everything on the radio, but from what we do hear Verstappen is pretty good at informing the team of what he’s feeling in his car. And that’s really where it ends for him. He doesn’t really do much more than that.

Whereas Hamilton often seems to want to throw out extra information here and there, he sees that as part of the job. And that can sometimes be a big part of strategy decisions or indecision, as the case may be.

But at the end of the day if the driver just reports what they’ve got, and the team can look at that alongside the other data it has from all the other cars, laptimes, section times, then the pitwall can make a firm call.

For instance, if Max complains about his tyres going off but he’s still going faster than anybody else, then he’s doing OK and that’s the relevant thing. If Max is saying his tyres are good and he’s going slower than everybody then there’s a problem somewhere and Red Bull can change its strategy plan if it believes it to be necessary.

Jun 20 : French Grand Prix review

You need to be able to get good solid information from the driver then read it into the overall race picture and make your decisions from there.

There’s a lot less moaning about stuff from Max than there is from Lewis. And that can all play a part in it. Because when you’re complaining to your team, your team is being forced to think in a direction away from what they would do themselves, because they’re trying to satisfy the strategy required and satisfy the driver as well, and sometimes those two don’t go together.

In my book, Red Bull is slightly better at reading the situation and making the decisions than Mercedes is at this point in time.

Obviously Mercedes has won seven world championships so it doesn’t do too badly. But I think Red Bull is a little bit better at reading it and committing to it then driving with it. It’s still hard to call, but I would give Red Bull that little bit of a headstart.

Don’t underestimate Hamilton’s curveballs

Mark Hughes

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Monaco Grand Prix Sunday Monte Carlo, Monaco

Gary’s point about the part Hamilton plays in the strategy calls is a very good one.

But it’s partly that Lewis has done some extraordinary things in the past that the strategists going into the race didn’t think would be possible and which did turn out to be possible.

I’m thinking of when he went from wets straight onto slicks in Monaco in 2016, missing out the intermediates and saving a pitstop.

Also Silverstone 2019 on a very aggressive one-stop versus Valtteri Bottas’s two, he was about to pull something off that going in Mercedes didn’t think was going to be possible, and then the safety car came out and we didn’t get to see it play out.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship British Grand Prix Race Day Silverstone, England

He’s done several things like that where he’s not overruled Mercedes, but had a different idea for the best way to do it.

It’s usually related to his confidence in how he can make the tyres last. Sometimes Hamilton’s ideas and requests do throw a curveball in and make things unnecessarily complex, but sometimes it’s what’s enabled him to win the race.

But it’s not a straightforward thing. As Gary said, strategy is a living organism, changing all the time according to circumstance, and how a team reacts and the relationship between a driver and a team feeds into the dynamic of that every time.

How Mercedes and Red Bull stack up in the pits

Gary Anderson

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Hungarian Grand Prix Race Day Budapest, Hungary

The change that we’ve had on the pitstop complexity, with the technical directive about automation, has added a little bit of time and a little bit of confusion to it all as pit crew members now need to press a button to indicate that their wheel is tightened rather than sensors picking this up.

But I think most people are on top of it all now – if the system all works correctly. For instance, last week in the Turkish GP Ferrari had a problem with the system working and it didn’t really register that the crew member had pressed the button.

As far as Red Bull and Mercedes are concerned, I think if you’re driving into the pits you’d have more confidence that Red Bull would be the quicker team when it comes to just executing the stop.

It’s more consistent at getting the stop that little bit quicker. But not by much, you’re talking a tenth or two, nothing dramatic.

The strategy and reading the race correctly will the bigger differentiator between the two teams.

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