F1 strategy explained

F1 strategy guide: All you need to know about race strategies

How to win an F1 race? What makes a Formula 1 team successful? Fastest car or the best driver, or just pure luck? You wonder, but in view of regulations and the tons of rules in auto racing, strategy is the key to success in Formula 1. With a fast car and a talented driver, it leaves rivals with no chance. Sometimes, however, an elaborate strategy works miracles, even if the team is outside the competition line. Alex Albon finished the Australian Grand Prix 2022 in 10th place. The delayed pit stop at the start of the last lap allowed him to score Williams’s first point of the 2022 Formula 1 season! Yes, that was “overcut”. What is the F1 strategy?

Why does an F1 team need a strategy?

Why not just use the full tanks and try to win? The current Formula 1 rules specify one mandatory stop. Why is there only one? The drivers have the option to use as many pits as they need. However, one is necessary as it comes to help spice up races and avoid cars running in a train.  a

In the past, drivers used the stops to refuel. The first time it was Juan Manuel Fangio. He performed it as a one-off at the German Grand Prix in 1957. Until 1982, F1 drivers hadn’t attempted it again.

They established that driving light to get the car moving faster and then stopping for gasoline and replacing tyres halfway through was a smart plan. Other teams adopted it, but they eventually canceled it in 1984.

In 1994, Formula 1 decided it needed to spice things up. Huge safety precautions were taken, but things went wrong occasionally and they banned again refuelling in 2010. To maintain the popular strategy aspect, the rule makers determined teams must utilise two different types of tyres during the race. 

Different tyre types have unique characteristics. Softer tyres provide greater grip but wear out more quickly. Just add the different types of race track conditions and you will have thousands of varied options for F1 strategy options. If you multiply these by the F1 car settings, you get millions more options. If it will be rainy….  

The F1 strategist – black horse of the pit wall.  

The ‘undercut’ and ‘overcut’. Have you ever wondered who is a strategist and what does he do? With the importance of tyre wear in today’s races, drivers and teams must be significantly more astute, as the days of going all out to win are long gone. The F1 strategist decides the salt of these questions.

The strategists on an F1 team utilise research, analysis, and strategy in the same way that a football manager and backroom staff do to decide the success of their players. Everyone loves an overtake, but the critical moments of a race frequently come from the pit wall, not the cockpit.

His intuition is 100% pumped. He can determine when and whether it will rain from the smell of the air. Having an F1 strategist on a Formula 1 team is one of the most privileged positions. This is because his decisions could have a massive impact on hundreds of people on the team. 

What do F1 strategist need to create a plan?

Before strategist creates a clear few race weekend plans, they will conduct extensive study and data analysis.
Thus, around six weeks before the race, the strategist will compile information on how long it takes to enter and exit the pit lane, the average projected pit stop time, the likelihood of a safety car, and the impact of a safety car.

He will ask the predictions of the pace and deg of their own car as well as that of their rivals, to develop the baseline strategy for that particular race.

During practice sessions, F1 strategist with the team will collect all available data on tyre performance. Teams gather data on the deg for each tyre type for themselves and their competitors.

Tyre wear is influenced not just by tyre type and temperature, but also by F1 car weight. Fuel is burned off and the car becomes lighter as the race progresses, lessening the impact of tyre wear. The team incorporates this information into their simulations to improve them.

Final check data includes a driver’s qualifying position as well as reliable weather projections, such as air and track temperatures, wind speed and direction.

F1 strategy and the simulation. 

Team F1 stuff collects all the information at the maximum volume, but it is computer technology that helps to prepare F1 strategies. 

All the pre-programmed and real-time data is input into computer software that changes the variables to find the quickest time for the driver to finish the specified number of racing laps.

Computer technology can estimate the impact of traffic, when a driver can get stuck behind other cars and be delayed. It can also estimate the optimal time to pit in order to avoid being held up for too long while also being able to return out in a clear gap.

The simulation generates the most optimal Plan A strategy, including where the driver should stop and what lap times he should run. If the first scenario does not work as planned, teams will have a Plan B alternative.

It would seem that, well, what else? Everything is ready to win this Grand Prix. But it is at this point that the human sense comes into play, which no computer can replace, although…

If Plan A does not work as planned.

The prepared approach is only the beginning. Things rarely turn out as planned, especially with a Formula 1 race.

Pit stop out laps are crucial. The fundamental parts of F1 strategy include monitoring where the gaps are, how they are changing, and responding to take advantage of or avoid other cars.

On the pit wall, in the garage, and even back at base, the strategy team is continually monitoring the pace and position of the other cars. They perform real-time simulations to see how the strategy alternatives change.

So, if plan A fails, the strategy team will change the plan for B. Weather is a factor that teams use when they defer a pit stop in case rain is forecast and they have to pit again. They may also react to a safety car, which slows the field down and allows cars to pit and lose less time. The undercut and overcut come into play here.

‘Overcut’ or ‘undercut’ in the F1 strategy? 

The team’s strategy revolves around tires degradation. So, even with the fastest car and the most capable driver, all the efforts may be in vain if the team has no plans for a strategy. This means at least two different options.   While opponents are pitting, if there is still solid performance left in the tyres, the team tries an ‘overcut.’ The driver remains out and pushes for a few laps, hoping to get ahead of their adversary after they pit.   

Being trapped behind a competitor is also awful. The longer it continues on, the more possibilities the driver misses. There’s no time to waste. So the team may issue the command ‘undercut.’ And the driver pits early, then sets a few quicker laps on the fresh tires to get ahead of the other driver when the other driver pits. It is critical to get some clean air.

‘Overcut’ or ‘undercut’ both alternatives might fail if a driver scrapes a curb, a mechanic fumbles a wheel nut like it was with Mercedes in 2021, or some rain droplets fall at the wrong time, despite the teams continually analyzing and estimating their car’s pace at every step. The race may be turned around in an instant, but it does not imply the race is over. New scenarios will run through simulation computers, figuring out how to make the most of the current circumstances.

However, F1 strategy is more than the choice of tire type and the calculation of safety car launching. The strategist must expect several factors at once; calculate them, and decide in the twinkling of an eye – the fastest and most correct. The driver, who can assess the situation correctly, joins the decision-making process often here. Formula 1 racing has a history of risky and worthwhile strategies.

Top three crucial strategies in Formula 1 history. 

Michael Schumacher – French Grand Prix ( 2004 )  

Michael Schumacher qualified second in the French Grand Prix, behind Renault’s Fernando Alonso. Ferrari was quicker. However, Bridgestone rubber negated any advantages in qualifying and to the first laps. Ferrari F1 strategist Luca Baldisserri stuck to the three stops. He also had a four-stop option in mind if Schumacher wasn’t in clear air. Ferrari adopted Plan B with four pit stops after chasing Alonso during the opening two periods.

On Lap 29, Schumacher took on a relatively small load for his second pit stop. Alonso’s stop was moved up, although he still had three stops planned. However, the time he lost because of aging Michelin tires at the end of his second stint meant he emerged from the pits behind Schumacher. The German driver won the time to pit for the fourth stint ahead of Alonso. Despite spending over 15 seconds longer than the Spaniard in the pit lane, Michael Schumacher won the French Grand Prix by 8.329s. ahead of Fernando Alonso. 

However, strategy in Formula 1 can be applied in the other sense too. It would be impossible not to mention those races, which Michael Schumacher was involved in, became the most controversial F1 races in his career.

Giancarlo Fisichella – Brazilian Grand Prix (2003)   

Giancarlo Fisichella qualified eighth for the 2003 Brazilian Grand Prix and maintained his position despite the deployment of the Safety Car on the opening lap. Fisichella fought the order to turn during the Safety Car period as the train was on its way to the pits. The rainy weather turned the race into a crash fest. Race director Gary Anderson devises a daring strategy. An early stop under the Safety Car allowed the car to be fuelled to get to 75% of the race distance without another stop. Thus, with a red flag, the Grand Prix wouldn’t be restarted. That led to Fisichella pitting at the end of Lap 7.

On Lap 54, Giancarlo Fisichella passes Kimi Raikkonen of McLaren for the lead. Then Mark Webber’s Jagua crashed, losing a wheel that was retrieved by Fernando Alonso’s Renault. As a result, a race was stopped with a red flag. Initially, Kimi Raikkonen was declared the winner, but after six days, the FIA corrected a timing count back error. Giancarlo Fisichella took the coveted cup as the clear winner of Brazilian Grand Prix.   

Sebastian Vettel–Italian Grand Prix (2010)   

Sebastian Vettel planned to pit around Lap 14-15 in the Monza race, but he ended up staying on his starting Bridgestones all the way to Lap 52. He made the mandatory pit stop to swap to the other tyre compound at the conclusion of the penultimate lap. Despite his soft compound tyres losing a little grip, Vettel finished ninth in the first portion of the race. He could maintain a solid speed throughout the stint by taking advantage of the clean air. Such a strategy allowed Vettel to breakthrough to fourth. Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel won the title by just a few points. 

Furthermore, Sebastian Vettel took the podium in one of the most exciting F1 races thanks to the overcut F1 strategy. Thus, playing for the long term, Vettel kept his tires for more than 18 laps at the Baku Grand Prix 2021. This gave Vettel the advantage since he didn’t have to wait for pitting. German F1 driver finished second and brought first podium to Aston Martin.

F1 strategy for the 2022 season.

One might wonder about strategies for the 2022 Formula 1 season. Alex Albon took the top spot in the issue. The Williams driver started from last place in the Australian Grand Prix. They pitted on the last lap and finished tenth. At the Miami 2022 Grand Prix, the team repeated its ‘overcut’ strategy and it worked very well. Alex Albon scored in Miami.

Another genius behind the strategy is George Russell. The Mercedes driver started from 12th place at the Miami GP. The pit stop’s postponement as long as possible and hoping for the introduction of a safety car. That paid off handsomely and Russell finished fifth. Thanks to a well thought-out racing strategy, or chance, as they say. They simply don’t know that strategists can work it out down to the smallest detail.

In Formula 1, literally everything is thought out down to the smallest detail. It’s not just work. The best and brightest people are here and involved, as well as the most advanced technology. And, as you can see, strategy is the key to success in Formula One. By anticipating and knowing the rules and nuances, you can break into the top 10. Even if you don’t have the fastest car.

Thanks to Motorsport.com for Insights.