The outcome of the Bahrain Grand Prix was disappointing for Scuderia Ferrari at the end of a day marked by the dramatic accident which befell Romain Grosjean shortly after the start. Fortunately, as recent updates confirm, he escaped with only minor imjuries. A sigh of relief and confirmation of the importance of having safety as the number one priority, something which Ferrari has always adhered to, for example with its support of the FIA’s introduction of the halo. As usual, we asked Iñaki Rueda, Head of Race Strategy to give us a strategy debrief on the weekend.
What were our expectations going into this event?
“The Sakhir track is very demanding on tyres and given that Pirelli sets an equal allocation for everyone, we had planned to save two sets of new Hards for the race. And given that overtaking is relatively easy at this track, we took into consideration that an early stop undercut can work very well. On paper the two stop strategy was the quickest route to the flag and with Pirelli bringing tyres one step softer than last year, we believed the Soft would not be good race tyres. So our tyre management plan was a bit different to usual, having just three sets of new Softs for qualifying with the aim of using two new Medium sets to make the cut into Q3 and then use two new Hards in the race. In fact, this is what almost everyone did with none of the top ten setting their Q2 time on Softs.”
Unfortunately, neither Charles nor Sebastian made it through to the final part of qualifying and found themselves sharing the sixth row of the grid. What decision was made based on that?
“We opted to split the strategies, putting Seb on the Medium with the aim of an early stop to get the benefit of the undercut and Charles on the Hard to try and go longer than the others and to get as many laps as possible with a clear track ahead of him. The red flag also gave the opportunity to those who had started on Mediums to do the race on two Hards, which is what we chose to do with Seb, while with Charles we tried to get the benefit of a set of Mediums to have an advantage at the start, deciding on making two stops. Unfortunately, right from the start we could see Seb was unable to do just one stop because the Hard was also degrading significantly and so we quickly went for the more conventional Hard-Medium-Hard choice. Charles was competitive enough in the first part of his stints on Medium and Hard but he also suffered with the tyre surface overheating, which was the real cause of a loss of performance on the type of surface and with the temperatures experienced at Sakhir and so, even though the temptation was there, we didn't feel it was plausible to do one less stop than the others.”
In the end, we brought home just one single solitary point courtesy of Charles’ tenth place. With the safety car coming out in the closing stages after Sergio Perez retired was there an opportunity of trying something different?
“In theory there was time to try and bring Charles in for a set of new Softs we still had, but after a few seconds we reckoned there would not be enough time for the whole pack to bunch up, including those who would be unlapping themselves before the end of the race, so we told Charles to stay out on track. It would not have achieved anything.”
In Sakhir, the teams had another chance to try Pirelli’s 2021 prototype tyres during Friday free practice. What were your impressions?
“Each team had two sets per driver. The lap times were slower than on this year’s tyres but that was foreseeable given that the tyres were designed to be heavier. Furthermore, drivers and engineers found themselves dealing with a very different balance on the test tyres and there wasn’t enough time to fine tune the set-up given that we also had to work towards the weekend. But it’s a new challenge for us engineers and as such, it’s always welcome!”