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Tech Talk: the Russian GP strategy

Maranello 28 September 2020

It's hard to evaluate Scuderia Ferrari's Russian Grand Prix. Charles Leclerc was sixth, the team's best result from the last five races and the minor aero updates introduced at Sochi produced positive signs, more in terms of future development than in an instant performance boost. However, sixth is not a great result for a team like Ferrari, especially when combined with the other car finishing outside the points in 13th place as was the case with Sebastian Vettel.

As usual, we asked Iñaki Rueda, Head of Race Strategy, to talk us through the teams strategy and management of the various options.

"After a frustrating qualifying, with Sebastian crashing into the barriers on his second run in Q2 and Charles missing out on Q3 by a whisker, when he had the potential to get through, we at least had the consolation of a free tyre choice for the start, an important factor given the characteristics of the Sochi track. We opted to start both on the Medium given that with such a long startline straight, the Hard would have been too much of a handicap."

The start was the key moment as far as how the race would evolve for both our drivers.

"Yes. After an incident packed first lap, we found ourselves with Charles eighth and Sebastian 13th. Ahead of Charles our closest competitors were all on the Soft tyres, something that's not an option for us at the moment, while on the same tyre, Bottas and Verstappen had a clearly stronger package than ours. His aim became to stay as close to them as possible, hoping to exploit the fact that once those on Softs had stopped, they might encounter traffic. It was a completely different story for Seb, who was in the middle of a group all running the same Medium tyres, or some that had even gone for the Hard. His only real chance to make up places was to keep the tyres alive for as long as possible before switching to a set of new Softs to exploit their extra grip in the closing stages of the race."

And how did the situation evolve?

"Charles was going well on the Mediums and stayed reasonably close to the group ahead of him. On lap 15, Ricciardo began the run of pit stops and we knew that those around him would do the same within the next few laps. From lap 19, when Charles was fourth, he was able to push with a clear track ahead and began to make up ground on a trio comprising Gasly, Ricciardo and Ocon who were tailing Raikkonen on the Hards and Vettel. Charles put in a series of quick laps to increase the gap prior to his stop which came on lap 28, so that he was able to rejoin ahead of the two Frenchmen, but he just missed out on doing the same to Ricciardo. From then on it was a simple case of managing things on the Hard for the remaining 25 laps, which he did with no problems."

And Sebastian?

"Obviously, his race was much more complicated, fighting the Alfa Romeos and the Haas. Lacking the speed to overtake, the undercut on Grosjean and Giovinazzi was on the table as an option, but that would have meant Seb spending practically the entire race behind Magnussen. We asked Seb about the state of his tyres and then we went for the plan we had decided on before. From lap 17, with a clear track ahead of him, Seb gradually made up ground and with every lap he got closer to the moment when he could have usefully switched to the Softs. Unfortunately, having been passed by Ricciardo on lap 27, his tyres dropped off and after a few laps during which we hoped they might come back, we decided to bring him in on lap 30. At this point, it was too soon to consider making the most of the Softs, because even with a car that was by now lighter, 23 laps seemed too much. We therefore had to go with the Hards again, hoping to eventually benefit if the group ahead had tyre degradation to try and at least grab a point. Unfortunately, although the Hard was very consistent, Sebastian lost time because of the blue flags and there was not much he could do except settle for the 13th place from which he had started."

As usual, we asked Iñaki Rueda, Head of Race Strategy, to talk us through the teams strategy and management of the various options.