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Tech Talk: technical and strategic analysis of the Sakhir Grand Prix

Sakhir 07 December 2020

The second consecutive weekend at the Bahrain International Circuit did not go at all well for Scuderia Ferrari Mission Winnow, with no points scored and it now looks highly unlikely that the team can finish any higher than sixth in the Constructors’ classification. As usual we asked Iñaki Rueda, Head of Race Strategy, to explain our approach to the weekend and how it went, with particular reference to strategy.

“Going into the event, we were keen to find out what the new track was like and how it would suit our car. One of the main question marks related to tyre behaviour: on a track almost half the length of the previous weekend’s, would they suffer 50% less? The situation was more complicated because the tyres’ energy cycle is very different from one track to the next. The Outer Track, while being much shorter, allowed the tyres more time to ‘breathe’ and so they suffered less from overheating. That meant much lower degradation per kilometre than the previous weekend, which added to less degradation from the shorter lap, led to less stops in the race.”

Apart from tyre behaviour, what were the other unknowns?

“With a layout reminiscent of an American oval, we wondered whether we'd be in for an overtaking festival but that was not the case, overtaking was easier than the previous weekend but not to a point to make the race a farce. The short lap presented additional challenges related to traffic management and impeding but surprisingly, there were no yellow flags and no cases of impeding through Qualifying. Even in Q1, with 20 cars on track together, everything went smoothly because the drivers were being respectful and letting others drivers by when they were not in their push laps”.

We saw several different approaches to qualifying. How did we tackle it from the pitwall?

“Such a short lap meant that more than the usual two runs were possible per session, which made the qualifying definitely busier and more exciting. With limited degradation, starting the race on Mediums was desired but less appealing than the previous weekend. That’s why although we tried to make the cut out of Q2 on this compound, we were also ready to fit Softs for a final back-up run. Charles put in a great lap on the Mediums and we thought we had a small chance of going through with it, which is why we sent him out again at the end, ready to abort the lap if he still was in the top 10 when the other completed their laps. In the end, Charles had to complete his lap on Softs to get into the top ten, while Sebastian didn’t make the cut.”

Why did Leclerc only do one run in the final part of qualifying?

“He only had one set of new Softs. The alternative was to do a preparatory run on used Sofs, which would definitely have been too slow and then wait until the end to use the new set. He was convinced he could do his best lap if he was sent in free air and that’s what we did, even though it meant waiting to see what the others would do, without getting another chance. This time, we got it right, as the track didn’t improve and Charles managed a great fourth place.”

Then came the disappointment in the race…

“And very early too, as Charles was out after just a few corners. Braking for turn 4, he tried to attack Max Verstappen but he locked his wheels, missed the apex and collided with Sergio Perez, who was on his line. It was a heavy impact and Charles came off worst with broken left front suspension. Paradoxically, the incident forced Perez to pit on lap one and they did a fantastic job to win the race from last on the first lap!”

What about Sebastian’s race?

“Not much to be honest. He was on his own for almost the entire race. On the one hand, there was no threat from behind and on the other, he did not have the pace to close on those ahead. We tried to optimise the strategy with a one-stop, hoping to capitalized on people doing early two stops. The deployment of the Virtual Safety Car and then of the Safety Car in the second part of the race gave us the chance to do two stops without losing position to try and make up some places at the restart, but it was not to be and he finished the race more or less where he started.”