It was a bad weekend at Spa-Francorchamps with no points scored, Sebastian finishing 13th and Charles 14th. A frustrating result as emphasised after the race by Team Principal, Mattia Binotto. However, it only serves to increase the team’s determination to get out of the storm it is in at the moment to reach calmer waters as soon as possible.
Looking back at the Belgian Grand Prix, once again we talk to the Scuderia’s Head of Race Strategy, Inaki Rueda to understand key moments of the race, starting with the tyre choice.
“The behaviour of the three Pirelli compounds in Spa and, unfortunately, our positions on the grid, actually gave us plenty of flexibility in terms of tyre choice for the start. The safest bet was the Medium, which would have allowed for a relatively early stop to switch to Hards or to go as long as possible in the first stint to then try and finish on the Soft. Starting on the Soft would have been an advantage in the early laps, especially those when DRS was not yet enabled. With both drivers out of Q3, it made sense to split the strategies, so Sebastian went on Mediums and Charles on the Softs, which would also put him in good shape if there was an early neutralisation or one towards the end of the race.”
Charles’s strategy seemed to work. Is that the case?
“Yes, Charles managed to go from 13th (actually 12th as Carlos Sainz did not start) to eighth place in just one lap and it even looked as though he might pass Stroll for seventh. But after that, the car’s shortcomings in terms of performance saw him slip down the order.”
Then there was the incident involving Antonio Giovinazzi and George Russell which brought out the safety car.
“Both drivers were very near turn 17 and therefore close to the pit lane entry: ideally we wanted to bring them in on the same lap and do a double stop, as we did in the second Silverstone race. However, there was an unknown factor to consider, namely the fact that the engine’s pneumatic valve system on Charles’ car was using too much air. His stop would therefore have to be longer, as topping up the system normally adds three seconds. So a double stop would have penalised Sebastian, which is why he stayed out for one more lap. It meant that Charles lost a place to Räikkönen because of topping up the air so that Seb was now in front of his team-mate.”
How does the pneumatic valve air system work?
“Formula 1 engines use air to operate the valves which, as is the case with the oil, can occasionally consume more than normal. The air bottle on the car can be topped up by connecting it to the compressed air system and in the case of the SF1000, the connector is on the left hand side. That’s why on tv, we saw a mechanic attach to the car a sort of jack with a compressed air bottle. These things happen from time to time and we practice these procedures over the course of the race weekend.”
After the first stop, how did the race pan out?
“We put Hards on both cars thinking it was the best option at the time for having a one stop race, but we did not know – and neither did the other teams – how this compound would hold up towards the end. Seb had a pretty lonely race to the flag, hoping that those ahead of him would suffer with a performance drop or make a second stop. Unfortunately, neither of those two scenarios occurred. With Charles we also had the air problem, as his consumption increased again, although not to a dramatic extent. In the position in which he found himself, a second stop seemed a possibility, both in order to make the most of a set of new Mediums and also to avoid the risk of having an air problem in the final laps. At the beginning of the new stint, in clean air, his pace was very good and he set the fourth fastest lap time of the race even though at that point he still had a lot of fuel on board. But given that the Hard held up to the end, for Charles moving up the order remained just a dream and he finished the race practically in the same position he was in at the time of his second stop.”