Nothing in Formula One is ever simple – and that seems more apt than even during the 2014 World Championship. Silverstone is a prime example. Celebrating its 50th British Grand Prix it should be a known quantity – but right up to the chequered flag spectators were left guessing which way the race would play out. People on the pitwall were too.
Silverstone produced a humdinger of a race. There was a home win for the locals as Lewis Hamilton romped home a comfortable victor, but behind him there were battles up and down the order. Valtteri Bottas burst through from the back of the grid to claim second position, demonstrating that Williams' mid-season pace isn't as track-specific as people (including people at Williams) suggested in Austria. Daniel made a very unusual strategy work to get another podium finish out of the RB10, and Sebastian emerged the victor in a titanic battle with Fernando Alonso that had shades of Villeneuve versus Arnoux. Multiple World Champions both, they locked wheels at 190mph through Woodcote and Copse with an icy calm that belied the radio transmissions. If you thought it was exciting on TV or in the grandstands, trust us in saying it was more so on the pitwall and in the garages.
It's impossible to properly convey just how good, and just how draining a grand prix this was. So, as always, we'll fall back on the numbers.
Seb and Daniel cumulatively ran 1414km over the weekend. They did 784km on the medium tyre (eight sets), 465km on the hard tyre (eight sets) and 165km on the Intermediate (six sets).
This weekend was an odd occasion where the number of pitstops and the number of tyre sets used simply don't add up. The first lap red flag caused by Kimi Räikkönen's car-shredding crash saw to that, affording the top ten starters the opportunity to ditch their used Q2 Option tyres for new Hard or Medium compounds. Daniel and Seb both switched to a new Hard, as did Jean-Eric Vergne, Sergio Pérez and Romain Grosjean. Fernando Alonso switching from the hard tyre to the medium tyre.
Once the race restarted, Daniel ran on the Hard tyre to lap 15 and made his one and only stop to switch to a new Medium tyre. Seb pitted on lap 10 for a used set of Mediums, and again on lap 33 for another set of used Mediums. More on this below.
Overtakes on track
The race saw 46 successful overtaking moves (Despite the fact the pace delta required to overtake is only around 1.5s, Silverstone doesn't give up places as easily as many people assume – and while 46 isn't as many as in Montreal or Austria, it is still perhaps an artificially high number bolstered by the cars left out-of-position after wet qualifying). Daniel made three passes during the race, getting by Nico Hülkenberg in a good fight on the first stint, then Adrian Sutil immediately after leaving the pits and then Hülkenberg again a few laps into his second stint, essentially retaking the place as the German ran long on a conventional one-stopper.
Sebastian has a rather more eventful afternoon, and while the only thing anyone will remember is his titanic tussle and eventual pass on Alonso in his final stint, he also passed Sutil, Hülkenberg and Kevin Magnussen in the middle portion of the race.
The top speed hit by an RB10 in the speed trap over the weekend was 320kph (199mph). Many people assume that Silverstone is an ultra high-speed track but in reality it demands too much downforce for skinny wings.
Lewis Hamilton had the fastest race lap – a 1:37.176 set on lap 26. Oddly, this was on the slower, Hard compound, two laps into Hamilton's second stint. Doubtless he could have improved on that in his final stint with a lighter fuel load and fresh rubber – but given his team-mate's retirement with mechanical trouble and his own comfortable lead, Hamilton largely spent the second half of the race cruising to the flag. Sebastian was the second fastest driver at Silverstone with the second fastest lap, setting a 1.37:481 on his final lap.
Daniel's fastest lap came on lap 34. A 1'38.459 left him well down the order, only the seventh quickest car on display. That lap was something of an anomaly, interrupting the trend of Daniel's laps getting steadily slower as his tyres degraded, before picking up again at the end of the race as he fought to stave-off the fast approaching Jenson Button. "I put in one really good lap, half a second quicker than anything I'd done – and then after that Simon [Rennie, race engineer] asked me to look after the rear tyres," recalls Daniel.
The 2014 British Grand Prix was precisely the sort of race Pirelli envisaged when they created their range of tyre compounds. If offered a genuine choice of strategy between one and two stops – but also allowed for drivers to use strategy within those choices according to the timing of their stops.
Since the Arena layout came into use in 2010, tyre strategy has been all over the place, affected by a change of suppliers, wet and dry races, changing temperatures and changing cars. 2014 is different to anything that has gone before. The cars are faster in a straight line (because they have more power) but slower around corners (because they have less downforce). They're 50kg heavier too, though that only really applies at the end of the race – because at the start they are carrying around 60kg less fuel. There's basically nothing in the history of the race to provide a guide, so teams were reliant on their simulations and track running on Friday and Saturday to give them an indication of what to do.
That was problematic in its own right. Friday was a hot day, while Saturday was wet and Sunday cool and cloudy, rendering the data gathered earlier in the event less reliable than would otherwise be the case. Our prediction before the race made a two-stop strategy marginally quicker by about two seconds. That actually made a one-stop strategy a good bet. Two seconds is easily lost with a slow stop or getting caught in traffic. On the other hand, the two-stoppers would be quicker at the end of the race.
Seb ran a two-stop strategy. Having dropped three places before the red flag, he switched to the Hard tyre on the restart grid. The Hard tyre was assumed to be the inferior race tyre, so he would be getting that out of the way while likely to be stuck in traffic anyway. He pitted to get rid of it on lap ten, splitting the remainder of the race into two equal stints on the Medium tyre, pitting for a second set on lap 33.
Seb's first stop was slightly early, forced on him by a desire to get out of a train behind the McLarens. Daniel was running nominally the same strategy – but his race went in a rather different direction. At the restart he'd struggled to get his Hard tyres working and was passed by first Bottas than Alonso on the Medium while bottled up behind Hülkenberg. Daniel may have been called in for an early pitstop of his own had he remained behind Hülkenberg – but after a good scrap he managed to wiggle through on lap nine, emerging into clear air with Alonso a few seconds up the road.
Daniel pitted on lap 15 to discard his hard tyres. At that point his intention was to split the race into two equal stints on the Medium tyre, or potentially run a longer middle stint to give him a better tyre to gain places at the end of the race. However, the cooler temperatures of race day were extending the life of the Medium tyre beyond what anyone expected.
Daniel tells it like this: "Simon came on the radio and told me four more laps to our pitstop. I said the tyres were OK and asked them to have a think about running longer. I'm sure they were thinking about it already – but perhaps hearing I was comfortable on the tyres swayed them a little bit more."
So, instead of a stop sometime shortly after lap 30, Daniel opted to run longer with a flexible strategy of either pitting with around 15 laps remaining, or running to the flag. By that point several drivers had ran 30 laps on the Medium compound, so Daniel's potential 37-lap stint seemed within the realms of possibility.
"It was still up in the air whether we just made the second pitstop late or went to the end," he says. "With 15 laps to go Simon asked me if I thought I'd make it to the flag. I said I thought I would and that's when we committed to the strategy."
The decision catapulted Daniel from eighth on the grid to his fourth podium finish in the last five races. It was a close run thing – though the strategy was perhaps not as marginal as is implied by the grandstand finish which was him cross the line less than a second ahead of Jenson Button. He had a further six seconds in hand over Sebastian, and a comfortable fourth place would also have represented a significant strategic gain.
Understandable, Daniel was very happy with his strategy after the race and Sebastian was less enamoured of his. So, why wasn't the same thing tried with Seb? As with all things, it was a matter of timing.
"Sebastian's early stop got him out of traffic with the McLarens – but it meant a one-stop wasn't possible for him," explains head of race strategy Will Courtenay. "Daniel pitted five laps later on lap 15 and was initially on a two-stop plan. However, on lap 36, with Sebastian struggling to pass Alonso, we asked Daniel if he thought he could make it to the end of the race. He said yes and, fearing another stop would only leave Daniel stuck being Magnussen, we decided to risk Daniel's mammoth second stint, which paid off with a podium finish. Just."
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