Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull, Korea, 2011

Red Bull eye alternative strategy to fight McLaren

2011 Korean GP pre-race analysis

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Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull, Korea, 2011
Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull, Korea, 2011

Red Bull sprang a surprise in qualifying which indicated they’re considering an alternative strategy for the Korean Grand Prix.

Practice form so far has suggested McLaren can out-gun them on the track regardless of their tactics.

But after little dry running this track could throw up another unpredictable race.

The start

We didn’t see a standing start at Korea last year but we can make some educated guesswork about how it will pan out.

With only one other race taking place this weekend and little other activity at the circuit the rest of the year, the grip level is low all round. But the passage of the F1 cars in dry conditions today will have made the racing line side more favourable.

That’s good news for pole sitter Lewis Hamilton and team mate Jenson Button, and bad news for the two Red Bulls.

However the short distance between the grid and the first corner (at 150m, it’s even shorter than Spa) should limit the pain suffered by those starting on the left-hand side of the grid. From there, two lengthy straights and a pair of hairpins give plenty of opportunities for swapping positions.

The strategy

Red Bull’s qualifying strategy has provided a fascinating talking point for strategy fans, and one it’s worth exploring the possibilities of.

They began the session on super soft tyres, which is highly unusual. Vettel used two further new sets of super softs in Q3, leaving him with three unused sets of soft tyres for the race.

Vettel said he thinks that will be “crucial” for the race. This could just be the world champion trying to dupe his rivals.

Or perhaps not, for Fernando Alonso admitted Ferrari had also considered starting qualifying on the super soft tyres as well: “When tyre degradation is very high, usually we are in good shape, but here the situation is not very clear, as the behaviour of the super softs over a long run and on full tanks is still an unknown quantity.”

That suggests Ferrari stuck with the usual approach of using the super soft tyre as little as possible in qualifying because they know their car is kid on its tyres and they expect to be able to get decent life out of them in the race.

But Red Bull expect the super soft tyre won’t last long enough on their car – and won’t offer enough of a performance gain over the super-soft – to make up for the time lost in the pits. Adding weight to this theory, note that in final practice neither of the Red Bulls were faster on super softs than the McLarens had been on soft tyres.

We’ll know this is the case if Red Bull switch to soft tyres early in the race.

They had problems with tyre wear in Japan, but in the first press conference of the weekend Vettel was quick to point out that Hamilton had as well.

Hamilton’s problems in Japan were exacerbated after his first stint by set-up changes following a misdiagnosed puncture. After qualifying today the McLaren driver said: “I think we have made a big change to the set-up compared to the last race and that made a big difference.”

Whether they’ve done enough to alleviate his tyre wear problems will be crucial to the outcome of this race.

Other drivers have reported that tyre wear in Korea hasn’t been as bad as they initially feared.”Going into this Grand Prix there was a lot of concern about tyre degradation,” said Felipe Massa. “But, at least from what we have seen today, it seems to be less severe than expected.”

Jaime Alguersuari added: “I was encouraged by the long run I did, as there was not as much tyre degradation as we had expected, so this issue should not trouble us tomorrow.”

Over at Force India Paul di Resta urged his team to make bold calls on the pitwall in order to keep the likes of Michael Schumacher behind: “The important thing is to be aggressive with our strategy because there are some fast cars behind us, including a Mercedes, and we need to work hard to keep them at bay. That won?t be easy because I expect the DRS zone to be quite effective here.”

Longest stint analysis – Practice three

The graph below shows the lap times for each driver (in seconds) from their longest stints in the third practice session.

The Red Bull drivers did some high-fuel stints in third practice on soft tyres. They had already used the tyres earlier in the session, and comfortably did two further stint which took both drivers up to a total of 15 laps on the tyres without signs of the lap times dropping off.

The McLaren drivers’ stints shown below were from the end of the session on super-softs. On soft tyres early in the session they were in the region of a second fastest than the Red Bull were on the same rubber – but as we saw in Friday practice in Japan that is not necessarily significant because of differences in fuel loads.

Pirelli motorsport director Paul Hembery assessed the life of the two types of tyre: “The super soft tyre looks set to work effectively for about ten laps tomorrow while the soft tyre is good for up to 20 laps. We’d expect the time difference over a lap between the two compounds here to be in the region of 0.7s to 1.0s, based on what we have seen today.”

Sebastian Vettel104.995104.482104.036104.105104.212107.526103.407103.283103.035
Mark Webber105.576105.566104.526104.034103.761103.754103.4103.07102.909102.907
Lewis Hamilton97.199111.184103.739104.816
Jenson Button97.696124.72497.297122.26296.91
Fernando Alonso103.66299.317106.73298.666105.997
Felipe Massa101.034109.6899.29399.306
Michael Schumacher106.515106.462106.739106.842106.665107.171110.337106.181105.904
Nico Rosberg106.859107.019106.961106.944108.099109.32106.717106.689106.357106.498
Bruno Senna109.737102.759103.61109.61108.969
Vitaly Petrov99.612106.034100.537119.6399.721100.071
Rubens Barrichello105.162105.003114.2107.632105.937106.499
Pastor Maldonado109.82107.22106.752105.864105.237104.978105.495
Adrian Sutil106.113105.228104.884105.078105.937105.041106.361105.129
Paul di Resta105.648105.497105.656105.941105.771105.383104.917
Kamui Kobayashi105.3113.821103.198100.693
Sergio Perez102.022110.085100.769112.049100.894
Sebastien Buemi106.141106.139106.283106.834106.854107.084107.371106.767106.367106.182105.635
Jaime Alguersuari106.241106.579112.622106.406106.055105.832105.666106.531105.358
Heikki Kovalainen105.773101.909108.578102.476
Jarno Trulli105.235105.218102.878105.529101.945
Daniel Ricciardo106.889112.504109.223105.143109.783106.109
Vitantonio Liuzzi109.069106.741106.337106.144107.832120.968105.39113.123105.32123.357104.421
Timo Glock103.275110.436108.169104.89105.684
Jerome dAmbrosio104.827118.252104.377109.364

Who do you think is going to win the Korean Grand Prix? Will Hamilton bounce back from his recent setbacks? Have your say in the comments.

2011 Korean Grand Prix

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Image ?? Red Bull/Getty images

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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17 comments on “Red Bull eye alternative strategy to fight McLaren”

  1. Yes please! Would be nice to see a bit of a mix tomorrow, although I hope it ends in a battle for the podium places including the race win in the last 10 laps or so (don’t we all)!

  2. I admit this strategy is wise, if they actually mean to have new sets of softs.
    If the super-softs lasted so little that they’d need one more stop, they’d need to be 20 seconds faster in total over those laps than those who were on softs, which is unlikely.

  3. They need the super softs to last 7 or 8 laps minimum. The pit lane loss will be a bit more than most others and if they feed out in traffic, it could hurt them.

  4. I was very surprised to see Red Bull go out on the super softs in Q1, and even more so when they produced very sedate one-minute-thirty-nines, thinking that they would have to go out again. After they had managed to get through Q1 and Q2 on just one set of super soft tyres, their strategy started to make a lot of sense.

    Also, I suspect it’s a good choice to drive most of the race on soft tyres, except maybe for drivers like Alonso and Button (what a last stint in Singapore!). The question is if Hamilton emulates Red Bull’s expected strategy of super soft, soft, soft, soft, will those two flying laps (one one set of tyres) he did in Q1 make a big difference?

    Finally, it’s a pity we have to guess which tyres the drivers did their runs on. Last week, everybody assumed until long after the race that everyone (and relevantly Hamilton) had gone out in Q3 with used tyres, when in fact all had used new tyres. This time around, I lost track of which tyres Felipe Massa used. He used super softs in Q1, but did he also run those same tyres in Q2 andQ3?

    Typo : “kid to its tyres”

  5. Great analysis. Button must be licking his chops if he thinks RBR is going to try to beat him by streching out the harder tire. Button excels when the competion is based on who is better at driving slow.

    Hamilton needs to make sure he is not suckered by Vettel going all out to pressure him into running off his tires in 6 laps, so they can move on to the hard-tire game. In the end, I think McLaren have enough basic pace to have a choice of trying to outrun RBR’s less-stops ploy or just by covering them with slightly older harder tires. The key here will be Hamilton’s discipline in executing the response to RBR’s first move.

    1. LOL! I love your first paragraph. You basically say, “Button is the best at driving slow” :P

  6. What does Hembery mean ‘work effectivley’ I would translate this to ,as long as nobody drives ‘to fast’ in which case they should last about a lap if they are lucky.

  7. I can well see some chaos into the first few corners. Turn 1 reminds me of La Source, and someone usually emerges without their front wing there. Hopefully everyone will emerge OK.

    I think this is the first time this season that McLaren have been the fastest team all weekend, and Button in particular excels when things get difficult due to rain, tyre wear, etc. How will Hamilton cope? I’m not sure. If he can run away then he will win, but if put under pressure he might crack. Should be good for a strong podium though.

    Needless to say that I do not intend to miss the start of this race like I did in Japan. The alarm clock is going on the other side of the room to make sure that I get out of bed to turn it off. Match of the Day first, though.

  8. Interesting Analysis. My thoughts. For Red Bulls tyre saving strategy to work they’d need to make a pit stop less then the others and be close enough come the end to benefit after spending much of the race on slower rubber. Of course if there’s a safety car or the faster cars come out in traffic after a stop the saving soft tyres idea might work.

    However Red Bull’s set they saved by not running them in q1 only has 5 less laps on it then Mclarens and if mclarens tyre wear is better (the reason Red Bull may be considering this strategy) then they only have to run just over 1 lap longer on each set (if its a 3 stop race and they use the same tyre strategy) to negate Red Bulls advantage. If super softs turn out to be a better tyre then expected then Red Bull are definitely at a disadvantage as they’ve already put more laps on them in qualifying.

  9. I’m never one usually to follow strategy too much, being a bit of a newbie and all still, but tomorrow I will make a special effort to see just how the RBR situation pans out.

  10. I think that an SS-SS-S-S strategy will work out fine as they work to a projected 60 laps according to pirelli, and i doubt red bull can manage their car well enough to 2-stop in a SS-S-S (projected 50 laps) strategy, neither will they have such bad tyre wear that they are forced the SS-S-S-S (projected 70 laps). it will presumably be in the middle and an short 4th stint in SS will be needed. If RBR finds their tyres gone after say 45 laps (using SS-S-S) strategy, they may be forced to pit again for SS, or risk being chased down like in China this year.

    I think Mclaren and Ferrari’s more conventional SS-SS-S-S choice will be the correct one. Unless there is a real change in track conditions, RBR have put themselves on the back foot. this is just my opinion

  11. Any news on Sebastian being called to the stewards for cutting a corner?

    1. They investigated, but judged that since he crossed the line 17 seconds before the chequered flag (on his last run), he didn’t gain any advantage.

  12. This is a race that will go into the unknown.

  13. Hoping for a McLaren 1-2.
    Hasn’t been enough running for anyone to draw a conclusion about how the tyres will last. Don’t think Red Bull would do this strategy if the title was still being contested. Suspect it’s just bluff to see who would counter bluff.

    I think Lewis was so restrained after poll as he is sick of the fickleness of the sport and the media. He is growing up.

  14. jsw11984 (@jarred-walmsley)
    16th October 2011, 6:39

    @KeithCollantine just spotted this, I assume you mean soft instead of super-soft in the second instance?

    But Red Bull expect the super soft tyre won’t last long enough on their car – and won’t offer enough of a performance gain over the super-soft

  15. good luck to you redbull

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