Strategies cause McLaren headaches

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

Fernando Alonso, Nick Heidfeld, Magny-Cours, 2007McLaren weren’t on Ferrari’s pace at Magny-Cours – but some bad strategy calls made the gap look even greater.

A questionable switch to a three stop strategy did nothing to help Lewis Hamilton’s cause.

And whoever made the tactical decisions for Fernando Alonso left him behind two drivers he had already overtaken at the end of the race.

Hamilton’s extra stop

Hamilton was the only driver to finish in the top ten having made three stops. But the extra visit to the pits only seemed to cost him time.

McLaren brought Hamilton in on laps 16, 38 and 51 giving him stint lengths of 16, 22, 13 and 19 laps. At the time of his second stop it looked as though he might have been pitted early to avoid some traffic.

Had they fuelled him to the end at that point he would have had to go 32 laps on the softest tyre compound. The Ferrari drivers managed slightly shortly stint lengths on the same tyres with no obvious problems.

So why did McLaren switch Hamilton to a three-stopper? The only way it might have benefited him would be if he’d been able to get ahead of Ferrari before his final stop. But at six seconds adrift before his third stop he never even looked close to making it.

The strategy might have worked better had they been able to leave his third stop later, giving him more time on the more durable harder tyres. But that would have left him enormously vulnerable in the event of a safety car period.

By the end of the race his six second deficit had ballooned to over half a minute – most of which was accounted for by an apparently unnecessary extra pit stop.

Alonso’s poor reward

Fernando Alonso, McLaren-Mercedes, Magny-Cours, 2007Starting tenth on the grid was always going to be a challenge at a track where overtaking is very hard when the weather stays dry.

But the advantage Alonso gained from the handful of excellent passes he was able to make was squandered by the compromises forced on his strategy.

The vagaries of F1 qualifying forced Alonso into a compromised position from the start. The drivers immediately in front of him had carried more fuel into qualifying because they expected to qualifying where they did.

Forced to race through the field Alonso made two particularly fine passes in his second stint, taking Giancarlo Fisichella at Adelaide hairpin and Nick Heidfeld at – of all places – the Imola chicane.

Alonso’s made his two first stops at the same time as Hamilton – but he was fuelled to the end at the second stop.

The long stop and carrying a heavy fuel load in the final stint doomed him to fall back behind Fisichella and Heidfeld.

More so than Hamilton, Alonso was a victim of circumstance.

Racing vs strategy

I don’t ordinarily write posts about race strategy because they’re boring. I don’t believe any fan ever came home from a race and said: “I saw the most amazing pit stop.”

My point is this: Alonso made two excellent overtaking moves at a circuit where passing is always difficult. He ultimately lost those positions because of compromises forced on McLaren by the structure of qualifying.

I think F1 is placing rather too much emphasis on tedious race strategies over what motor sport should be all about – driver ability.

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