Do F1 drivers help decide strategies? Alonso doesn’t, Hamilton does

Lewis Hamilton said he wanted a one-stop strategy at Monza

Lewis Hamilton said he wanted a one-stop strategy at Monza

Did Fernando Alonso know about Renault’s conspiracy to cause a crash in last year’s Singapore Grand Prix?

That question has provoked a huge amount of discussion here at F1 Fanatic and on other F1 sites.

A crucial part of the debate hinges on whether drivers like Alonso are handed their strategies by the team, or whether they play a role in deciding them. Alonso told the FIA on Monday that he did not challenge the team about his unusually aggressive Singapore strategy because he trusts them:

Normally I completely believe, I trust, the engineers. They normally have a lot of simulations which give you the optimal lap to stop. Sometimes it’s short fuel, sometimes it’s long fuel. I completely trust them, and that particular case was no difference. I completely trusted the lap they told me to stop on and I just drove at the maximum.
Fernando Alonso

(You can hear this quote in the FIA WMSC recording at around the 17 minute mark).

Naturally this got me wondering whether all F1 drivers simply take the strategies they’re given without asking. This morning I had a chance to put the question to Lewis Hamilton in the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes media phone-in.

Hamilton was not willing to talk about the Singapore case, and told one journalist he hasn’t been following the affair. So instead I asked him about whether he was happy with his Italian Grand Prix strategy (a two-stopper which left him behind the one-stopping Brawns) and whether he challenged the team about it.

While Alonso said he was happy to rely on the answer that (he thought) had come out of Renault’s computers, Hamilton told McLaren he wanted a different strategy at Monza.

Here’s Hamilton’s reply and my questions in full (the questions were not asked in the context of the Singapore scandal):

F1 Fanatic: At Monza we saw you on a very different strategy to Brawn who obviously then went and won the race. I’m wondering what kind of input you have into decisions that are made about your strategy. Is it something that the team decide entirely on their own or do you have input?

Lewis Hamilton: Generally we do discuss it together. But in actual fact it is decided by the team. Sometimes I might not even be at the meeting and I’m just told that I’m going to lap 15 or whatever lap it is. We’ve got a great group of guys who are very, very intelligent, who understand all the statistics and so I have to rely on them. They may not always get it right, but who does? Generally they’ve always done a great job so I trust them. I don’t think, in Monza, I was on the right strategy, but it was how it was, and we’ll try and learn from that.

F1F: Did you question the strategy before Monza?

LH: Honestly, I wanted to be on a one-stop strategy, but I was on a two-stop. That enabled me to be on pole position and I was able to push, out in clear air. I think, potentially, things would have been slightly different if the Brawns hadn’t been so quick, we could have been in a great position. But they were dominant that weekend, they were very, very quick.

F1F: I understand, I’m just trying to get an impression of the discussion that goes on. So, you said to the team you’d rather be on a one-stop, they said they thought a two-stop was better and you came to an agreement that a two-stop was the way to go?

LH: Yeah, we did. It was my personal feeling that, if other people were going for a one-stop and that was the fastest route, perhaps we should be on that, but we have to take a lot of things into account. The guys are the smart ones, they have all the information and they explained to me why I was on a two-stop and it seemed reasonable so that’s why we stuck with it.

I find it hard to believe that a driver of Alonso’s experience – with two world championships to his name – would not have a role to play in deciding something as important as race strategy. What do you think?

You can read the rest of the interview (on Auto Trader) here.

Renault Singapore crash controversy

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151 comments on Do F1 drivers help decide strategies? Alonso doesn’t, Hamilton does

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  1. A very cunning way of posing the question Keith!

    I too share your scepticism about Alonso not playing a part in his strategy. Surely the best drivers are the ones who are most involved in everything to do with their drive?

    I had heard a rumour that Alonso was blasting his engineers over the radio for the strategy during the race in Singapore last year, which I guess would back up his version of events…

    • Stephen C said on 23rd September 2009, 19:53

      My understanding is unlike the other teams, where strategy is a team effort, at Renault Flavio and Pat were the strategists and other opinions were generally unwelcome. In hindsight they should have been even more hard nosed about this than they were.
      Anyway, on grounds of both “driver equality” and Piquet’s performance at that time it would have been very wise for him to avoid any involvement with Piquet’s strategy. It would have been far more profitable from a team perspective for Alonso, as the most experienced driver, to have been helping Piquet to get the most from his car.
      It is also interesting that both Piquet and Grosjean said Alonso is very helpful.

    • In light of how the sport is now, I can see the input of the driver in strategy being less and less. Teams invest a great deal in technology and people to come up with a strategy before and during a race. (I can see Eddie Jordan shaking his head even as I write this.)

      Therefore, I can see Renault turning round and saying to Alonso, this is what we’re going to do. It’s whether Alonso questioned them on the strategy or not. There are many views that I’ve read that the Renault strategy was not that strange, which was reiterated by Alonso at the hearing. So it comes down to who you want to believe.

      Personally I don’t think that Alonso was involved in the strategy but I struggle with the idea that the first time he had heard about this was when NPJ went to the FIA. There were rumours about this flying around the paddock after the race. And regardless of what he has said to the press and at the hearing, he must have had his suspicions.

      But could Alonso be the mysterious Mr X and knew about it all along. OOOOOOOOOOOHHHHHHHHHHH :-)

  2. I find it hard to believe Alonso too.

    Think of it in your day to day work. If you’ve been at the same job for a while and doing it well, and an expert tells you one day to do something that seems very different, of course you are going to question it, and try to come to an agreement.

    • mp4-19b said on 23rd September 2009, 15:14

      Alonso is a great dramatist. He says things that are convenient to him. Alonso doesn’t even trust his barber, let alone his race engineer. Alonso motto in life:-

      TRUST NO ONE

      If he were to be a trusting man, he wouldn’t have done what he did in 2007 at Interlagos. Had a third party involved to oversee the “equipment” given to him.

      I dunno why the WMSC let go of him so easily??!! He was just asked to explain what he made of it, all he did was to confuse the room with his usual broken spanish-english. No even bothered to ask him strong questions & I was astonished to hear mosley granting him permission to leave midway!! If I were to be in that meeting, I would have bombarded him with questions until he spat out the truth! I’m really furious that he was let away so easily.

      • Nitpicker said on 23rd September 2009, 17:48

        I dunno why the WMSC let go of him so easily??!!

        If they don’t have evidence of Alonso doing any wrong, then they can’t jump up and down and made accusations. Unlike a lot of people on here.

        Perhaps Alonso will turn out to be Witness X. Maybe he orchestrated the whole schebang. But until we know for sure, you can’t keep wittering on “he must have known something!!1!1!!”

      • Sush Meerkat said on 23rd September 2009, 19:25

        I’m so glad the internet conspiracy theorist such as yourself MP4 aren’t in the FIA.

        Max Mosley is the lesser evil to your constant ramblings.

        Could you please make a constructive statement next time.

      • As I said in a post the other day…Planet F1….

        How LH has anything to do with this is beyond me…………

      • I didn’t realise that you knew Alonso so well, mp4-19b. You must be really close to be able to much such comments about him. Can you introduce me to him, please? I know you and I have had our differences on this blog, but I am not above using my connections with you to worm my way into Alonso’s social circle ;)

    • Nitpicker said on 23rd September 2009, 17:46

      If you’ve been at the same job for a while and doing it well, and an expert tells you one day to do something that seems very different, of course you are going to question it

      Alonso wasn’t asked to do something different. Earlier this season Hamilton started from a poor grid position and did a short first stint (it was mentioned in another F1F article I think). If Renault had asked him to come in on lap 5 then obviously something looks odd. But lap 14 doesn’t sound too bizarre.

      • Patrickl said on 23rd September 2009, 22:59

        That was because Hamilton had KERS and would actually be able to overtake cars and thus could make that strategy work.

        Besides in that race year the tyres really worked only for 8 to 10 laps or so. So yeah then it made sense.

        Hamilton tried it Monaco too hoping he could overtake cars there as well, but obviously he couldn’t. That’s more how it would have worked for Alonso. No hopes of overtaking cars and being stuck behind heavier cars. It was utterly stupid and Hamilton was laughed at even before the race started.

        This “Hamilton did it too” argument was mentioned by Symonds as a defense why this bizarre strategy might not have been so bizarre. In fact he was wrong and his defense is completely unbelievable

  3. steph90 said on 23rd September 2009, 14:54

    I think when it is on track a driver can simply say ‘no I’m not coming in yet’. But outside it is simply looking at simulation and maybe coming to a compromise, depeing upon the relationship between the team and driver. They can alwasy question strategies though.
    With regards to Singapore, maybe Alonso didn’t question or wanted to go along with strategy because he needed a gamble to get ahead of the drivers in front.
    Great questions with Lewis Keith, nice way to look at it, to see how a driver will help make strategic decisions.

    • Bigbadderboom said on 23rd September 2009, 16:07

      True, we saw from the radio transcripts that as the race develops the teams depend on the simulations.
      It’s far to technical and dynamic for a driver to insist he “feels” that a different strategy would be better. There are so many variables and possible scenarios that really you are at the peril of the simulation. The only decisions that would be made otherwise are “gambles” which Flavio supposedly told Alonso before the race last year.
      The Alonso strategy was with hindsight very unusual, but before the race Alonso may well have been convinced it was better to gamble and go short by the team.
      I suspect Keith that Lewis may have a little smile to himself if he sees the context in which his interview have been used.

      Great Great work Keith.

    • Nitpicker said on 23rd September 2009, 17:54

      I think when it is on track a driver can simply say ‘no I’m not coming in yet’.

      Does he create a tank of fuel out of thin air? If the driver has been put on a short stint, he’s coming in when the stint is over. Race strategies (at least the first stint) are decided before the race begins, so nothing is known about who gets punted off or who gets blocked during the run to the first corner. Simulation and theory is all that’s available.

  4. I think a double world champion of Alonso’s Dominating mindset definitely has a say in what the team does. Whether it’s along the lines of Hamilton where the team get the final word or not I don’t know. The real question is did he know about the PK crash? Considering his grid position along with the light fuel load, he had to know something was up!!

  5. Good job getting that much information out of Hamilton ! :D

    That said, it might boil down to how confident a driver is in the car setup and his ability to set flying laps. The engineers might have enough data (fuel loads, tyre wear, etc.) from past races and practice sessions to show that a 2-stop is quicker, or have faith in the driver’s ability to set qualifying pace laptimes over short runs for a 3 or 4 stop strategy (Michael Schumacher at Magny-Cours, 2004)

    Perhaps Alonso had enough faith in Pat Symonds based on his 2005 and 2006 campaigns not to question the early stop…

  6. mp4-19b said on 23rd September 2009, 15:05

    Great Job Keith!! Really nice that a world Champion recognizes F1Fanatic. You have a very bright future in this field. I keep a count of all the nice guys you’ve interviewed, Ari was the first & now Lewis. But I’m sure you’ll have a tough time interviewing Kimi :D. Poor pity! 2 comedians (Jay Leno & Rowan Atkinson) own a F1, but none of the former mclaren champs own it! I also read somewhere had Ron Dennis managed to crash his F1!! And the sultan of Brunei had five F1’s I believe!!

  7. patrickl said on 23rd September 2009, 15:07

    But in actual fact it is decided by the team. Sometimes I might not even be at the meeting and I’m just told that I’m going to lap 15 or whatever lap it is.

    I’d say that’s pretty much the same as what Alonso said.

    I have to agree that it’s probably impossible for the driver to make a strategy decision. There is just too much data to consider. That’s what the guys with the computers are for.

    • I agree, I couldn’t see much difference between Hamilton’s approach and Alonso’s. Lewis wanted a one stop at Monza but was happy to go along with McLaren’s preference for a two stopper.

      There are so many factors in play that it’s virtually impossible for the driver to arrive at a well reasoned strategy decision on their own.

      If memory serves, Alonso did get involved in strategy during last year’s Japanese GP – he made the call that was fairly instrumental in jumping Kubica at the first stops. But that was more to do with Renault asking whether Alonso could maintain the necessary pace to make that call work, which is not the same as determing a fuel strategy before the race.

      • I have to agree with Patrick and Tim, in that I don’t see any difference between Alonso’s and Hamilton’s approach.

        They can question the strategy, and both have on occasion, but ultimately they trust the guys with all the data and the computers to process it.

    • inc0mmunicado said on 24th September 2009, 4:58

      And what happens when the strategy server is down? :)

      • inc0mmunicado said on 24th September 2009, 4:59

        that was @ Dougie

      • Hi inc0mmunicado,

        Have you an example of when that has ever happened?

        I would imagine that the fault tolerance and resiliance of their systems, both on track and back at base, is second to none.

  8. Wow!! That was some questioning Keith.

    You well and truly cornered him into giving you the information you (and well all fanatics) wanted.

    Pardon the comparison, but it seemed similar to how Lord Voldemort used to inveigle information out of his victims in the 6th Harry Potter book.

    I think what Fernando means is, he probably tells his views regarding strategy to his engineers beforehand, and they come to a decision either by taking his views into account or discarding them completely. Fernando never finds out whether his input made any difference or not.

    • mp4-19b said on 23rd September 2009, 15:24

      If I had Alonso in my grasp, I would force open his mouth & fill it with 500ml Veritaserum. That way he would have spilled the beans :) Or even better is to subject Alonso to Legilimency! I’m sure he doesn’t know Occlumency to close his mind. But I wouldn’t mind to subject him to a few Cruciatus Curses ;) Just to double confirm that he’s telling the truth.

      • you would serve perfectly in the Spanish inquisition in the old days… just torture someone until he says what you want to hear.

        I do not understand why Keith allows this here

        • mp4-19b said on 23rd September 2009, 15:46

          Hey!! It was meant to be a joke FFS!!! Why do you take everything so seriously?? I understand your take on this issue, but it doesn’t mean that we should stop ridiculing Alonso’s lie of the decade.

          • S Hughes said on 23rd September 2009, 16:00

            mp4-19b, thou must not question the God Alonso. Repeat 10 times.

            To think some want this debate to be stifled!

        • Maksutov said on 23rd September 2009, 19:13

          you would serve perfectly in the Spanish inquisition in the old days… just torture someone until he says what you want to hear.

          lol, what do you mean old days?

          It happens today, go ask Dick Cheney how its done ;)

          • Martin said on 24th September 2009, 2:51

            Lets get something straight, if Dick Cheney wants to get you or your information he will just take you dove hunting and shoot you with his shotgun by accident.

        • This is just what i was thinking, he (mp4-19b should change his nickname to Torquemada…
          Amd i would like to listen his “broken spanish” with english accent…
          This mp4-19b guy is a cancer………..

      • Nitpicker said on 23rd September 2009, 17:58

        If I had Alonso in my grasp, I would force open his mouth & fill it with 500ml Veritaserum.

        By the way, when does that restraining order expire?

  9. graham228221 said on 23rd September 2009, 15:11

    Wasn’t alonso actually going to lap 16 originally, according to the radio transcript from the FIA dossier?

    That doesn’t sound as hard to sell to Alonso.

    Symonds took the decision to bring him early to avoid traffic, or at least that’s how he explained it to Alonso…

    • Nitpicker said on 23rd September 2009, 18:02

      Singapore being a 61 lap race, a straightforward 2-stop strategy would see pit stops at lap 20 and lap 40. So stopping on lap 16 or 14 doesn’t sound immediately suspicious.

      • According to the transcripts, they started Alonso on an aggressive 3-stop strategy stopping at lap 14, which Symonds changed to 2-stop when they pitted him.

  10. First of all, hats off on your questioning skills Keith!

    Secondly, I don’t think this shows Alonso “should” have been suspicious of his strategy. All it shows is that he and Lewis have a different approach to strategy. Notice Hamilton said he sometimes just accepts it without question as well.

  11. I don’t think we need to look to deep into this.
    It wasn’t a strange strategie even if you didn’t do the crash scenario.
    On a street circuit it’s always a possibility a safety car will have to come out.
    This was Alonso’s only shot at a podium, going for that low fuel and hoping for a sc.
    In the end they fixed the sc but even if they didn’t it could have worked!

    • Patrickl said on 23rd September 2009, 18:53

      It would not have worked without the safety car.

      Alonso was stuck in p20 behind Fisichella, Sutil and Bourdais. He would have been stuck there for another 15 laps or so.

      Strategies like this don’t work when you don’t have free track.

      • That’s the point SoLiD is trying to make.

        Renault did fix the safety car but on a street circuit where no one as raced before a safety car was always likely.

        It was worth the gamble for Alonso as this was his only way of getting a good result in that race.

  12. Jav1900 said on 23rd September 2009, 15:32

    I can’t believe that Alonso who in 2007 so spectacularly fell out with McLaren because he couldn’t get his way would let others decide his fate. Nor would I expect any professional at that level to let others completely decide what was best for them.

    Alonso must have been aware of the position he was fighting for and therefore knowledge of the basis of the strategy and therefore involved with that strategy.

    What needs to be asked is whether that strategy was a fair reasonable one to get them to the position they expected to be in at the end of the race. However if it is shown that the short fill strategy was no way near what they claim then questions need to be asked about the whole teams knowledge of the crash strategy.

  13. Giant21 said on 23rd September 2009, 15:32

    Great job Keith, good reporting!

    I find it hard to believe Alonso also, especially given into account his two-world titles and his behavior at McLaren in 2007.

    Having said that, doesn’t the driver input into strategy differ between the each one’s own characteristics and style? Usually there are two types of drivers, one who just wants a fast car and th other who is extremley methodical in his race planning. The Piquet camp is a great example: While Nelson was involved in every part of the strategy (which probably helped him beat Mansell in 87), Piquet Jr. was known to be very lax about this.

    I’m not saying there is a right and wrong, but isnt’t this discussuion rather relative?

  14. mp4-19b said on 23rd September 2009, 15:35

    Ferrari to choose Massa’s 2010 teammate soon

    Meaning Kimi’s heading back to woking?

  15. steph90 said on 23rd September 2009, 15:39

    Seems they haven’t made any decisions yet. Spose it depends on what contract Fernando has signed and if they can pay off Kimi

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