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

Posted on Author Keith Collantine

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