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Race strategy

Adrian Newey (GBR) Red Bull Racing Chief Technical Officer and Christian Horner (GBR) Red Bull Racing Team Principal on the pit wall gantry during Qualifying.
Formula One World Championship, Rd18, Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Qualifying, Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, UAE, Saturday, 3 November 2012 Stefano Domenicali (ITA) Ferrari General Director on the Ferrari pit wall gantry.
Formula One World Championship, Rd17, Indian Grand Prix, Buddh International Circuit, Greater Noida, New Delhi, India, Race, Sunday, 28 October 2012

Part science, part dark art - a decent strategy is essential to the business of winning races. Or, indeed, losing them. The basic variables of the equation are simple enough: fuel load and tyre wear. But from then on, it gets vastly more complicated.

The black art of race strategy is constantly evolving, but goes through particularly marked transitions when major rule changes are introduced. Shortly after the reintroduction of refuelling stops in 1994, the teams' race strategists worked out that at some circuits benefit could be gained from making two or three stops, rather than just one.

This was because the car could run substantially quicker on a lower fuel load (with less weight to carry around) and using the grippier, but less durable, soft tyre compounds. The difference in performance was such that it could be sufficient to offset the effect of the 30 or so seconds lost making a pit stop.

That led to teams carefully working out just where in the order their driver would re-emerge after a stop. This allowed a car being baulked by a slower but hard to overtake runner to pit early, return to clear track and then put in faster laps that would ensure emerging ahead once the slower car made its stop - ‘overtaking in the pit lane’ as it has become known. This called on rigid pit stop timetables to be abandoned and replaced by a looser system of pit stop ‘windows’, with a number of laps on which a car can make its stop to gain best strategic advantage.

The move to a single tyre supplier in 2007 forced teams to once again re-evaluate their race strategies, in light of all their rivals running on the same rubber and the requirement for all drivers to use both the supplied specifications of dry tyres during a race. That was followed by the ban on refuelling for the 2010 season, obliging teams to once again reconsider how they plan their race. The introduction of more complex Energy Recovery Systems (ERS) from 2014 - and how best to utilise them - further muddies the waters for strategists.

Regardless of rule changes, there are certain factors that must always be considered. Data such as weather forecasts, the likelihood of overtaking at a particular track, the length of the pit lane and even the chances of an accident likely to require the use of the safety car all come into play when deciding strategy. And, of course, one of the largest ingredients remains, as always, luck.