DATA ANALYSIS: The set-up decision that allowed Gasly to hold off Sainz
In the aftermath of Pierre Gasly’s extraordinary victory in Monza, AlphaTauri boss Franz Tost hailed the team’s inspired decision to run more downforce on the Frenchman’s car as being crucial to him holding off Carlos Sainz’s charging McLaren. But just how did this manifest itself? We take a look at the data...
It’s one of the key decisions for the Temple of Speed: How much wing to run? The long straights and high percentage throttle time puts a premium on straightline speed – but it’s a fine balance. Go too far one way and you could have a car that’s a rocketship on the striaghts but completely unstable under braking and through the corners. Go too far the other and you might look after your tyres a little better but you’ll have so much drag you’ll struggle to overtake anyone.
As the race in Italy moved into its final stages, it seemed AlphaTauri had made the perfect gamble.
“Carlos was a little bit faster in Sector 1 because he had less wing, but in Sector 2 we were better,” Tost said. “And if in Sector 2 you cannot come close enough, then you also can’t [attack into] the Parabolica, and after the Parabolica, in the slipstream, [you can’t] do the overtake, and this was our advantage...”
But that final battle was just part of the story…
The race from the re-start
The second standing start of the day, after the red flag period was absolutely crucial in securing victory for Gasly. He started third on the grid, behind Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and Racing Point’s Lance Stroll. Hamilton, of course, had a 10-second stop-go penalty hanging over him that he needed to serve, so it was vital with Gasly’s setup choices that he jumped Stroll’s car on the run to Turn 1.
That he did, and when Hamilton pitted he was able to open up a lead as Sainz - sixth at the re-start - first had to battle past Stroll and then Kimi Raikkonen.
In running second behind Hamilton in the early stages, Sainz had proved his pace, but as the graph above shows, which tracks the Spaniard’s 3-lap average lap time against Gasly’s, it was the Frenchman who enjoyed the better pace in the first period after the re-start. Then, when Sainz cleared traffic, he lapped consistently faster than Gasly until he closed onto the AlphaTauri driver’s tail.
The final showdown
Having sailed up to the back of Gasly, one might assume Sainz, who’d been quicker all weekend, having qualified third to Gasly’s 10th, might just blow past the AlphaTauri. But of course, that’s not how things work in modern day F1. As soon as you close on the car ahead you gain the DRS advantage, but you also come up against hot, turbulent air.
Even so, were it not for the set-up choice that Tost mentioned – and a cool head and some impeccable, inch-perfect driving from Gasly – Sainz might have snuck ahead.
The graph above shows average sector times for Sainz and Gasly from lap 48 to lap 53 (the final six laps of the race). As you can see, Sainz enjoyed a massive advantage in the flat-out sector 1, but Gasly was crucially quicker through the more downforce dependent middle sector. Having been able to carry more speed through the Ascari Chicane he then was able to keep just enough in front of Sainz on the run into and out of Parabolica.
“We decided yesterday to go out with this additional flap,” added Tost of the set-up call on Gasly’s car, “to [take] this risk, also regarding the tyre degradation – and it worked!”
Without it, we’d likely be talking about Carlos Sainz’s maiden Grand Prix win…