Feature F1 Unlocked
THE STRATEGIST: How Alonso held off Perez in a much faster car to seal P3 in Brazil
Aston Martin began the season in impressive form with Fernando Alonso scoring six podiums in the first eight Grands Prix. After a dip in results for the team, the Spaniard was back on the rostrum in Brazil, holding off Sergio Perez in a photo finish after 71 laps to hold on to third place.
This weekend Alonso’s AMR23 certainly looked closer to the impressive pace it showed earlier in the season, but it’s clearly not as quick as the all-conquering Red Bull RB19. So how did Alonso defend that P3 placing from a much stronger car throughout the race in Sao Paulo? Aston Martin’s former Head of Strategy Bernie Collins dives into the data to find out…
Thanks to a well timed run in the final part of qualifying – just before it started to rain – Alonso found himself P4 on the grid in Brazil, his best starting position since Qatar.
With Charles Leclerc crashing on the way to the grid, Alonso effectively gained one position before the race even began, and got ready to take the start with a clear run ahead of him to Turn 1.
A poor launch lost him positions to Lando Norris and Lewis Hamilton, and he lined up P4 again for the red flag restart. From here Alonso quickly overtook Hamilton and ran the majority of the race in P3, crossing the line just a fraction of a second ahead of Perez. So how did he hold off the Mexican in that lightning-quick Red Bull?
Brazil ranks as one of the easier tracks for overtaking and with high tyre degradation, a two or three-stop strategy was the preferred option.
The combination of high tyre degradation and a multiple stop race encourages drivers and strategy engineers to stop as close to optimum for overall race time.
Stopping earlier than optimum can result in carrying higher degradation on a stint and therefore making a driver vulnerable to losing positions.
The majority of the race was run on the soft tyres, with all drivers – aside from Esteban Ocon – completing a two-stop race with two stints on the softs and only a single stint on the medium.
Ocon felt degradation was high enough to complete a three-stop strategy but still only completed a single stint on the mediums. Harder tyres were not preferred as the reduction in degradation came with an even greater penalty in lap time.
Alonso’s win over Perez started on the grid with Perez a lowly P9. The Safety Car on the opening lap was triggered with Perez alongside George Russell fighting over P6 and the Mexican asked on the radio if the position should have been his for the restart.
But with Perez trapped for the first stint behind the two Mercedes of Russell and Hamilton, that resulted in an eight second gap to Alonso by Lap 18.
On Lap 20 Perez and Red Bull saw an opportunity to over-cut Hamilton due to the warm-up time needed on the medium tyre. However this is not successful as Perez emerged on track behind Hamilton – and it forced Perez into a sub-optimal second stint length on the medium tyre.
Perez angrily asked on radio “Why did we follow them? We should do our race, don’t worry about them!”
Alonso meanwhile in free air extended his first stint to five laps longer than planned. The more optimum stop lap for the first stop chosen by Aston Martin over the earlier lap chosen by Red Bull is estimated to have cost Perez 0.5s in total race time.
The trace above shows the effect of the stop lap on the total race time. It shows no effect from car pace or tyre management.
In the opening laps of his second stint (on medium tyres) Perez pushed firstly to overtake Hamilton and then to close the gap to Alonso. Whereas Alonso did some tyre management which paid off at the end of the second stint when he was able to open a gap to Perez as the Mexican suffered degradation on the older tyres.
The GPS lap comparison (below) shows Alonso completing lift and coast into Turns 1, 4 and 6 as well as a larger lift off throttle in Turn 11. All of this helped extend his tyre life and reduced degradation.
In the final stint Perez stopped one lap earlier onto used tyres compared to Alonso’s new set.
As Alonso exited the pit lane Perez was 3.8 seconds behind – but much quicker.
Again Alonso spent the first four laps as the gap reduced managing his tyres, reducing the surface temperatures and getting ready for the defence that he knew would be needed against Perez.
Alonso in particular took it easier through Turns 11 and 12 in order to get a good exit from Turn 13 and defend along the start finish straight.
In the opening laps of the stint Perez was around 0.6 seconds a lap faster than Alonso, but the Spaniard was keeping his powder dry ready for the defence – and for his move to re-take the place on the final lap after Perez had managed to get by briefly.
So Aston Martin had the luxury of margin to keep to the optimum stint lengths for the tyres, however once again careful tyre management from Alonso – and some fierce defending and typically canny race craft – allowed the veteran Spaniard to keep position over Perez and secure a precious podium for his team.