James Allen’s strategy moments
The track layout with its low speed corners does not lend itself to overtaking, so setting a strategy for the likes of Hamilton with the fastest car and out of position at the back of the grid is more difficult than in previous events, especially with other fast cars out of position too.
However the rain starts and as the grid opens the track is pretty wet and a number of drivers try both full wet and intermediates on their laps to the grid to understand how both tyres are performing in the current conditions. Does one take the risk of starting on the intermediate tyre when there are clearly areas of the track that are best suited for the full wet – it is a big call for the drivers and teams – everyone goes for Intermediate.
From the formation lap, the intermediate tyres look like the right call. Bottas has a great start and manages to avoid getting tangled with Vettel to make it up to 2nd place. Alonso also makes an excellent start to 3rd, but is then reposed by Vettel. Ricciardo drops two places to P6. Hamilton who started from the pitlane immediately goes off hitting the wall picking up damage to the left hand side on his front wing, the result of not being able to get enough initial heat into the brakes without the benefit of a formation lap.
With no further rain the track is starting to dry out in certain areas but it is complicated that certain areas, such as T1, are still wet. The danger is that the intermediates will overheat on the dry parts of the track so the drivers will start looking for damper lines to try and cool the tyres.
Ericsson has a massive crash which initiates a Safety Car, this triggers a round of stops from the teams, probably for slicks although these will be hard to control through T1.
Both McLarens pit and gamble on more rain so opt for Intermediates. The initial Top 4 have to do another lap before being able to pit come in for slicks which pushes them back into the lead pack with the order now Ricciardo, Button, Massa, Rosberg, Magnussen, Vergne, Vettel, Alonso, Hulkenberg, Perez and Bottas. Grosjean crashes under the Safety Car which will extend the Safety Car period so it will be extremely difficult to keep any temperature in the tyres, especially the slicks. Meanwhile Rosberg’s left rear corner is smoking. As the Safety Car comes in Button can easily take the lead but the Inter tyre may not hold out much longer in the drying conditions. Rosberg appears to have a problem (maybe a result of the smoking rear corner) and starts to drop back.
McLaren unfortunately have to pit Button and Magnussen again for slicks. They rejoin P18 and P19.
Perez has a big accident on the start finish straight and hits the pitwall hard creating another Safety Car as there is a lot of debris scattered across the track. This will trigger another set of stops for the Soft tyre. Williams send Bottas and Massa back out on the Medium tyre, as opposed to the Soft tyre – is this to save a future stop? Alonso stays out and is now the race leader.
Vergne is holding up the Mercedes of Rosberg. To get past him, Mercedes decide to do the opposite to Vergne on this lap, ie if Vergne pits Rosberg won’t box. Vergne stays out so Rosberg comes in for a stop but it is poor – the mechanics struggled to pull the brake tape off the front ducts.
Alonso told to push hard and Hamilton pits and puts on the Medium tyre probably to go to the end, getting back on track ahead of his teammate Rosberg. Meanwhile the clouds are getting darker around the circuit.
Massa pits from 2nd as his tyres had started to degrade badly and he fits another set of Mediums to go to the end.
Ricciardo is three stopping – he pits for a set of Soft tyres to go to the end slotting back into 4th. Ricciardo is looking good to win this race with both Mercedes not currently setting particularly quick laptimes. Mercedes asks Hamilton to let Rsoberg through as he has one more stop to make, whereas Hamilton does not but he does not heed the call. Mercedes do pit Rosberg on Lap 57 for a used set of Soft tyres, but did they hold him out too long, losing time?
Ricciardo takes Hamilton for P2 and then with his much newer tyres he relatively easily takes Alonso in T2 one lap later to put him in P1.
Alonso does exceptionally well by running over 30 laps on softs and to hold off Hamilton and Rosberg to stay in P2.
Ultimately the first Safety Car timing had a significant effect on the race result and lead to a very exciting race with a range of mixed strategies and tyre calls.
Ricciardo, Alonso, Hamilton, Rosberg, Massa, Räikkönen , Vettel, Bottas, Vergne, Button