Written by Orlaigh Mullen, Edited by Meghana Sree
It is no secret that Ferrari has faced criticism from their loyal fans over the past few years for their strategy decisions. After nearly every Grand Prix race, there is some sort of strategy decision placed into question. In most cases after this, the Ferrari drivers Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz justify the strategy choices. At present, Ferrari is fourth in the Constructors’ Championship. However, could they be in a higher position, with better strategy choices?
Saudi Arabia Grand Prix
The strategy choices in Saudi Arabia seemed to be nothing more than bad timing and bad luck. The Ferrari drivers, Leclerc and Sainz, had a positive start to the race, with Leclerc climbing from P12 to P6, and Sainz on P5. This is where the strategy came into place. On lap 15 Ferrari called Leclerc and Sainz in to change their tyres, in an overcut strategy. However, an unfortunate event occurred where a retirement from Lance Stroll meant that a safety car was deployed. Subsequently, the rest of the grid used this opportunity to save pit stop time by pitting whilst the safety car was out.
Before the unfortunate timing, the strategy chosen by Ferrari was the right one at that time. This is because when both Leclerc and Sainz pitted, they came out from the pit stop in the same position that they left the track.
However, despite this strategy call seemingly being detrimental only due to the safety car, the strategy would not have worked even if the safety car was not deployed. This is because the tyres that Ferrari put on Sainz’s car caused Sainz to be five-tenths slower than the drivers ahead of him. Therefore, the right tyres on the Ferrari could have allowed Sainz and Leclerc to climb their way up the driver standings, to gain more points for the team.
Australian Grand Prix
Ferrari went to Melbourne with a strategy focused on the race, not qualifying. However, this set up Ferrari for a bad race from the beginning. This is because the Australian track has been compared to the likes of a ‘street track’, as overtaking is very difficult. As a result, whatever position the drivers qualify in is very important, as they have less chance to climb their way up into the points if they have a poor qualifying session.
Consequently, the Ferrari strategy to focus on the race, rather than qualifying, should have been the other way around. Focussing on the race made it much harder for the Ferrari drivers to battle their way through the midfield.
Monaco Grand Prix
Controversy and disagreements arose between the Ferrari strategy team and Sainz at the Monaco Grand Prix. After a shaky start where Sainz failed to overtake Esteban Ocon, Sainz suffered damage to his front wing. This caused Ferrari to call Sainz into the pits on lap 33. Ocon however pitted on lap 32. Sainz openly disagreed with this choice from Ferrari, as he believed they should have left him out longer, to compete with Ocon. This implied Ferrari seeming ‘impatient’ to call Sainz into the pits.
Ferrari expressed over the radio to Sainz that his battle was with defending Lewis Hamilton in the Mercedes behind him, as opposed to Ocon ahead of him. Sainz conveyed his disagreement with this strategy, after exclaiming on the radio: “I don’t care about Hamilton, this is weak”. However this decision was defended by Fred Vasseur, the Ferrari team principal, who believed the battle with Ocon would have been too risky.
To make matters worse for the Ferrari drivers, after the rain came, the strategy once again put them at a disadvantage. The strategy call when the rain arrived was to leave Sainz and Leclerc out an extra lap on slick tyres, compared to the majority of the grid, who decided to pit one lap earlier. Consequently, Sainz lost control of his car, and spun out at the Mirabeau turn. In addition to this, when Ferrari eventually called Sainz and Leclerc into the pit stop, their double-stacking method resulted in Sainz’s position being taken by Pierre Gasly. Ferrari emphasised after the race that they did not expect the track to be so wet. However, if Ferrari chose to pit their drivers earlier like the rest of the grid, Sainz may not have spun out, and he may have finished higher up in the points.
Spanish Grand Prix
The strategy decisions from Ferrari at the Spanish Grand Prix were called into question again, particularly regarding the miscommunication between Leclerc and his strategy team. During the race, Leclerc struggled to find pace on the hard tyres. Due to this, Ferrari changed Leclerc’s tyres to softs. This worked well, therefore Leclerc asked his team to put him onto another set of soft tyres. However, despite Leclerc’s request, Ferrari brought him into the pits, and put the hard tyres back on his car.
The issue here was that Ferrari was seen as dismissive of Leclerc’s decision. Formula 1 drivers are in the best place to know what is working best, in terms of the grip and the pace of the tyre that they are on. Ferrari put Leclerc on the same tyres which forced him to pit early in the first place. Therefore when Ferrari ignored Leclerc’s request, this seemed like the wrong strategy call.
Canada Grand Prix
Once again, the communication between Leclerc and his team was criticised. During the Canada qualifying, rain was forecasted to arrive during the Q2 session. Leclerc asked the team to put him onto slick tyres before the rain came, to get a fast lap in, as opposed to going onto intermediate tyres. However, as in Spain, Ferrari overlooked Leclerc’s preference and made him do several more laps on the intermediate tyres. When Ferrari finally decided to follow Leclerc’s request, and put him on slicks, the rain came and Leclerc missed out on setting a faster lap time. Leclerc consequently failed to make it into Q3.
Ferrari defended this decision to keep Leclerc on intermediate tyres for longer, by claiming that Leclerc needed to get his timings in as soon as possible before the rain came. However, despite this, Ferrari pitted Leclerc anyways onto the slicks when it was raining, therefore there seems to be a delayed reaction to Leclerc’s preferences.
Austrian Grand Prix
The Austrian Grand Prix took the Ferrari strategy spotlight away from Leclerc, and onto Sainz. After a positive qualifying session, Leclerc started on P2, and Sainz started behind him on P3. Despite the issue for most of the drivers being the high volume of track limit violations handed out, Sainz’s biggest issue was with his own team.
Sainz expressed to his team that he had the pace to attack Leclerc, and take on Max Verstappen who was in P1. In response, Ferrari declared that the team strategy was that Sainz was not to attack Leclerc. After this, Ferrari called Leclerc and Sainz for a double-stack pit stop. However, similar to the events in Monaco, Sainz lost positions once he emerged from the pit stop. Later on in the race, Sainz proved how valuable he was to the team and Leclerc, by defending Sergio Perez in the Red Bull for several laps. This gained Leclerc time to draw out his gap in P2. Here, Sainz had the pace to compete with the Red Bull RB19 which is currently P1 in the Constructors Championship.
Is the Ferrari Strategy the Issue here?
It can be assumed from several Grands Prix, that the Ferrari strategy decisions have caused Leclerc and Sainz to lose valuable points for the team. The main issue here seems to be that Ferrari is ignoring the strategy calls from their drivers. For now, Ferrari fans may have to hold on a little longer, until the team starts making the right calls, at the right time.