T he ingredients were right. A spectacular route. The walls, as close as in Monte Carlo. Hardly any room for mistakes. No cranes to pick up cars quickly. 33 degrees heat as a material killer. An almost 2 kilometer long home straight that made overtaking easier than ever before. A starting grid with Lewis Hamilton in 10th place and Nico Hülkenberg in 12th place. Two drivers who wanted to move forward and who were in cars that should allow them to do it.
Everyone was expecting one great spectacle. With twists, accidents, safety cars, overtaking maneuvers, many failures and surprising twists and turns. Some even had a queasy feeling. The GP2 gave a foretaste. There was war on the track.
In the main race on Saturday, so many cars were out of action that all drivers got points at the finish. On Sunday one safety car phase followed the other. At every restart there was a riot in the first corner. Because the drivers with cold tires and cold brakes dropped anchor far too late. Antonio Giovinazzi, the man from 21st place on the grid, won it.
The most logical tactic was the best: Supersoft-soft
That made you want more. And raised expectations. Maybe too high. The Grand Prix of Europe only offered home cooking. The supporting program was to blame. The Formula 1 drivers had taken a close look at the GP2 chaos races. All the traps were known beforehand. The team bosses tell their drivers that they only have to cross the finish line and then they would get points. And that drove in the back of the head.
So everyone stayed good. Accidents? Nothing. Lathe operator? A couple of harmless slips in the first corner, where the space stretched to the Russian border. Failures? Only 4 cars did not survive the material battle. Tire dramas? With the exception of Red Bull, they were looked for in vain. The tires lasted forever. Rio Haryanto drove 48 laps on the soft tire. Nico Hülkenberg on the Supersoft 31. And Max Verstappen turned the third fastest race lap in the 30th of 31 laps with his medium rubbers.
The 22 drivers came with 8 different strategies over the 51 lap distance. The most logical tactic was also the best: Supersoft-Soft. Winner Nico Rosberg drove them, as did his pursuers in positions 2 to 6. The only difference was the timing of the pit stops. Those who got grains on the rear tires had to pit early. Like Kimi Raikkonen and Kevin Magnussen. Raikkonen exchangedAlready in lap 8 his supersoft rollers against a set of soft. Rosberg held out until lap 21.
Switching to medium was an act of desperation
Only Nico Hülkenberg chose the alternative strategy with soft tires at the beginning. It wasn't bad in principle. But Hulkenberg was stuck in traffic for too long. That ruined the tires earlier than expected. He already stopped on lap 20 instead of 30 and had to carry his Force India 31 long laps across the finish line on the softest mixture.
The same happened to Lewis Hamilton. With his first set he drove 6 laps shorter than his team-mate. The rear tires suffered in traffic. Graining by sliding. 'The timing of the stop was dictated by the tires and not by the problems with the engine software,' reveals the Mercedes strategists.
Red Bull had gambled away completely. In an effort to keep up with Mercedes and Ferrari on the straight, they buckled up They put Monza wings in the rear and adjusted the landing gear so aggressively that the tires quickly got up to temperature. And just as quickly shot out of the work window again. The supersoft tire gave grip for 4 laps, the soft rubber for 10.
Switching to medium was an act of desperation. But it worked. The Red Bull set the pace as if someone had suddenly kissed them awake. “If we had suspected that it would have been a completely different race,” believes team advisor Helmut Marko. But nobody could have foreseen that.
Nobody had driven a serious long run with the toughest type of tire in Pirelli's offer. When the Red Bull suddenly flew, HaasF1 also unpacked the medium tire for Romain Grosjean and Manor for Pascal Wehrlein. They also drove their fastest race laps on medium soles.
Vettel with a lot of feeling for the tires
Ferrari went the opposite way to Red Bull. The reds grabbed downforce on the front axle on it and trimmed the chassis softer to put more stress on the front tires. That helped in the slow corners, but it cost a bit of top speed. The bottom line is that Ferrari has clocked correctly. You had no chance against the Mercedes anyway. To do this, they kept their tires in good condition. And that was the key to Sebastian Vettel's second place.
Vettel saved Ferrari from another tactical error. When he was called to the pits in the 8th round, Vettel asked to stay outside. 'I understand that our team was afraid of a Ricciardo undercut, but I still felt good on my tires.'
A quick comparison with the data confirmed the driver. “When we saw that the gap with Ricciardo was widening, there was no longer any risk of falling behind him after the stop,” said race director Maurizio Arrivabene. Vettel held out until lap 20, went into the pits second and came out third. Behind his teammate Raikkonen, who later let him by. So the tactic worked perfectly.