Red Bull and Ferrari were almost level at the Miami GP. Max Verstappen won the race because Ferrari, afraid of the opponent's outstanding top speed, wanted to occupy the front row of the grid. In the tactics check, we look again at the most important strategic decisions.
Top speed is Red Bull's strongest weapon. Ferrari respects it so much that they let themselves drift into the setup trap for the second time after Jeddah. Anyone who loses on the straights between 8 and 15 km/h wants to be at the front of the grid. To do this, you needed a set-up that brought the tires up to temperature quickly. The price is that the softer compounds suffer more over distance.
This is exactly what Red Bull played a second trump card in the race. At Ferrari, the medium tires on the front axle broke earlier. On the other hand, Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz brought the hard tires into their working window faster. What almost became a problem for Max Verstappen after the safety car restart and what saved Carlos Sainz against Sergio Perez.
Sainz dropped out as a man-marker
Leclerc drew a simple conclusion after the race: "Max won the race in the first stint. The Red Bull were better on the medium tires. He got a cushion for the second stint . On the hard tires we were about equal." The fastest laps of the two show it: 1.31.261 vs. 1.31.488 minutes, both driven in the finale of the race.
Leclerc went into the second stint 7.6 seconds down. Actually, the Grand Prix was already over for him. Only the safety car brought him back into the game. After the restart, Verstappen had to make a few extra laps to fend off the Ferrari. "I had the best chance in the second lap after the restart. Unfortunately, DRS wasn't available then," Leclerc regretted.
Is there any other way Ferrari could have won this race? Only if Carlos Sainz could have played the man marker for a while. But the second in training lost his position against Verstappen right at the start. After only eight kilometers of racing experience in the last two Grands Prix and another accident on Friday, the Spaniard was still lacking in safety in the race. He had enough to do to keep Perez at bay.
Pit stop not an option for Leclerc
Red Bull team boss Christian Horner believes that Ferrari missed their big opportunity because Leclerc was not brought to the pits for fresh tires during the safety car phase. With a 15-second lead over Sainz and Perez, Leclerc could have afforded the extra stop. But the world championship leader only had one fresh set of hard tires and three sets of soft tires in his arsenal. He could not have endangered Verstappen with any of these tires.
The fresh, hard tire would have taken far too long to warm up. The used softs would have collapsed after just two rounds. Mercedes faced a similar dilemma with Lewis Hamilton. There, too, the decision was made to persevere. "The best tires were a 30-round old hard tire or a six-round old medium."
The hard rubber showed a curious characteristic on the aggressive asphalt of the Miami Autodrome. It was difficult to bring to life, then overheated and got better and better from the 20th lap when enough tread was planed. So Leclerc was perfectly equipped for an attack on Verstappen with his 22-round-old hard soles. He knew that the Ferrari would warm up the tires faster after the restart.
In the duel between Sainz and Perez, technique was decisive. Between laps 19 and 22, Perez lost seven seconds to the second Ferrari because a sensor problem disabled a cylinder. The engineers gave instructions on how to solve the problem, but from then on the Mexican had to do without 30 hp. Neither DRS nor the move to raise a fresh set of mediums during the safety car phase helped Perez.
Waiting for a safety car
The fifth race of the year also showed that Formula 1 is a two-class society. Red Bull and Ferrari are driving their own race with a lead of up to one second per lap. In midfield it goes up and down. Mercedes is usually third. The Silver Arrows also won Formula 1B this time, which was not necessarily to be expected after starting position six for Lewis Hamilton and twelve for George Russell.
The starting positions dictated the tactics for the engineers. Russell was only able to gain decisive land with an alternative strategy and a bit of luck. So he was sent into the race with hard tyres. Like Esteban Ocon, Nicholas Latifi and both Aston Martin drivers.
Hamilton would have liked the hard tires to start after the race. That happens to him often. Whenever he notices that someone else is doing better with a different strategy, he asks his team afterwards why they didn't do the same thing with him.
Russell's strategy only worked because a safety car came at the right time. This is exactly what the 24-year-old Englishman has been waiting for. "If it hadn't happened, we would have waited until five laps before the end and then perhaps would have gone for the fastest lap," said the strategists. For the second time this season, Russell benefited from the gift of a free pit stop. For Hamilton, it felt like a world conspiracy against him.
Hamilton was trapped
Had the race gone normally, Hamilton would have finished sixth and Russell seventh. Both behind Valtteri Bottas, who only made the crucial mistake under pressure from the two Mercedes drivers.In retrospect, Hamilton was also upset that he was given the choice to pick up fresh tires during the safety car phase. He was unable to make such a decision in the car. The command post would have a much better overview.
It was clear to the engineers, but they knew what would happen if they had made the wrong decision from Hamilton's point of view. And it would have been wrong either way. Putting aside the fact that Hamilton had only hard and soft tires left, he would have lost the place to Russell in a pit stop anyway and it would have been questionable whether he would have regained it against the sister car on track. The colleague drove on fresh mediums, which were always better than fresh, hard soles or a used soft for the remaining distance of eleven laps.
Early stops didn't pay off
Alfa Romeo won the battle behind the Mercedes. It could have been fifth place if Bottas hadn't braked in turn 17 on lap 49, which opened the door for both Mercedes. Team boss Frédéric Vasseur saw it as a document of the progress that had been made: "We can now say that seventh place is a bit disappointing for us."
The timing of the pit stops also showed the qualities of the cars. While Red Bull and Ferrari took between 24 and 27 laps to get rid of the medium tires, the large midfield was in the pits between laps 11 and 22. Many forced. "Lewis didn't have much rubber left on the front tires. We just waited until he was out of the pit stop window of Ricciardo, Ocon and Gasly," explained the strategists.
The early pit stop rarely paid off. Neither the Haas pilots benefited from this, nor did Alonso, Tsunoda or Albon. Fernando Alonso's undercut attempt against Pierre Gasly also went awry because his pit stop lasted 2.5 seconds longer than normal. After 39 laps in the rear of the Alpha Tauri, even Alonso ran out of patience. The collision at Turn 1 was the start of the descent, which again ended with zero points. Two penalties cost him a total of ten seconds.
Alonso helps Ocon and is punished for it
With Esteban Ocon, Alpine practiced what Mercedes successfully demonstrated with Russell. The Frenchman waited with his hard tires until the hoped-for safety car arrived. After all the accidents in training, that was to be expected. Ocon was sent into the finals on soft tires. He still had the full contingent of fresh fittings up his sleeve because he hadn't even taken part in the qualification.
Ocon owed the four points more to his team-mate than to the soft tyres. By shortening the chicane, Alonso broke up the DRS train behind him.Mick Schumacher was defenseless against Ocon's attack, who then watched with relief as his new pursuers eliminated themselves. Mick Schumacher vs Sebastian Vettel, Kevin Magnussen vs Lance Stroll. Alexander Albon also benefited from this chaos, who completed his race without any mistakes and punishment, was amazingly fast on the hard tires and was rewarded with ninth place in the end.
The fact that another Aston Martin, Stroll, finished in the points was partly thanks to pedantic sports commissioner decisions. If Alonso gets a penalty against Gasly, others who had caused much more violent collisions would have deserved it.
Then Alonso and Ricciardo were also doomed by the track limitations. Alonso shortened the chicane and shook Schumacher out of his DRS window. Daniel Ricciardo gained an advantage in the duel with Magnussen at Turn 12. "If he hadn't driven off the track, he would have lost his position," the stewards judged. That cost Alonso ninth and Ricciardo tenth.