India in Depth: Force India’s strategy – brilliant or lucky?

Posted on October 31, 2011


Force India got two points on Sunday, with a car which was not inherently as quick as the Renault and which had the disadvantage of being one of the only cars not to be able to make the tyres last. Sutil should have been beaten by Petrov, and before half distance it seemed that it was inevitable the German was also going to be beaten by the Sauber of Perez who was turning in another classy drive from the back.

For the first stint the midfield split into two – those who went for a normal strategy (two stints on softs with a short stint on the hard tyres at the end) and those who gambled on an early safety car and started on hards with the intention of getting rid of them quickly. Sutil started on the softs, and the cars he ended up racing (Di Resta, Petrov and Perez) all went for hards. Perez came in at the end of lap one with little to lose from 20th on the grid, and switched to the soft tyre. Then Force India made their first key move. Di Resta covered Perez with a stop on lap two. Petrov didn’t stop until lap four, and by this time the pace advantage of the soft tyre left the faster car behind the Sauber, and critically, the Force India. The first stint for these cars is shown in the chart below. The orange lines are the Force India cars (Di Resta is the line with the cross symbols), Perez is in purple and Petrov in yellow. IntelligentF1 model fits for the two Force Indias are shown.

The intelligentF1 model fit for Sutil is clearly good, but the deviation from the fit before his first stop shows that the Force India was struggling to make its tyres last. Di Resta’s fit is based on his pace in the second stint – he is clearly quite a lot slower here. In general, the data traces are reasonably smooth and the kind of wobbles seen in Di Resta’s first stint are usually seen when a car is defending hard. The Scot clearly didn’t have the pace of his pursuers, and they were all losing time in the battle. The intelligentF1 model fits show that had all things been equal, Sutil would have come out ahead of Di Resta even if the Scot had been going ‘full’ pace, but that his tyre troubles could have dropped him behind his team mate. Therefore it was a combination of quick thinking (getting Di Resta out ahead of Perez) and strong defence which kept Sutil ahead of the competition after his first stop. Had he fallen behind, he would not have had the pace, nor the tyre life on the softs, to recover.

The end of the second stint and the final stint are shown in the chart below. The intelligentF1 fits are also shown, and the very even final stint pace is evident – Petrov is just the fastest.

At the end of the second stint, Perez on his 30 lap old tyres is quicker than Sutil on his much fresher set. Petrov begins to struggle (waviness in his trace) and stops for new soft tyres, but his couple of slower laps before stopping destroy any real chance of an undercut. Perez responds as Petrov’s inherent pace is faster than his (just) and staying out would eventually cost him the place. Now Force India had a key decision – to stop Sutil and put on hard tyres much earlier than planned, or to go longer on the softs knowing that the degradation was low, but they had issues in the previous stint. Either way, the Force India should have been slower than its competition, so they went for track position. Perez lost time on his second lap out of the pits and so Sutil was clear – and his pace was only 0.6s down on his soft tyre pace. This left him the slowest of the three car battle, but fast enough to never really be threatened.

And so the Indian car scored points at home; key decisions around the pitstops (for both cars) allowing Force India to maintain their track position ahead of cars which could quite easily have beaten them. Slices of luck from Di Resta being slow enough in the first stint such that Sutil’s tyre degradation didn’t cost and the hard tyres working well in the final stint made a difference, but it isn’t why they finished ahead. They got it right when it mattered. It is,however, worth remembering how they got the track position in the first place – one superb lap in Q2 from a driver that rumour has it they are about to drop. Altogether a great team effort.