Adetunji Paul

I became interested in Formula 1 or F1 as its more commonly called in the middle of 2019. I can attribute my newfound interest to the Netflix Series called Formula 1: Drive to Survive. The show covered the the events of the F1 2018 season, with one on one interviews and a behind the scenes look at the unique stories of the players in F1.

First I must say that there are two reasons I have decided to write about F1. Number 1; I have nursed and brooded over the desire to write something meaningful for a long time. Number 2; I’m trying to find my writing groove with a topic that I can say I actually enjoy. Now that’s out of the way, let me start at the beginning.

 

What is Formula One?

Formula One (F1) is a motor racing competition run by the Federation Internationale de Automobile (FIA), it is regarded as the highest level of competitive motor racing in the world. It is like the FIFA World Cup, the NFL Superbowl, The Championships at Wimbledon, The Olympics. The difference here is that F1 is played with machines and between private teams unlike the national teams of the World Cup and The Olympics.

F1 is run every year and operates a league-style competition. It is actually comprised of two leagues that run simultaneously. The Drivers Championship and The Constructors Championship. Each year 10 constructor teams with two drivers each making 20 drivers total, race each other over a series of races. Each race is called a Grand Prix. The actual number of races isn’t fixed but since 2010 the number has floated between 19 and 21. Currently it’s 21. All 21 races are held in various countries all over the world.

In every race, points are awarded to the top ten drivers in the race, 1st-25, 2nd-18 3rd-15 and so one the amount awarded reducing not neccessarily exponentially. The points received by a driver in the top ten counts towards their constructor team points. For example, is Blessed Motors is a competing team and both team drivers finished the race 1st and 2nd, Blessed Motors gets the addition of both drivers points, they get 25+18 = 43 points. Each Blessed Motors driver would then keep their own points.

At the end of the 21 races, the driver with the most points is crowned the Drivers Champion and the constructor team with the most points is crowned the Constructors Champion. The current Drivers Champion is Lewis Hamilton and the current Constructors Champion is Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport which Hamilton drives for. In 2019, Lewis Hamilton won his sixth Championship with Mercedes AMG Petronas, making him the 2nd most successful Formula 1 driver in history. In 2020, he will be looking to equal the legendary Michael Schumacher who won 7 titles before he retired.

All a driver has to do to win the Championship is finish first in more races than any other driver to be crowned the champion. All a constructor team has to do is make sure their drivers score more points than any other team for 21 races. Simple enough.

 

It’s not so simple.

Where things got interesting for me, was coming to the realization that being the best driver is doesn’t guarantee that you win a race. Here’s why; it’s a team effort in the largest sense. There are x pieces that make any driver/team successful; they are, the car, the pitstop crew, the driver himself or herself (F1 is heavily male-dominated), the team facilities and operations, the car designers and mechanics, the race and track and most importantly, money.

 

The F1 car

Let’s talk about the car for a bit, and we’ll start with a photo of the car of my one of my favorite teams in the 2019.

FIA_F1_Austria_2019_Nr_opt.jpg

 

The RB15 F1 car by RedBull Racing. An F1 car is a marvel of engineering, each component is a precision instrument onto its own. The sheer amount of precision in each car is what makes these cars gorgeous deathtraps of speed and wonder. Each  component in the car except the chassis is changed and updated several times over the course of a single season. Although the FIA have a strict set of specifications that each team must follow when designing and building their car in order to be allowed to compete, it still allows for a great degree of flexibility  in engineering and design decisions.

 

The driver

Of the 20 drivers in the 2019 season, 3 are former world champions. Kimi Raikkonen won the World Championship in 2007 and has been racing in F1 since 2001. Sebastian Vettel won the World Championship 4 times with RedBull Racing from 2010 to 2013, and has been F1 racing since 2006. Then there’s Hamilton. Lewis Hamilton. Hamilton is a six-time World Champion, winning in 2014, 2015, 2017, 2018 and 2019. With the exception of Kimi Raikkonen who until 2019 raced for Ferrari. The other former World Champions race for two of the top three teams in F1. They are in full-sense of the word, world-class drivers.

lewis_main_4252x1800.jpeg
Lewis Hamilton, British 6-Time F1 Driver Champion

There are other drivers who are impressive, and no peach themselves. In my humble opinion, Max Verstappen, Carlos Sainz, Daniel Ricciardo, and Valterri Bottas are very talented drivers. In 2019 many new and younger drivers and had a chance to drive their fiery passion such as Charles LeClerc, Lando Norris, Pierre Gasly and Lance Stroll. But this is not a recital of my knowledge of driver names, instead there is a much deeper point. Drivers are the most critical human element in F1, they have moods, they experience a loss of morale, they are incredibly competitive and overall highly unpredictable.

Or are they? In F1, racing well means scoring points for your team. The better a driver does, the more opportunities open up in more successful teams. This means that a team will choose a driver that has a good record, of scoring as many points as they could in the top ten. There are also qualities such as overtaking, braking , and the mindset to fight up the positions even if the driver had a rough start or was bumped into in the race. Still if a talented driver is not in a very good car, the results maybe limited. Daniel Ricciardo raced with RedBull until the 2019 season when he joined Renault Sport Formula One Team.

In 2018, his last season art RedBull Daniel had his one of his best seasons. RedBull had a great car but they were plagued with problems from their then engine manufacturer Renault. Daniel moved to Renault Racing for the 2019 season. He won a couple of races in 2018, placed 2nd all the way to 5th most of the time. At Renault he’s never finished higher than 6th until the end of the 2019 season. A capable driver, but his team and car, not so much. This is one example.

In contrast, another relatively new face in Formula 1, Max Verstappen, driver for RedBull Racing finshed 3rd in the Championship for 2019, and won 3 races. Daniel Ricciardo won 2 races during his time on the same team in 2018. The driver’s talent matters it appears but a driver without a stellar team is much like a diamond in the rough. It’s predictable that if a good driver is in a winning team, he would also win. The wins come down to number of elements, the Championship however is a whole other story.

 

The strategy of the race

Let’s define the goal. Win the race. Or, score points  and finish in the top ten.

Screenshot_11-1-1.jpg

It’s easier said. There are two key components. Tyres and timing. Then there’s wildcards; the weather and the safety car. There are several types of tyres an F1 team can put on their car. All tyres in F1 are supplied by the same company. Pirelli. The teams just pay for their amount. Teams can choose between 3 dry types of tyres called tyre compounds and two for wet weather. They are also delightfully color coded. Those 3 are decided before the race by Pirelli but teams can put on any of the three at any time during the race through the pitstop. The dry types are commonly called slicks. Hard compounds last the longest but don’t give the car much speed because they have the least grip on the track. Medium compounds have more grip and are slightly less durable. Then there’s Soft, Super Soft, and Ultra Soft.

An F1 race is a game of time calculations. Every time a car goes to the pit to change tyres, they lose seconds of time and would often drop between 5 to 9 positions in the race. The advantage is that the driver would obtain fresh tyres and have an advantage over other drivers on older more worn tyres. The more worn tyres become, the slower the car gets overall. So it’s in the teams best interest to pit a driver when their tyres get worn.

In a race, since pitting for tyres is a risk, it has to be timed perfectly to beat other drivers in the race. Also, the right choice of tyres has to be made for the driver. From observations, the go to tactic, is pit while you’re ahead. Or pit when the Safety Car in on the track. The Safety Car comes on the track usually when there has been a severe crash or during extreme conditions.

When the Safety Car is on the track, it drives in front of the car in 1st place, the 1st place driver is required to keep a certain distance from it and forbidden to overtake it. The Safety Car is usually moving much slower than the F1 cars, forcing them to drive slowly. Slow cars means less positions lost if a driver pits while the safety car is on the track, plus while the Safety Car is on, the race is technically paused.
The other way is a more funky dance which we call the “undercut”, have a look below.

  1. Hamilton Leader
  2. Ricciardo +9.000 (This means Ricciardo is 9 seconds behind Hamilton)
  3. Raikkonen + 9.567
  4. Vettel + 10.111
  5. LeClerc +10.967

Hamilton is in the lead and he has 9 seconds on Ricciardo. If he pitted now he may lose 8 seconds only, and he would still be in the lead when comes out. That’s pitting while you’re ahead. Now what if Ricciardo pitted before Hamilton and Hamiltons lead wasn’t so large.

  1. Hamilton Leader
  2. Ricciardo +5.000 (This means Ricciardo is 5 seconds behind Hamilton)
  3. Raikkonen + 5.567
  4. Vettel + 10.111
  5. LeClerc +10.967

Then Ricciardo pits for new tyres before everyone else.

  1. Hamilton Leader
  2. Raikkonen + 5.567
  3. Vettel + 10.111
  4. LeClerc +10.967
  5. Ricciardo +17.000

Ricciardo goes into last place, but he has fresher tyres, let’s say he makes up 4 seconds in 2 laps.

  1. Hamilton Leader
  2. Raikkonen + 5.567
  3. Vettel + 10.111
  4. LeClerc +10.967
  5. Ricciardo +14.000

Then everyone else pits at the same time.

  1. Ricciardo Leader
  2. Hamilton +13.000 (Hamilton pits first, loses some time but still gets out ahead of Raikkonen)
  3. Raikkonen + 14.567
  4. Vettel + 15.111
  5. LeClerc +16.967

While everyone else is pitting, Ricciardo takes the lead and gains a huge lead. Without overtaking and simply by timing pits, he becomes 1st place. Now he can pit again and still be in the lead. This is a simple example of the kind of strategy that plays into winning a race. Every team looks for a chance to get the “undercut”. This is because it’s difficult to defend against. In the example, Ricciardo would have to go onto a tyre compound that would give him enough boost to maintain and extend his lead but also not get too worn before the drivers behind have worn tyres too. That is the gamble. Picking the right tyres at the right time.

Until it rains. When it rains managers have two tyre choices. Intermediates or Inters, are for then the track is moderately wet. Wet tyres denoted by their blue color coding are for when the track is pretty much soaked, think heavy rain, streams and puddles on the road. Slicks or the dry compounds have little to no grip on a track that’s not dry. This means that anyone on a Soft tyre when it starts to rain has to pit for Inters or Wets or start getting slower and slower or skid and crash. Then the track starts to dry, things look good for a Soft tyre again, but more rain is on the way. Maybe the rain comes in 1 lap. I’ve observed managers pit their drivers for Inters 1 lap before the rain starts, and gain and advantage in positions over managers who either chose to pit after the rain started or didn’t know it was going to rain again.

A Formula 1 race is about, watching the time difference between your driver and the driver infront of him and encouraging your driver to try to overtake but knowing that he has to pit at some time and lose the postion he gained only to make it up later by passing others while they pit. The game of 300km/h poker.

 

Motorsport Manager 2016

Motorsport Manager 2016, is a manager game in the same style as the Football Manager series. In this case the player has an option to take charge of motorsport teams in 3 categories, the Formula series, the LeMans and a GT type of race. They aren’t actually called that in the game, actually nothing in the game resembles the real world because of expensive licensing. So the team names are different, the driver names, the names of the competitions, the track names, you get the drift. In the game, there is something called the World Motorsport Championship series, and it’s basically a copy of F1.

Playing this game gave me an insight into what it must be like for Chris Horner team manager of RedBull Racing for example. From the costs involved in building a car to the strategy involved in the race, the experience is entertaining and educational. It’s grossly simplified of course but it gets a lot of things bang on.

I got the idea for this story from playing the game. Where in the game the races are short, 21 laps on averge, real life is around 60 laps on average. This meant that pitstops and far more frequent and far more risky. It’s complex, but beautiful. It’s man and machines with hundreds of people behind the car and many behind the driver.

If you are new to F1, I reccommend watchging Formula 1: Drive to Survive on Netflix and either getting Motorsport Manager 2016 for PC or Motorsport Manager Mobile 3 for iOS. Both the game and the Netflix series are hours of fun.

There is also an official F1 Manager iOS game, it’s a much more simplified simulation of the sport and still hours of fun, for those who want to try something free.

 

2020 and beyond

Formula One on the surface seemed like a game played by several rich drivers for several rich teams, who drive around in circles and try to over take each other for 2 hours. This is not to say this isn’t a good description by any means, however the strategist in me began to pick-up on the subtleties of the sport. There are a lot of them since so many elements impact the outcome of the game. Beyond the towering budgets of the top teams, there is an intricate mechanism at work. Over the course of 2020, I would contribute to this series to unpack the strategy of Formula One. Strategists are often encouraged to write about the known world, we are the curious ones. We need to know the “why?” to all things. This series may well become my personal quest for “why?” and when I realized this, I considered the idea of dragging along a group of readers along for the ride.

After all. Why not?

[adetunji.p]

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