Ferrari – did they give Alonso the advantage over Raikkonen?
By far the most talked about subject after the race was the strategy moves at Ferrari, which led to Fernando Alonso beating his team mate Kimi Raikkonen to the finish, despite qualifying and racing behind him for much of the race.
So did Ferrari give Alonso the better strategy, as some people are claiming?
The first point to make is that 3 stops was not faster than two. Both drivers started the race planning to stop twice, what happened was that Alonso had higher tyre degradation in the second stint and converted to a three stop at that point.
The contentious question is why did Alonso get to make the first stop on lap 16, one lap before Raikkonen? Normally the prerogative lies with the lead car. There are two explanations for this.
One is that Ferrari was trying to get Alonso ahead with a classic under cut, but if that was the case he did not pull it off. Another explanation, Ferrari’s explanation, is that he pitted first because he was under threat from Massa, who had pitted aggressively on lap 15 and they had to cover that stop with Alonso. This worked and so Raikkonen and Alonso remained ahead of the Brazilian into the second stint. The optimum stop lap was 18, so Raikkonen was the closest to that with his stop on lap 17.
According to the team, Alonso then suffered greater tyre degradation in the second stint than Raikkonen and they wanted Alonso to cover Vettel, who was clearly three stopping, so the team switched him to three stops. Raikkonen was informed of this via radio.
The lap times don’t really show the degradation difference clearly; they are quite similar with Alonso sitting between two and three seconds behind the Finn from laps 17 to 35. But clearly he felt he was losing performance with another seven or eight laps to go to the second stop. The degradation for Raikkonen towards the end of the second stint was damaging for his race effort and opened the door for Alonso to close and pass in the end (see Race History Graph below).
Again the timing of Alonso’s second stop was set by the gap back to Massa, who was clearly three-stopping. Alonso pitted on lap 35 and stayed ahead of his former team mate.
Even allowing for the difference in tyre use, Alonso had slightly better underlying pace than Raikkonen and this meant that the gap between them was only five seconds after Alonso’s final stop, with the Spaniard now back on medium tyres, albeit used ones.
Approaching that third stop, Ferrari also had an eye on Vettel who was just behind Alonso by this stage, however they made a mistake in not covering him, as they had done Massa earlier in the race. (see separate section)
In the final stint, Alonso cruised up to Raikkonen quite quickly, stayed behind for five laps and then passed him.
Raikkonen said afterwards that two stops was the wrong strategy for him, because he was unable to push at the end and because he struggled all race with low grip and poor traction causing degradation.
He was very frustrated, partly because of the way the strategies worked out, but mainly because he was lapped by the winner and he and Alonso were so far off the pace with little sign of a recovery. It is going to be a very long season for the two Ferrari drivers.
Did Ferrari deliberately favour Alonso? It’s not clear that they did. The moves they made were certainly done with others like Massa and Vettel in mind, as Alonso was vulnerable to both.
Bottas’ race shows that two stops should work out better, but Raikkonen’s tyre degradation was worse than expected, as was Alonso’s.
But something was done to overcome that in Alonso’s case and not in Raikkonen’s. Draw conclusions from that as you will.