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Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff has given an in-depth description of what the team does to prepare a strategy for each F1 race weekend. The Austrian described the sport as “a continuous game of multi-dimensional chess” as he opened up on the work that goes into preparing the cars for a Grand Prix.
More than even, an optimised strategy is vital to the success of teams competing in the motorsport series.
A recent example where a team reaped the rewards from a strategy decision was at the doomed Belgian Grand Prix, when Williams made a judgement call which proved to be a stroke of genius.
George Russell and Nicholas Latifi were the only racers on intermediate tyres at the start of Q1 at Spa, with everyone else choosing wets.
Soon everyone was following suit as the track dried, but Williams’ bold move saw both their drivers make it to Q2 before Russell sensationally qualified on the front row, going on to claim half-points from that position on race day when treacherous weather conditions saw the action waved off.
Wolff, though, said those one-off decisions fans notice on the TV are far from the only things that make up a team’s race strategy over the course of a weekend.
“Most people associate an F1 ‘strategy’ with the call to pit and the decision of which tyres to fit,” he said.
“And that is true. During the race itself, the aim of the strategy department is to optimise the car against the competition, to finish the race in the highest position possible.
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“But you need to take many steps back to really see the wider work of the strategy department.
“If you take one step back from the race, the strategy team are working on how the team wants to approach qualifying.
“But one step back from that is the wider approach to the weekend, how you want to allocate your resources and tyres during sessions, and even further back is the wider view of the season – which tracks will we perform better or worse at, how to approach these and where do we see the performance picture for the season?”
Wolff revealed that, rather than take it one race at a time – a favoured soundbite of those involved in F1 and sport in general – the strategy team at Mercedes is usually working several races in advance.
The Austrian said this way they can make sure they are as prepared as possible to react to any situation which may crop up in the meantime.
“The team will be using every available piece of data to build a detailed picture of all possible scenarios and their implications for strategy,” he said.
“As each race weekend is completed, our systems are updated to reanalyse what to expect from the upcoming events – every race weekend brings a huge amount of understanding of where we are weak, where we are strong and how we can improve.
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“Ahead of a race weekend, the strategy team have a whole host of data and information available to them, looking into understanding the weather patterns and the detailed learnings we took from our last time at the circuit, tyre performance and what we have learned since then.
“They’ll also be looking into patterns of cars and how they perform, track evolution and much more. With the key output of these preparations being to determine how fast we expect to be, how fast our rivals will be and how we think the tyres are going to work.”
Despite their best efforts, though, Wolff admits the team has to make some decisions with short notice and, in some scenarios, must be prepared to throw much of their preparation out of the window.
The Mercedes boss said: “No matter how much planning is involved, some decisions do still need to be made on the spot.
“Weather can be so unpredictable, creating some of the hardest calls the strategy team has to make. The severity of a rain shower, its location on the track and its effect on available tyre grip make tyre choice in the rain a torturous decision.
“For all the detailed systems in place, some developments during a race are obvious and decisions to deviate from the plan are made in the blink of an eye.
“For example, the decision to pit Lewis at Monza was a quick one, having seen from his sector time after his rivals had pitted, that it wasn’t going to be quick enough, and the planned strategy wasn’t going to work.
“There are thousands of decisions that happen during the course of a race weekend, many of which are invisible to people outside of the team.
“There are so many moving elements across each session and particularly in qualifying and the race, with hundreds of different strategy options to analyse before selecting the one that works best for your two cars.
“F1 strategy is a continuous game of multi-dimensional chess, but it’s a challenge that strategy teams up and down the grid relish – it’s what keeps them coming back for more.”
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