Lap Chart. Courtesy - FIA
The best way to analyse various strategies at the Malaysian Grand Prix is by dividing the race into two stages - pre and post red flag. In this article we’ll take a look at pre-red flag strategies of three drivers - Sergio Perez, Narain Karthikeyan and Jean Eric Vergne.
The race started with everyone except Narain Karthikeyan on intermediate tyres, but it quickly became clear that the track was too wet and everyone started to pit for a set of wet tyres. Few drivers lost places while few made the most of it.
Lap time Chart - Perez(pink) vs Alonso(red) and Hamilton(mustard).
Sergio Perez’s strategy was best of all as he was the first to pit for wet tyres at the end of lap 1. The Mexican started the race from 9th place but quickly lost two places before felling down to 23rd place after his pit stop. Wet tyres fitted on the Sauber were much faster than the intermediates as he gained 3-4 seconds over the leaders in the following laps. For instance, he gained one and six seconds respectively over race leader Lewis Hamilton on 4th and 5th lap. And once everyone had made their pit stops, the 22 year old was running in third place. Safety Car came out on lap 6(meaning no overtaking) before Charlie Whiting decided to red flag the race on red flag.
Later on, Perez gained two positions over Hamilton(slow pit stop because of incoming Massa) and Button(accident with Karthikeyan), but lost one place to Fernando Alonso(by pitting a lap later than Alonso for intermediates on a drying track). He finished the race in career best second place.
Just like the front runners and midfielders, the backmarkers also try various strategies. However, they are hardly noticed since they only gain few places and remain out of points. However, HRT’s Narain Karthikeyan’s strategy of starting the race on wet tyres helped him reach 10th place at the end of lap 6. Since the Indian didn’t have to make a pit stop, he gained atleast 25 seconds indirectly over rest of the field who had to to stop for a set of wet tyres. If the race had not been restarted, HRT would have scored its first points in its F1 history.
Later on, the 35 year old was involved in two crashes - one with Button and the other with Vettel. FIA handed him 20 second penalty for his collision with Vettel; he ultimately finished the race in 22nd place.
While wet tyres were much faster than intermediates in pre red flag period, a driver would have wasted 25 seconds in pits to switch to wet tyres. Vergne saved these 25 seconds by deciding to stay out on intermediate tyres. He thus moved upto 7th place once the rest of the field were done with their pit stops. Since everyone had to start on wet tyres after restart, the FIA gifted him a free pitstop.
Unlike Karthikeyan, the French had enough pace in his Toro Rosso as he scored his first points in form of 8th place finish at the Malaysian Grand Prix.