“Did strategy cost Williams the Canadian Grand Prix?”
Much has been made over the last few days about the titanic crash between Felipe Massa and Sergio Perez on the last lap of Sunday’s Canadian Grand Prix.
Both drivers took to social media to blame the other, but according to the stewards Perez was deemed the guilty party and handed a grid penalty for the next race in Austria.
With the dust now beginning to settle, Williams must face the additional question – should Massa have been that position at all?
Six positions and approximately four seconds on lap 15. Then from lap 49 to 58, the next loss was in the region of thirteen seconds and – ultimately – an unknown number of places.
When comparing the total of time spent in the pits to the eventual top three, Massa proved lost 4.7s to Sebastian Vettel, 3.0s to Nico Rosberg and 5.1s to eventual Grand Prix winner Daniel Ricciardo, although a significant portion of this loss came at the first stop.
There is little doubt that errors will occur from time-to-time, but this is a lot to lose while stationary during a Grand Prix; events, which are –for all intents and purposes –, brief stints. These loses become even more pointed during a time when points quite literally mean big prizes.
During Massa’s first stop, a difficult left front wheel change made was an unwelcome cast. Worse still for the Brazilian, the tardy tyre change dropped Massa behind both Red Bull’s and temporarily behind Jean-Eric Vergne, Fernando Alonso.
Meanwhile the non-stopped Lotus of Pastor Maldonado also jumped Massa, but retired shortly afterward, while the yet-to-stop Perez had also claimed a position from the Williams man.
At the first stop during, Massa swapped from used super-softs (helped somewhat by a 7-lap long safety car period) to new softs, yet the Brazilian’s lap times did not spike by any noticeable degree.
With orders to make the tyres last a middle stint of 33 laps, some care was needed for Williams to pull the strategy together. During his time locked behind Vergne (lap 18-22), Massa recorded times in the mid-to-late 1’20s, proving quicker than his Toro Rosso rival by a tenth on four of those laps, before slipping passed the Frenchman.
There was similar progress too behind Alonso, before Massa passed him on lap 26, bringing to the rear of Ricciardo.
As the race developed, Massa maintained a solid pace (in and around the mid-1’19s), allowing the Williams man to draw toward the leading Mercedes as their respective cars began to suffer mechanical gremlins.
With others around him stopping for their final set of tyres, Massa rose up the ranks to and overtook the struggling Rosberg for what became the lead on lap 45 and stayed on track for a further three tours, although his pace was beginning to drop into the 1’20s.
Having already logged 33 laps on the softs and knowing there was no way his tyres would last the final 22 laps, Williams brought Massa in for a second stop on lap 48 – and here was where the race was finally torpedoed by the Didcot team.
Emerging from the pits behind Alonso, Massa made quick work of the Ferrari and latched straight onto the of Bottas; however this is where – for purists – the Williams strategy becomes a touch tricky.
Locked behind a slowing Hulkenberg and beginning to struggle for grip, Bottas started to slip from the late-1’19s and into the early-to-mid-1’20s, allowing Massa to close to the rear of Bottas; however the Brazilian did not have quite enough extra speed to pass his Finnish teammate on track.
As each tour was ticked, Bottas continued to lose speed and it was only when the young racer made a mistake on lap 58 did Massa slip through and within a couple of hundred metres, Massa had passed the hamstrung Hulkenberg as well.
Now one can point to Massa’s inability to pass his teammate as a limiting factor – and they would be correct to a degree – yet it does excuse the Williams a strategic flub.
In sitting behind Bottas and Hulkenberg for eight laps, Massa dropped approximately 13s on what were then reasonably fresh tyres. Although there is no guarantee that Massa would have taken Hulkenberg as easily on lap 50 as opposed to 58; the Williams team should have moved to slot the veteran ahead of younger partner much, much earlier to attack the Force India.
From laps in the mid-to-early-1’20s, Massa immediately increased his pace to the 1’18s, while Rosberg’s and Perez’ laptimes dropped into the 1’21s.
Such was the drop-off in pace of the Rosberg Mercedes out front, the loss of time (and laps) ensured that Massa would have to wait until lap 62 before he pulled to the rear of the battle for the lead.
Crossing the line to start lap 63, Massa was in 5th place just 1.8s off the lead and immediately behind the Perez-Ricciardo-Vettel battle, which was itself in a stalemate.
What happened next is well known. Perez was eventually passed by Ricciardo, with Vettel getting by a few laps later, which opened the door for Massa to attempt a move.
But would Massa even been in the position to need to get by Perez had the strategy been managed by Williams in a better manner? Possibly – there is no doubt the strategy and Massa’s apparent diminished aggressiveness cost teh Brazilian valuable time in his chase, but realistically the mistake during the opening stop did much to destroy Williams’ chances of a big result.
Considering their fight for 4th place in the Constructors’ Championship with Force India and McLaren, these are errors that could cost the British team massively come year end.
Williams entered the Canadian Grand Prix level on points with McLaren and 15 points behind Force India (4th). Following the race, the team lie 6th, some eight points behind McLaren and 19 behind Force India.
This may not seem like huge margins now, but when one takes into account the money spent and speed of development by the bigger teams (including McLaren), it is not inconceivable that big points paydays for Force India and Williams could shrink in the second half of the season.
Time will tell whether Williams regret the lost points that Montreal offered.