Track Tips - Alpine F1® Team

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Whether it’s on the actual track or playing F1® Clash, making split-second decisions is the key to success in Formula 1. We picked the brains of Marcin Budkowski, Executive Director at Alpine F1® Team for the inside tips on how to make the big calls.

Q. What are your top 5 pre-race strategic tips for the 2021 season?


  1. Tyres are a key parameter for strategy: life and degradation are the main things to set your strategy.

  2. What is the starting tyre? If you make it to Q3, you’re usually fixed on a used Soft tyre.

  3. Weather. Assessing if it’s a dry race, or if there’s a chance of a wet race or changing conditions. In which case, you might go for a strategy, which gives you more possibilities to react.

  4. Opponents. In the top 10, you know what your direct opponent's starting tyre is. Otherwise, you’re trying to figure out or guess what other people are doing.

  5. Your own pace relative to your opponent. If you’re out of position, quicker than others around you, it will influence the way you approach the race.

Q. What tracks do you see posing the biggest challenge this year, from a strategic perspective?

A. There are tracks where it is easier to overtake and there are tracks where it is more difficult to overtake. The more difficult it is to overtake, the more strategic choices you make are important. You can recover a bad strategy or improve your plans if the track allows you to overtake.

Q. What are the most important factors to consider when deciding on tyre choices for each track?

A. Tyre wear and degradation. Wear being the number of laps you can do on a set of tyres, degradation being how much pace you lose per lap. If you overrun the wear on a tyre, run out of rubber, you certainly lose a lot of time.

Q. What is the most difficult strategic decision you’ve ever had to make during a race?

A. Usually, the most difficult choices are if you stop or not under a Safety Car or a Virtual Safety Car. Sometimes these calls are obvious. If you were planning to stop on lap 15 on your strategy and there’s a Safety Car on lap 14 or just before, then it’s quite an easy one to stop. A difficult one is when there’s a Safety Car towards the end of a race and some people stop for a set of Softs and some people stay out to keep their position; one of these approaches is right and sometimes it’s circuit dependent. Last year in Imola, it’s what got us on the podium. We kept Daniel [Ricciardo] out to keep position, others pitted for fresh Softs and didn’t manage to go through the field.

Q. How do drivers with different styles and strengths influence your racing strategy?

A. What is crucial is the ability of a driver to manage their tyres. If you’re good at getting a tyre set last for longer, it can allow you to pull out a one-stop on a race, which might normally be a two-stop. You can pull an overcut by staying out for longer and gain an advantage from that. Everyone can save tyres, you go slower, but the key talent is to save tyres without losing too much lap-time by being clever with wear.

Q. How do you adapt your strategy with last minute changes to the weather?

A. Good question! You react sometimes by trying to anticipate. This can be a bit of a roll of the dice. It’s a combination of analysis of lap times when it starts to rain or if it starts to dry to understand if the driver will be quicker on a different tyre. It’s a combination of feedback between the driver and the level of grip. The driver and team combination has to be strong and there’s a discussion between the driver and the race engineer, the pit wall and the garage to make sure we get it right. Changing conditions, dry to wet or wet to dry, and making the right call is what makes you win or lose a race.

Q. What are the top skills/attributes needed to be a successful F1 race strategist?

A. There are two parts. There are the parts where you build tools; statistical, mathematical tools to analyse all the possibilities for a race to set the strategy options before a race and then during the race as it unfolds. It’s not the computer making the calls, it’s the humans on the pit wall. It’s a combination of building good tools and using them well. It’s about reading a race, lifting the eyes from the screen to see what’s happening and making the right call. It’s a combination of what the tools tell you, what the maths tells you and the actual race situation.

Q. It can sometimes be difficult to get drivers to buy into a bold strategy during the heat of the race. Do you have any examples of where a strategy call took some convincing, but ultimately paid off?**

A. Two things. The drivers like when tyres offer them good grip and therefore sometimes the strategy we elect to use is one where we ask a driver to stay for a long time on a set of tyres. Drivers feeling the loss of grip in the tyre are tempted to come in for a fresh set. That doesn’t always work for strategy and they need convincing to stay out and take the pain of the used tyre. Equally, there’s an opportunity for an undercut or reacting. If we say, ‘stop on lap 30’ and we stop on lap 15 to react to a race opportunity it can be difficult to communicate in a few seconds of changing the plan and explaining why it makes sense. We use the feedback for a driver on tyre life, tyre grip to adapt the strategy, but the strategy must be run from the pit wall as this is where we have the overview of the race.

Q. Who do you consider to be your biggest rival?

A. From a strategy point of view, it’s ourselves. At the end of the day, by the time you go to the race, the car has the pace it has, you are where you are, and you are trying to do better. The strategy is the tool and what you have in your hands to do better. Trying to do better can backfire as you can also get it wrong.

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