Before a race when you know it’s going to be wet, you clearly have some pre-race plan, but the key to it is flexibility, as you never know exactly when it will rain, how heavily or for how long. At the start, having to decide between fitting Intermediates (for light rain) or full wets was taken out of the teams’ hands, as the race director deemed it a wet start so that everyone had to start on full wets when the lights went out.
But by then, conditions were good enough to switch to the Inter tyres, so that Albon came in on lap 2 for Inters, followed one lap later by Kvyat, as did the majority of drivers. It was clearly the correct choice. Kvyat lost a bit of time coming into pit lane and when he rejoined, he was actually last, but comfortably got past those who were still on track on the Wet tyres.
The next dilemma for the strategists would be the life of the Inters, because as the track dried they would degrade very quickly. But in a chaotic situation like this, no one wants to come in for a new set, if the conditions would change enough to allow the use of slick tyres, or even require a return to rain tyres, always with the possibility that a safety car period would give you the chance of a “free” stop, which means changing tyres without losing any time.
New Inters or slicks? It was 50-50, but we kept going on the old inters, telling Alex to watch his front left which was degrading. At this stage, you are thinking on your feet and keeping a close eye on what everyone else is doing, so that you can cover any moves you think might be dangerous to you and cost you track position.
Then the track began to dry and, by watching Magnussen’s lap times as the Haas driver had made a bold stop for slicks on lap 21, we could tell it was time for the change. We gambled a bit more with Kvyat, calling him on lap 25, but left Albon out for two more laps, putting both of them on the Soft tyres. In fact, at this point, the rain intensified so that Alex was back in for Inters on lap 28, as was Daniil, but the move had allowed Albon to make up one place, so it had been well worth it.
The fourth pit stop, switching back to slicks was really the final piece of the jigsaw. There had been yet another Safety Car, but the track was drying, so as soon as the SC returned to the pits, Kvyat was called in for slicks. As the rest of the field, which had all been bunched up by the SC, came in over the next two laps, Daniil found himself rocketed up the order. It was an inspired call.
In the modern world of Formula 1, nothing is left to chance and there are software programme and simulation tools to cover just about every eventuality on track. But on Sunday in Hockenheim, apart from a few basic facts such as how long a particular tyre performs at its best in certain conditions and what the crossover point will be when a slick works better than a rain tyre, much of the planning for Sunday’s race which featured an incredible 78 pit stops, has to be done through common sense and experience.
Too often, race strategists can get blinded by data, when what they should really be doing is looking at the sky and the weather map for the circuit. In chaotic situations like this, you need a cool head and a clear picture in your mind of where all the cars are on track. Experience also counts for a lot, having an idea when a Safety Car is likely. The racing drivers themselves will have a clear picture of what is happening in terms of how quickly a track is drying or how heavily the rain is falling, but they cannot see the full picture.
Our strategists have to concentrate on the whole situation and make the right decision at the right moment. On Sunday, we got it right and the results followed. The fact that Kvyat and Albon kept the cars on track and out of the barriers helped of course! They both produced faultless drives on a day when the conditions caught out many of the superstars of the sport. Daniil’s podium finish got plenty of media coverage, but Alex also did a great job, especially when one considers he’d never driven a Formula 1 car in the wet until the cars left the pits to form up on the grid on Sunday afternoon!