Ferrari's decision to change their engineering team for
the coming season shows just how important they feel the role of pit wall is in
Formula One - and it could be even more crucial in 2011.
The strategy mistake by Ferrari that handed Sebastian
Vettel the world title in Abu Dhabi last year was a devastating one, not only
for the team but for their former head of race track engineering Chris Dyer... yet
it could be the making of their 2011 campaign.
Dyer has been at Ferrari since 2001 and engineered
Michael Schumacher and Kimi Raikkonen to world titles before becoming the chief
track engineer, with a certain amount of responsibility on strategic calls
since 2009. The action on pit wall can be frenetic at times and it is easy to
make mistakes, but Abu Dhabi was not a complicated race and although it was an 'everyday'
error it appears it was one too many for the Australian engineer.
After the Schumacher era, when Ross Brawn made his name
as a strategist (even if some decisions were strongly supported by others in
his shadow), Ferrari has struggled in recent years, with bad tactical mistakes
in early 2009 costing Brawn's successor Luca Baldisseri his position and
apparent failings in 2010 now seeing his replacement Chris Dyer moved from the
In the media-pressured world of Maranello, not only must
heads roll, they must be replaced with a better solution for the future - and
Ferrari is pinning its hopes on a new strategic team of former McLaren men Pat
Fry and Neil Martin, the latter a mathematics graduate who got his F1 break in
Woking and arrives at Ferrari after a stint as Red Bull's strategy head ended
early last year.
Martin's claim to fame is that he created a risk
assessment programme that can be used for F1 strategy - and although all teams
have similar systems to plan strategies, the fact that Ferrari now has its
hands on the man who set up those used by title rivals McLaren and Red Bull
cannot be anything but beneficial.
Fry, it seems, will be the man on pit wall making the big
decisions, but Stefano Domenicali (pictured) recently claimed he would "put whoever has to
take delicate decisions in a position to have all the tools not to make
mistakes" and this system could well be what he was talking about.
Mathematical modelling is used in all manner of different
industries - from betting to tornado chasing - and generally involves creating
a set of analytical equations for the situation in question then running
thousands of iterations changing one variable at a time to create an
understanding of what will happen in different situations.
In F1's case, pre-race strategic planning involves
running thousands of virtual races to determine the most likely outcome and
therefore the ideal basic race strategy for cars starting from a range of grid
positions. Advanced systems also analyse situations like safety cars, rain,
etc, to offer various recommended approaches to each situation.
But it is when the live action happens that the real
strategy experts come into play, with success or failure decided as much by
preparation as it is by instinct and confidence to react.
Formula One has a relatively small number of variables
compared to many systems that are mathematically modelled, and the analysis
systems used in the sport are therefore extremely accurate at creating an ideal
solution for each scenario.
However, race strategy looks set to be more prominent
again this year, as the approach for more aggressive new tyres from Pirelli
could create more situations like Canada last year, where the pit wall has to
think on its feet, and the ban on team orders will make it easier to make
blatant decisions on combined driver race management.
If this is the case, there will be two ways to approach
more dynamic races - either on the back foot, aiming to avoid mistakes, or on
the front, trying to attack and capitalise on opportunities.
With the new pit wall, not only has Ferrari removed any
latent brittle confidence in decision making that may have remained in the
previous incumbents, they have a system matched to their rivals in providing
the information they need to make decisions and a man on pit wall with years of
front-line experience to make the ballsy calls that make a difference.
And if they are successful in being strategically
aggressive early on, that could play a key part in the 2011 title battle...