In a desperate and spectacularly unsuccessful attempt to win yesterday’s Canadian Grand Prix, Ferrari tried to get one set of soft tyres to last 51 laps on Fernando Alonso’s car.
Alonso was running second when Lewis Hamilton pitted 20 laps from the end of the race. Hamilton had a slow pitstop, which could have played into Alonso’s hands if he had chosen to pit immediately. Instead, Ferrari chose to keep him out until the end of the race, hoping that his tyres would hold together long enough to defend against the charging Hamilton.
Ultimately, the strategy failed. Alonso finished fifth after his tyres dropped off significantly and he found himself lapping over three seconds off the pace. He was passed by Grosjean, Perez and then Vettel, who had tried to stay out but elected to pit when Hamilton had passed him. Alonso would probably have finished second if he had pitted when Hamilton did. Instead, he ended up off the podium, struggling for grip in the final laps.
This is not the first time a driver has tried to stay out too long on one set of tyres this season. Kimi Raikkonen showed quite emphatically how badly that can go when he fell back from second to 14th in China as he suddenly found himself with no rear grip. It had to be tried once, but that should have been enough to convince all of the teams that it was a bad idea.
Ferrari saw what happened to Raikkonen in China. They also saw that Hamilton was a second a lap quicker than Alonso on his fresh tyres. It was inevitable that Hamilton would catch and pass Alonso. It was simply a question of when. Ferrari should have realised that they were in fact racing Vettel, Grosjean and Perez, not Hamilton. Had they pulled Alonso into the pits, the likely result would have been a podium and an extended Championship lead for Alonso. Instead, they got fifth place and Alonso is now running second in the Drivers’ Championship.
It was poor strategy call, a desperate attempt to achieve the unachievable. At this stage of the season, consistent results are more important than wins. A team as experienced as Ferrari really should have known better.