6 clever racing strategies from F1 history that paid off

Alex Albon’s unorthodox pit stop at the start of the final lap of the Australian Grand Prix allowed him to score William’s first point of the 2022 Formula One season.

Albon’s P10 was earned thanks to a combination of his marathon stint on hard Pirellis, Aston Martin driver Lance Stroll supporting Albon’s rival in midfield and Williams taking a strategic risk.

READ MORE: Albon says P10 finish was ‘unimaginable’ before executing inspired strategy in Australia

Such unorthodox strategies are rare, but it’s not the first time in Formula 1 history that a seemingly odd strategy game has led to a significant outcome.

1. Stirling Moss – 1958 Argentine Grand Prix

Final placement: 1st

The combination of legendary privateer team owner Rob Walker and the incomparable Stirling Moss achieved some major successes, none more notable than winning the 1958 Argentine Grand Prix. This was the result of what is best known as a “strategic bluff”. can describe.

Moss drove a light but underpowered 1.96-litre Cooper Climax T43 – practically an F2 car – and couldn’t match the pace of the 2.5-litre Ferraris. Worse, changing the four-bolt wheels took significantly longer than the Ferraris’ imitation single-nut wheels.

Moss took his time getting the lead, but once he got his nose in front, he never lost control

Walker and Moss made no secret of the time they expected to lose to tire stops, but the secret plan was to finish a single set of Continentals.

STRATEGIC CHAMPIONS: Moss bluffs his way to victory – and heralds a new era

Moss took the lead as Maserati driver Juan Manuel Fangio pitted. By the time Ferrari driver Luigi Musso realized what was happening and that the wheelset floating in Rob Walker’s pits was part of a ruse, it was too late to catch up.

Despite Moss’ caution with the tires on the brink of failure when running late on the oil-covered parts of the track to reduce stress, he won by just under 2.7 seconds to take the first win for a mid-engined F1 car.


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Moss crossed the finish line just 2.7 seconds ahead of Musso’s Ferrari, with his compact mid-engined Cooper-Climax T43 tires all the way to the screen (Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

2. Gerhard Berger – 1986 Mexican Grand Prix

Final placement: 1st

Gerhard Berger and the Benetton team’s first Grand Prix victory in Mexico in 1986 was the result of a no-pit stop strategy using Pirelli tyres.

Berger started fourth, moving early to third behind Nelson Piquet’s Williams and Ayrton Senna’s Lotus before being passed by Alain Prost’s McLaren – and passing all three on their pit stops.

PALMER: How Albon made a brilliant strategy call to take Williams’ first point of the season

Berger took the lead on lap 36, expecting to be attacked by those behind him on fresh Goodyears. Tire wear wasn’t a problem but degradation was, but remarkably his Pirellis held up well and proved consistent. He won by an amazing 36 seconds over Prost.

A crucial part of the strategy was the risky decision to run a different tire compound on each of the four corners of the car. This should not only take into account the additional load on the left side on a predominantly right-hand track, but also the different requirements on the front and rear axles. Pulling this off with the right tire pressure was the equivalent of tire alchemy.


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Berger and Benetton’s clever strategy helped them prevail against Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna

3. Mika Salo – 1997 Monaco Grand Prix

Final placement: 5th

Rain meant the pace of the 1997 Monaco Grand Prix was slow, with the fastest lap a whopping 35 seconds from pole position. That meant the race ended after two hours and 62 of the scheduled 78 laps had been completed – an opportunity for the Minnow-Tyrrell team to pick up their only points of the season.

As the rain came and went, Tyrrell tried to finish the race without a pit stop. While the underpowered Ford ED V8 engine wasn’t thirsty, Salo still had to make changes to maximize economy when it became clear the strategy could work mid-race.

PODCAST: Mika Salo on life as a supersub, giving up certain victory, racing through injuries and more

“We reduced the fuel mix and revs and I started rolling through the corners to avoid being powered,” said Salo, who also suffered a front wing failure following an incident on lap two. “I didn’t think we would make it. My tires were flat and when it started raining again I lost all grip and was lucky not to hit the wall.”

Salo, a lap down at the finish, held off second row Jordan Giancarlo Fisichella in the closing stages to take Tyrrell’s final F1 points spot.


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Salo took the Tyrrell team’s final F1 points

4. Giancarlo Fisichella – 2003 Brazilian Grand Prix

Final placement: 1st

Giancarlo Fisichella qualified eighth for the 2003 Brazilian Grand Prix at Interlagos, holding the position under the safety car deployed on the first lap. It was a dramatically improved performance for Jordan compared to the first two races of the season, which is why Fisichella argued against the counterintuitive instruction to pit during this safety car period.

But this unorthodox step had a clear goal in mind. The race took place in wet conditions and proved to be a crash fest where Head of Race and Test Engineering, Gary Anderson, hatched a bold plan. An early stop under the Safety Car allowed the car to be refueled without further stopping to 75% of the race distance – the point at which, in the event of a red flag, the Grand Prix would not be restarted. This resulted in Fisichella pitting at the end of Lap 7.

ONBOARD: Take control of the action with our 360° interactive look at Verstappen’s retirement in Melbourne

The strategy worked perfectly as Fisichella passed McLaren’s Kimi Raikkonen on lap 54 to take the lead in the Senna S. Then Mark Webber crashed his Jaguar after losing it in a wet patch and lost a wheel which Fernando Alonso’s Renault picked up. The result was a red flag.

Initially, Räikkönen was awarded victory, but six days later the FIA ​​corrected an error in the timing countback and Fisichella was declared the winner.


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Jordan banked on Chaos to play into their hands… and it worked

5. Michael Schumacher – 2004 French Grand Prix

Final placement: 1st

Michael Schumacher started the French Grand Prix second to Renault’s Fernando Alonso in a Ferrari who was generally quicker but struggled to show it in a qualifying lap or the early laps of a stint on his Bridgestone rubber.

Ferrari started with a three-stop, but strategist Luca Baldisserri also had a four-stop option in mind when Schumacher was not in the open air. After chasing Alonso for the first two stints, Ferrari committed four pit stops.

STRATEGIC CHAMPIONS: How Ferrari stole victory from Renault with a secret 4 stop plan

Schumacher picked up a relatively light load at his second stop on lap 29. Alonso’s stop was brought forward but still with three stops in mind and the time he lost to aging Michelins at the end of his second stint meant he came out of the pits behind Schumacher.

Schumacher was now able to get the hammer down, pulling out more than enough time in the third and fourth stints to get out of his last stop on lap 58 ahead of Alonso. Although Schumacher spent just over 15 seconds longer in the pit lane than Alonso during his four stops, Schumacher won by 8.329 seconds.


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How the lead swung back and forth between pit stops

6. Sebastian Vettel – 2010 Italian Grand Prix

Final placement: 4th

Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel went into the race at Monza planning to stop on lap 14-15 but ended up staying on his Bridgestones starting set until lap 52. Just like Albon in Australia 2022, he made the mandatory pit stop to switch to the other tire compound at the end of the penultimate lap.

The strategy worked wonderfully. Vettel was seventh in the first part of the race and although his soft compound tires lost some grip, the clear air allowed him to set laps at a good pace throughout the stint. He should pass Williams driver Nico Hulkenberg and Renault’s Robert Kubica easily enough, but with the Mercedes of Nico Rosberg and teammate Mark Webber it was a touch-and-go.

PODCAST: Hear Sebastian Vettel reflect on his career and life outside of Formula 1 on Beyond The Grid

Traffic for Rosberg, with Webber in tow, allowed Vettel late in the race to make his stop and come out in front to finish fourth. While not a big result in itself, the fact that Vettel would win the title by just four points made this strategic decision hugely important.


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Vettel’s lengthy stint en route to P4 would earn crucial points for his first title

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