Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Toyota: Brave Strategy

Some of the post-Bahrain analysis has been critical of Toyota's decision to run the unpopular harder tire during the second stint, running the better performing soft tire during the first and third stints.

I personally thought that the decision was a brave one, one which might have conceivably paid off with at least a second, and quite possibly was the factor which kept Toyota on the podium at all instead of sliding further down the order.

The gamble here was three-fold. First, Toyota gambled that they could get far enough ahead during the first stint such that those pursuing would end up behind the Toyotas after their first stops, seeing as how they will run longer than the Toyotas will. This is where Timo Glock was unlucky; his stop dropped him right down the order and he never really recovered. Jarno Trulli was luckier, and only Jenson Button's heavily fueled Brawn managed to get past in the first round of stops.

The second gamble is that even though Toyota was on the harder tire during the second stint, and therefore slower than the opposition on the softer tire, they were still fast enough to keep the faster cars behind them. This paid off, as Sebastien Vettel was unable to find a way past Trulli's Toyota.

The third gamble is that assuming that Toyota will again lose out slightly in the second round of stops -- again presuming that Vettel will run longer, lighter, on the faster tire -- Toyota will have the advantage of a fast car on the better tire in the final stint and be able to pass then for at least that position. Here is where the gamble failed to pay off, in that Vettel's Red Bull was the same as Trulli's Toyota had been in the second stint -- not the fastest, but fast enough to prevent being passed.

Trulli ended up in the final stint having one of the fastest cars, fastest of all except perhaps Button's Brawn, which wasn't seriously tested in the third stint. Had he been able to find a way past Vettel, there is little doubt in my mind that he could have cruised up to the back of the Brawn. As to whether or not the Toyota could find a way past the Brawn is entirely another question, one we'll hopefully get to see for ourselves another time.

This is a fantastic demonstration of where Toyota is as a team right now. The car was legitimately fast, straight up, against the other front runners, with nobody being absent due to track or car dramas. Straight up, the Toyota was fast; straight up, the team's strategy showed different, yet still effective, thinking from the herd mentality.

In any other year, one could confidently say that attrition or track dramas would conspire at some point in the year to present Toyota with a victory. However, with reliability being what it is, and with the drivers showing an unusual amount of discretion when it comes to attempting potentially car-bending maneuvers, Toyota might just have to continue the improvement and get their win straight-up without any help from the other random factors.