Analysis: Did Porsche's Strategy Call Cost Them The Race?

The 6 Hours of Bahrain was a testament to the excitement of modern endurance racing. It had drama, tension and intrigue from start to finish and was decided by tiny margins. Did one strategy call from the Porsche 919 Hybrid team cost them a potential race victory?
Ultimately, the #7 Toyota TS040 took a relatively comfortable victory in Saturday’s 6 Hours of Bahrain with a gap of roughly 50 seconds back to the #14 Porsche 919 Hybrid in second. However, the LMP1 battle hinged on a key moment in the first hour of the race. On lap 17, race director Eduardo Freitas decided to issue a full-course yellow (FCY) to enable track marshals to recover debris thrown up by various collisions in the first phase of the race. In a full-course yellow situation, all cars are required to reduce their speed to 80 kph and maintain their track positions.

All factory LMP1 cars took the opportunity of slower running under the FCY to make their first pit stops for new tyres and fuel, with the exception of the #14 Porsche and the #1 Audi. Later in the race, Romain Dumas told Louise Beckett in the pitlane that not stopping under the FCY had cost Porsche and had been the wrong decision on strategy. Could Porsche have won the race if they had followed all their competitors into the pits? Let’s take a look at the data.

The FCY was issued on lap 17 while the top three LMP1 cars – only separated by 7 seconds – were in the third sector. Both the #7 and #8 Toyotas were called into the pits immediately by the Toyota race engineers to take advantage of the slow pace on the track. A standard in-lap for the race was roughly 1:52.0, but the #7 Toyota posted a 2:40.9 as it came into the pits, reflecting the FCY conditions.

However, the FCY was retracted while both Toyotas were still in the pits, so their respective out laps were in the normal range of just over 3 minutes (pit time is included in this). Meanwhile, Romain Dumas spent another two sectors at a relative snail’s pace, putting in a 2:32.2 on lap 17 and a 2:45.4 on lap 18, with the Porsche 919 Hybrid back up to full speed by sector three of that lap.

It may have only been the blink of an eye in terms of this six-hour race, but this strategy call could very well have robbed Porsche of a maiden victory for the 919 Hybrid. His two partial laps under FCY saw Dumas lose a total of 1 minute 39 seconds, assuming a (generous) benchmark lap time of 1:49.0. The #14 car stuck to what was, presumably, the original six-stop pit strategy of five “full” stints and a late splash and dash. By contrast, the #7 Toyota only lost 49 seconds in sector three of lap 17 as it spent the rest of the FCY stationary in the pits. By the time it resumed the race, driver Alex Wurz was able to put his foot down.

This means that the #14 Porsche lost approximately one minute “net” on both Toyotas by sticking to its strategy and staying out. Given that the winning margin of the #7 car was 50 seconds, this lost minute may have been crucial in the final result of the race. But did the strategy give the #14 Porsche any kind of advantage at all?

If we look at total time in the pits, we can see that the #14 Porsche 919 Hybrid spent a total of 7 minutes 15 seconds in the pits, 36 seconds less than the eventual winner, the #7 Toyota (7 minutes 51 seconds). This, however, doesn’t tell the whole story, as a quick look at total pit time for the sister #20 car (7 minutes 26 seconds), which came in during the FCY, shows that the #14 car may very well have spent less time in the pits than the Toyota anyway, all things being equal. The slight nine-second discrepancy to the #20 car can also be explained by the fact that Neel Jani in the #14 was not given fresh rubber at the final stop, the only car to do so throughout the whole race. It was a last throw of the dice from Porsche, but on old tyres, Jani was unable to get down into the 1:46s or even the 1:47s for the final twelve-lap dash to the line, something he had been doing with apparent ease on fresh boots after his penultimate stop on lap 154.

Now obviously a lot of this is conjecture and what-might-have-been. Who knows how much Toyota had left in the tank, figuratively and literally? Could they have turned up the wick a little more if they had been under greater pressure? We’ll never know for sure, but the data suggests that that single call in a two-minute FCY period may have robbed viewers of a mouth-watering straight-up shootout for the race win between Neel Jani and Alex Wurz coming out of the final stops.

Image source: Porsche Press Resources