The 'Paul Di Resta Strategy'
Was the ingenuitive strategy a lose-lose situation?
Welcome to the Pirelli era of Formula 1 – 2011 to present. Great races and highly degrading tyres – coupled with DRS infused overtakes. It instantly gave us classic dry races. 2011 China where Lewis Hamilton swept past Sebastian Vettel for victory with a few laps to go. 2012 Valencia voted as the fifth best race of the decade by fans – or as Ayrton Senna would call, the fourth loser. Don’t forget 2011 Monaco too – and 7 different winners from the first 7 races in 2012.
Overtaking prior to the Pirelli era was scarce. We’re talking races with 0 overtakes here. 2003 Monaco, 2009 Valencia and believe it or not, 2005 USA. F1 went from around 10 to 20 overtakes per race – to around 20 to 50 per race since Pirelli took over from Bridgestone in 2011. From record pit stops in 2011 Hungary (85), to the most overtakes in a dry 2016 China (161) and a wet 2012 Brazil (144). Matter of fact in Pirelli’s first season of Formula 1, 4 stop strategies weren’t abnormal.
You know though, there was something about the zest and flavour of those pre-Pirelli overtakes. They were rare, but earned – no DRS either. As Michael Schumacher said, you rose to your feet in excitement and awe.
Where it all began was the 2010 Canadian Grand Prix. Bridgestone’s durable tyres suffered that weekend at a recently resurfaced Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. Pirelli’s approach to tyres were heavily influenced by this race – it’s what Bernie Ecclestone wanted to do. Replicate 2010 Canada, but every race. Tyres in Formula 1 became a carnival, a show that has helped define this era of F1.
Teams eventually figured out how to reduce degradation in the Pirelli era and improve race performances. Others took it to an extreme.
Enter what I call: “The Paul Di Resta Strategy.”
Long drives, saving rubber, low scoring. If you like a long distance relationship without getting laid, this is for you. It’s conservative as it is liberal. It trumps “Valtteri, it’s James.” Most of all, it’s a wishy-washy contradictive strategy on the path to strategic boredom.
Here’s how I explain what the Paul Di Resta strategy entails.
What is the Paul Di Resta Strategy?
A buddy of mine and I coined the term sometime around 2011. It’s when a driver (notably Paul Di Resta) decides to employ a race strategy of making at least one less pit stop than the vast majority of competitors.
Along the way, the driver lets everyone overtake them, hardly takes part in an on-track battle, then finishes for little to no points. On occasion, it works – but in the long term, it’s the most ineffective and least rewarding thing I can think of. Well, apart from working 9-5 of course.
Give “Paul Di Resta strategy” a google search. On the first page, I find a 2011 article from ESPN with Di Resta “thanking his team for an aggressive strategy.” –– “Aggressive.” Quite the contrary isn’t it? It is, but it isn’t. Sometimes the strategy worked, but even when it did, it was a mild, hollow victory. And here’s why…
What are the advantages of the Paul Di Resta strategy?
Simply this: conserving rubber was a brilliant tactic to employ in the early days of Pirelli Formula 1 tyres. Tyre degradation was at its highest and you wouldn’t cost yourself time battling with drivers in a different race than you.
You make one less trip into the pit lane than everyone else. But with pit lane drive through times ranging from 20 to 30 seconds, you still have to drive fast enough to avoid losing the same amount of time – nullifying the effect.
If the car is set up for race pace instead of qualifying pace, you could end up with a greater finishing position if the strategy is executed seamlessly.
With great advantage, comes contradictory disadvantage right?
What comes out in the wash is that the team have given up on the pace of the car or the driver. You’re trying to win a race by going as slow as possible – because you can’t beat your competitors any other way.
It showcases how to master the art of driving slow. Drivers were already complaining of driving 60% to 70% of their ability to maintain tyre life. So does that mean you’re driving at 50% or less to make the Paul Di Resta strategy work?
The biggest disadvantage: it’s plain boring. Criminally dull and uninspiring. The Big Bang Theory dull. As smart as the strategy was, you’d end up enduring a race where a driver let everyone overtake them without a fight.
Did the Paul Di Resta strategy ever work?
When the media headline for Paul Di Resta’s weekend was: “will he score points.” – it begs the question: Force India, what were you doing? But they knew what they were doing. As nonchalant as Di Resta was taking on the strategy, it worked.
In 59 career races, he used the strategy AND finished the race 13 times. In 12 of those races, he finished higher than his grid position. Can’t crash when you don’t race anybody I guess.
But in those 13 races, he only outqualified his teammates 5 times. Did they deliberately set the car up for race pace to exploit the Paul Di Resta strategy? A commonality during the Pirelli era. It’s why I feel Fernando Alonso had such a successful 2012 campaign.
What is the Paul Di Resta Strategy?
The notably good ones, in no particular order:
2011 Singapore: The race where I first coined the name. Force India even elected not to go out in Q3 so they would both save rubber and have free tyre choice at the beginning of the race. Di Resta didn’t battle with ANY of the leaders coming through the field, allowing them through as swiftly as possible, tip-toeing his way to P6 and last driver on the lead lap. One stop for PDR, two for his rivals.
2013 Bahrain: Initially qualified P7 but started P5 due to penalties. Di Resta only finished 21 seconds off Sebastian Vettel for the race win. His rivals were on a four stop strategy, but Di Resta made two pit stops. Just two ******* stops. No racecraft was seen that day. Not only because Di Resta might not have been battling, but maybe Bernie extended his Force India TV blackout from the year prior.
2013 Canada: Paul Di Resta was eliminated in Q1, in turn saving rubber he wouldn’t use for the race. The majority of the field opted for a two stop strategy including teammate Adrian Sutil. The Scot ended up climbing from P17 on the grid to finish P7 on a one stop strategy, the largest gain using the Paul Di Resta strategy.
Some of the bad:
2013 Australia: Di Resta qualifies ahead of teammate Sutil – a session that took place over two days due to wet weather. Di Resta opts for a two stop whilst the majority of the field goes for three. Di Resta ends up finishing behind his teammate (who also went for the Di Resta strategy too). Not only was he slow, but he was beaten with his own strategy.
2011 Abu Dhabi: Force India brought both cars into Q3 but gave up on Di Resta’s qualifying chances. He didn’t set a time in qualifying either to give him free choice of tyre compound. He started P10, finished P9 – 24 seconds behind teammate Sutil. The only reason he gained a position was due to Sebastian Vettel’s retirement. Di Resta opted for one stop whilst the majority opted for two. Even Mark Webber opted for three stops.
2013 Germany: A three stop race for the majority of the field, Di Resta opts for two. Not only that, but Di Resta fails to score points and his three stopping teammate of Sutil only finishes four seconds behind despite being much slower in qualifying.
What if I need to steal $35 million worth of gold bars from Italian gangsters?
Do you think Jason Statham received 110 love letters sent to his jail cell because he used the Paul Di Resta strategy?
Looks like it.
Would the Paul Di Resta strategy work (or fail to work) today?
The tyres don’t degrade as much as they did in the early days of the Pirelli era. Most dry races today see the field consistently split between one and two stop races. The current Formula 1 rules require the drivers to use at least two different tyre compounds during the race – meaning one mandatory pit stop (or in rare cases, no pit stops like Romain Grosjean in Australia 2016).
Even if you attempt to one stop, half the field is generally split between one and two stop strategies, which mean there isn’t really a strategy used by a majority. Even when there is, it’s generally a one stop.
Do I recommend the Paul Di Resta strategy?
The Paul Di Resta strategy is a lose-lose situation. A predicament for drivers looking to save their career. If it doesn’t work, you’re slow and uncompetitive. When it works, you’ve only made positions on strategy, not on pure pace. Same playing field, but that tells everyone you’re too slow to compete with others on the same strategy.
If you want Formula 1 to become a fan’s Sunday siesta, I recommend the Paul Di Resta strategy. As a British driver in F1, you’ve got your bags of fun – a Jenson Button, James Hunt, David Coulthard, Anthony Davidson. You’ve also got your BBD’s. A Boring British Driver. Using the infamous strategy slots you nicely into the latter.
Your performances on track are a job interview for the next F1 seat. Much like Pascal Wehrlein, Di Resta hailed from DTM and needed to instantly show his pace and raw speed in F1. That’s especially important for those coming from junior categories too.
I’ve always said that if you’re a driver who doesn’t win the GP2/Formula 2 championship in your rookie season, that’s a red flag for me. Congratulations, you’re a 23 year old senior out of college who outplayed a 19 year old one and done freshman, but guess who’s getting drafted higher in the NBA draft?
At least they tried, 1.5/5.