Williams F1 driver Robert Kubica has questioned the team’s strategy calls during the Monaco Grand Prix, claiming team-mate George Russell benefitted from a more favourable tyre strategy despite the Pole being ahead at the time of the first round of pit-stops – usually the determining factor over which of the two drivers gets first option about when to pit.
Despite starting 20th, one place behind Russell, Kubica made the better start and jumped both his team-mate and Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi to slot into p18 on lap 1, a position he maintained until the first round of pitstops under a safety car prompted by contact between Charles Leclerc and Nico Hulkenberg on lap 12.
With those around him – including Russell – pitting, Kubica briefly jumped to 15th before being hit by Giovinazzi as the Italian clumsily attempted a pass at Rascasse that would both scupper Kubica’s race and earn himself a ten second penalty from the stewards.
The incident dropped Kubica to 18th, behind Russell who was now racing to the finish.
The Pole dropped further back when he made his pitstop for fresh rubber on lap 21 and finished the race in 18th, three places behind Russell.
“I thought the driver in front gets priority over who is behind?” Kubica asked over team radio on his slowing down lap after the race, later adding “Overall, the race was quite good, but the strategy was not the best.”
Does Kubica have a point?
Well, firstly, the lead driver getting priority is usually reserved for situations where both cars are on the same strategy and aiming to stop on the same lap. In this case, pitting one lap sooner or later can make a huge difference to track position and the car ahead has earned the right to first choice.
At Monaco it was clear that there were two schools of thought when it came to strategy: half of the field made their first stop around laps 10/11 a-la Russell and the other half running long on their first stint, stopping later, a-la Kubica.
With Williams starting from the back of the grid, it made sense that they split their strategies in the hope that one of them pays off and the reward will be at least one good result even if it’s at the expense of the other car.
Which one would prove to be the better of the two would be determined by what happened in the race.
The safety car appeared just as the pit window opened for drivers pitting early, meaning there was no need for Williams to deviate from their pre-determined strategies.
As for which of the two was more favourable, Haas driver Kevin Magnussen stopped early, like Russell, and he dropped from sixth to finish a dejected 12th. Haas’ second driver Romain Grosjean stopped later, like Kubica, and he finished in the points having climbed his way from 13th.
No, what killed off any chance Kubica had of a strong result was his contact with Giovinazzi which cost him 20 seconds and valuable track position.
Without that, and with a then 16 second gap to his team-mate it’s not inconceivable that he could have finished as the lead Williams driver for the first time in 2019.
His gripe should be with the Alfa Romeo driver and not with Williams.