Stoffel Vandoorne‘s pit stop under the safety car is what saved Azerbaijan Grand Prix, he revealed after the race.
Vandoorne had been having a weekend to forget, qualifying in sixteenth and struggling to make ground during the race until a crash – and subsequent safety car period – on lap thirty-nine.
A collision between Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen, and then later but still under the safety car a collision between Romain Grosjean and the wall, led to a long safety car period, which caused a lot of drivers to lose the heat in their tyres. Knowing this, Vandoorne used this late safety car period to pit for fresh, hot tyres following the first collision. He then pitted again after the second collision, preparing for the safety car restart.
Though this put him to the back of the field, Vandoorne’s decision to pit meant that he was able to use tyres fresh out of tyre-warmers at the restart, meaning he didn’t have the same cold-tyre issues as competitors in front of him come the restart.
When the race did restart with four laps to go, Vandoorne’s fresh, hot tyres helped him fight his way from last to a points-scoring ninth place.
Commenting on his race, Vandoorne said his plan to pit under the safety car was what scored him points, though the straight-line speed of the McLaren car held the team back.
“What a mad afternoon! This race is usually a bit crazy, and we saw that again today.
“By mid-race, I think I was last, and that there was zero chance of making something work. But then the Safety Car came out: I made a good call at the end to put some hot rubber on when everyone else seemed to be struggling with tyre warm-up. Being at the back at that point wasn’t necessarily a bad thing – at the restart, I felt really confident, managed to overtake a few cars, and got myself back in the points.
“We still lack straight-line speed, which meant it was a struggle to attack or defend in the race, so there’s still some work to do there. Nevertheless, I’m pleased that we got some more points this weekend.”