Strategic issues

THE pit stop strategies in Formula 1 racing are all-important and this year it seems Benetton is getting it right - and Williams is getting it wrong.

But closer investigation reveals that both teams are changing their pit stop strategies as they have learned more about their cars - and those of their rivals - and Williams stands to gain more in the races ahead.

Last year Benetton regularly ran one stop more than Williams but this policy did not work in Brazil this year, despite the fact that Michael Schumacher won the race. Hill had been leading comfortably when he retired.

In Argentina and San Marino both teams chose the same strategies and Benetton lost both races - the latter because Schumacher crashed his car while pushing too hard. The implication, however, was that on equal terms the Williams is faster than the Benetton.

In Spain Benetton adopted a new policy, increasing the fuel load and having fewer stops than Williams. The strategy worked and Schumacher won the race. The same happened in Monaco.

But in Monaco Williams split its tactics: David Coulthard running the same pit stop pattern as Schumacher. In other words, Williams is reacting to the evidence which suggests that the Benetton's weight distribution is not perfect and the car handles better on full tanks than when the fuel load is lighter. Unless Benetton now does some serious work on weight distribution, its race strategies are limited and the team must decide whether such work is worth the risk of creating reliability problems.

The team may decide that it cannot afford such changes - Schumacher is taking a sizable percentage of the team's budget this year - and that the German will have to use his outstanding ability to keep ahead of the Williams-Renaults.

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