Get A Grip on the Bahrain GP: What’s an undercut and how did it hurt Red Bull?

If the Bahrain Grand Prix was your first taste of Formula 1, you were probably confused by terms like undercutting, track limitations, and differential problems. 

Well lucky for you, the school at Getting A Grip F1 is in session and provided a comprehensive recap on all of those terms and how they affected the battle between Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen and Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton.

What is an undercut?:

Put simply, an undercut involves making a pit stop a few laps earlier than the driver ahead of you. 

This ensures you will have a fresher set of tyres than the driver in front and will increase your chances of completing a successful overtake, as the driver you undercut has worn out tyres due to not pitting and won’t be able to keep the same race pace. 

In the world of F1, strategy plays out through every single corner.

As you may or may not be aware, drivers have no assistance in terms of turning, braking or even spinning – every little movement is felt by the car’s tyes.

If a driver ‘locks up’ their tyres, it causes significant wear and will reduce the grip shown through corners and on straights.

These affected tyres will produce vibrations and limit your ability to take other cars or even keep ahead – it becomes like driving on ice in some instances.

So, an undercut ensures you come out ready to chase down the driver in front of you.

In Mercedes’ case at the Bahrain GP, second driver Valterri Bottas was able to keep pushing the Red Bull to try force a mistake on older tyres.

What’s a diff problem?

Differential, or more commonly known as diff problems, occur when one rear tyre has more slippage than another.

This can cause the tyre temperature to rise too quickly which can result in a lack of grip and slow you down – hurting your race pace.

When a differential problem arises, you can often be hurt in some corners on the track which can take precious seconds off of your lap times.

This is what Max reported early on in the race. With his diff concerns and aging tyres, Hamilton was able to get ahead of the Red Bull to set up a thrilling final few laps.

What are track limitations:

In certain turns throughout an F1 circuit, there will be track limitations – lines you must not cross.

This means during certain turns, wheels must remain on track.

The red and white stripes on the entry and exit of corners are used to indicate the track limits and If all four wheels of the car exceed the stripes, you exceed track limits.

 This can lead to invalid lap times and if a driver overtakes someone while exceeding track limits, they must give the position back. 

Or face a penalty.

Exceed too many times and you’ll be shown a black and white flag. Ignore that?

You’ll be given a penalty.

So now that we have the terminology covered, where did it go wrong for Max Verstappen?

Red Bull had the right strategy in mind for the always competitive Bahrain GP.

They went for a longer stint on the first set of tyres in order to chase Hamilton down later in the race on a fresher set towards the end of the race.

But, in the end, they waited about one to two laps too long.

Verstappen’s diff issues at the beginning of the race caused the tyres to heat up too quickly, resulting in a loss of race pace.

However, the main issue for Red Bull was ‘hopeful rear-gunner’ Sergio Perez starting from the back of the grid. 

Mercedes were then able to have both Bottas and Hamilton pushing Verstappen for every lap.

Just like 2020, Max was alone against two Mercs.

On lap 53 many F1 fans, myself included, felt a wave of excitement roll over them as Verstappen finally overtook Hamilton on turn 4. 

At last! A changing of the guard, it looked as if Verstappen could not only take the fight to Hamilton but beat him.

Sadly, Max exceeded track limits as replays revealed all four wheels of Verstappen’s car had gone off the track at turn 4.

Breaching track limits and making the overtake illegal forcing Verstappen gave the position back to Hamilton. 

Using his discipline and experience Hamilton took care of his tyres and defended moves from Verstappen to cross the finish line in pole position. 

Imagine if Perez’s first lap breakdown didn’t happen – Red Bull may have got the race win with another bite at the cherry.

It wasn’t to be though…

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