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Formula 1: A Race Among Drivers or Strategists?

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Many fans of modern Formula 1 would make the argument that a race outcome is determined exclusively through race strategy once the starting grid is formalized. The article linked above discusses all the possible kinds of payoffs for different strategies of a particularly tricky grand prix weekend and their effect on the total outcome. In class, we’ve discussed at lengths different payoffs for many applications, not just in terms of the examples (penalty kicks vs markets) but also in types of relationships (buy and seller, travel time, prisoners dilemma). For formula 1 teams during a race, there is a multitude of simultaneous strategies and payoffs that they must consider given what all other drivers/teams are doing in any given moment. Not only that, but they must contend with two individual drivers on the same team who will have their own strong preferences and strategies different from that of the overall team. Unlike the idealized models discussed in class, the drivers don’t always listen.

The ultimate goal of any team is to score as many points for the team as they can. This means bringing BOTH of their cars home in the highest position possible. In a sense this can been seen as a highly complex Nash equilibrium problem with randomization where the teams won’t know exactly what the others plan to do, but based on any current situation they can determine a probability of certain circumstances occurring through algorithms in simulations. From here they can take the given probabilities and determine what the best total payoff will be for the team, given the two drivers they have and the positions they are in. Ultimately the payoff for one of the drivers will have to suffer in order for one to finish before the other, but the team could get a better payoff overall. This also applies generally to their competitors. The teams will often have to sacrifice pace at some point in the race in order to gain it at other times given that they have to perform a pit stop. Based on the different strategies of their opponents there could be different choices the team can make that will ultimately optimize their payoff given the probability their opponents will go with a certain strategy. A race then seems to be more about optimizing strategy than it does about actual wheel to wheel racing of champion drivers. With the highly complex and intriguing analysis possible, for some, this might not seem like such a bad thing.


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