Red Bull boss Mark Dutton made the call to sacrifice Jamie Whincup’s race to keep teammate Shane van Gisbergen running up the front in Townsville’s Sunday race.
Dutton said the decision was made “for the greater good” of the team, given van Gisbergen flat-spotted his left front tyre so badly they were worried it may delaminate. Running fourth to Whincup’s third, the team switched strategies, which ultimately meant quick Kiwi van Gisbergen took the race win, while Whincup finished the race in fourth.
Given both Bulls finished up the front and netted good points, it was a good day for the team. Though Dutton admitted in hindsight they should’ve called Whincup in late in the race for fresh tyres, as Holden Racing Team did with surprise second place finisher James Courtney.
“Basically the concern was that maybe Shane’s tyre was going to delaminate and he’d drop to the back, things like that, so we swapped the strategy which is never taken lightly,” Dutton said.
“It’s a tough one, but it was made so we had two cars in contention, which we clearly did.
“Then the safety car came out before Jamie could make much headway through the field, that … played against us a little bit.
“That said, it was a solid effort – it is a team thing and it was perfect evidence we work as a team.”
So, Saturday’s race winner and Championship leader Whincup was sacrificed and lost out on what ultimately was the optimal strategy.
“One-hundred per cent,” Dutton said.
“But it is for the greater good – if we have Jamie finishing first and Shane finishing 15th or 20th, that’s not as good for the team. Likewise, if you let Shane drop off and an issue happens with Jamie, we’ve got no cars in contention
“This way, we have both cars in contention – and both strategies could work … as the race fell [van Gisbergen’s] was the preferential one.
“Shane still had to work hard, have good speed. So did Jamie – he got the rougher end of the deal, which is not the engineer’s call.
"When I’m standing in the middle I actually have to do something and that’s doing things like that. It’s not fun, but as I said before we are a big team and we are opposing other teams.”
While van Gisbergen’s error was ultimately what gave him the advantage over his teammate, Dutton said any antics to play for the better strategy without track position would be unacceptable and silly from the drivers.
“They’re both exceptionally fast drivers but we rely on the honour system – it’s not like one pretends to have an issue and then gets preferential [treatment] if they’re second in the queue.
“That would never be tolerated and I don’t think for a second that’s what happened.
“What you saw on the screen [with van Gisbergen’s lockup] was all legitimate, you’re not going to do that to yourself on the off chance you’d get that result.”
Decisions in the garage continued to hurt Whincup, after a safety car on lap 62 triggered a number of cars to pit for fresh rubber for a late race dash home. James Courtney jumped from seventh to second with the tactic.
“We thought Gizzy was in a good position so we locked him in to stay out, but #88 we were very close to bringing in but we decided against it.
“But it was the wrong thing to do and we made those calls. Not drastically wrong, but two positions wrong.
“We would’ve most likely had the best tyres in the field, so would’ve finished at least where Courtney did in P2 if not closing up on Shane.
“So we made a mistake there, but I’ll put my hand up for that one.”
Dutton took over as team manager from Roland Dane in 2014, but stepped back to engineer Whincup from Townsville last year for a handful of rounds as the six-time champion struggled. Dutton engineered five of those championships.
The results in Townsville mean van Gisbergen has jumped from fifth to second in the Championship, with a gap of 53 points to leader Whincup. Heading into the event, van Gisbergen was 71 points off the lead.