#DrivenBy: Alexander Bodo
Figures, statistics and lightning-fast decision making are the realm of Alexander Bodo (29), race strategist for the six drivers in the Mercedes-AMG Motorsport DTM Team. Being by nature someone who is always on an even keel, he is not at all fazed by the pressure that his job entails. His biggest challenge is to read the race properly and to have a good data base, so as to be able to automate the decision-making process.
“That's of crucial importance, because I may not go for the best option if I'm stressed,” says Alexander. “It's how we humans are. However, if I can build in systems that enable the use of data-based decision-making tools, then I'm on a winner.” So you see, it is important to evaluate decisions and data efficiently in order to relieve his stress in stressful situations and stop the wrong decision being made.
That does not sound at all like the recipe for a relaxed Saturday or Sunday afternoon at the race track. However, for Alexander, it is the perfect combination of his abilities and preferences: “My background is actually in the business sector where I was mainly concerned with mathematical modelling. In my job, it's great to see how my decisions and actions have a direct impact on what is happening on the track.” His role in the team thus allows him to combine sterile data crunching with the action-packed world of motor racing, and yet, his job still catches up with him in his private life. “I like to travel, and then, I always manage to fit in a visit to a circuit at the same time,” says Alexander. “I love being in the USA where there are plenty of great motor racing venues other than Daytona.”
Decisions about race strategy start with preparations made in the run-up to a race weekend when the database from previous years and from tests and races pasts are analysed. In this way, an initial strategy can be roughed out. In a departure from previous years, though, that will have to change a great deal at the start of a race weekend this season, because the team still know relatively little about how the new, softer tyre compound will perform at the various tracks. “So, we need to make more use of practice sessions to collect data, on the basis of which we can then derive our strategy variants,” explains Alexander, whose workload for 2017 has increased yet again as a result.
One of the most important components in the final decision-making process as regards to race strategy is the driver's grid slot. “Strategy is definitely tipped in favour of those cars that have a chance of winning,” says Alexander. “The ultimate goal is to choose the best strategy for every driver.” However, that is practically impossible with six vehicles and only three pit stop bays, because two drivers can never pit in the same bay at the same time. That is why strategy is primarily based on which driver is ahead on the grid or who has the best chance in the race.
Apart from the grid slots, other variables go to inform the decision-making process, depending on the race track, such as the theoretical pit stop window, standing time during the pit stop and the total amount of time lost overall in the pit lane. Alexander has dynamic systems to help him. “The biggest factor this year will probably be tyre wear,” says Alexander, thinking of the new regulations, as tyre wear can vary greatly from driver to driver.
Despite all the various factors that Alexander must meticulously take into account in his calculations, it is generally shortly after qualifying that the decision is made about the direction the team will head next. However, Alexander can never just sit back. During the race, he has to consider yet another range of determining factors which could very quickly mess up his painstakingly worked out strategy.
In this respect, the weather is and will always remain a classic factor, especially when it comes down to when a driver should switch from wets to slicks and vice versa. “How and when the weather changes remains one of the biggest question marks hanging over us,” admits Alexander. Still, he does not regard the increased use of slow zones as any reason to panic: “A safety car period has a greater impact on strategy than a slow zone where the distances between drivers don't change.” However, at least one thing will remain constant on race days as far as Alexander's area of responsibility is concerned, plenty of excitement is always guaranteed!