Canadian Grand Prix – The Key Decisions
Insight
Canadian Grand Prix – The Key Decisions
Strategy Briefing
Posted By: James Allen  |  16 Jun 2010   |  8:29 am GMT  |  20 comments

The Canadian Grand Prix was the most exciting race of the season, but also one of the most interesting tactically.
There were some important decisions to be made in qualifying which affected the way teams tackled the first part of the race, but there were also big decisions to be taken during the race, reacting to events.


It was clear from Friday practice that the tyres were going to be a big problem in Montreal. They grained very badly and the rears were degrading very quickly. Drivers found that once they started to go, the performance dropped very quickly.

There are several reasons for this. Some are predictable, some less so. The Montreal track causes graining because it is all about acceleration and braking, so the wheels are spinning up and sliding, which sheers the rubber on the rear tyres in particular. Also because Montreal has a low grip asphalt surface the tyres slip both longitudinally and laterally, which adds more to the graining. This year much of the track had been resurfaced to avoid the embarrassing break ups seen in recent years. The new asphalt was very slippery.

Over most of the weekend, the temperature was lower than expected; it was in the low 20s and this means that the rubber can’t soften, which adds to the problem. This was less of a problem on race day, when the temperatures were high, but the problem then was that the support races and the parade of historic cars had lifted the F1 rubber off the track, so in the early part of the Grand Prix the tyres were going off very quickly. As the race went on the problem lessened.

The track ramped up in grip quickly in qualifying. In choosing what tyres to use, most teams adopted the tactic we have seen repeatedly in 2010 of looking at what everyone else is doing. This is the “reactive” race strategy we are seeing at most races.

Red Bull started out Q1 on the soft tyre, which immediately told us that they were going to run the hard tyre for their final run in Q3 and therefore start the race on that hard tyre. They made this decision because the difference in performance between the soft and the hard tyre was not so significant for them, perhaps a tenth or two. So it might have cost them the pole at a push, but they thought they had the better tyre for the race. They did not anticipate the degradation the hard tyres suffered in the early race laps.

Robert Kubica also chose the same tactic. It definitely cost him some places on the grid. In Q2 on soft tyres he did a 1m 15.682, the fourth fastest lap of that session. Most people then found another couple of tenths in Q3 as the track improved. Kubica however switched to hard tyres in Q3 and did a 1m15.715. Had he followed the herd he would probably have been between Alonso and Button in 5th place instead of 8th. He might even have got on the podium from there, so skilled is he between the walls in Montreal.

In the race the tactic backfired pretty quickly as he pitted on lap 9, soon after the soft tyre runners. The Renault seems to have a more rearward weight distribution than many of its rivals and he went through the rear tyres pretty quickly at the start of the race.


Although it looked quite good for Red Bull in the early laps, as they took the lead when Hamilton pitted, it went wrong because the drivers weren’t able to push hard enough for long enough on that first set of tyres. In comparison, the drivers who started on the soft tyre pitted early (around lap 5/6) and then on a new set of hard tyres were catching the Red Bulls quickly. At this point the Red Bulls still had the soft tyre to take and it was clear that the chance of victory was gone. Red Bull expected Kubica to stay out on the hard tyre to hold up Hamilton, Alonso and Button after their stops but his early stop wrecked that plan.

What makes the performance of the hard tyre so surprising is that this is the same tyre (Bridgestone call it the Medium) which lasted the whole race in Monaco for Alonso and even did 33 laps of Bahrain. This has been, up to now, their best performing tyre and it has a higher working range than the soft, so should have been suited to Sunday’s conditions.

There was an argument for doing what Alonso did in Monaco and pitting on the first lap for hard tyres, (although there he went through to the finish, which was not possible in Montreal). This is what Liuzzi was forced into after he was taken out at the start by Massa. He fought back very well to finish 9th. He pitted for his second set of tyres before the rest of his competitors and, on a new set, was able to make up some places.

One interesting decision taken at the first stop by Red Bull, knowing that they were now on the back foot, was to put Vettel on the soft tyre for the middle stint and Webber on the hard.

Pre-race analysis showed that hard-soft-hard was actually quite a fast race strategy, the key to it being at the second stop to cover off the cars that start with a short stint on the soft tyre and then a long stint on the hard. Vettel thought he had done this and it was a considerable shock to him to find that he hadn’t done enough even by the first stop. As well as the Kubica factor, part of the reason for this was he lost six seconds in two laps around the time of Hamilton’s first stop. This allowed Alonso and Button to get ahead of him.

This was Alonso’s kind of race, complex and requiring patience at times and extreme aggression at others. Sadly for him it didn’t result in a victory because he lost positions when boxed in behind slower cars; once to Hamilton and another time to Button. But it was a much stronger showing by Ferrari and Alonso is still hanging in there with the McLaren and Red Bull drivers in the championship.

As for fuel consumption, which was the limiting factor in Turkey, it was as expected in Montreal. The only thing which surprised the engineers was the temperature on race day, which was higher than expected and this meant that they drivers could not run the engines too lean for risk of overheating. The leaner the fuel mixture the hotter the engine gets.

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20 Comments
  1. admin says:

    Please note that comments for this story are currently closed whilst we perform some site maintenance, apologies for the inconvenience!

  2. F1-FAN says:

    James, one offtopic question:
    Do you think that there is a chance for Kimi to sign with Renault? Some rumours are pondering the internet.

    1. Banjo says:

      I remember Kimi saying he’d only be interested in a return to F1 if he could fight for another championship. The way things are with Renault, he could be fighting for podiums, but no championships.

      Also, when asked why Kubica should stay with Renault – I believe they said they’d mold the team around him. If Kimi joined surely this couldn’t happen? But, with little other top flight seats up for grabs Kubica isn’t likely to go else where now.

  3. BMG says:

    So James, do you think Redbull’s results would have changed had they used the soft tyres first?

  4. senna says:

    james, we were at a pub, and had a doubt about how was the decision process on the tyres red bull put during qualy on the canadian grand prix. Do you think was a team decision, was a driver’s decision, and they used the same tyres because they are covering each other. What is your opinion on it.

    1. James Allen says:

      Collective decision in my view

      1. senna says:

        dear james, do you think the row, and trying to be too equal on both drivers compromised their strategy, and made them more vulnerable than mclaren for instance?

  5. PeterF says:

    James I watched that race over and the passes on Alonso by the McLarens were to me, simple straight forward passes. Hamilton simply caught and overtook Alonso, how there can be a claim that any other car on track had an influence on slowing Alonso down I don’t know. And the same for Button, Alonso had completed his pass when Button overtook him, it was a regular, straight forward, on track pass, Button was simply faster in the moment than Alonso.

    1. Spenny says:

      While Button’s car probably was faster than Alonso, the subtlety to that move was possible due to Alonso being slower out of the corner, failing to decisively pass the HRT, allowing himself to be held up.

      Button could see the opportunity and no doubt changed engine settings to ensure he had all the performance needed to hand (did Alonso change his settings to give him extra performance to defend?), but more importantly he planned his exit from the corner so that he was going faster than Alonso even before Alonso made his move around the HRT. Even if the two cars had equal performance, Button might well have been able to overtake as he was going faster than Alonso due to his driving tactics.

      So it was not quite as easy as “simply faster”. Button managed his run out of the corner to try and make sure he was faster, and Alonso failed to manage passing the HRT, either by backing Button up around the corner to make sure he had a run, or slowly passing the HRT to ensure Button could not get a run, or by positioning himself on the track after passing the HRT so that Button could not make use of his extra speed out of the corner.

      People seem to have forgotten that Button was a specialist overtaker at the end of last year, pulling some of the best moves of the season. Hamilton also has a great reputation as an overtaker. Alonso should have had his best defensive hat on to deal with them – and if Alonso was truly competitive, he could have used the backmarkers that they past in the last few laps to retake the position. Why didn’t he? His car wasn’t fast enough to get on the tail of Button, and Button didn’t make mistakes passing the backmarkers. Alonso was compromised by his car performance, but he also made mistakes.

      1. Peter Freeman says:

        Ok so Button got a good run out the corner in preparation to overtake, why did Alonso not do this? Alonso did not see the HTR and think ‘get a good run out the corner and overtake’? Alonso did not think ‘I have Button fast approaching behind me.’ My point is that Button and Hamilton could and did pass Alonso and all the excuses being made for Alonso and by Alonso about it being the fault of ‘traffic’ is just hogwash! Button finished 6.96 seconds ahead of Alonso and Hamilton 9.214, they were faster and more able than Alonso and Ferrari and Alonso came third because that was all he and Ferrari had on the day. It IS that simple!

    2. C says:

      That means you don’t understand racing all that well.

      On Hamilton’s pass, Alonso had slowed down to avoid hitting the backmaker. With Hamilton being further back, he war carrying more speed at the time. Without the backmaker, Alonso’s speed would have been very close to the McLaren’s, making the pass impossible.

      Button’s overtake was very similar: Alonso misjudged the distance to the car in front of him, had to stop accelerating to change direction and make the pass without crashing into the car in front of him, and that gave Button a big speed differential.

      Alonso expected different behavior than he got from the lapped cars, and that cost him. Neither Button nor Hamilton did anything wrong, but there’s no way either of them passes Alonso if he’s not lapping another car: The McLaren just wasn’t fast enough to get past the Ferrari otherwise.

      1. Peter Freeman says:

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uLxl5tzLr3U

        Look at how close Hamilton is to Alonso as they come on the straight and compare that to how close Alonso is to Buemi. Alonso was slowing down on a fast corner when he was no where near about to hit Buemi? Or Alonso misjudged how fast Buemi was going when approaching him to overtake him and was overly cautious not to approach him too fast? after all these years, 3 teams and 2 world championships? Why would Alonso slow down here at all with Hamilton on his tail?

        And Alonso had AGAIN slowed down you say, this time to overtake(!), when Button came past him? That is incredible! This slowing down technique of Alonso’s is indeed beyond my ken! Perhaps you are right and I don’t understand motor racing very well after all :)

  6. Spark says:

    If you look at the last two races, we seems to have more action on track than we have had in de last couple of years in normal dry races. I know Montreal is of course a special track, but also the Turkish Gran Prix had his fair share of on track moments.

    It seems like the drivers are understanding more and more that pitstops won’t get them track position, but fighting on the track does. Just look at the differences between Bahrein, which was really dull and Turkey.

    Probably the next race in Valencia will be a procession as usual, but if we see a lot of on track action (relatively speaking of course), the new regulations deserve a big thumb up.

  7. neil m says:

    Yes, understanding how the track/tyre combo would evolve was key. I find it quite amazing that it is so obvious after the race, yet totally bewildering before the start.

    PeterF, the pass wasn’t that straightforward, Alonso’s momentum was badly affected in the corner by the backmarker, he was then helpless to defend himself against an up-to-speed McLaren.

    Strongest team won, their only weakness at present is the tyre changes, er, and high speed corners.

    1. CH1UNDA says:

      I am thinking it must be harder to overtake two cars at the same time than one – which baffles me that some body would argue Alonso had the more difficult time overtaking a blue-flagged backmarker than the McLarens had on overtaking an Alonso shod Ferrari fighting for a win – how ironic!

  8. Legend2 says:

    I wrote a detailed comment here, but unfortunately it disappeared due to the site maintainence. Oh well. I guess it is everyone’s loss.

  9. Brogan says:

    The new regulations do seem to be working.

    Some overtaking figures for those who are interested.

    The current number of passes is 277 after just 8 races.
    That is more than each of the last 3 seasons.

    There were 65 passes at Canada, the highest ever recorded number of passes for a single race at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.

    Extrapolated, the total number of passes is going to equal the sort of numbers we used to see in the late 80′s, early 90′s.

    More data here:
    http://www.cliptheapex.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=51&t=1482&start=150#p20870

  10. frank says:

    Hi James,

    Actually I think one of the key decisions of the race was the pole position by Hamilton. I do not think any other driver would have gotten away like LH (stopping on the in-lap). So as you wrote “There was some discussions about the legality of this, as in theory he gained an advantage by not carrying the fuel needed for an in lap.
    Rather than delete his fastest time, which would have dropped him to fourth place, he was fined $10,000 by the stewards, one of whom is Emerson Fittipaldi” clearly a McLaren man.
    Charlie Whiting clarified afterwards that this is illegal – but he already did so a few years ago.
    A clever move from McLaren – you should act according to whom the stewards might favour-

    Cheers

    Frank

  11. Chris says:

    James, this not related, but it looks like you’ve got more sponsors that the Sauber Team!!

    1. James Allen says:

      Still no Burger King though..

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