How a race turns on many decisions
Insight
How a race turns on many decisions
Strategy Briefing
Posted By: James Allen  |  03 Sep 2010   |  6:49 pm GMT  |  66 comments

The Belgian Grand Prix was a race where a lot of decisions needed to be taken, many on the hoof, due to the uncertain weather conditions, which had prevailed throughout the weekend.

It is a fascinating case study in how teams and drivers pick their way through a race, based on the evidence of Friday practice, best guesses about what the other teams will do and lots of instinct.

Big decisions on Saturday had a knock-on effect to Sunday. Timing the final qualifying run was everything and Mark Webber and Red Bull got it just right, putting on a new set of soft tyres at the right moment, just before rain fell, to set the pole lap.

Photo: Ferrari


Fernando Alonso wasn’t so lucky, he saved his new set of tyres for later in the session and rainfall prevented him from improving. This was bad luck. But Alonso was in the position of only having one set to decide when to use, because he had used a set of new tyres earlier in Q2, which he would not normally do, but had been concerned about making the cut.

So the result was that the car which had set the fastest times on Friday and looked a contender for victory, started the race tenth on the grid as a result of a series of decisions.

The following day, during the race, he and the team were forced into a quick decision after he was hit by Rubens Barrichello at the end of the opening lap.

Going into the weekend, Alonso had said that the driver who gambles would win, but he was forced into a gamble by this early stop. It had started raining and they gambled that the rain would fall for a long time, so fitted a set of intermediate tyres. It didn’t rain any more and he was back in for slick tyres three laps later. This dropped him to 20th place, another opportunity to win a race or at least get a podium, gone. Although luck played a part here, Alonso would be the first to admit that some of the decision making this year has cost him.

Photo: Getty/Red Bull


Once the race settled into a rhythm, the key decision for front runners was when to make the first stop. They wanted to delay it as long as possible, because they were getting diminishing performance from the tyres, but they wanted to hold out as long as possible in case more rain fell so they could go straight onto the wet or intermediate tyre.

Adrian Sutil and Force India were again very competitive at Spa.

Sutil had qualified 8th, especially as he had been in the same boat on new tyres as Alonso. Force India are at the level of competitiveness where Q3 and the top ten are the target and any places they make up after that after that are a bonus. So he did well to qualify ahead of Alonso in the circumstances.

Sutil was running fifth as the teams started to think about making that first pit stop. He had started on the soft tyres he had qualified on, knowing that some cars around him were on hards, which might have turned out to be tactically superior.

The hard tyre was not as easy to warm up and not all the drivers could get the speed out of them.

The decision the teams make is based on constant monitoring of their own cars and the opposition using the timing loops every 100 metres around the circuit. Rather than rely on information at the end of each of the three sectors, the strategists are assessing the situation every few seconds. If they see the tyres on their car starting to go off they know it’s time to pit and by following the progress of other cars they can decide what is the best tyre to go on to.

Mercedes had started the race on the hard tyre, hoping it would last long enough to see them to when the rain came. They were behind Sutil on the road at the time he stopped.

They had suffered a lot of degradation and so when Sutil stopped on lap 21 he lost the place to the Mercedes, but was two seconds a lap faster and able to pass them easily. They finished behind him in 6th and 7th places.

Sutil’s pit stop started the trend for the other front runners, who pitted soon after.

With this in mind, it would have been very interesting to see what Rubens Barrichello might have achieved on his 300th Grand Prix start as he too started on hard tyres from 7th place on the grid. He would likely have finished ahead of Sutil and may even have challenged Massa for fourth.

The final decisive moment was near the end when the rain started to fall and yet the teams wanted the drivers to stay out on slick tyres as long as possible. This tactic almost spelled disaster for Lewis Hamilton, who went off the road, but was able to keep going.

There were several reasons why the teams were so reluctant to bring the cars in; we had seen on Friday that the intermediate tyres were too soft for Spa and were going off after two laps. The rain started falling 12 laps from the end and that would have been much too long for those tyres. So the decision to pit was based on a risk assessment; which was more risky, leaving the drivers out on a wet track on slick tyres or bringing them in with the risk that it doesn’t rain hard enough, and/or the intermediates go off rapidly and you then face an uncertain few laps, maybe another stop, which could cost you your result?

Amazingly, they concluded that it was safer to stay out on slicks.

However, calm, rational risk assessment is one thing, human emotion is another. When Hamilton went off, all the strategists got cold feet and decided to abandon their plan and bring their drivers in !

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66 Comments
  1. sean cleary says:

    Lewis’s off road incident was tense!

    1. CH1UNDA says:

      “After Jenson’s unfortunate failure to finish in Belgium, we are determined to reignite his championship push next weekend to get him back into the hunt for the drivers’ title.” That is Mr Whitmarsh being quoted on Autosport.

      I hope there is a complete version of these quotes where the McLaren Team Principal indicates that the team would also be focusing on extenting the gap of their Championship leading driver who is only three points ahead of Webber rather than making it look like this is second to reigniting Button’s champrionship push from 35 points adrift as would appear from Autosport’s quote.

      As you indicate in the title of your post, many decisions determine how a race turns out. Hope McLaren make the best decisions in Monza!

  2. Banjo says:

    ” challenged Massa for fifth.”- Massa finished forth.

    Great article, very thought provoking. I have never fancied being the man who’s job it is deciding when to tell Hamilton to pit. So much pressure on them to get the call right. One lap to late – if he had got stuck in the gravel trap you’d have been in for it! It’s basically who can play chicken with the elements for as long as possible. Very stressful, at the end of the day you’ll either be hero or zero!

    1. Andy W says:

      I dunno, I would far rather be the person who made a wrong call for Hamilton than the person who made the wrong call for Fernando… I have a feeling that Lewis might be a lot more forgiving.

      1. Nesto says:

        Actually, Fernando complains about other drivers breaking rules and getting away with it or his teammate slowing him down. If his team screws him, he simply says “No more radio…”

        Hamilton, on the other hand, berates his team over the air.

      2. Sebastiaan Hekman says:

        I think you are right Andy, but I would say that Hamilton is more a team player than Fernando. He, Alonso, blamed Ferrari for a bad tyre strategy. Huh? And you Alonso, are you not part of the decision making process? Where is the self criticism? That is what I like of Hamilton, and Schumacher too, they don’t put the blame outside themselves, they are part of it. Mike Lawrence on pitpass.com had a nice term for Alonso, fit’s him quite well.

      3. Galapago555 says:

        When and where did Fernando blame Ferrari for a bad tyre strategy? Maybe you are making an unfair accusation… I have not heard Fernando blaming nobody for the strategy.

      4. Sebastiaan Hekman says:

        @ Galapago555
        This wrote Sarah Holt on the BBC F1 site: “Fernando Alonso blamed Ferrari’s failure to maximise the potential of their car during Belgian Grand Prix qualifying on the wrong tyre strategy.” In that article no sign of Alonso taking a shared responsibility for that strategy.

      5. Galapago555 says:

        @Sebastiaan Hekman
        Sorry, still no clue of actual Fernando’s words. Probably that is the opinion of Ms Holt. I do insist that I have not read that kind of words said by Fernando after Belgian GP, either after Q3 nor after the race itself. And I have read mos of Spanish media, watch TV coverage, and read many info from web sites. All I read are things like “we can not be happy with the result of Q3″, “I refuse to be pesimistic about tomorrow’s race”, and things like that. Absolutely no sign of any complain about the Team. But it is easy to say “Fernando Alonso blamed Ferrari”, having no evidence of that.

      6. Thalasa says:

        I have to disagree. At least in public, Alonso has always been tough with the CEOs and the managers, never with mechanics or ingeneers. Whenever they made a mistake he has said that they all do mistakes icluding himself. Most of his verbal attacks when in Renault were aiming the bosses in France for not providing with the means to develop. You might correct me if I’m wrong.

        Hamilton, on the other hand, is someone who is able to not get along with his own father. This is somenthing almost unthinkable for the average Spaniard.

  3. PaulL says:

    The problem is, without rain and safety cars, there doesn’t appear to be any decisions to made.

    I have grown disillusioned and angry with Formula 1 this year and although this may digress partly from the topic I want to bring up a couple of things from a long-time followers point of view.

    As more than a casual viewer and who keeps more than just an eye on the screen when F1 is being televised on a social occasion at someone’s house, I (having thought about this) liked the following as the top 2 points of interest, the non-negotiable of an F1 race:
    1. Monitoring, with close interest, the gaps between the top 4 or 5 drivers and seeing how the relative pace of drivers in each fuel window (the ‘driving time’ before the fuel stops) corresponded to how fuel strategy played out. In this regard something is happening when nothing is happening to the average viewer.
    2. The aesthetic appeal and the development of the aesthetic appeal (cars having new aero bits or bodywork changes at each race – the front wing hoop, the shark fin, bodywork detail)
     
    In the last 2 years, I have found #1 and #2 have been all but obliterated. The gaps and fuel window pace now mean nothing because there is one stop for tyres which occurs on roughly the same lap for everyone.
    And of course the cars have been simplified and manifestly uglified with the chassis being purged of much of their aero-dynamic detail and having added a horrendous egregious ‘nose-job’ and an artificially implicated ludicrous rear wing. Get out of town!

    It seems F1 and it’s more casual market are content with the following – what I strongly call peripherals:
    - The odd rain shower.
    - An accident here and there with the odd safety car.
    - The same amount of overtakes (roughly) as in what I would call the ‘racing days’ of pre-2009.

    Taken with the fact that we have a new team fighting at the front (Red Bull in 09-10, Brawn 09) as well as a overdone points system (10 points for a win should be mandatory!) and we have a legion of satisfied fans who, in my view, negligently ignore what makes racing in a race!

    Honestly, these safety cars and weather interventions are PERIPHERALS not racing! Not as I see it.

    I want to see a race within a race NOT one tyre stop and follow the leader.

    I don’t mean this as a political stand, just as a disillusioned and long enduring frustrated ardent follower of the sport who had enjoyed thoroughly the 15 years prior to the divesting of F1 in 2009. In fact I decided this week that as soon as this year’s championship is settled, I am not anymore watching F1 until #1 is reinstated and #2 is acceptable.

    1. James Allen says:

      Thanks for your comment, very interesting

      1. Stuart Temple says:

        I understands paull viewpoint however raise a contrary opinion to his points.

        1. It was only occasionally that those quick laps before stops really made a difference. The fastest car and driver made the move. For better or worse Fuel stops are no more and we have seen some great races this year with cars starting on full tanks

        2. Certain cars this year and last look great. When we first saw the brawn last year I thought what a stunning car sleek simple and above all looked quick. The red bull this year and last are both beautiful cars. None of the ugly add ons of previous years. Remember the bunny ears of the Honda?!?!

        I don’t think too much sleep should be lost on the points system. This years system is certainly better than the 10 – 8 etc we have had most of the noughties

    2. Tom (London) says:

      I agree with you about the aero, these days the rules mean that every car looks practically the same. I love the cars from the 70′s and 80′s where every team came up with different solutions to the problems. Fan cars, six wheelers, skirts etc. It is difficult to get excited by a extra bit of carbon fibre on the front wing.

      But I would never want to see refuelling again, watching Lewis and Alonso fight back to the front by over taking people was a pleasure. I don’t want to see what some people call strategy because I just see it as over taking in the pits.

      1. PaulL says:

        I think the drivers find a way to utilize their pace via the fuel stops though so it’s not just team strategy. A good example might be Alonso at Fuji in 2008. He/Renault were faster than Kubica and utilized the pace via adopting a disadvantaged fuel strategy.

        The in and outlap was a great skill that has been lost.

        I see what you say in that today’s rules demand passing on the track, but I think under fuel stops there’s no reason guys like Lewis wouldn’t come through the field via passes in the same way – think Monza 08 for example.

      2. Grabyrdy says:

        You say “under refuelling, the drivers didn’t have to look after their tyres over a whole race. It seemed as if they were able to push to the limits of themself and the car more often.”

        But surely pushing to the limits, given outside factors, like tyres going off, heavy fuel, and even damp tracks, is just as exciting as storming around on qualy laps all afternoon ? Your original post seemed to suggest that you were frustrated not having all the info to hand to follow the race tactically, which seems to suggest that the racecraft and tactics is what gets you going. As it does me. So I don’t really follow your argument against no refuelling, or why you call weather changes peripheral. The drivers are going to the limits of their cars all the time, but it’s always in the context of prevailing conditions and constraints. If we had your system, we might finish with Junior as champion at the end of the year, despite the fact that he doesn’t seem able to manoeuvre around a caddy in a supermarket (caddies don’t have movable front wings of course).

      3. PaulL says:

        Grabyrdy – Thanks for your comments.

        “But surely pushing to the limits, given outside factors … is just as exciting as storming around on qualy laps all afternoon”
        They may be pushing to the limits given the constraint of the outside factors but they seems to be within the limits of themselves (how much speed can you find through commitment, precision, bravery, self-belief?) and the ultimate handling capability of the car.
        I agree with Martin Brundle who, when talking about the prospective removing of fuel strategy and rewarding the drivers who have a penchant for nursing their tyres during the 2009 German GP broadcast, said those drivers should “go race somewhere else, F1 is about attacking”.

        “racecraft and tactics is what gets you going”
        What gets me going is the progressive revelation of driver/car performance throughout a race. And in addition, the manipulation of tactics (like fuel strategy) to be able to best use that performance. It’s not tactics so much themselves that are interesting, just how a good driver can find a way to win through strategy. Think of Schumacher/Brawn at Hungary 1998 or as I mentioned Alonso and Renault at Fuji 2008.

        “So I don’t really follow your argument against no refuelling, or why you call weather changes peripheral”
        .. peripheral because any given F1 race (and an F1 season) shouldn’t need random factors like weather, safety cars, accidents, tyres going off sharply (ie Canada) TO BE INTERESTING. Bahrain 2006 is a perfect example. It was interesting and engaging completely apart from any peripherals. Mind you, when peripherals occur (eg Nurburgring 2007) they make it interesting but it’s precisely because they are unnecessary that make them fully appreciable, because you can hope for a race outside them. Sometimes you’ll get a boring race anyway for a variety of reason, but for me one fuel stop then follow the leader (eg Bahrain 2010) is an enduring format that has played out throughout the season and it’s only been the peripherals that have kept F1 2010 from being Bahrain and Spain every race.

      4. Grabyrdy says:

        I don’t miss refuelling either. Given the choice between driving for the finish, with all the strategy that entails, and 2/3 series of banzai laps between stops, there’s no contest.

        But I do think the technical rules are too tight, and don’t allow designers enough room to think outside the box. All right, we’ve had the double diffuser and the speed flap, but they’re not very visible are they ?

      5. Paul L says:

        Sorry I missed your first point?

        I would add that under refuelling, the drivers didn’t have to look after their tyres over a whole race. It seemed as if they were able to push to the limits of themself and the car more often. A great example for me was Hungary 2008.

      6. Steven says:

        I dont think that all the cars look the same at all, similar but not the same. The RBRs dont look anything like McLarens, and the Mercedez airbox doesnt look like any other car. The main difference I see in the cars is the nose.

    3. John Pinx says:

      I agree – but I am more addicted so I won’t stop following it – though actually watching it live is not an option because Bernie charges too much for most national broadcasters (I am in Thailand at the moment). So much for his desire to make the sport reach more people…

      On another related topic –

      I thought Pirelli were going to go for low-profiles tyres – they being more relevant to the motoring world than running around on ballooned doughnuts. So imagine my further disappointment when I saw the photos of their testing day.

      Keep the good work going James! I check JAonF1 everyday for news!

      1. Steven says:

        Pirelli agreed with FOTA that this year the tires would remain the same size as the Bridgestones because the desicion on the manufacturer was made too late, the teams had already started on the design of the 2011 car and they would have to change it substancially. In 2012 they will go to a low-pro tire.

      2. John Pinx says:

        Good good – thanks for the update :)

    4. Frankie says:

      Very good post. This season has been very exciting, but without the conditions or errors to create such excitement we could well be littered with a succession of Bahrains by now. We have been very, very lucky this season, with the FIA’s best efforts to improve the sport, nearly putting it into a long term coma.

    5. theRoswellite says:

      It is difficult at times not to become a bit put off by changing fashion in today’s F1….but hang in there, things should improve….really!

      As a fan of 51 years, there are things to miss in the past history of GP, but also characteristics of former years that are just as well left in the past.

      We had cars of more varying style and performances, which was good; but they also had performance that was less well matched to the leading car. The result being races in which the gaps between the cars was greater…often the leading car ran off to a 15 to 30 second lead, which very seldom happens now.

      We also had years in which a leading car simply walked away with the season much as Brawn started to do last year (check out 1961, and some of McLaren’s years with Senna and Prost). The general level of competition is much tighter in today’s high level of technical development.

      And, unlike the “early” years, we don’t see drivers being killed on a regular basis. That’s good!

      Perhaps with the coming changes we can enhance passing by somehow limiting the inability of cars to run at maximum cornering performance in disrupted air.

      And…what’s a realistic alternative to F1?

    6. Nesto says:

      I’d like to see radio banned as I believe it becomes more of a race between the strategists than the drivers. All those guys, staring at computers analyzing data… sorry blokes, but I don’t want you around. It would make racing immensely more satisfying, unpredictable, raw and pure (and its not an artificial solution !!). It would be an addition through subtraction. The only communication they would have is the pitboards or when in the pits. All the teams more or less run the same strategies anyway. No more informing drivers constantly of gaps, what other drivers are doing, the weather forecast, when to push, when to ease off, to hold station, etc. etc. Theres a problem with the car ? Well, handle it your best and drive it til the wheels fall off !! They would just have to drive their heart out. Tell me that wouldn’t be exciting ??

      Last I checked the drivers are very safe in their cockpits and are quick enough to avoid eachother if someone binned it and was in a “dangerous” position on-track so you wouldn’t even need the radio for safety concerns. Thats what marshals and yellow flags are for right ?

      I guess we’re stuck on being reliant on weather, accidents, the lottery that is the safety car and constantly changing regs for excitement (and the abrasive surface in Canada). I, myself, don’t find the races boring but my main beef(s) is the late braking zones, dependance on aero/clean air which dramatically slows the car behind and both these things is what hampers overtaking. And again, the strategists, just please do away with them. Let the driver manage the race by himself I say, earn his keep. I know F1 is all about the details and micro-managing but come raceday, I just don’t want to see that room full of computers. The team and engineers build the car, set it up for the weekend, discuss strategies pre-race but once the lights go out, its in the hands of the driver (and his pit crew).

    7. Trent says:

      I guess this comment shows that different things appeal to different people.

      I consider myself far more than a ‘casual’ F1 fan; I’ve been watching since ’86 and have spent countless hours reading, re-watching and thinking F1.

      I’m really enjoying 2010, and I for one am thoroughly pleased that the disruptive, overtake-killing phenomena of refuelling is behind us.

      I do enjoy seeing the aero developments on the cars, but we are still seeing this to some extent. Further I think that items like wheel covers, shark fins and f-ducts do not make for an attractive car.

      Just another opinion from another fan. But come on, admit, you’ll watch regardless of when the championship is decided!

  4. Shane says:

    Another great article! I was so hopeful for Alonso when he had switched to intermediates. As soon as he came out, the rain started to fall and I found myself exclaiming “He will be P1!”, but then the whole field just drove on past the pits opting to stay out. I was taken from elation to depression in just a few seconds.

    I have been thinking all season that Ferrari are trying too hard. They are trying to be too clever. I think (not that what I think matters in the least) that they would have been better served this season with aiming for 4th or 5th in most races. This would have allowed them to be more responsive to conditions instead of trying to be proactive. Their car has been the 3rd fastest for most of the season, but they have Alonso and Massa who are both capable of extracting more from a car than it should be able to provide, at the risk of running too closely to the edge of course.

    That being said, I have been fascinated to see how perhaps the cooler heads at McLaren have been able to run the races at their pace and accumulate the points they have. Sometimes they finish behind the Bulls and Ferrari, sometimes in front. Barring the expected failures of both driver and machine they have come out on top thus far and look to be true title contenders. I find myself wondering how much of this is due to the influence of Jensen Button on the team? Hamilton has always been brilliantly quick, but he seems to have borrowed a page from Button’s book.

    1. Santiago says:

      Totally agree with you, they have tried very hard to win races when the car was not the dominant one and this has turned to be sometimes a source for problems and they lost important points. I have to say that there has been important influence by race director and stewards as well, but this is not the moment nor the place to go on detail

  5. Nando says:

    Alonso underperformed in quali regardless of his tyre situation, ultimately that cost him as he got caught up in the midfield carnage. His full-wet set-up seemed foolhardy as well. ‘You make your own luck’ seems to apply to Alonso in this race.

    1. Santiago says:

      Thursday and Friday the car had significant improvements that couldn’t be used on Saturday, so they had to add wing to the car to improve handling because otherwise the car was almost impossible to keep on the track, I’ve heard a lot about it and the setting was not full wet. The only failure of Ferrari was to keep the soft tyre for a last try, in such a desperate situation I think it was better to get a good time at least. These decisions are much easier when your car is fast, then everything seems much easier. When it is not you have to take risks. He made an awesome race even when the car was damaged by Barrichello

  6. Kent Paul says:

    However, calm, rational risk assessment is one thing, human emotion is another. When Hamilton went off, all the strategists got cold feet and decided to abandon their plan and bring their drivers in !

    LOL, I can tell you!

    1. Damian Johnson says:

      There is some logic with the reaction from all th teams to switch tyres as soon as Hamilton went of the track. The McLaren at Spa turned out to the best car for driving in damp conditions as his qualy indicated.

      1. Grabyrdy says:

        I was staggered no team in the top four came in a lap earlier. Obviously the teams know more than me in front of the telly, but it seemed to be raining quite heavily, and getting worse. Kubica, for example, could have won. The mind-set seems so defensive these days. And by being too clever by half, McL almost dragged defeat from the jaws of victory.

      2. Damian Johnson says:

        I think it’s always more difficult for the leading driver to take the brave decision by going first to change tyres unless there is a heavy downpour making the decision obvious which is not always the case.

      3. Patrickl says:

        If you change too early and the track is too dry, you destroy the tyres.

      4. Phil Curry says:

        I think also the length of the Spa circut may have played a part. When the drivers went by the pits, the teams probably thought they had more time. But further around the track it was raining much heavier, and by the time they got there, the rain was covering most of the circuit.

        Spa is interesting because it extends out quite a way, whereas other circuits often contain themselves.

        Teams may have thought they had a lap, which at many racetracks may well be true, but at Spa, that equates to half a lap – as Lewis found out!

  7. JR says:

    Sure, Hamilton went off but it is interesting to note that he stopped short of hitting the tyre wall and was able to carry on without losing his lead. I’m sure some will argue he was just lucky; whereas I suspect HAM knew just how far he could push the car without risking damaging it.

    If the barrier had been closer to the track I think instinctively he would have backed off more — whereas if the run-off area had been tarmac he would have taken the corner at a higher speed. For a driver of Hamilton’s calibre the track is a lot more than the area between the white lines.

    1. Grabyrdy says:

      I don’t agree at all. You’re saying that Lewis calculated that he could go off to within 2 cm of the wall without hitting it, and set his speed with that criterion. Come on, that’s ludicrous !

      1. Phil says:

        I agree with you on that.

        What I was impressed with though, was Lewis’s almost instantaneous reactions when it started going wrong.

        Check out the formula 1 race edit for Belgium:
        http://www.formula1.com/video/race_edits.html

        Watch how, the moment the car moves off the tarmac Lewis changes his turning angle. Very impressive.

        If he had not reacted so quickly and changed his turn in angle, he would have spun off. In addition he then carefully avoided accelerating which would have bedded the car into the gravel.

        He’s got a very smart head on his shoulders.

      2. JR says:

        I’m not saying that.

        What I am saying is that when things are slippery Hamilton is just able to push his car further than anyone else out there at the moment (I think both Senna and a younger MSC were able to do this too). How do we know?

        In second qualifying at Spa — on a damp track and on slicks — Hamilton went out with everyone else as soon as the session began. As the commentator said (I forget which one),it was like the first lap of a race. And on that first timed lap while everyone was trying to get a feel for grip, Hamilton was 2 seconds faster than anyone else. This proves that, however he does it, his car control and/or his instincts are just that much more developed than anyone else.

    2. Steven says:

      I think he was toatlly caught out by the lack of traction, the car just went straight at the corner, you can see the wheels turning but the car going straight. Why would he risk the whole season?

  8. Irish con says:

    I agree that the cars this year look terrible and it is mostly to do with the f duct engine cover joining the rear wing. When this years mclaren was introduced i thought it challenged last years Renault as the ugliest car of the last ten years. I have a picture in autosport of a 2008 ferrari in very low downforce trim and slick tyres and mclaren also and they looked so brilliant I hope f1 goes back to the smaller front wings and wider rear wings again. Monza levels of downforce in 08 should be the limit of downforce allowed

    1. Aderac says:

      I think it more to do with the horrendously large front wing combined with the stupidly narrow rear wing, makes them look like snow ploughs!

  9. robefc says:

    James – You mention alonso’s bad luck in qualifying but weren’t Button and Hamilton and possibly others in the same position?

    Except button and hamilton managed to improve their times not to mention set better times on their first laps anyway…

  10. CanadaGP says:

    James, what is Alonso’s engine situation? I have a feeling that Ferrari took more risks than usual in Belgium due to two factors (1) they are behind the RBs and the last 5 tracks will favour RB, and (2) Alonso’s engine allotment situation. Doesn’t he have only one new engine left for the last 6 races while the other contenders have 2 or 3?
    I don’t feel FA underperformed in Spa. Ferrari took huge gambles with their tyre strategies and it backfired on them (Rubinho was not helpful either!)

    1. James Allen says:

      Yes he’s one engine ahead of them

      1. rolo.cz says:

        Mr James,

        Could it be possible that you can add a box or something near the the standings data where the current engine count, gearbox count, next race penalties and other information like that that is updated after each race?

        I used to wonder what the engine count are for each of the drivers, but and there doesn’t seem to exist a site where I can see that information. Lately I forgot that they have limited engines.

        I wonder, what other stuff am I missing?

        Regards

  11. Joel says:

    What’s more disappointing from Alonso was that – his car was setup for wet weather, still he managed to trash it when it rained.

  12. strangely says:

    thanks for a great article as always.

    may i just ask a question to you off-topic though please? i was wondering whether you were intending to run an article on the association being set up by sponsors within F1 in order for them to try to gain more influence. this body as a major supplier of income has the very real potential to become a major force in the politics of the sport over the next few years if they play it correctly, both for the good and the bad of the sport as a whole, so i would be interested in the views of someone who is on the inside within the sport as to what exactly this means.

    but yes, good article too…

  13. Harvey Yates says:

    I still have some difficulty understanding why Alonso went for a high downforce/wet weather set up. It seems to me to be such a risk. You could, perhaps, understand it from a mid-fielder point of view where they could hope to make up places over faster cars in the event of rain.

    But why for a front runner?

    Fair enough, the circuit was rumoured to favour McLaren but even so they were also racing RBR, and maybe more so.

    On top of that Massa qualified well ahead of Alonso less than two weeks before the WMSC hearing.

    It smacks of desperation. Have they been told that a points deduction is the most likely punishment?

    There are many circutis where a wet set up wouldn’t be much of a problem. In fact it would be a distinct advantage in the changeable conditions that occurred on race day. But Spa’s straights surely negate that.

    Alonso, or any driver come to that, who reckons gambling wins is talking rubbish. It is informed decisions that win races. It is not about making risky tactical decisions.

    Alonso had to waste a set of tyres in Q2 because of his tactics. That was part of the risk and it didn’t pay off.

    This reminds me of the Ferrari of old, grabbing defeat from the jaws of victory.

    I know hindsight is 20:20 but he missed a golden opportunity at Spa to establish himself as the main contender.

    As I said, the decision confounds me.

    He must have a really special day at Monza, and he must have an even better day on the Wednesday beforehand, or else it could be a three-horse race for the run-in to the title.

  14. Grabyrdy says:

    Fascinating stuff James – the sort of analysis that we read your blog for.

    One thing, I don’t think Alonso said, or meant, that he who gambled would win. If you gamble you take a chance, so there’s no guarantees. What he must have meant was that it might be necessary to gamble, and he who dared, MIGHT steal a win.

    Do you think though that with this mindset, he gambled too hard too early instead of letting the race come to him ?

  15. Frankie says:

    “Going into the weekend, Alonso had said that the driver who gambles would win”

    I am really struggling where Alonso finds this logic, because there has been one continual theme all of this year, don’t per-empt tyre choices until the track actually dictates that is so.

    The only non gamble, gamble you can point at this season is Button in Australia. Where the car was performing so badly and Button going backwards, it was just desperation rather than a gamble. Even then you cannot argue the track dictated a tyre choice.

    When you look at all the problems with race and qualifying this season, if you just went with the track conditions existing at the time, you are so far better off than the field.

  16. Fausto Cunha says:

    A decisive moment would have been Renault with nothing to lose taking a gamble and stoping a lap earlier than Mclaren.
    Renault and Kubica when they realized that Lewis stayed out when the track was cleary getting wetter maybe they should have taken a gamble and trying something diferent, they are not in the title race so maybe it worth the try.

    1. Tom (London) says:

      Totally agree, I think it would have easily been a winning move. I knew Hamilton had won when the top three followed him around for another lap.

  17. Damian Johnson says:

    James,

    I struggle to see why you describe Alonso being unlucky at Spa. That is being very generous. To a large extent you make your luck. Perhaps it was some bad strategy calls by his team that resulted in his grid placing and the inevitable risks of collisions with mid field racing. If anything, Alonso was lucky because his F10 just seemed to bounce off the Williams and continue racing. Alonso’s spin off was his own mis doing (unless there was a breakage).

    1. James Allen says:

      Read it again, I say there was an element of luck (rain) but the whole point of the piece is about decision making and I’m saying they made wrong decisions

  18. Serrated Edge says:

    I think Button would have won the race in difficult conditions and smart choices on the tyre need to be made in a instant, pity the chance of a win was taken away from Jenson by some loony driving by Vettal.

  19. Robert says:

    James, thanks again for another insightful article. I have an off topic question; A couple of months ago you mentioned Red Bull are able to maintain exhaust gas pressure when the driver lifts off the throttle to feed the blown diffuser in slower corners. But that they can only do this rarely in qualifying.

    Do you have any further information as to how or even if Mclaren are able to do something similar throughout a whole race without damaging the engine. I am only guessing that Mclaren are doing this from the strange noises in slower corners at Spa. Thanks

  20. BMG says:

    To me it was a race of chance and luck.Webbers pole was both chance and luck. Hamiltons off road excursion without colliding with the wall on slicks was luck and Webbers 2nd place was a case of chance and luck.
    The thing about this race was, “don’t do anything to risky”,be there to pick up the scrapes when others are making mistakes. This is what Hamilton did at the start with Webber blow the start and both Webber and Kubica did when Vettel forgot he was on a wet and slippery track.

    It was interesting looking at how Kubica would even move over to let both Butten and Vettel pass, he just wantyed to finish the race.

  21. Mick says:

    James, completely off-topic question regarding the Monza banner: it appears that on a flag there are “swimmers” above what seems like Alonso’s first name. Clearly I don’t have the full picture; any idea what it is?

  22. Santiago says:

    Hi James, not totally agreeing with this post. There are some points where people are getting quite confused and annoyed with Ferrari and Alonso. Truth being put aside is something that I feel very uncomfortable with. There are important things to notice, please correct me if you find these facts are not correct:

    1. The car that Fernando used on Saturday hadn’t the improvements tested during Thursday and Friday.

    2. During practise on Saturday, car was not able to keep the pace of frontrunners. You can compare the times from Massa and Alonso to check it out

    3. The car was very difficult to keep on the track. Given that rain was expected, it was suicide to go just for a time and going out of the track during the race in the first wet corner. That’s the point where “rain set up” comes: add wing to make the car more drivable, even when it would cost time in Q3. They were not betting for a full wet race, but trying to finish the race instead. Too much has been said, with few facts behind.

    4. The mistake, accepted by Ferrari and Alonso, was to reserve one set of tyres in Q3. This is again an arguable mistake, as two sets were needed for Q2 and also, seeing that Hamilton was able to improve his time at the end of the session with rain and Fernando not. It is easier to make right decisions when your car is fast enough even with rain (hats off to Lewis, he did very well)

    5. During race, Fernando’s car was hit by Barrichello. Was it his failure? Was Button’s failure to stay in front of Vettel? This is called luck

    6. After the hit, he had to go to boxes and check the car, loosing time. Again with the change of tyres, losing time. There was nothing to do

    7. The car was able to go on, but it was damaged. Steering was not ok. Even in that condition he was able to overtake lots of cars, even Force India which was really fast in Spa

    8. When Alonso finally crashes, we was trying to catch some places desperately. He crashed and lost two points. We will see in Monza if it was worthy to take this risk

    8. Alonso didn’t talk about betting is the way to win the race. Alonso said (I’m a Spaniard and I can tell you translations from what Fernando says to English are sometimes really unfair and biased) almost the same you say here: this was going to be a race of decisions, if you go wrong in the wrong moment you can finish last or crash, if you are right you can get a lot of points. He was right, but couldn’t get a better chance with a slow and nervous car. It is that easy, they were not betting, just trying to make a correct race

  23. peter says:

    On this topic there are 56 comments showing, but I can only access 19. Day after day, the same 19 comments, without any updates showing. Is this my particular problem, or is there something technical I can do to improve the situation?
    Thanks for any advice.

    1. James Allen says:

      Not seeing that. Try a different browser

  24. George says:

    Not sure if anyone will ever read this, but…
    I was struck by Buttons particular point of virtually going back on himself so as to not cut the Bus Stop chicane (and thus gain an advantage) after the lap 1 event; did anyone els notice this? It was striking to see the advantage made by others around him, and his ability to then make those places back at the hairpin.
    Generally good bloke…

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