A deep dive into strategies from the Spanish Grand Prix
Insight
A deep dive into strategies from the Spanish Grand Prix
Strategy Report
Posted By: James Allen  |  24 May 2011   |  12:34 pm GMT  |  124 comments

This year’s Spanish Grand Prix at Barcelona was widely heralded as one of the most exciting largely due to the way strategies played out, meaning that an intense battle for the lead developed in the final third of the race.

Also we saw the pole sitter Mark Webber dropping to fourth place, Fernando Alonso, the leader on lap one, finishing in fifth place a lap down on the winner and the recovery of Jenson Button, from tenth place on lap one to finish on the podium thanks to a bold strategy variation.

Tyre engineers plot data (Red Bull)


Pre race Strategies
On paper going into the race if a driver had new tyres to use, a three-stop strategy was four seconds quicker than a four-stop.

But few drivers had the luxury of new tyres, most had one new set of softs at best. On old rubber, a four-stop was showing to most strategists as being 10 seconds quicker. So there wasn’t much in it, which is why you saw drivers doing different things and ending up in pretty much the same place, with the exception of Button.

The overriding consideration for engineers and drivers was that the new hard tyre was a lot slower than the soft. The gap between compounds was around two seconds per lap in practice and that came down to just over a second as the track rubbered in. So the stints on hard tyres were quite compromised. Drivers wanted to spend as much time on soft as possible.

But the degradation was such that by half distance some cars, like Webber and Alonso had already made three stops and so were destined to spend the second half of the race on the hard tyre.

Photo: Darren Heath

The importance of new tyres
Once again we had several graphic illustrations of how new tyres make a massive difference. We saw some key positions change due to the ‘undercut’, where a following driver pits a lap before the car in front and gets ahead of him.

Sebastian Vettel used the undercut to pass Fernando Alonso for the lead. Vettel pitted early, on lap 18 and his out lap on new tyres was so much faster that when Alonso pitted a lap later, Vettel was through to lead the race. It was crucial for Vettel to get past Alonso in this way as Lewis Hamilton was running longer stints and was looming as a challenger for the win as he was on tyres which were four laps younger than Vettel’s.

By pitting early on lap 18 and getting clear of Alonso, Vettel was able to stay ahead of Hamilton at the third pit stops on lap 34/35, when the drivers switched to hard tyres. We have observed Red Bull always tend to pit on the early side, before the tyres start to really lose performance, it is built into their tactical thinking. McLaren in contrast, are willing to run a little longer on the tyres and it brings them very close to Red Bull. In Spain by running a few extra laps they managed to keep their drivers in clear air, where in contrast Red Bull compromised Webber’s race early on by bringing him out in traffic after his first stop on lap 10 (see below)

Another clear illustration of how much new tyres count was Nick Heidfeld who started at the back of the grid after a problem in qualifying and managed to use new tyres all race and almost passed the Mercedes in 6th and 7th places at the end. This is what Mark Webber did in China and Kamui Kobayashi did in Turkey. It won’t work so well in Monaco where traffic will slow down such progress.

Hamilton shadows Vettel (Red Bull)

Could Hamilton have used strategy to beat Vettel?
Some people have questioned whether Hamilton might have passed Vettel at the third stop had he stayed out on soft tyres a lap or two longer when Vettel switched to hards.

The analysis shows that in the laps from 34 to 36 Vettel’s in laps to the pits and out laps were two seconds faster than Hamilton’s. Their pit stop times were almost identical, but Vettel’s first flying lap on new hard tyres was fast enough to make the difference at 1m 28.563. Hamilton had been doing 1m 30.0s on his worn softs, so he would not have passed Vettel by staying out at that pace.

However in a comparison of McLaren and Ferrari, McLaren knew that Hamilton’s pace was better than Alonso’s even on worn tyre so they nursed tyres and literally shifted everything toward the end of 2nd stint.

The worn soft tyre on Hamilton’s car was faster than the fresh soft tyre on Alonso’s car between laps 19 and 21.

Hamilton’s soft tyre showed a degradation rate of 0.1625sec/lap in the first stint. But McLaren were 0.5sec quicker than Ferrari on soft tyres in the race trim so going longer than Alonso was marginal, but worked for him.

How Webber’s strategy was compromised early on
Mark Webber started from pole position, looking for the win which would kickstart his season. But he ended the race in fourth place. How did that happen?

Webber’s strategy was compromised at the start when he was passed by both Alonso and Vettel into Turn 1. Webber’s starts this year have been a problem; in five Grands Prix he has dropped a total of 10 places, so an average of two per race.

To compound the problem by losing position to Vettel, it meant that Vettel had first call on pit strategy so he came in first on lap 9, with Webber forced to wait until lap 10. When he rejoined he was in traffic behind Petrov and Button and this allowed Hamilton who pitted on lap 11 to undercut him, dropping him to fourth.

After that his problem was being unable to pass Alonso who stayed in front of him after the second stops on lap 19. From being four seconds behind Vettel at that point he went to 11 seconds behind in 10 laps.

He was pitted very early next time around – on lap 29 – and had the tactical advantage of being behind Alonso, so he could surprise him by diving for the pits when it was too late for Ferrari to react.

But the element of surprise was lost; Ferrari read it and pitted Alonso at the same time. Red Bull’s Dr Helmut Marko has since claimed that Ferrari were listening to Red Bull’s radio which he claims is the only way they could have known the plan, but this has not been confirmed.

It was the right thing to do, to try to undercut Alonso. But it was a sacrifice, as that was Webber’s only new set of soft tyres and they had only done ten laps. They could easily have gone on for another five or six laps (as Vettel’s did on that stint). It had a knock on effect on the rest of his race and cost him the podium to Button.

From Ferrari’s point of view they burned through their soft tyres very quickly, covering other people’s strategies. The result was that Alonso had no soft tyres left from with 37 laps still to go. In contrast McLaren managed to get Hamilton six laps further and Button only went to hards with 18 laps to go.

Button: From P10 to podium (McLaren)


How Button went from 10th to the podium on three stops

Jenson Button had a disastrous start from fifth place on the grid and was 10th at the end of lap one. He passed Buemi for ninth.

McLaren decided to stop him just three times and on a used set of soft tyres he managed to get to lap 14, the ideal window for a first stop on that plan, dropping around 8 seconds to the leaders by doing the extra four laps. But it was the platform for his successful strategy as he managed to carry the advantage of being on newer tyres than his rivals through the race. He came in seven laps later than his rivals at his second stop and 13 laps later for his third.

The delayed first stop tactic brought him out in sixth place, having jumped Massa, Rosberg and Schumacher, who had lost time behind Petrov.

He got 16 laps out of his new soft tyres (compared to Webber’s 10 laps)

By stretching it out like this without losing too much time, he was able
to go to hard tyres at the same time as Webber, so was not in danger of attack. Also the McLaren turned out to be faster than Red Bull on hard tyres so he was home and dry on the podium.

* The UBS Strategy Report is prepared with input and data from several of the strategists from leading F1 teams.

The graph below is the visualisation of the FIA’s official Race History data sheet.

The zero line is simply the race winner’s average lap time (total race time divided by the number of race laps). This is why his curve can go above the line if he’s lapping faster than his average, and below the line if he’s slower than his average or doing a pitstop. The rest show how gaps between the other drivers grew.

Graph 2 – Spanish GP lap times

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124 Comments
  1. james encore says:

    Superb analysis.
    “Some people have questioned whether Hamilton might have passed Vettel at the third stop had he stayed out on soft tyres a lap or two longer when Vettel switched to hards”

    Yes. I was one of them. My 11 year old daughter said not. My instinct was he could (but I needed the data). Looks like she was right. Thanks ;-)

  2. Dirty Scarab says:

    Here’s a hypothetical question:

    Let’s say Alonso didn’t make it to P1 at the start. Assuming the Red Bulls stay ahead of the Mclarens, would Lewis + Jenson have been able to stick with Vettel + Webber? I don’t think so.

    While the Mclarens do have a decent race pace I get the feeling that Vettel would have been streaking into the distance on the first stint.

    It was Alonso getting into P1 that made the race a close one.

    1. Jean-Christophe says:

      Well, Vettel got rid of Alonso on lap 19. So he had plenty of laps to disappear. But it appears that he didn’t.
      The Mac was simply faster. What he had was track position.

    2. KenC says:

      Lewis and Seb were separated by less than 2 secs for virtually the whole race, except around pitstops. Perhaps, in your hypothetical if Webber got stuck between Seb and Lewis, your dream of Vettel streaking into the distance would have happened, but otherwise, I think the evidence would indicate not.

  3. MR SERIOUS says:

    Button has improved qualifying compared to previous seasons, but if he has any title hope this year he needs to brave out a whole race weekend on Hamilton’s race strategy and make that pay.

    Mclaren do seem the strongest team this year on strategies but I am very biased. When interrupted by Alonso storming to the first corner or other such surprises RB have a hard time bringing both drivers through. Granted Webber did not do a job as good as Vettel there.

    Given Alonso’s Q3 lap in Barca, Monaco qualifying should be as good as the race.

    I will now be bold…

    Webber will not win this year.

    Hamilton will not be off the podium.

    Hamilton is on the top step twice as much as Vettel from now on.

    Come on all, let me have it :<)

    1. goferet says:

      No, you not biased, you’re right on the money. Mclaren are the strongest team in terms of strategies, I can’t believe this is the same team that was good at messing up strategies as early as last year.

      They got it right in China, in Turkey, Mclaren was the first team to realize that the race was going to be a four stopper & so others followed.

      Also I believe Lewis/Mclaren are the first team that began this saving of tyres in Q3 trend

      So yes, Mclaren rock!!!

      As for Vettel, rest easy, we’re just waiting for him in the second half of the season which half he won’t be strongest.

      Lets just hope he won’t have just a big lead in the WDC standings by then.

    2. **Paul** says:

      Those are some bold statements. I’ll be less bold and suggest that none of them materialise.

      1. MR SERIOUS says:

        I guess you support HRT.

  4. Stevie P says:

    Top stuff (as usual) James (and UBS) and one of my favourite articles on this site.

    I’ve posted elsewhere that I feel Alonso was being clever\cagey – and that although he couldn’t win the race himself (he said as much after the race), I feel he was trying to get a McLaren driver through into the lead to take points away from Vettel. Which, for him, would have been the better result as Seb would remain closer to him in the WDC.

    1. MrNed says:

      I hear you logic, but you forget one thing. Let me put it like this:
      Alonso doing a favour for McLaren…? Nah!

      1. Stevie P says:

        Ha ha. Sure, I understand that MrNed. However, think about it… :-) Ok, so it could be seen as doing Mc a favour; but it’s also doing himself a bigger favour, as it restricts the gap between himself and the leader of the championship.

        Would you want to let the leader go and romp into the distance or would you try to compromise the leader, as much as poss, until your car becomes more competitive?

        But it is just a thought…

  5. azac21 says:

    James, thanks for the analysis. Very helpful especially for this year’s chaotic races.

    Ferrari again trying to cover other drivers’ strategies instead of running their own. No lessons learned from Abu Dhabi?

    and, I have to say it:
    Tyres, tyres, tyres…. anybody else getting a bit tired of this situation?

    1. azac21 says:

      BTW
      the banner looks great… “iconic” Monaco!

    2. Jean-Christophe says:

      I don’t like Ferrari but I must admit that in Abu Dhabi they had a fast car. In Barcelona this year, they had to fend off 4 faster cars behind. But having great top speed those cars couldn’t pass him. Webber passed him because RB tricked Ferrari into making an early pit stop. Going another strategy would have put them fifth anyway. So they had nothing to lose there.

      1. azac21 says:

        Jean,
        what bothers me is that they are being reactive instead of pro-active. It’s just not what you would expect from Ferrari.

      2. Jo Torrent says:

        when you have Ferrari speed Sunday, you can have a pro-active, reactive or ask Einstein to come with an ideal strategy, it doesn’t matter. Alonso was going to finish 5th.

        If not convinced ask Virgin & HRT how much positions do they make by a clever strategy

      3. Jean-Christophe says:

        I understand your point. But to be pro-active you need to have a car for that. I agree that in Abu Dhabi they screwed up considering the car they had. McLaren can afford to try different strategies because they are much closer in pace. If Alonso hadn’t managed to get in front at the start, he wouldn’t have been able to follow them.
        In the end, they just tried to take advantage of what they had. They car was slow. But because of their top speed and good traction they could hold up much faster carsand the only way to stay ahead of them was to pit at the same time.

      4. azac21 says:

        Jo,
        yes. Lack of speed is what forces them to only react to other teams’ strategies. I just hoped they would show a bit more character.

    3. Bill says:

      Tired of tyres? Yes definitely. Once again, too many pitstops.

  6. Craig D says:

    Amazing work again Mr Allen! It’s interesting to look at the gradient of the curve of Button’s laptimes during his stints. They were very similar to the leaders once he got free of the pack after his first stop. If he hadn’t had such a poor start and been able to stay closer to the leading trio in the first stint, Button may even have been there competing for the win at the end!

    1. eamonn says:

      No he wouldn’t.

    2. Stevie P says:

      I was thinking that too Craig (so I watched the whole thing again last night to see how much he lost out from his shoddy start or rather the Mercs flying starts!!!)… my conclusion was that if he’d have been running with Seb and Lewis, Jenson would have had much higher tyre degradation after all the final pit-stops played out (he did well to fend off a charging Webber in the final stint), so I feel he wouldn’t have made it as both Lewis and Seb would have had younger tyres and we’ve seen already this season that tyres of 3 to 4 laps younger give great performance difference – which I’m loving (I know others don’t and totally respect that) – so he’d have been a “sitting duck” if in front of them or unable to catch them, if just behind.

  7. jmv says:

    It seems that McLaren’s view on Lewis’ strategy concerning those extra 2 laps was.. “if we don’t try we don’t know”

    I am sure they asked Lewis in the car “do you think you can go quicker” or something along those lines.

    So all in all I think they really responded well within all margins and did what they could.

    Coupled with the better pitstops they did an excellent job.

  8. Grayzee (Australia) says:

    Once again, James, you have given us armchair pundits a brilliant in depth view of it all. Thankyou to channel ONE HD here in Australia for telling us about your website. Great stuff!

  9. H-Bomb says:

    Interesting as ever James.
    Thanks for the Hamilton times for the third stop. I wonder if he had stayed out longer on the softs, then the third set of hards. Having approx 8 laps newer tyres for the final stint would that have made the difference?
    Probably not, as he really needed to undercut Vettal at the last pit stop.
    Red Bull destroyed Mark’s race keeping him tucked up behind Alonso.
    Button strategy working this time, but only because Red Bull didn’t help out Webber.
    Interesting the new hard seems to favour Mclaren, whilst the softs Red Bull.
    Will we see divergent strategies in later races depending on position. This race soft, soft, hard, hard. The cars that are faster on hard tyres could run soft, hard, soft, hard or soft, hard, hard, soft thus providing overtaking opportunities towards the race end.

    1. CTP says:

      that’s what i would be interested to know: could hamilton have got out of the pits ahead of vettel if he undercut vettel on the last pitstop?
      i was willing mclaren to try it at the time, as it seemed obvious to me to be worth a try.

      1. Martin says:

        Possibly, but you need to be close as the gain might be two seconds and it took Lewis quite a while to get within that gap.

      2. H-Bomb says:

        Hamilton was less than a second behind before the final pit stop. If he had pitted one lap before Vettal was the difference between old and new hard tyre sufficient for him to jump Vettal in the pitstop.

  10. KkrodD says:

    Great article James!

    I was wondering about something I thought about during the race that could have help Hamilton overtake Vettel on the 3rd stop –around the 35th lap.

    If I’m not wrong this was the stop when both of them changed the option tyres for the prime. I think if Lewis would have stayed for longer than just the in-lap (maybe 1 to 3 laps more), as he did in the previous pit-stop where he got ahead of both Alonso and Webber, he could have taken the lead and win the race.

    If the hard tyre under the same conditions were 2 seconds off the pace of the soft, and as you said the McLaren can handle longer runs better than the RedBull, these 2-3 laps theoretically would have been faster even with his used soft tyres than with the fresh hard tyres that Vettel had at the moment.

    But I haven’t seen this commented by anyone here on in any other website. Am I missing something? With this big margin between both compounds, is impossible to think that this could be an strategic option?

    Waiting for your comments –and anyone’s comments too.

    Later :)

    1. James Allen says:

      That is answered in the story

      1. KkrodD says:

        Sorry! before I just took a quick look at the article and somehow missed that part.

        In another topic, are not the teams that are copying the pits from others (Ferrari trying to cover Redbull pit-stops) risking too much for the late stages of the race?

        Is this copying/covering really the optimum strategy? We have seen –even in the last race of last season when Alonso tried to cover Webber and ended losing his chances for the title–, that this can backfire pretty easily, so I think should be doing their own strategy with room for change to use the covering of others strategy only as a last resource?

        I understand the need to do it when stuck behind another car, but there have been other instances when they don’t really need to do it –same pace, same lifetime of the tyres– and they still do it. Is not that too defensive?

      2. xiga says:

        I kept asking why McLaren did not try to stop Hamilton earlier than Vettel at the final stop. That would probably help Hamilton overtake easier.

  11. Ron Colverson says:

    I think too much is being made of the undercut, it gets you track position at the cost of longer stints later on and so compromises the last part of the race. I was amazed to see the first pits stops on lap 9. Everybody who came in then was in trouble later.

    Ferrari made the same mistake as last year’s Abu Dhabi by covering other people’s stops and then finding themselves screwed for the last half of the race. They’ve learnt nothing. Or else they were just showboating for Alonso’s Spanish fans.

    A few teams sacrificed qualifying positions to save tyres. I couldn’t work out whether Force India’s qualifying tactic payed off in the race. Any opinions?

    1. RobH says:

      Vettel was using his 3rd set of tyres on lap 20. That’s not right.

      1. Bill says:

        Yes its rediculous. Five sets of tyres to run a race.

        Plus, all these widgets and gadgets to try to improve what are fundamentally cars unable to race close to one another.

        Whats next? Some kind of go-slow device to clamp onto the drivers car whos running away with championship?

    2. Richard D says:

      Well they didn’t get any points so I suppose not! Considering they had a Lotus and Maldonado ahead in qualifying and Massa retired they surely hoped for a point.

    3. KenC says:

      Good point about the “undercut”, it gains you track position or maintains track position when defending the “undercut”, but may compromise your performance later in the race as Alonso learned. Vettel and Webber were also on these early stop strategies, but Vettel was able to fix the situation by running his 3rd set of softs, his new set, for 16 laps, while Webber didn’t. He ran his 3rd set of new softs for 10 laps.

  12. bouke says:

    Nice write-up of how the strategies played out!

    I do have a question about this:
    “The graph below is the visualisation of the FIA’s official Race History data sheet.

    The zero line is simply the race winner’s average lap time (total race time divided by the number of race laps). This is why his curve can go above the line if he’s lapping faster than his average, and below the line if he’s slower than his average or doing a pitstop.”

    Are you sure it’s the average laptime including pitstops? If so, wouldn’t Vettel almost always be above it when not in a pitstop? In fact, he isn’t above it ever, only at it at the start and end of the race.

    I would guess it is time they are behind that average laptime you mention; Initially, the leaders are more or less on it, but then lose due to their pit stops, but after that they start clawing back time as they get faster with fuel burning off, only increasing that difference as they have another pit stop.

    It is a nice graph in the sense that you can clearly see a separation between leaders, then a diffuse change to a close midfield, with a clear set of back markers. Lotus seem to be in the midfield pack there at least earlier in he race, but lose track on the hard tyres/low fuel.

    Also interesting to see is that Kobayashi is on a different strategy that keeps pace with the Mercedes and Ferrari’s and gets faster as they move to hard tyres. Alonso’s ferrari really does seem to be the best of the midfield.

    1. the_rh1no says:

      These graphs have confused me as well, but I think I have finally got it. Please feel to correct.

      From my interpretation of this graph, I understand that the “zero line” is created based on the average lap time the winning car. i.e. imagine a fictitious car which travels around setting an identical time every lap across the entire race. All the lines on the graph are a plot of how far away behind this imaginary car they are. This is not a plot of how fast their lap times are.

      So what you can deduce from a graph like this is that every time the gradient of the line is positive the driver is lapping quicker than the average time, so for the top cars it is the time between pitstops. However when there is a negative gradient the driver is lapping slower than the average time most notably when pitstops occur.

      (I have been doing a music degree for 3 years so I may have a lost a little bit of my further maths a level understanding. I based this on the gradient of the line showing the {change in time difference}/{change in lap number}, thus showing the rate at which time difference (to this imaginary car) is changing per lap.

      I see below that your explanation is based on what the strategists have provided. However, I can only imagine that there would be a positive time difference if there was an extended safety car or rain towards the end of the grand prix. Or if the winner was to develop a mechanical problem and slow down in the last laps of the race.

      1. the_rh1no says:

        To explain why Vettel is never above is because he is essentially always faster than the average lap time he sets, but he is always behind the overall average time, because at every pitstop he falls 20s behind.

      2. the_rh1no says:

        Further to this I guess you could also be positive before your first pitstop. In most races, however, this won’t be the case due to having so much fuel.

      3. KenC says:

        Yes, I think you make a good point that needs emphasis when James explains the chart.

        Data visualization is only useful if it easily tells you something.

        Your comment that positive gradients indicate laps faster than the avg, about 1:30s, and those negative gradients indicates laps slower than the winners avg.

        This notion quickly shows that Alonso was quick on his first three sets of softs, but tailed off when on the hards. In stark contrast look at the yellow line of Heidfeld on his last set of tires! Yes, they were new softs, but still, look at that upward trajectory. The other driver with a similar upward trajectory in the midfield was Barrichello who was also on new softs.

        The other two drivers who seem to be beating the winner’s avg lap are Sutil and Kobayashi, both on used softs. Kobayashi in particular was impressive, running his used softs for 22 laps.

  13. Alex says:

    Can someone explain the graph above – the explanation James gives is not correct. If the zero line was the leader’s average lap time then the leader’s line spend as much time above the graph as below.

    1. James Allen says:

      Well that is the explanation of the strategists

      1. Ben Yeats says:

        I was about to ask the same question as what Alex says is correct.

        For the explanation to be correct the y-axis on the graph would have to be wrong.

      2. Jodum5 says:

        Could you ask for a clarification? I thought the same thing as well. Also, could you make the picture a little bigger when one clicks on it? Thanks for the blog.

    2. NRG says:

      It looks to me like it’s the cumulative average winner’s lap time compared to the cumulative actual lap time – the race winner’s line will always trend to zero on the last lap and all the other lines then represent the gaps at the finish.

      1. Marc says:

        NRG is right. The zero line is the average lap time of the winner and the graph for each driver shows his CUMULATIVE difference from that average at that point in the race (not the individual lap’s difference from the average). As he laps faster than the winner’s average, his curve turns upwards. In the case of the winner, he will always trend to zero at the end.

    3. Craig D says:

      Note, though the y-axis represents time it is cumulative race time not laptime. Thus each driver’s curve represents their cumulative race time as the laps progress.

      However, each driver’s cumulative race time has been compared against a ‘ghost’ car, the zero line. This ghost car represents the winner’s (i.e. Vettel’s) race if he had won just set identical lap times throughout, in other words the winner’s average cumulative race time and has been normalised to zero for convenience as a base reference for the other drivers.

      However, as stated above, the curves do not represent actual lap time, and so the winner’s curve does not go above the zero line. In fact since the ghost car (zero line) obviously does not take pitstops, then it is clear that the drivers’ curves will lie below the zero line (i.e. lag behind the ghost car in the race). And only the winner’s curve meets the zero line at the end of the race when their final race time coincides.

      Of course in the closing laps, once no pitstops remain, the winning car could theoretically go above the zero line (i.e. ahead of the ghost car) before backing off in the closing laps and cruising to the finishing – as is often the case – lapping slower than the ‘ghost’ car so that they finish at the same time.

      I hope that makes some sense. Just view the graph as cumulative race times compared against a ‘fictitious winning car’ which laps at the winner’s average laptime (including pitstops).

      1. Craig D says:

        Lastly, to refer to Alex’s post explicitly, the part in the description of the graph in James’s post: “This is why his curve can go above the line if he’s lapping faster than his average, and below the line if he’s slower than his average or doing a pitstop” is not accurate. Cumulative race time people, not actual laptime! Done.

      2. KenC says:

        Maybe, there should be a note, with the baseline lap avg, stated. I’m guessing it was approx. 1:30s, since the first four cars were hugging the line for the first 9 laps, and they all were doing low 1:30s.

        Also, the Y-axis label could say Cumulative Time Diff.

        Also, make that -90s line stand out! That’s the lapped line. When comparing charts, the higher the lapped line, the faster the winner is lapping the field.

        As I’ve stated before, is this the first race in 20 years where two drivers from separate teams have lapped a field, besides their teammates?

  14. TJS says:

    hamilton should have tried to undercut vettel in either of his last 2 stops, instead of just reacting.

  15. Speed F1 says:

    Strange thing about this year that it’s impossible to understand the tyres, which makes the strategies more like gambling. Spanish GP is the classic example of that. Alonso started 4th & led the 1st stint quite easily & by the end of the race he was nearly lapped!! Amazing stuff!!

    1. Jean-Christophe says:

      No nearly. He was lapped.

    2. KenC says:

      This is an important comment. It indicates that the race announcers are not doing a good enough job keeping the viewer informed. The viewer should not be surprised that Alonso got lapped, if the announcers are doing their job. As James notes, Alonso was stopping early, partly due to trying to keep the RBs and McLarens behind, which compromised his latter half of the race where he was on hards. The announcers needed to point out that Alonso was losing 2 to 3 secs a lap to Lewis and Seb. James’ last chart doesn’t show it, but Alonso was lapping slower than Alguesuari in 19th!

      1. Stevie P says:

        Messrs Brundle and Coulthard (on the BBC feed) did comment during the early stages that Alonso was holding up the RB’s – they compared their practise (on heavy fuel load) times with the times Alonso was doing and pointed out that Alonso was much slower. However, I don’t think they expected Ferrari to be so slow on the hards; they were talking about him being on the podium and Ted (reporting from the Pits) suggested that McLaren thought they (Hamilton) were racing Alonso for the last podium spot… so even the experts are bamboozled, in real-time, at the moment.

      2. KenC says:

        Yes, but if the Beeb thought Lewis was racing Alonso for 3rd, then that was still in the first half of the race when Alonso was on softs. Once Alonso was on hards by Lap30, they should have noticed he was lapping in the 1:30s while Seb, Lewis and Jensen were lapping in the 1:28s. The announcers need to keep informing the audience as to what’s happening, that maintains interest.

        I was following the race on TV with the F1 iPad app in my lap showing me the lap and sector times and gaps, so I could see what was happening, and I couldn’t believe how much information they were missing.

      3. Stevie P says:

        Oh for sure Ken… and that’s the beauty (for me) of this season, we (and commentators and strategy guys) don’t know what will happen next. So in their defence it is very difficult to watch the monitor (what we see), watch the gps\tracker (which some of us use), have a producer talking into one of your ears and talk to \ engage with the public, all at the same time.

        I just think they were not expecting the Prancing Horse to be so shoddy on the hards. There was action elsewhere so by the time they’d got back to checking on the red cars, Alonso was way back – they (the commentators) will learn too; Brundle’s fairly new to full-on commentary and DC’s new to in-race punditry. What makes me chuckle is how DC becomes more broad (ie, his accent gets more Scottish) the more excited he gets :-)

        I wonmder what James A would make of it all, seeing as he has some experience in this area – but then presumably he’s mates with Martin, so won’t\wouldn’t comment ;-)

        My girl laughs at me (and says I should commentate) as I’m always picking up things that the commentators miss… but as I said above, they’re concentrating on so much more (with respect) than just the screen and a timing app :-)

      4. James Allen says:

        That’s right. When you commentate a percentage of your brain is thinking about what you are saying and will say next and a percentage is able to read pictures and think about strategy etc. Many people pick things up that commentators miss, but if they were to try talking coherently for 90 minutes with only brief pauses, they’d find they miss most of them. It is far more difficult than it looks.

        Look how many people read the Massa/Hamilton champion scenario wrong in 2008 on the last lap in Brazil, for example.

      5. k5enny says:

        While the new rules shake things up – it makes impossible to follow the strategies (Strategy was the best bit of F1)

        Previously, we had 1 or 2 stops, seperated by 20 laps – or half an hour – which gave the commentators and viewers a chance to understand how the race is developing…..

        Now cars are stopping at 8-12 lap intervals and averaging 1 per minute — none can really follow whats going on — not even the online live data shows tyre usage or when cars pitted.

        There have been cases where the leaders pitstop was not shown on TV…..

        It may be possible to follow 3-5 cars but not many more — eg if you wanted to make a judgment @ lap 30 as to how well say petrov, sutil, heidfeld or kobayashi were doing — you would have no idea…

        I think F1 has taken a major turn for the worst!!

        K5

  16. Speed F1 says:

    I also find it difficult to understand how Webber is always the one that misses out on the pit stop as well. His stops always take longer than Vettel’s and he also seem to pit on the wrong lap!!!

    1. Jean-Christophe says:

      Had he been in front of Vettel he would have pitted on lap 9 as James has put it.

  17. Stefanos says:

    Given that the options available are becoming increasingly less durable, it seems impossible to set the cars up. A car set up to make the option last longer will never be able to switch the prime on. A car set up to work the primes better will lose out considerably on outright performance. So, there will always be an element of luck involved in strategy (unless you have a much faster overall package).
    It would be very useful to know who has what tyres left at the end of qualy (such as the amount of fuel was published, when refuelling was allowed and without having to take detailed notes during qualy). It otherwise feels a little random.
    Any volunteers?

    1. k5enny says:

      Certainly would be very useful information.
      Is it available James??
      Do teams know the what tyres their competition have and their milage/ condition is??

      It must be very difficult to keep track of it all??

      Can teams hide a set from the completion??
      Could they do an out lap on all tyres – in P1, just to confuse everyone??

  18. goferet says:

    Is it possible that the clean side at the Barcelona track is infact the dirty side for how come all the people that were on the clean side had poor starts.

    Anyway strategy is so much fun this year because during the races we really do not know what’s going on or who’s where during the race = Unpredictable races. There must be some really smart people in F1 (Mclaren pit wall)

    It’s complex enough trying to figure out what’s happening at the front that I do not even bother to try & guess what’s happening with the midfield runners & backmarkers.

    Urgh, it still hurts that Hammy couldn’t nail Vettel, oh well, if Hammy can win Monaco, I guess I will get over it.

  19. **Paul** says:

    “in contrast Red Bull compromised Webber’s race early on by bringing him out in traffic after his first stop on lap 10 ”

    And in contrast when the same happened with Seb he cleared the traffic in a little over a lap and a half with some very authorititive overtakes. His team mate couldn’t. That was a real difference between the two.

    1. OldIron says:

      Well, the RB car is the quickest car by a hefty margon (OK, they can’t run at that pace for an entire stint as the tyres would be destroyed, but it can be exploited for pulling vital overtakes on the out lap). Remember Vettel only had to pass people on very old tyres, so had a hefty advantage (and made impressive use of it, it has to be said).

  20. Michael Prestia says:

    When Schumacher did not set a lap in Q3 I was thinking there is a problem with the tyre rules. More teams will for-go challening for pole if a brand new set is worth that much. All teams have to know they can not beat RB to pole so they should all sit out Q3 and challenge them in the race with new tires. The order from 3 to 10 is decided in Q2! :) Otherwise Redbull have the advantage of pole and teams ruining their tyres trying to chase an unrealistic dream of beating them to P1 or P2.

    I think we need a tyre war in F1… it would be great for Bridgestone and Michellin and Pirelli fighting for supremacy.

    Nice job on the Analysis James… FYI Ferrari have moved Aldo Costa out of the way. I think they need to make more moves starting with Felipe. If he can’t come close to Alonso then Ferrari are hindering their chance at the constructors title.

  21. Tiago says:

    Hello mr. Allen.
    I just have a simple question.
    Why was Mercedes slower this past weekend in comparision to the tests in March in the same track?
    Thanks

    1. James Allen says:

      Great question. I think they would like to know the answer too? It’s curious how competitiveness changes. Look at Ferrari compared to the winter. Also look how much performance Red Bull lost in the race compared to the qualifying. It’s all making 2011 very hard to read, even for the engineers!

      1. Jean-Christophe says:

        They also used the super soft tyres during testing.

  22. raceviper13 says:

    if Hamilton has delayed his pit stops so that he could have had much fresher tires near the end, would he have been able to catch vettel, and then with new tire been able to pass when vettel’s tires were much slower?

    1. Nigel says:

      I wondered about this, too.

      Judging from his pace in the last stint, Hamilton could easily have stayed out another couple of laps on his last set of softs and then caught up with Vettel after the stop, even if he had lost three or four seconds in those extra laps.
      A bigger differential in wear between his and Vettel’s last set of tires might just have allowed him to follow close enough in the corner before the straight to pull off the pass, but it’s by no means certain.

  23. D. says:

    I think Ferrari made a huge mistake in qualifying, when they sent out Alonso in Q1 on a new set of softs. I am nowhere near being an expert on these matters, but even I could see from the live timimng that Alonso was pretty safe to get to the top 17 w/ the time he had set until then, with only one run to go for some of the slowest cars. As it turns out, he indeed would have advanced easily. Mercedes made the same mistake. But Ferrari has been making tactical mistakes since early last year (capped by that tremendously stupid call that cost Alonso a championship in Abu-Dabbi). So I question that team’s tactical competency. Even if they had a quick enough car, and despite having the best driver at their disposal, they won’t win anything unless they address their tactical issues.

    1. KenC says:

      Agreed. It’s hard to fathom why they sent out the Ferraris again in Q1. WIth Nick out, they only had to beat the 6 new cars to get into Q2, and it was obvious that anything faster than 1:26 was likely to work.

      For a team that needs to save its softs for the race, it was a wasted bullet.

      1. iceman says:

        Not so. At the time Alonso went out again, he was far from safe. Kovalainen was the man they would have felt they had to beat, and he had set a 1:25.8 on his first run. Alonso had set a mid 1:25 on his hard tyres, and could have been vulnerable if Kovalainen had run again. In Q2 he showed the Lotus was capable of 1:25.4.

        In hindsight, neither Kovalainen nor Barrichello made a second run, but at the time Ferrari needed to make the decision, they couldn’t have known that would be the case.

  24. John M says:

    Great writeup, thanks James.

    The graph really shows how Ferarri really struggled on the hard tires in the second half of the race.

  25. Andy C says:

    I’ve just heard that Aldo Costa has been relieved of his role, but is sticking with Ferrari, with comments about other senior members possibly going.

    I had heard that Marco De Luca may have left the team last week, so perhaps that is true after all.

    I do not and will never support the kind of trigger finger decisions that Luca seems to make so freely.

    Success is built (in any line of business – F1 being no different) through hiring good people, good leadership and direction and having faith in everyones ability/let them innovate).

    Ferrari show no understanding of innovation and the need to take risks, which probably led to a car lacking innovation

    Can you imagine Ferrari taking a MCLaren approach of completely redesigning a sidepod approach. No, because the designers know they’d get sacked if it didnt work (straight away). And what you got was a car so conservative that its nowhere near the front.

    How many scapegoats will there be at Maranello. Dyer, De Luca, Costa. Absolute lunacy, and to make it even worse, its quite often the fans who are driving this…

    Whos to blame next I wonder.

    Yours, bemused from London….

    1. KenC says:

      You wrote, “Can you imagine Ferrari taking a MCLaren approach of completely redesigning a sidepod approach. ”

      Somehow John Barnard’s name is ringing a bell. Remember the Ferrari F310 in 96?

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ferrari_F310

      1. Andy C says:

        Thats exactly my point Ken, that in the current regime they dare not make decisions.

        The current regime without Brawn, Todt, Byrne are currently under a cloud.

        There were other issues around the barnard setup, like he setup his design shop in UK.

      2. KenC says:

        Two things, one, cars are often developed in 3 year cycles. Last year’s car was virtually on-par with the RedBull by season’s end, so Ferrari may have felt that they were on the right design path for this season. And, two, the team made significant improvement during the season last year, with the main problem being getting heat into the tires. This seems to be a problem this year too, but they are probably confident that they can cure it just like they did last year.

        Lastly, with tunnel calibration issues, they not only have to correct the problem, but they probably have to check much of their prior work, so things get delayed while they correct the problem. I wouldn’t give up on Ferrari right now, there’s still a long way to go.

    2. Jo Torrent says:

      I think it has to do with the culture. In Football, English managers stay quite a long time even without trophies (Wenger). In Italy, Spain or France they’re sacked pretty quickly when results don’t match expectations even mid-season.

      It might not be wise, but that’s the way it is.

      Like Football success is hardly guaranteed, but there are few people who make the difference : Newey (Messi) & TODT (Mourniho without the charisma and the physique)

      1. Andy C says:

        I’m sure Carlo Ancelotti might disagree with you Jo ;-)

  26. KenC says:

    You wrote, “The analysis shows that in the laps from 34 to 36 Vettel’s in laps to the pits and out laps were two seconds faster than Hamilton’s. ”

    I’m not sure that’s what you mean. Vettel’s inlap on Lap 34 was 1:32.6. Lewis’ inlap on Lap 35 was 1:32.9, a 0.3s difference. As you note, actual pitlane laps were about the same, 1:46.5 for Seb and 1:46.3 for Lewis, a 0.3s difference, cancelling out the prior small gap. Finally, on the outlap, Seb did 1:28.7 on Lap 36, while Lewis did a 1:28.5 on Lap 37, 0.2 to the good for Lewis.

    So, in total, the inlaps, pitlaps and outlaps, Lewis was about 0.2s faster.

    Rather, I think you are referring to Seb’s post-pit pace, in comparison to Lewis’ pace if he had stayed on his last set of softs for a few more laps. In that case, it seems likely Seb was lapping about 1 sec quicker than Lewis on his used softs.

    The point being made isn’t that Lewis would have made a pass at this point, but rather, by shortening the time he would need to be on the hard, he might be able to make the pass on a fresher set of hards than Seb. Say, Lewis runs a few more laps on the softs and loses a few secs. When he pits, his hards will be 4 laps fresher than Sebs. When the next round of stops occur, again, his hards may be 4 laps fresher, or thereabouts. We’ve seen previous races where a set of tires that are as little as 4 laps fresher have given a driver a decided advantage.

    What seems to puzzle is why not try this, as the other approach had no chance of putting Lewis in the lead. There’s little risk, as Lewis had time in hand to Alonso. Seems like an opportunity wasted.

  27. Paul Jarman says:

    Just as an idea James, could you put the graphs up on Google docs or something so we can actually manipulate them to see the lines we actually want to look at.

    Cracking analysis as always.

  28. CartRider says:

    Just a reflection: despite all the fuss about too much action on the track, many used to say that cars were so perfect that drivers didn’t make much difference. This season, it looks like drivers’ input is finally one of the decisive moments – the difference can be as big as 1 sec. per lap. It’s one of this season’s greatest achievements, IMO.

    1. Craig says:

      Good point.

      It seems that with all the variables such as tyres, KERS and DRS (but mainly tyres) the gap between the good and the great drivers has grown.

      Whereas in recent years you’d maybe see a couple of tenths difference between team mates (at the most) this year it can be well over half a second.

      It’s making some drivers look pretty ragged.

      1. James Allen says:

        That’s an interesting observation. I’ll put that to some engineers for a view

    2. KenC says:

      In recent years, the deciding factor hasn’t been the drivers. This year, as tires are so important, the driver’s ability to manage them has become critical, thus, drivers are more important. We’ve always seen a bit of upheaval when the tires change. When the tires acquired grooves, some teams and some drivers adapted well and some didn’t. I recall the Williams was an incredibly difficult to drive, understeering car. One year later, it was beautifully balanced. When the tires switched manufacturers, some teams and drivers adapt better. The Ferrari has had a difficult time getting the hard tire to get enough heat to work in its proper range. All of last year, Massa had difficulty getting heat into the tires. Tires have long been the greatest differentiator for drivers ever since we saw grooved ones.

      This year has seen the biggest change in tires since grooves were introduced, so we see bigger changes on the track between teams and drivers.

  29. Stefano says:

    What I don’t like is qualifying: Red Bull dominate, so they can save tyers in qualifying and are by consequence faster in the race (even if their KERS doesn’t work)

    Red Bull can do whatever they want with these tyers, that’s why the fight for the championship will be a lot less exciting.
    The Pirelli’s make some races more entertaining but the championship less entertaining.

    Something should change in qualifying, for instance: using sets of tyers in quali that they can’t use in the race… (or something like that).
    Also to make Q3 more exciting again with drivers who are on the limit!

    1. KenC says:

      Nothing stops the other teams from saving tires. McLaren saved tires and so did Force India, this race. Schumacher saved a set.

  30. Cosmo Huber says:

    Is the raw data used to produce these graphs available publicly?

    1. James Allen says:

      Yes on FIA website under timing data>race history

      1. Cosmo Huber says:

        I guess that requires FIA accreditation… (password required)

      2. KenC says:

        No, no password needed, but you need to be quick to get the PDFs that are posted after the race. I think perhaps, since Monaco is just a few days after Spain, that they’ve already hidden the links to the Spain reports.

        The lap chart is still available, but the rest, you need to get a little quicker:

        http://fia.com/en-GB/sport/championships/f1/2011/spain/Pages/lap_chart.aspx

  31. Steed says:

    James, have any teams considered using the same set of soft tyres for Q2 and Q1 sacrificing pole to gain an extra set of new softs in the race? Would it give an advantage?

    1. James Allen says:

      They were giving up half way around the second lap. And sadly the Q2 is the more demanding lap than Q1 so that would be hard to pull off.

    2. KenC says:

      Well, RedBull and McLaren did not run softs in Q1 so it’s moot for them. Ferrari ran softs in Q1, so it’s certainly possible that they could try running those same softs again in Q2, holding back a 2nd set of softs if their times came under threat.

      I would think the teams mostly likely to think about this idea would be Sauber and Force India. Sauber, because they seem to be rather gentle on their tires. Force India, because they seem willing to try a different strategy as they did this past weekend, when they sacrificed grid position to save 2 sets of new softs for the race.

  32. Steed says:

    Sorry meant Q2 and Q3

  33. Jo Torrent says:

    James, brilliant stuff from you today. Great article. I would like 2 ideas :

    Webber inability to overtake wrecked his race because Vettel managed to overtake Button & Massa as if they weren’t there which was critical to him being able to overtake Alonso something Webber wasn’t able to do. Without that Webber might have finished ahead of Button.

    I wonder if Button’s start was decent with Alonso holding the 4 stoppers, do you think that a Button victory could have been possible ?

    1. James Allen says:

      By decent you mean, if he’d led the race with Alonso holding the others? Maybe. But that’s why we talk about the starts in the strategy considerations because even with DRS and these tyres it still has a massive effect on the outcome

      1. Jo Torrent says:

        by decent I meant if he was behind Hamilton after the start

  34. B4LLIST1K says:

    What on earth has happened to formula 1..i dunno how others feel but i for one am now usually completely lost after about lap 5….i have absolutely no idea what the hell is goin on…the whole charade has become far too complicated…the only time i understand whats happening in the race is about 10 laps from the end..if it wasnt for schumi id have switched of a long time ago ; )

    1. James Allen says:

      There will soon be graphics showing what tyre each car is on, which will make it easier to follow. Depends what country you are in and how aware your commentators are about what they are seeing. Certainly in the UK Martin Brundle and David Coulthard read it very well

      1. Jo Torrent says:

        Generally yes, but this week-end they lost the tyre count

      2. iceman says:

        I agree, perhaps they need someone to keep track of tyre usage for them. They shouldn’t have been surprised to see Webber and Alonso changing onto hards when they’d already done 3 stints on softs!

      3. k5enny says:

        I agree totally.

        After 4 strops they were calling the strategies SSHH — even though the drivers were on thier 5th set of race tyres!!

    2. Mattoz says:

      It’s become essential to set up the laptop next to the TV for live timing data this year, in order to follow the race easier. But lets face it, all of this action is a good problem to have!

      1. Kedar says:

        May be Formula 1 want you to buy the 25 pound Ipad app which is pretty neat!
        I wonder how this Tyre change-a-thon will help F1 put up a “Greener face”

  35. miodrag says:

    James,

    Regarding the strategy, In Your race preview You mentioned that Schumacher had the option to start on hard tyres (had he finished the “fast lap” in Q3). Do You see anyone from Mclaren, Ferrari or Mercedes going for this sort of tactics in Q3 deliberately (one really fast lap on soft and the other one on hard) in future races?

  36. KenC says:

    You wrote, “When he rejoined he was in traffic behind Petrov and Button and this allowed Hamilton who pitted on lap 11 to undercut him, dropping him to fourth.”

    I’m assuming you meant the opposite, since Lewis pitted one lap after Mark.

  37. Matt Cheshire says:

    James, the new frantic F1 makes it essential to have some clear contemplation afterwards. A GP isn’t finished now until we’ve got the JAF1 strategy report. It should have its own show.

    I’m interested in Webber’s race and your stats on his starts ring true. Unfortunately its looking like his lost skill with starting may be the first sign of him loosing his game. Frustrating to watch.

    Conversely I think you’ve missed Red Bull’s appalling. Strategy gaff. When Button overtook, Webber was told it was not a problem, but they had him wasting those options on Alonso. MacLaren new that Alonso was no threat, why didn’t RB?

  38. Thomas in Adelaide says:

    Something needs to be done about qualifying ASAP. Q1 is virtually pointless and Q3 is quickly becoming a non event. I cannot accept that this is the optimum format for entertaining and relevant race qualifying.

    My suggestions would be either;

    9 cars knocked out of Q1. 10 Cars knocked out of Q2. Top 5 shootout.

    Or

    12 cars knocked out in Q1. 12 cars in Q2. No Q3.

    Right now I can’t see why anyone would attend the track on a Saturday.

    1. iceman says:

      I don’t agree with that at all, personally I still find the qualifying format exciting. Alonso’s reaction after Q3 on Saturday showed it wasn’t a non-event for him.

      Q1 isn’t irrelevant either, even if a top-18 runner has problems like Heidfeld in Spain. Although I admit the significance becomes more subtle: who can get through Q1 on hard tyres. With two seconds between the two tyre compounds and Lotus closing in on the back of the midfield, it’s tough for most teams to safely clear Q1 without using a set of options.

  39. Jack R says:

    Although he wouldn’t have come out of his 3rd stop in front of Vettel, if Hamilton had stayed out 4/5 laps longer than Vettel he would have had much fresher tyres and a car that was (supposedly) quicker on the hard tyres at the end of the race. That might have been enough to get him past if/when he caught up to the back of Vettel again.

    1. Jack R says:

      oops I meant 4th stop…

  40. Owen Li says:

    The best article around the world after every GP as ever!
    Thank you James!!!

  41. audifan says:

    finding it hard to work out where button would have been if he hadn’t bogged down at the start

    he was still in 10th at the end of lap 4 ….does anyone have a record of how far he was behind the leader then ?

    and he change onto primes on lap 48 …how far was he behind at the end of lap 47 …anyone got the gap then ?

  42. ACB says:

    Thanks James, I really appreciate the race history graph. It is interesting to see how Alonso’s performance was a flat line after the last pitstop. Massa’s line is similar to Alonso, but for the slower pace. Mercedes too doesn’t seem to have any increase in performance, just a flat line, even though they ought to be improving simply with the reduction in weight from fuel consumption and the rubbered in track. Yet Red Bull has a strong up turn in performance after the last pit, and this performance is mimicked by Mclaren, similar to the way Ferrari followed the same pattern as Red Bull in Turkey.

  43. k5enny says:

    James,

    I have posted a number of replies to this thread but they have not got through!!

    I am struggling to understand how the Spanish race unfolded — Was Vettel sandbagging for the whole race??

    If you look at his laptime on lap 21 – (3-4 laps after pitstop) it was 1 second faster than the lap before or after; and much much quicker than the times anyone else set at that point. Infact Vettels lap 21 time was not beaten until lap 50(Webber) – and only 5 drivers set a time faster than this over the whole race!!

    So, if the FIA were to take action to even things out (as they did in the Schumi years), then perhaps it would be that the championship leader :
    1) Could not use DRS during the race
    2) Would not use KERS over the race weekend.
    3) Would carry 45 laps more fuel than the opposition….

    Then, we might have a championship that lasts beyond august!!

    K5

    1. James Allen says:

      No he was not sandbagging!!

      1. k5enny says:

        It appeared that Hamilton was faster than Vettel in the last 1/3 of the race….. But we know from qualifying that the Red Bull (under Vettel) is >1 second faster than anyone in low fuel configuration. Where did that advantage go in the last 1/3 of the spanish race??

        There defiantly is something to be understood here:
        1) Does Red Bull have a qualifying switch which buys them 1 second in qualifying??
        With the Parc Ferme rules, I cannot believe that this advantage is purely down to a software qualifying mode!!
        2)Is Red Bull much much slower on the hard tyres?? If they were, why was Vettel running on his 3rd set of soft tyres by lap 18 of 66 lap race?? Why run for half the race on the slower hard tyre??
        3)Vettel sandbagging.

        Given the evidence, I believe that #3 is most likely.
        I see Vettel has matured massively this year…
        Remember in previous years he was suffering badly from mechanical failures…. to the extent that he was nearly robbed of the title last year.

        Despite the engine freeze rules, I expect Vettel to have much less engine failures this year – as he is not asking any more of the car than he needs!!

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