Into the unknown: How the F1 teams coped with the uncertainties in the Brazilian GP
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Posted By: James Allen  |  26 Nov 2013   |  8:40 pm GMT  |  52 comments

The Brazilian Grand Prix ended the 2013 season on a high note, with an exciting race, which was a real journey into the unknown for the drivers and strategists because it was a dry race that came at the end of a wet weekend.

The Pirelli medium and hard compound tyres were selected for the weekend, but the first time they came out of the tyre blankets was as the cars went to the grid.

This made for an interesting race, where teams had to feel their way as the race unfolded, with no data on tyre wear or degradation and a persistent threat of rain, which fell lightly in the final third of the race, but never enough to necessitate a move to intermediate tyres.

Key strategy decisions had a bearing on the outcome.


Pre-race expectations

As the race approached it was dry and the forecast suggested that there was a 40% chance of rain before the start with a 60% chance of rain during the race.

Most teams were planning on doing two stops, with a first stint on the faster medium tyre, but from there it was about guesswork and instinct whether to do two stints on hard or one on each. The simulations suggested that the medium would be around 0.4s per lap faster than the hard, so on paper two stints on that tyre should be faster.

Simulations showed that two stops was five seconds faster than three stops. IN the end only four drivers did three stops, none among the leaders.

As it had rained all weekend, everyone had all new sets of dry tyres for the race.

There were a couple of threats; one was of graining of the tyres, where the rubber shears off the top surface of the tyre, due to the track being clean with no rubber down on the asphalt. This would be a phase, which would probably clear after a few laps.

The other was getting the wrong tyre pressures; too much pressure and the tyres would warm up quickly, then suffer loss of performance, too little tyre pressure and they might never get into the optimum temperature window.

In terms of wear life the feeling was that the medium tyre would be good for 22 laps and the hard 26 laps. In the end, Jenson Button managed 28 laps on the medium and Heikki Kovalainen did 37 laps on the hard.


Early mover advantage

Only two drivers went for the hard tyre off the startline; Jenson Button (14th on the grid) and Esteban Gutierrez (17th).

Button took his best result of the season in Brazil, by using early mover advantage. He didn’t run a particularly long first stint, but he used the hard tyre well, moving to 11th on the opening lap and he had passed cars up to 7th place when he pitted on lap 20, the first of the leading runners to do so. He took a new set of mediums and got ahead of Rosberg, whom he had been following in the opening stint, by pitting two laps earlier.

This put him in clear air for the start of the second stint as he was in a gap of eight seconds behind fifth place Lewis Hamilton, so he was able to run at his ideal pace. After Felipe Massa was given his drive through penalty for cutting across a white line at pit entry, Button moved up to fifth. He was again the first driver to pit for the second time and this took him up to fourth.

McLaren have had a terrible season by their standards, with no podium for the first time since 1980 and qualifying was a disaster for them in Brazil, but they had good pace in the race to end with a season’s best result for Button.


Red Bull make a rare mistake

Sebastian Vettel won the Brazilian Grand Prix, his ninth consecutive win and the 13th of the season, but there were a couple of moments where the result looked like it might be threatened.

Vettel bogged down at the start, from pole position and Nico Rosberg jumped him into Turn 1. Vettel decided to attack him straight away and as they crossed the line at the end of the lap, he pulled alongside and passed him into Turn 1. The Mercedes had been trimmed with more downforce to help with qualifying in the wet conditions the previous day and the Red Bull, with superior grip out of the slow final corner onto the long pit straight, was able to go past. DRS had not been enabled at this point, so the pass was made on pure performance.

Once ahead, Vettel settled into his normal rhythm and planned to space his stops out ideally, with a stop for another set of new mediums on lap 24 and then a set of new hard tyres at the final stop. However the second stop on lap 47 did go according to plan, as Red Bull reacted to an accident involving Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas, which had left the Williams at the side of the track.

It could have triggered a safety car and with a 70 statistical likelihood of safety cars in Brazil, strategists are always at the ready for the first sign of one. A safety car can be a real game changer and so, to play it safe and cover that possibility off, as the incident was in a pit stop window, Red Bull reacted and brought both drivers in. But it was a very late call and there was confusion in the Red Bull garage, as only three of the four hard tyres were brought out and fitted to the car.

Red Bull had planned a double stop, as Webber had been 10 seconds behind Vettel on the road, so they could have turned him around straight after Vettel, but the hold up for Vettel also compromised Webber as he was forced to queue. Third placed Fernando Alonso also pitted on that lap to cover the safety car possibility and he closed up on the Red Bull pair by 11 seconds as a result of the mix up.

Fernando Alonso’s race was with Mark Webber’s Red Bull and having started ahead, he was passed by the Australian in the opening stint. But he regained the position by stopping two laps earlier. Alonso and Ferrari chose a different strategy at the first stop and opted to get the hard tyre phase out of the way. He managed to find good pace on the hard tyres in the second stint and stayed with Webber, setting himself up for a possible attack in the closing stages on the medium tyres, when Webber would be on hards. In the end Webber was able to stay ahead.

However – and it is a hindsight scenario – if Alonso had not pitted on lap 47 with the Red Bulls, but a lap later (or perhaps earlier), he would have been able to regain the position over Webber as the Australian lost four seconds in his stop, queuing behind Vettel. But Ferrari had the same thought as Red Bull, to cover the safety car possibility.

Tyre Strategies, Brazilian Grand Prix

Vettel: MN MN (24) HN (47)
Webber: MN MN (23) HN (47)
Alonso: MN HN (21) MN (47)
Button: HN MN (20) HN (43)
Rosberg: MN MN (22) HN (44)
Perez: MN MN (19) HN (44)
Massa: MN MN (19) HN (43)
Hulkenberg: MN MN (20) HN (46)
Hamilton: MN MN (21) HN (47)
Ricciardo: MN HN (14) HN (42)

Di Resta: MN MN (20) HN (47)
Gutierrez: HN MN (22) MN (47)
Sutil: MN MN (17) HN (37) MN (54)
Kovalainen: MN MN (15) HN (34)
Vergne: MN HN (10) MN (28) HN (46)
Maldonado: MN MN (23) HN (43)
Bianchi: MN HN (21) HN (47)
Van der Garde: MN MN (24) HN (47) HU (52)
Chilton: MN MN (26) HN (48) MU (66)

RACE HISTORY CHART
Courtesy of Williams F1 Team

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52 Comments
  1. Chromatic says:

    First stint could have been different.
    I’m probably not the only one who expected Alonso to rocket off the line straight into the lead. He was on the clean side, just behind Seb. But he had a slow getaway, losing places….

    He gave Brundle an exposition of his ballistic starts about a month ago, and never had another good start since!

    1. Vivek says:

      Alonso did not get a slow getaway. He got his usual good start. Vettel was slow off the line and reacted smartly by covering Alonso and not fighting Rosberg. There was nowhere for Alonso to go.

      If Vettel had tried to cover Rosberg as well, Alonso would surely have gone through on the Outside and Vettel would have been third.

      1. Bart says:

        I agree, he actually had very good starts in Brazil and in Austin but got blocked and had to lift a bit. Whether you can carry the momentum or not into turn one is sometimes purely down to luck, I guess.

    2. Marky says:

      From the replay, I can say that Alonso actually had a very good start, but Vettel blocked the outside while Rosberg blocked the inside of turn 1, so basically he has no where to go. Then Hamilton took his 3rd position, so it looks much worse than it actually is.

    3. Spoo says:

      @Chromatic
      Did you see the actual racing of the line or just a table of driver positions after the first lap? There was a shot with Alonso’s onboard Camera and he closed in on the Redbull as if attracted by a strong magnet. Vettel looked almost stationary in comparison to him but it was just that Vettel preferred to concentrate on Alonso and even if it mean Rosberg would go through rather than the other way round.
      ______________(Bottom line) – Alonso got an electrifying start but no road…

    4. DMyers says:

      His start was actually good, but he was boxed in and couldn’t take advantage.

    5. ffcunha says:

      I think he had a good getaway but Vettel´s bad start played against Fernando.

  2. MattDS says:

    “However – and it is a hindsight scenario – if Alonso had not pitted on lap 47 with the Red Bulls, but a lap later (or perhaps earlier), he would have been able to regain the position over Webber as the Australian lost four seconds in his stop, queuing behind Vettel. But Ferrari had the same thought as Red Bull, to cover the safety car possibility.”

    As for pitting a lap later, doesn’t really make any sense. Alonso didn’t lose time in the pit, yet still emerged behind Webber. So how would he have been able to pass Webber should he have come in one lap later, with Webber having one lap on fresh mediums as an advantage?

    Webber had 5.5 seconds over Alonso right before the stop. Webber losing 4 seconds would always have him emerge in front of Alonso. Letting Alonso do one extra lap wouldn’t have changed that.

    Alonso pitting one lap sooner might have done it, but he would still have needed to gain 1.5 seconds on his out lap.

    1. Yago says:

      Exactly as it was. Very well put, thanks.

    2. Bruce Tran says:

      Exactly what I think.

    3. Panayiotis says:

      Why only 1 lap later? If I am not mistaken he was on the hard tyre at the moment, which should be able to keep performance and last for a handful of more laps. Then by fitting on new mediums he would be in a position to attack Webber on older hards.BUT, getting caught out by the Safety Car was much worse so they had to cover the possibility and settle for 3rd.

      1. Stig says:

        You are absolutely right with covering for the Safety Car. Ham was out, Ros and Mas had pitted. With a Safety Car and old tires they would have ruined their big chance for the 2. place in the championship.

        With the performance you are wrong. ALOs performance on the hards war horrible. He would have lost 2sec per lap on Webber without the stop (just interpolate the line in the graph above, 10 laps and it crosses the line of Webber).

  3. Random 79 says:

    Great analysis :)

    It was by far one of the most entertaining races of the year and arguably the most entertaining.

    I’m kind of with Martin Brundle; it’s a shame they can’t go out more or less unprepared for every race.

    Hopefully with a blank sheet next year we’ll see many more races like this one and hopefully someone will be able to take the fight to a certain young German :)

    1. Geno says:

      James,

      Webber said the same in the post race conference.
      Being so unprepared made the race a thriller.

      What if they did not allow race drivers in practices (except for rookies) and have the 3rd/test drivers do it.
      Surely if the calendar expands in future years, they would have to shrink the race weekends.

      Would that work? Like every time? Or would the teams just adapt and be back to normal after a race or 2?

      1. Random 79 says:

        To be honest on a normal race weekend the teams rock up with so much data that they’re more or less have their setup done and are prepared for the race before they even hit the track, but it would still add an element of uncertainty.

        I think it is an excellent idea to only let the 3rd drivers participate though (assuming every team has one). I’m not sure how well it would work, but I think if nothing else most of them would welcome the extra experience in the cars :)

    2. Equin0x says:

      Im sure there’ll be 3-4 drivers that will chase down th

    3. r :-) b :-) t says:

      +1

  4. Jock Ulah says:

    Well, another conspiratorial move by Red Bull . . .

    Engineer a ‘poor’ double pit-stop just for a laugh . . .
    and then continue to demolish the opposition.

    [warning: may contain humour]

    1. Random 79 says:

      Humour, but no smileys.

      Jock is all class ;)

    2. ferggsa says:

      what? no funny faces?
      Sebee’s going to stop blogging to you

    3. r:-)b:-)t says:

      I’m not sure what you mean?

    4. CYeo says:

      RB engineer 1: leave Seb’s FR near the toilet.

      RB engineer 2: nah, too near. I need to practice my sprints. I’ll leave it at Williams, they always need extra tyres.

  5. Michael B says:

    Alonso leap frogged Webber at the first pit stop not due to stopping two laps earlier, but due to a very long pit stop for Webber as they struggled to get the left rear tyre on.

    Still, made for another nice pass from Webber on Alonso. Going to miss that.

    1. BigHaydo says:

      There were a number of good passes by Webber, it’s just a shame that by the time that he had completed them all that Vettel established his race-winning break. Judging by the graph, if Webber had not lost time getting past the other cars, he might have been on Seb’s tail the whole way

      1. Stig says:

        Well…I rather see that Webbers tires were at the end in the second stint (Alo faster!) and Vettel had a lot of performance left. The same in the third stint…both Bulls on full power and the gap widening after lap 60.
        Judging by the graph I would say, that again Vettel can manage the tires much better which makes him faster.

  6. Pete says:

    Vettel’s “wobble” in the laps leading up to his second stop , when a couple of midfielders even unlapped themselves, can be seen in the graph. Vettel’s consistency has been has been scarcely believeable recently – so what caused that wobble?

  7. Bruno says:

    Just ridiculous decision, as they could make an “after race” investigation, preserving his podium reach, racing in his homeland!

  8. deancassady says:

    It was boring.
    Enough of the Vettel-Red Bull domination.
    Certainly, they’ll likely be there, at the top, again next year, but maybe with some real sustained competition.
    Good job Button.
    Penalty to Hamiolton, highly questionable call; as was the call on MAssa; dubious, and disturbing.
    Looking forward to a shake-up.

  9. pargo says:

    I enjoyed the Brazil race. Many comments on how boring it was, season a borefest etc, but I’ve actually found 2013 quite exciting. Sure Vettel’s bagged another one, but many other interesting stories down the grid. And besides, the outcome might have been predictable, but the journey getting there was something else.

  10. F1Cat says:

    109 days more :-(
    Wish we will have a good look in to the technical side of the testing at Jan.

  11. Elie says:

    Geez the middle of the first stint and in fact the end end if the last showed that Sebastian had plenty up his sleeve. This is really really scary for next year.. As Ross Brawn wisely stated “.. You don’t unlearn things, and some things will carry over ” aim afraid it’s not just the aero Red Bull have advantage over te field.. There is definitely mechanical traction and braking that have improved since September, let’s hope Ferrari, Mclaren and Mercedes have built stron cars because They will surely need it regardless of drive train variations

    1. Stig says:

      You are absolutely right. RedBull clearly has the best FRIC system (funny enough, that it was not forbidden, because it did not come from RedBull…) and Vettel is the best on managing the Pirellis. Y250 vortex will also be still use full for the rear diffusor and RedBull is the best on managing it.

      1. Elie says:

        Raikkonen is easily te best at managing tyres and Australia proved that along with many few other races .

  12. Warren G says:

    “medium tyre would be good for 22 laps and the hard 26 laps.”

    To me, this essentially demonstrates the utter failure of Pirelli. You create a tire that is nearly half a second slower in theory but can only do 4 extra laps. So a driver loses roughly 10 seconds over that stint but still has to make the same number of pitstops. If it wasn’t for the 2 compound rule, nobody would bother with the harder tire.

    It doesn’t offer that strategic variable that it’s supposed to, and I’m sure any drivers that manage to eek out extra laps have set the car to specifically be able to do that and are driving well within the performance limit, hoping to pull a half decent result. It’s not interesting nor exciting.

  13. janis1207 says:

    Interestingly, Mercedes once again had gone for a relatively high downforce compromising the straight line speed. Particularly so with Rosberg. The rain never really appeared, and they suffered badly for their choice.
    Unlike McLaren who gambled on a dry race, and reaped in the rewards.

    1. Clarks4WheelDrift says:

      Agree there, it’s not even like the Mercs were fast but wore their tyres out quicker, they were both simply slow with too much wing/wet settings.

      It nearly cost them 2nd in the constructors but I wonder if they got the weather forecast wrong unlike everyone else, or if they made a mistake thinking this was an ideal wing setting for Sunday, unlike everyone else.

      Would have given them a bigger advantage in qually but that would only make sense at Monaco or Hungary – not Brazil.

  14. gokart says:

    James, thanks for your work !
    Your analyses are real added value to understand the complexity of our modern F1.
    Quality attracts quality: the comments on your site are overall quite wise and fair.
    This year, it was fascinating to see Vettel brilliantly writing F1 history.
    Next year will be great with the new rules and with your analyses 

    1. James Allen says:

      Thanks. Spread the word!

  15. Olivier says:

    I agree with Brundle here. The Brazilian GP has learned us that teams do not need the free practice runs on Friday.

    Fridays should be reserved to rookie drivers, reserve drivers and test drivers. The public gets to see more running and race drivers can connect more to the public.

  16. Phenom says:

    James,

    Any idea why the Mercedes top end speed has been so poor this year? We saw both Nico and Lewis defenceless on numerous occasions (Spa – Lewis to Vettel, Monza, Interlagos – Nico to Vettel) when in previous years the Mercedes engined cars have often had the advantage on long straights.

    I didnt see many others cars being dominated on the straights without DRS like the Mercs were this year.

    Also, thanks for a great site. It has been more interesting than the actual races this year!

    1. Alexander Supertramp says:

      Can’t speak for Monza, but Lewis was overtaken by Seb in Spa and Nico by Seb in Brazil. On both occasions, like you say, on “straights”. The Red Bull was mighty through eau rouge, and the exit out of eau rouge provides the momentum down the kemmel straight.Same with Interlagos, where the exit of the Junçao turn provides the momentum for the last straight. The Junçao is relatively low speed, and nobody is better than Seb in low speed corners. He probably had the highest exist speed combined with some pretty good traction. Seb was really quick in sector 3.

      1. Clarks4WheelDrift says:

        Spa was partly Seb using his KERS to les combes as he could keep up down the hill after La Source, but, mainly it was the awesome downforce of the Red Bull through Eau Rouge and Radillion, seen as he passed the Merc so early before Les Combes.

        Brazil was Sebs Red Bull having superior downforce and superior cornering speed before the run up the hill, but his traction was amazing compared to Nico as well. The biggest factor in this pass though could have been drag, with Nico and Merc running way too much wing for the almost dry race.

        The Red Bull’s speed at fast tracks has been amazing this year considering Monza used to be a slight weak spot for them in the past. Whether that’s Renault or whether it’s Newey’s aero advantage so good they can run less wing with no isssues – who knows?

  17. Ashboy says:

    This was a good race as the teams didnt no 100% what the tyres would do. So i think they should scrap all practise sessions and race blind or have practise tyres. One set for each session that are nothing like the race tyre so drivers can learn the track ect. This would lead teams to think on there feet.

  18. Eric says:

    Interesting as always to read more into the behind the scenes stratagy calls by the teams!

    I do still have a question about Vettel’s race though. At some point he seemed to have dropped pace, with lapped cars unlapping themselves. Was it a technical problem on the car, lapped cars on fresher tyres? Something to do with extending the stint on those tyres?

  19. All revved-up says:

    Wow – Kovalainen’s strategy looks really strange. That short middle stint and super long last stint.

    His “flat line” betrays a serious lack of pace. In the USGP it was the mysterious rubber in the wing.

    Did the wet / dry conditions mean Lotus got the set up horribly wrong? Or was it the driver?

    Perhaps the engineers went on a union strike until they are paid.

  20. Rob Newman says:

    When Massa’s penalty was given, he backed off pushing Hamilton behind probably to prevent Hamilton challenging Alonso. This cost Massa 5th place. After serving the penalty he emerged behind Rosberg and Perez. Later he got held up by Di Resta. That is one strategy which cost Ferrari millions.

  21. Formula Zero says:

    Dear JA it’s of the topic but,

    Please make a video interview with Mark Webber if possible about him looking back at the life in F1, regrets, proudest moments, the truth behind leaving F1, future in Porsche etc. It will be a great tribute to the people’s champion of last decade. I think people are going to miss Webber as much as we missed Schumacher at the end of 2006.

    Cheers

  22. ffcunha says:

    I enjoyed the race, even if we had Vettel on one pace, MW and FA in another pace and then the others. There was some action fighting for positions, cold temperatueres seems to bring a litle bit of caos wich is good.

  23. Andrewinwork says:

    If we all agree that situations like the lack of practice at Brazil make for more entertaining races then surely the law makers at F1 need to look at themselves. The swecond half of ’13 saw little in the way of competition for the lead and we rarely saw footage of SV between the first and last laps. Now it’s no longer free on the BBC there’s a lot of people thinking long and hard about the value for money we get from watching the sport. Fortunately for the immediate future we have a whole new set of designs and regs for next year but if this doesn’t bring back genuine racing then fans will be cancelling sky subscriptions in droves

    1. StillwatchingAATY says:

      Well I reckon next season has to throw up at least a few surprises and, come on, we’ll all be watching….but point your dish at Astra 1, tune the TV to German RTL, and turn on Radio 5 live. There ‘s a great commentary there by a chap called JA.

  24. Rudy says:

    “The other was getting the wrong tyre pressures; too much pressure and the tyres would warm up quickly, then suffer loss of performance, too little tyre pressure and they might never get into the optimum temperature window.”

    Isn’t it the other way around James?

    I want to thank you for keeping up the good work and bringing insights, reports, news and interviews. And also for the competitions! Keep it coming!

    Rudy

    1. Bunchies says:

      I’d guess that the higher pressures play a part in heating up the tires because the sidewalls are already flexing to a much hire extent than on a road car.

      But yes, I can see where lower pressures plus more sidewall flex could aid tire heat up.

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