The Decisive Moments – Melbourne
Insight
The Decisive Moments – Melbourne
Strategy Briefing
Posted By: James Allen  |  31 Mar 2010   |  11:38 pm GMT  |  226 comments

Welcome to a new content strand on JA on F1, which will look at the decisive moments after each Grand Prix and the strategy behind them. The content is being sponsored by FX Pro.

The Strategy Briefing is produced after consultation with a number of leading F1 engineers and analysis of the data. The idea is to help fans get more understanding of why the race unfolded as it did and to get closer to the sport.

As F1 strategy is now less pre-planned and is more reactive, thanks to the no refueling rule, it will analyse the key decisions and the reasons behind them.

Button: Bold gamble (Darren Heath)


Jenson Button won the Australian Grand Prix by taking a bold gamble on lap 6 to pit for slick tyres. Some people have described his win as “lucky” but luck didn’t play much of a part in it.

The intermediate tyres used at the start were holding up reasonably well for most drivers at the time of the first pit stops. The safety car had been out for the first four laps, so there was only one flying lap before Button decided to pit for slicks. He has said that his intermediates were struggling.

There was some graining on the fronts which is inevitable in
the drier conditions, which would have been giving some drivers
understeer. The rears were wearing, again inevitable given the
conditions.

This would not have affected grip or traction much, most engineers agree that if the track is drying out then inters wearing down to slicks is fine. The problem comes when it then starts to drizzle again. There was an interesting spread of times from cars at this stage, with Felipe Massa in third place lapping two seconds slower than Adrian Sutil in 11th place!

Button’s performance was more akin to Massa’s than Sutil’s at this stage and decided to pit.


Button’s gamble was open to anyone to make and one would have expected a midfield runner to take it on the basis that he had nothing to lose. Button had set the fastest lap of the top seven cars on lap 5 but on lap 6 was passed by his team mate. He pitted on lap six and his stop was three seconds slower than the optimum. He also went off track briefly on his out lap.

This put one or two teams off the idea of copying him and so they waited a lap or two. But as soon as he started setting fastest sector times, it was clearly time to move. Massa, Kubica, Rosberg, Hamilton, Barrichello and Schumacher among others, went in. All fitted the softer tyre because it has better warm up in the damp conditions.


Red Bull who had the two leading cars, delayed their stops, playing it cautious. By missing the opportunity to pit Vettel, the lead car on lap 8, they forced Webber to come in too late on lap 10 and this lost him four places. Some engineers believe he would have lost less if he had queued behind Vettel in the pits on lap 9, rather than go around again.

The slick tyres went through various phases of graining on all cars, where they would drop off in performance by a second or two per lap and then come back again.

The teams were in unchartered territory here. The wet start had meant that they were no longer obliged to use both dry tyre compounds, so the choice from this point on was between doing a one stop and a no stop strategy. No-one had done 250 kilometres on a set of soft tyres in testing, so no-one knew what would happen.

It is now clear that tyre degradation is much smaller with this new generation of Bridgestone compounds, which have been made to cope with high loads imposed by the new rules banning refueling ban. Some engineers put the estimate at 20 times less tyre degradation compared to the option tyre last year in Melbourne.

Schumacher was the first fast car to pit for a second set of tyres on lap 29. Having damaged his car at the start he was, to some extent, used as a guinea pig for Mercedes to assess whether to stop Rosberg again for new tyres.

Barrichello, Webber Rosberg and Hamilton were the only leading cars to stop a second time. Although they were able to lap two seconds faster than before, they had lost track position. All they did then was create work to get back to the same position they were in before pitting. Rosberg from fourth to seventh, Hamilton dropped from third to fifth, but he had the advantage of the McLaren low drag rear wing for overtaking. Nevertheless he surrendered a podium to Robert Kubica with that move.

The lesson was that it was a mistake to take the second stop. They should have continued on the original tyres because they would have come back just as they did for everyone who stayed out. Button was lapping in the low 1m 31s at the time of the second stops. His next 14 laps were in the 1m 30s and then he dropped into the 1m 29s on lap 45, with 13 laps to go. Alonso said afterwards that the simulations clearly gave priority to staying out and keeping track position over the extra performance of the new tyres.

Barrichello opted for the harder prime tyres, which turned out to be an extra mistake as they didn’t have the grip of the softs.

So although we had an unforgettable Grand Prix that overturned the negative impressions of the new rules given by the first race in Bahrain, the take-home lesson of Melbourne is actually rather worrying.

The 50 lap stint on soft tyres was a step into the dark at the time, but its success for the top four cars means that it is very unlikely that anyone will try a multi-stop race as clearly the cars staying out will be able to hold track position.

It is now far more likely we will have one stop races like Bahrain, the
stop lap just decided by the size of the gaps between cars behind.

The only possibility for interesting races is if we have rain or if the softer tyre is so marginal that the front runners (who have to start on their qualifying tyres) are unable to build enough of a gap on the cars starting in 11th place and below

We should enjoy the memories of Melbourne while we can.

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1

I see about the mirror ban now.If that is a reason for the collision,ok.But I still think Button would be more circumspect at the start of a GP.You have so many laps to go,you will probably ruin your day in one corner.

Of course Alonso didn’t see him!

But if the technical judgment is at odds with me,well then my bad.

Of course I have respect for the current world champion.He did a great job last year.

2

Does this mean the extra vertical boards are also banned, which I believe were only there under the guise of being mirror mountings?

3

The ban has been put off until Barcelona,and one of the teams it will affect of course is the Red Bulls.Safety is the reason for the ban,but any aero advantage will also go away.

4

The key differences between the series now and a quarter century ago are that the cars are ugly,less powerful and the circuits do not have the same appeal.Other changes have been made that I still question.That’s how racing develops over time,I understand that.

I have been lucky to attend one Grand Prix and one Indianapolis 500 in my life.I used to enjoy the comparison,because both series had drivers adept at passing-they knew when and where.It is such a beautiful thing.

Jense is a great guy,a deserving world champion with a cute girlfriend.He is not expected to outshine Lewis Hamilton this year,yet I would not be surprised if he did.He is very quick and experienced.

But when I see a driver in any top series(let alone the current number one at the very first corner)attempt a pass as Button did I laugh.He wasn’t even within three feet of Alonso’s front wing,and I’m being generous.I would not accept his apology,I would tell him to learn how to drive.

I only post this as others refer to a perfect drive for Jenson Button,and what a brilliant tactician.Alonso and Schumacher don’t think so,and didn’t before the start either.

Sir Jackie Stewart believes a great driver never lets himself get caught up in these situations.All JB had to do was get out of the throttle,and onto the brakes.

5

Another important difference is that the tyres are too good and the cars are too reliable.

6

I find it interesting if you think it has gone too far.I live in NASCAR land,large fields at the end are expected.But this is Formula One,where it is a technical exercise as well as a sport.The cars and engines should degrade as the event goes on,some failing to make it.

Now we don’t need to see one team going through six or seven engines(turbochargers) in practice for a GP,as Ferrari did in Mexico,1986.And safety certainly comes first as well.

But part of open-wheel racing is not knowing whether a car can make the distance.

7

Its not the refuelling that is causing the difficulty in F1 its primarily because the cars have such massive amounts of downforce that they rely on for grip primarily, and when the rules were changed to have smaller front tyres (thus less mechanical grip) it meant when the cars are behind each other that the wake of the car in front creates such turbulent air for the following car that their downforce grip gets severly compromised AND because they have smaller front tyres the slack cant be taken up by mechanical grip from the tyres so all you get is that you create a situation where its even harder for a following car to overtake, less downforce and less mechanical grip.

the ‘overtaking group’ really blew both their feet off with that idea..idiots :rolleyes:

8

you mentioned something about engineers wondering why teams didnt que while pitting?

I could have sworn this was banned for this season no?

Also did they not see the size of the pitlane, some cars were having trouble squeezing into an empty pit box between other teams, can you imagine the chaos (and literal gridlock) that there would have been if some one was ‘clever’ enough to cue at pit boxes!

Sometimes these guys make me wonder.

9

Nice analysis James… I fear you are correct! The variability factor always makes for great racing and it keeps being legislated out. It’s good to hear some balanced comment when there are so many ‘knee jerk’ reactions around on blogs and official websites… C

10

James,

How about 24 races with 24 seats available. Each driver rotates seat on a race by race basis. The constructors and drivers championship would still be decided by car and driver alike. Salaries could be pro-rated on previous years points and current championship position.

I’m sure it would spice things up and it would be a great measure of who is the complete driver.

11

In the words of Jenson Button, I had no feel with the intermediates, I was just going backwards, It was a no brainer to come in and go onto slicks.

A move made made in desperation, but with enough experience and skill to make it stick, I tend to believe Jenson’s own words here. As for the extra tyre change strategy being wrong, yes eventually but even Ferrari were no where near sure along with the others. For Button and Kubica it made absolute sense, the others were left guessing. I heard Alonso checking whether they were sure the strategy was correct and when Rob Smedley gave Massa the hurry up, additional concerns there. But for Webber, I believe Hamilton would have completed that over take of Alonso, maybe even Massa.

Although I believe Hamilton would have got past Kubica without the tyre change, the strategy for McLaren should not have cost them more than 2 places and virtually guaranteeing them the win as it was. They had all bases covered by pitting Hamilton (although not the intention) and with all the variables at the time, it stands out even more correct for the team should the tyres not last.

12

James – what other forms of motorsport do you like to watch and what do you think F1 could learn from these other forms of motorsport.

I am really enjoying the IRL races so far this season and have attended a race (Chicago) which I thouroughly enjoyed, there were certainly some elements that I thought F1 would do well to adapt.

13

You summed it up nicely James. I’ve got a graphical analysis up that should further augment an understanding of the Australian Grand Prix:

http://bprf1.com/2010/03/31/inside-the-race-round-2-australian-grand-prix/

IMO, there’s something to be learned about the performance envelope of the Bridgestone control tires from the last two races…

14

I had a thought – instead of enforcing an extra pit stop to improve the racing why not go the other way and remove the enforced pit stop rule all together.

Simply allow the teams to decide which compound to use and how many stops to take. This would increase the possibility of some teams taking a risk of going for a 0 stop with others going for a conservative 1 stop strategy.

15

These tyres will last the whole race if they’re allowed to.

16

Great post James,

This is the best post I’ve ever read on your blog or any other blog. Thank you for these precisions.

Besides, I completely agree with you on the analysis and I’ve got an idea which might help things a little. Why not allowing drivers to spend the whole race on a unique set of tyres or a couple of different sets of tyres. In case they pit for tyres, they would have to use both option and prime.

Hamilton situation brought me the idea as when he pitted for an extra set he went for it and the fact that he was chasing and trying to overtake contributed to the show. That situation didn’t arise from the rain but from the fact that mclaren doubted the durability of the soft on hamilton’s car. So what if drivers have the choice of gambling on a unique set of tyres or a couple of different sets. It will mix everyting up and we will end up with drivers nursing a dying set of tyres with someone charging behind.

In some races, that would lead to overtaking, to accidents, etc….. without asking BRIDGESTONE to change their tyres allocations. And most importantly it is very simple to implement as a rule. It needs absolutely nothing but the new rule.

17

Interesting idea, but still the problem that track position is king

18
malcolm.strachan

Track position is king, which is why some teams might be tempted to run hards until the end… but if a team knows they can sacrifice a little time to do a pitstop, but then make that up and have a faster car that might be able to overtake, we might see some tight battles at the end of a race.

Certainly worth a shot, given that the current rules have clearly shown their flaws.

19

This idea might work in a couple of cases :

1st : if the qualifying performance difference between the soft and the hard isn’t huge (below 0,300s per lap) on certain circuits. You might gamble on the harder tyre easily once in the top 10 and get the rewards by overtaking most of them during their pit stops

2nd : once in the top 10, if your qualifying spot is guaranteed to be 8th to 10th (Sutil), you’d better gamble on a unique set of hard tyres because you are hardly going to overtake anyone ahead of you during the race even if you are a bit quicker.

But there’s a problem for people going on a unique set of hard tyres, the 1st couple of laps they are going to struggle to hold position and that itself will make their decision harder.

As malcolm.strachan said, if we add this option, it might not help (or help exceptionally) but it won’t make it any worse, so why not go for it.

Last solution, let’s pray “MIGHT SUNDAYS BE RAINY !” although it is useless in BAHRAIN & ABU DHABI.

20

My suggestion to fix F1 is simple… dole out test days based on standings. The further down the grid you are the more test time you get. That would certainly tighten up the grid.

21

While Malaysia has what’s needed, except for those dumb twisty bits after the front straight, for overtaking the fact that that the tire compounds are are hard enough to avoid any trips to the pits except for the one mandatory stop, we can expect boredom. I have no doubt we’d have zero stops going forward if the teams had their say.

22

James. Great article. I was very frustrated when I saw that the tyre allocations for the next couple of races are the same as Melbourne – Prime = Hard Option = Soft. With these decisions by Bridgestone we are almost certainly guaranteed a rerun of Bahrain, if it stays dry. Given that Bridgestone have come up with new tyre constructions and compounds for 2010 surely they should have taken medium and super soft tyres as prime and option to give us a half chance of competitive racing with some variation in strategy. Surely the Bridgestone supersoft is capable of being run at Sepang and Shanghai without causing them any embarrassment? It’s not as if they’d end up in the sorry state Goodyear did 2 years ago at Indy when NASCAR had to run the race with “Competition Yellow” flag periods every 15 laps or so, because the tyres were not durable construction-wise to cope with the stresses of racing at the Brickyard. Come on Bridgestone take a punt and help be part of giving F1 its most exciting season ever.

23

On a side note James, congrats on the FX PRO briefing sponsorship – hope it’s the first of many!

24

James – thank you for opportunity to be your student at F1 Academy!

Unfortunately I have just learnt why we will have boring races for the rest of the season… (better Brdgestone tyres durability)

25

Fantastic new feature! I watch from the wilds of Arizona and keep notes about what I think is going on strategically. Now I can see how well I understood the reality!

26

James,

A suggestion that I’ve not seen anywhere else: Reduce the amount of fuel that can be used in a race (or even the whole weekend).

Bridgestone aren’t going to change their tyres; none of the engine suppliers are going to de-tune; aero changes would be too expensive and hard to agree on. Fuel quantity is an easy change.

Might be a bit too late to save Wirth the cost of redesigning the tank and chassiz for Virgin though…

27
Andy Thomlinson

Andy, if you reduce the fuel would that not cause there to be less overtaking as drivers have to turn the engine down to make sure they make it to the chequered flag!

28

I don’t think so. A driver could choose to turn the engine up (more fuel) to get towards the front, but this would mean that he would then have to back off later in the race to make sure he got to the finish. That would then leave him vulnerable to others who had conserved their fuel in the early stages and therefore have more to burn towards the finish.

The idea is that this would produce a similar effect to the “push to pass” in indycars except that no-one would know how much (fuel) deficit a driver had until they reach (or don’t) the finish line.

29
Andy Thomlinson

Fair point but why not just go for the push to pass option then. I think there are enough restraining factors on the drivers like tyres without seeing them hold back to conserve fuel aswell.

30

Hamilton answered some questions on the subject in his Q&A with Autosport.

Turns ou he didn’t come in because the team expected rain.

Indeed I remember the commentary during the race that first they expected the rain to come back and then later they revised that to some slight drizzle for a few laps.

That puts the decision of the first stop into quite a different light.

31

JSH…If you don’t believe that Dietrich Mateschitz the founder of Red Bull wouldn’t sign Lewis…..you maybe drinking too much of that stuff, because he would in a heartbeat. Webber’s contract with Red Bull I believe concludes at the end of this year, and I wouldn’t at all be suprised if they made a serious attempt to secure Hamilton’s services.

Regarding Ferrari….I believe before Lewis retires and calls it a day…..some of those days will have been spent racing one of those beauties from Maranello.

32

If it rains in Malaysia .. we are guaranteed an exciting race :). I’m dreading the next quiet race, simply because of the way everyone over reacts!

“Bernie, we need answers!”

“The End of Formula One :o”

There have been quiet races during even the best seasons. In 2003, the Canadian GP was like a procession!

33

Seems to me the most sensible “knee-jerk” move to avoid the problems mentioned by James in his blog post is simply to remove the “must run both compounds” rule.

The soft option could essentially do the entire race in Melbourne.

So if you remove the need to run the hard anyway, then it seems three strategies appear, based on qualifying in the top 10.

1 – Run the soft in quali to get track position. Run gently in the race, you’ll still be reasonably quick early on, but if you’re Jenson-careful you’ll get to the end with something that’s by no means quick but hasn’t fallen apart and is still fast enough to defend position with.

2 – Run the soft in quali to get track position. Thrash the soft as hard as you can, make as much time as possible. Stop about half-way, take on another set of softs, thrash them. Depends, of course, on how much gap you initially build, how easy passing is on the second stint, and also on not spending too long on either stint on a shot set of the softer tyres.

3 – Run the hard in quali and sacrifice track position in the knowledge that you really shouldn’t have to pit but also really shouldn’t have to drive conservatively and still should have pretty good pace at the end.

Hopefully those three strategies would meet somewhere near the end, with variations in exactly how it pans out from circuit to circuit and from driver/car to driver/car.

If you have to run both compounds in a normal dry race, you lose all these potential ways of tackling it.

34
malcolm.strachan

Not sure if you’ll get this far…

But I was wondering what you thought about how this race showed what a race would be like if there were no pitstop rules (ie. Having to stop at least once to allow you to run both compounds). The option then becomes a) a faster car, or b) track position. Do you think that would be the case, like Melbourne, where teams were making different decisions and trying different strategies, or do you think everyone would just follow the same route again?

35

James:

Seems like 2 things need to be considered when considering a tire change/pit stop. First is pace–if the slow down/pit stop/speed up time costs, say, 25 seconds, and the new tires are 1 sec a lap faster, then you need at least 25 laps to regain the time it cost to change. Second, is track position. Even if faster, if one can’t pass on the new tires, then one can’t effectively use the better pace.

But I didn’t hear much talk about these 2 factors on the TV broadcast. Do I have it wrong?

don

36

Two mandatory stops wouldn’t help. Removing the one mandatory stop would help more…

37

Yeah, they should ban tyre changes all together and create tyres that allow drivers to drive the socks off the car.

Tyres that go off quickly are the death of racing. You need to be extra careful on those not to damage them. it might work for one or two races, but after thet drivers get the hang of it they will go into tyre saving mode and nothing happens anymore at all!

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