Sepang – The Decisive Moments
Sepang – The Decisive Moments
Strategy Briefing
Posted By: James Allen  |  07 Apr 2010   |  11:16 am GMT  |  73 comments

The Malaysian Grand Prix was all about making the right decisions, particularly in qualifying.

We have seen in all three races so far that qualifying is having a significant effect on race outcome, because the options for doing something completely different on race strategy are reduced with the refueling ban. Cars which qualify out of position struggle to make up the places, while midfield cars who are able to take advantage can go on and score big points in the race because overtaking is hard.

Force India’s Adrian Sutil managed to keep Lewis Hamilton behind him despite the McLaren having an advantage of 8.6km/h on the straight.

Photo: Darren Heath

In Sepang rain was the key factor which the teams needed to think their way around during qualifying. And surprisingly it was two of the biggest teams, McLaren and Ferrari who made the wrong call, believing that the track would get faster as Q1 progressed. It didn’t, instead the rain fell more heavily and three of the four cars failed to make the cut. The other, Jenson Button, made it through, but could not take part in Q2 because he had spun out on the circuit.

Engineers from other teams can understand why Ferrari and McLaren might think that the track was set to improve, but not why they wouldn’t go out and set a time anyway. It was an unnecessary risk simply to save a set of intermediate tyres of which each driver has four sets allocated.

The conditions in qualifying were ideally suited to the 2010 intermediate tyre, which is softer than last year’s and therefore has good warm up. However had the teams been forced at any stage to run them on a drying track (as in the opening laps in Melbourne) they would have found that the abrasive surface of Sepang chewed them up more quickly than Albert Park..

The teams had enough data to make the calls they made in qualifying and once Q2 started things fell into a more normal pattern, obviously with the potential for Mercedes to get to the front of the grid some and for midfield teams to take advantage of McLaren and Ferrari’s misfortunes. Predictably it was Force India, Renault and Williams who did so.

Photo: Darren Heath

In Q3 the really striking decision was Mark Webber’s choice of the intermediate tyre, which came good after three laps, as his engineer Ciaran Pilbeam said it would.

The other teams were quite surprised by this move, given the heavier rain at the time. It had been heavy enough for the race director to suspend qualifying. If that was a race situation a safety car start would have been employed and that mandates the use of the full wet tyre. What surprised engineers from other teams, though, about Webber’s decision was that it seemed risky given the potential reward. Red Bull was likely to be on top anyway so why risk throwing the car into the gravel and starting 10th on the grid?

Webber looked a hero for making that choice, because it put him ahead of Vettel on the grid, but perhaps it indicates that the team were not clear what would be the better tyre and expected others to go with the intermediate again.

On Sunday the McLaren and Ferrari drivers had a decision to make on what tyre to start the race on. Hamilton, Massa and Alonso all decided to start on the hard tyre and run a long first stint. Alonso explained the decision, “Seeing what happened in the previous days, it made sense to expect rain and so we made the first stint as long as possible, but unfortunately, it (rain) did not happen. Today, we gave Red Bull a little gift: if we had qualified in a normal fashion then we would certainly have given them a hard time.”

Button was the odd one out on the soft tyre. The degradation on the soft tyre on race day was 0.05s per lap on the option (which is 1.4 secs over a half race distance) and 0.01s per lap on the hard, which is much less than anyone expected, including Bridgestone, who anticipated that the soft tyre would lose almost 2 secs a lap over a half race distance, based on practice. Comparing the race to the long run data from Friday practice, where the degradation was higher, it seems that the drivers are taking it easy in the race, especially the opening laps.

Photo: Darren Heath

However Button stopped on lap 9, having lost places to the Ferraris at the start and then was forced to take a set of hard tyres through to the finish 47 laps later. Although the tactic got him in front of the Ferraris, he lost ground to Hamilton, who stayed out on his hard tyres until lap 30, rejoining on softs two seconds ahead of Button. He then proceeded to drive away from him at over a second per lap. Soon afterwards Button was easily caught by the Ferraris and passed by Massa.

The difference from Friday was that the hard was a bit quicker relative to the soft, so a better tyre for Alonso, Massa and Hamilton to start the race on. This was partly due to the track improving and the hard being run later in the race and the fact that the drivers could abuse the hard tyre more without the front left graining problems that many cars suffered in the early laps on the soft.

The battle between the two Red Bull drivers was decided at the start, when Sebastian Vettel passed Mark Webber into Turn 1. Although this season there is theoretically an advantage in being the car behind and pitting early, which will allow you to get a golden lap on the new tyres, while the leader is doing an in lap on his old tyres, at Red Bull the leading car is prioritised, as Webber explained,

“The start cost me the victory and then when the first car is leading, he sort of has priority or the luxury when he can stop, ” he said. “It was clear. Obviously if I stopped first there was a big chance I could jump Sebastian but that would not have been fair for the guy who was leading. It was really down to the start and who had track position in the first stint.”

It was this etiquette which caused Webber to lose so many positions in Australia has he had to wait until Vettel had pitted before pitting himself. With Vettel retiring anyway, this cost Webber the race.

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Everyone is lambasting Ferrari and McLaren at the moment for the qualifying mistake. But they forget Mercedes did the same thing, but got away with it (which Button would have if he kept it on the road after doing his lap). Is that because they went out slightly earlier, or was that better driving?


James, you seem to have joined the rest of the media bandwagon and blamed Mac and Ferrari for the Q1 problems. I thought you would see through that and point out the truth. In effect, all the top four teams made the error. It was only Seb Vettel who put in a banker lap.

Here's the figures:

Q1 start times for the top four teams:

Vettel: 16:03.16

Button: 16:08.35

Schumacher: 16:08.48

Hamilton: 16:08.54

Alonso: 16:09.04

Massa: 16.09.30

Webber: 16:09.35

Rosberg: 16:09.46

So what does this mean? Rather than blaming Mac and Ferrari we should be commending Webber and Rosberg as heros. As the figures indicate, it was just as much Alonso's, Hamilton's and Massa's fault that they did not get through to Q2. As the figures show, they were completely outclassed by Webber and Rosberg even though they had better conditions than both of them.

Bottom line: Roseberg = Hero. Webber = Hero. (There's a comprehensive answer for you Jonathon). And good on you James for pointing out how much team orders have totally screwed Webber's season. Something easy for people like me to see, however most F1 followers are not very smart.


In Q1 Both Nico Rosberg and Mark Webber left the pits after the Ferraris and McLarens, and both set their times after the McLarens had their spins.

Yes, the teams could have set banker laps, but I don't understand why the McLaren and Ferrari drivers are getting free passes from the press, after spinning off and creeping around timidly while Rosberg and Webber both set quick enough times in those conditions to make it through to Q2.


It was too much of a lottery to say for sure.

Webber made an inspired decision. Although if he had ran wide at the first corner and qualified 10th we may well have a different perspective.

Watching the front runners carve their way from the back was certainly entertaining. But we cannot rely on rain at each race to make the show. Sooner or later we will see the stronger team leading the pack. And the way I see Red Bull + Ferrari pulling away from the rest I don't think Mercedes will take any additional comfort from Malaysia.

If Nico cannot reach the podium again in the next few races they will divert development to the 2011 car for sure. Whether Schumi stays for the ride we'll have to wait and see.

neil murgatroyd

Thanks James

Interesting take on the Australia race.

I was suprised that Petrov could attack Hamilton on the finishing straight, until he lost touch, but Hamilton couldn't do the same to Sutil. Something to do with how the Force India can get the power down early coming out of the last turn?

Also, if McLaren bring their self-levelling suspension mod to China as promised, we may well start to get a proper read on the front runners in quali and race.

Do you think there's a trick suspension part in the Red Bull, like a Nivomat, some other re-gassing trick or tyre pressures being managed?


McLaren cannot bring their ride height adjustment systems to China any more as any system designed to change the height in parc ferme conditions has been declared illegal by the FIA. So now we will see how fast the ferrari and red bull really are, or if they have been using any system in the first place!


i agree. And james, are you still saying that the renault engine is lacking hp? Or did you change your mind?

mike from medellin

Answer the black widow james.


So Red Bull really do have team orders then don't they. They just disguise it by saying that the lead car driver has priority.

I wonder if that will still hold true when Webber is in front of Vettel on the track yet 30 points behind in the Championship.


Exactly, I completely agree; I'm surprised Webber has not made a fuss about it, they have clearly been told not really to race each other if they can help it, which is a shame! It means the strategy cannot be played out to its full capacity. And as James points out, had pretty bad consequences in Australia for Webber!


Why can't for example webber's engineer say he wants to pit then give vettel the option to come in that lap - if he doesn't take it webber comes in? What RB seem to do is make webber wait until prince seb has made a decision.


Great analysis!

Couldn't Webber have told Red Bull that he would come in on lap whatever UNLESS Vettel did, and to have his tyres ready. If that's not the case, then it looks like letting the lead driver screw up the constructors championship for the team! By all means inform Vettel that Webber has made the request, and let him overrule (as leader) and come in first.


From what I remember, Hamilton only got out of the pit lane about 2 meters ahead of Button, not 2 seconds!

Hamilton seemed to do a lot of on track overtaking though for little reward compared to Button and the Ferraris - his only meaningful overtake was on the start line when he passed those three.


James, I'm confused by your comments re: Hamilton and Button.

Button was several seconds (and cars) behind hamilton when he pitted so he certainly made up time on hamilton by pitting early.

In fact one more lap and he would have jumped him, as it was they were side by side going through the first corner (button wasn't 2 seconds behind).




Yes but you have to look at the race as a whole. Pitting early helped him to make up places, but he was then vulnerable later because his tyres were so old. Button was well on target to be ahead of Ham when the latter stopped. I believe, from my notes at the time, that one more lap and Ham would have been further ahead.


With respect James, I disagree with you regarding Button's strategy as a whole. The lap times you included in this thread (by the way, please do that in future for every race as part of your first new blog entry) well, the lap times clearly showed a +2 second improvement to almost every driver if they pitted when the fuel load was half empty. Button, on the other hand, never got to enjoy that lap time improvement by pitting when his load was still so heavy, and by extension he consigned his fate to the median lap times being set by his fellow leading drivers.

There's a lot of talk at the moment that the single greatest problem with F1 is that you need a car with at least a +2s superior lap differential to affect a pass during a race. I'm not sure I agree. Clearly, Massa was able to get past Button with a +2s faster car, but Hamilton wasn't able to regarding Sutil. Obviously, you're as aware as I am that a lot of it comes down to dicing for a position, and the defending driver can always modulate their style to make things harder. Take a look at Button vs Alonso on Lap 46 in your graph. Wow! Their times dropped were awful for that lap.

The problem for Button is that never once did his lap times markedly improve, in relative terms to the median lap times. Granted, his lap times kept improving for the entire race however, but they were firmly in the median at all times during the Grand Prix. His lap times needed to be +2s faster than his competition during Laps 10-20 for his decision to have justified itself I reckon, and they didn't.

All I can say is please, please, please include the lap times as part of your first post race blog for every race. I can't thank you enough for the graph you included in this thread!

Kind Regards, Ivan


I think they need to take away planned pit stops and leave it to the drivers to decide when to come in, judging from this. Why should the car in front have priority? I can understand when refuelling was allowed, as the car in front was probably fuelled shorter, or needed to maintain track position, and the team would know this.

But if Red Bull are saying the car in front gets the fresher rubber first, that's ruining any chance of team mates fighting for the lead.


Great Piece James

Now the season is running and the fact that we are starting to see different strategies emaerge, with cars on fresher tyres catching (and passing) cars on older sets of tyres, i have a theory that could improve racing / overtaking even more. Make the time difference between pitting and the pit straight closer by extending the track (by adding another corner / bend to this part of the circuit). For example at Malaysia it was taking approx 22 seconds from the start of pitting to exiting, i don't know how long it takes the same part of the track past the pits , but if this part of the circuit was extended so the difference between pitting and time on the track was diminished more drivers may be tempted to change to newer tyres and try to gain an advantage on fresher tyres. I know that in most circumstances track position is king, but it may give another option to some. what do you think ?


You make a good point but the problem is the only time the front runners will be on different strategies in relation to tyres is when there is a freak occurrence, generally in quali, but also for instance with rain. In a dry race the top cars at the front will all be running on the same strategy as they are all using similar computer models to work out what it is.

The sad thing is without fuelling the cars differently, in an ordinary dry race without any mishaps in quali, the fastest cars will be at the front and will all be on the same or similar strategies and so overtaking will be difficult if not impossible.

Having said that, it has always been like this, overtaking in top level motor sport is only so valued because it is so difficult so races like in Bahrain just make me enjoy things like the tussle between Petrov and Hamilton even more.

While I wish every race was exceptional I know that just like with other sports you will have to sit the more mundane events to make sure you see the classic.

Andrew Halliday

Nice one James, especially the analysis of Melbourne and the fact that the pit stop situation cost Webber the race. Perhaps you should explain this to the Aussie audience in your channel 10/one hd role as the Aussies never fail to Webber-bash and he's a very much under rated talent over there.

neil murgatroyd

Great article James, it gives a different take on how the race unfolded.

I presume your tyre degradation analysis means that there wasn't sufficient account taken of the extra rubber going down during the race. The track was being washed green every day, but on race day, by lap 8 there was already an extra 230 odd laps of rubbe down (including the run out of pits & warm up lap.

Given that the tyres slow the car down every lap (in stable conditions), the fuel burn-off speeds them up, the rising ride height (ahem :S) slows them down and the dirt on the car slows them down which lap should be quickest 😛


Have fun solving the differential equations to find that one out!


alonso made some critical mistakes in the last two races. He is driving well, but those critical errors, could cost him the championship. The reliability is down, and he is using the 4th engine in china. So he has 5 engines for 16 gp's. Each engine should last three races, and there is one that should last four. The end of the championship it's going to be a lost cause for him.

Without those mistakes he would be leading confortably, but now he is second, behind massa. Alonso world champion? i really doubt it.



My question is respect of the ride height query/clarification as follows:

"*Article 34.5 states: If a competitor modifies any part on the car or makes changes to the set up of the suspension whilst the car is being held under parc fermé conditions the relevant driver must start the race from the pit lane and follow the procedures laid out in Article 38.2.

** Article 3.15 states: Aerodynamic influence :

With the exception of the cover described in Article 6.5.2 (when used in the pit lane), the driver adjustable bodywork described in Article 3.18 and the ducts described in Article 11.4, any specific part of the car influencing its aerodynamic performance:

- must comply with the rules relating to bodywork

- must be rigidly secured to the entirely sprung part of the car (rigidly secured means not having any degree of freedom) ;

- must remain immobile in relation to the sprung part of the car.

Any device or construction that is designed to bridge the gap between the sprung part of the car and the ground is prohibited under all circumstances.

No part having an aerodynamic influence and no part of the bodywork, with the exception of the skid block in 3.13 above, may under any circumstances be located below the reference plane.

Based on the above, am I to assume that since Red Bull has been cleared by in race scrutineering, no such self adjusting device et al exist on the RB6? And this is not an area for development under any circumstances going forward.


Also relevant: Tech regs

3.8.7 With the exception of a transparent windscreen, antenna or pitot tubes, no bodywork higher than the top of the front roll structure will be permitted forward of it. This seems to make the "F" duct illegal, rather large for a pitot tube!


10.1.2 The suspension system must be so arranged that its response results only from changes in load applied to the wheels.

10.2.2 Any powered device which is capable of altering the configuration or affecting the performance of any part of the suspension system is forbidden.

This is very clear!

10.2.3 No adjustment may be made to the suspension system while the car is in motion.

This is also very clear.

BUT the re-gassing is allowed under:

4.3 Adding during the race :

With the exception of compressed gases, no substance may be added to the car during the race. If it becomes necessary to replace any part of the car during the race, the new part must not weigh any more than the original part.

And also under 34.1 of the sporting regs.

But as Komeiko says, Sporting Reg 34.5 is very specific about altering the setup.


The air intake for the F-duct seems to be sqat enough and far enough forward on the sloping part of the nose that its upper surface does not extend higher than the front roll structure which is much closer to the cockpit opening.

The pitot tubes etc clearly extend higher than that but the intake is obviously designed with this restriction in mind, making it completely legal.


Maybe they should let everyone make one adjustment to ride height in parc ferme to make it the same for everyone


Why is this getting so much attention?

Are the gains to be had by better managing ride height so significant?

For sure, all teams should have the same flexibility within the rules to optimise ride height both for qualifying and the race.

It looks to me that some of the current regulations have been drafted with a view to prevent 'interpretation' as seen in the past.

I think it is important where possible for ordinary fans to understand the basic rules of the sport. Driver + chasis + engine = entertaining race.


I read tonight that the FIA have made a ruling on this. Can you enlighten us as to whether this will likely affect the qualifying order come China?


James, you can see why some people, including myself accused you of bias in your review of the Australian GP last week regarding Button and Hamilton, and their respective races.

You eulogised Buttons “inspired” drive and “leading from the cockpit” attitude based on his tyre call early in the race.

In Malaysia, he attempted the same thing. From all accounts, he chose the softer tyre to start on, then decided to come in on lap 9 to change to the hards.

All you have done so far is excuse that decision - You tell us how the degradation of softs were much less than anyone expected, as if that was a factor in Button choosing to start on them. You also say that from Friday, the hard tyre was quicker relative to the softs, so was the better option to be on for race day for Hamilton, Alonso and Massa – if so, why not Button?

By your own admission, Button was the odd one out on raceday, so why no criticism of what was clearly a stab in the dark gamble, and not a very inspired one at that?

No driver needs to be commended or condemned. I’m just saying that there should be balance. If you are quick to extol and praise Button abilities for a tyre call that went well, you should also be able to criticise him an a tyre call at that was clearly wrong!


I agree. When allen is talking about alonsos's drive in australia, he says his drive it's the way chmpionships are won, but he doesn't even mention the rookie mistake he made at the start, puttting both tyres on the white line. I would say, that's how championships are lost.

He always sees the glass half full, but we want to see it both ways. I think that's called good journalism.


What seems to have been forgotten in all this is that Button was forced to the left to avoid Barichello's stationary car at the start, and because of this, was on the outside of turn one where he dirtied his tyres and lost momentum. Everyone here agrees that qualy & the start are crucial and he was compromised on both. The margin between success and failure is very small and turns on minute differences of judgment during a race weekend, just as we saw in Australia. Thanks due to James for this article, and for his continuing efforts to illustrate this.


Well you has best hope that Lewis does poorly for the rest of the season or he is bound to be mentioned again.


but button was beside hamiton whit that tyre choice not overtaking anyone .so he did god job.hamiton overtook 8 cars and was just one postion in front button .


I agree with your post.

James is in a powerful position with many, it seems, simply taking what he writes as being fact whereas often they are just opinions, his or those he speaks to in F1.

Still that said this is by far the best F1 blog currently available and long may it last.


I assume Button was hoping to make up places at the start, using the stickier softer rubber to get better traction. Of course, it didn't turn out that way...


Sure he didn't do that well in Malaysia, but there's no denying that he played a blinder in Melbourne and I was merely commenting on that. I thought it was an inspired move. You must allow me to be passionate about this sport when I see something exceptional. I felt that Hamilton could learn something from that independence of mind in the cockpit. That really is all there was to it. I never suggested that Button is a better or more complete driver. But he is more relaxed because he's not afraid of losing any more. Hamilton has been outstanding in the last two races but F1 is about making things happen for yourself and it's Alonso, Button and Vettel who have won races so far this year.


I actually think button did make the right tyre cal - he jumped the ferraris (and was losign time to those in front too) and had no chance of doing that otherwise.


James, never mind people who accuse you of bias.


I agree James. I guess we are all so passionate about this sport!

But isn't it the "fear of losing" that separates the "great" form the "good"? Isn't that what inspired Senna, and Schumi? Someone once said(cant remember who)- Show me a good loser, and i'll show you a loser.

I personally see Jenson relaxation as a character flaw, a window into his mindset if you will; If he is not afraid of losing anymore, simply because he has won a WDC, that cannot bode well for his chances in the future.

It is often said, it is the fear of failure that drives most successful men the the height they attain - looking at myself, i would have to say i agree,.


Err..being ahead of your teammate does not tell the whole story. Massa is ahead of his teammate, and is yet to win a race!


Jenson's "character flaw" has him ahead of his teammate on points thus far. He has won a race and LH has yet to accomplish that. The season is long and anything can happen, but right now Jenson is doing a solid job. Given that all the pundits had predicted a Hamilton blow out, I'd say Button's confidence is right where it should be. Hats off to him.


Webber could always have come into the pits first and claim (as Button did in Australia) that his tyres weren't working and in so doing would have (according to this article) jumped Vettel ❗


But based on Button's results from the same strategy call, that would have put Webber's second place in serious jeopardy.


That's what I'd have done on lap 7 in Melbourne


'Obviously if I stopped first there was a big chance I could jump Sebastian but that would not have been fair for the guy who was leading.'

So, Mark, you are happy being second fiddle? And would it be 'fair' if it had been Alonso, Button, et al ???

What a pathetic statement, there goes my respect for Webber.

Ted the Mechanic

There needs to be some respect and rules of engagement between team mates otherwise you end up with a Ron Dennis (c.2007) of a headache. I just hope Seb Vet plays by the same rules...


Yes, quite. How about 'Race but don't take each other off!'

Ted the Mechanic

‘Obviously if I stopped first there was a big chance I could jump Sebastian but that would not have been fair for the guy who was leading.’

This is obviously something they have discussed and decided as a team. Not as bad as McLaren, DC and Mika's race to the first corner deal, but I must admit it seems almost too polite... "After you. No, after you. But I insist."

There is still potential for mistakes for the first pitter. Does it only come into play if they are running nose-to-tail? If Mark had been running 3rd instead of 2nd would he have been free to pit first? What if Seb had started on hard tyres and Mark on softs with a scheduled earlier stop? Surely this rule would not apply then either.

I understand the logic but it just doesn't seem quite right.

I've been a bit concerned by Ferrari's etiquette also, or perhaps I should say Alonso's seeming restraint when tailing Massa. There may be other factors at work there though. I suspect Alonso wanted to bed himself into the team without incident or controversy before flexing his muscles a bit more aggressively in future. And he probably figures he can put himself ahead on the road in Qualifying more often than not and a softly, softly approach with Massa now may pay dividends later. The lap time chart above augurs well for Ferrari.

At least the Red Bull drivers don't seem to have any reservations about racing each other head-to-head on the track when there's no question of artificial unfairness...

We will have to wait and see how these battles between team mates play out. It seems the McLaren drivers will probably just go their own ways and I'm sure Michael would just like to catch Nico's tail and is not too troubled by such delicate tactical concerns at this stage...



But this is not the first time Ferrari have made error of judgement during Q1/Q2. To mount a successful challenge this season they really need to eliminate these costly errors.

I'm hoping the championship will be won on the track, not lost during qualifying.

If Red Bull can (have) sort out their reliability problems it looks like the rest of the grid will be playing catch up. Although I feel Alonso is one of the strongest to fight to the bitter end and Ferrari will surely want to consolidate both titles this year.

For me the McLaren boys will end up taking points off each other as I suspect Button is getting more comfortable with each race. Sure Lewis drove a storming race but he needs more consistency to close the points gap at the top.

Could this be where Webber and Massa play their roles to perfection and let Alonso + Vettel fight it out for the ultimate prize?

By the time we get to Europe and Monaco in particular I think we will see the title race hotting up and teams leaning ever so slightly towards their number 1 drivers.

If there is a dark horse I'm not sure they have yet to show their true colours.


"I’m hoping the championship will be won on the track, not lost during qualifying."

Totally agree - but I think we'll be hoping in vain.

I can also see Alonso being Vettel's top challenger, as the McLarens are off the quali pace and I don't see LH consistently getting to the podium without abusing his tyres and being in the same situation as in Melbourne and Sepang. Which is a shame, because he's showing up the rest of the grid for no-nonsense, gutsy racing.

However, I wouldn't be surprised if Alonso's own team mate rather than Red Bull pace becomes the biggest thorn in his side.

Massa can't match Alonso, but he has too much pride at stake to play a supporting role.

He's always wanted to come out of the Rubens Barrichello mould he has been cast in, and this year - Alonso or not - is probably his last chance.

Ferrari, for its part, is also not about to tell Massa to get over and stop being a moving road block.

With Alonso's reputation (rightly or wrongly) for seeking #1 status, and their own for using team orders, such a move would be highly scrutinised to the point where even the FIA's best buds forever might not get away with it. Esp not with Todt in charge.

And in an environment where a like-for-like car simply can't beat the downforce of the one in front to overtake, I reckon this will be the most frustrating feature of Alonso's season. And that's saying something after Ferrari "reliability" left him stranded on the last lap like it was the 1980s.

So rather than it being a straight driver's fight, I see it as Reb Bull reliability vs Ferrari internal politics, because Webber just doesn't factor for Vettel in the same way Massa does for Alonso.

Ahhh, the luxury of armchairs.....


Let's see Freespeech. Webber made a quali error at Bahrain - game over. Webber lost out to quali to Vettel in Melbourne, then overtook Massa to close in on Vettel before Red Bull screwed him with the pit strategy in the rain.

In Sepang, Webber makes it through the raining Q1 despite getting on track AFTER Button, Alonso, Schumacher, Massa, Hamilton and then goes on to take pole. First corner error - game over, but is generally faster than Vettel during the race (Vettel may not have been pushing that hard being in front, so we do not really know, as Webber was not allowed to challenge Vettel on pit strategy). Team orders have cost Webber a lot of points.

What an epic battle it is shaping up to be between Webber and Vettel. They were probably the two closest matched drivers from any team last year with just a tenth or two between them. With Vettel's consistency in qualifying almost having a Senna-esque feel, Vettel is definitely the favourite. Let's see how it unfolds. Bring it on!


Great post, thanks for that. What do you mean in your last sentence about Webber not factoring for Vettel?


Me thinks he's saying what most of us believe to be true, namely that Webber is not a match for Vettel.


That is just shocking team orders from Red Bull, to be honest. Since all the teams will likely do this, it means that if anyone is running a 1-2 at the start of a dry race it will remain that way unless there is a mechanical failure.

I understand and agree with team orders that you should not try and overtake your team mate on the track because the risk is just too high of going from a 1-2 to zero points. This makes it clearly reasonable for teams to ask their drivers and for the drivers to find it reasonable to be asked not to do any stupid overtakes on the track. Even the drivers would be smart enough to know not to stupidly try and overtake your teammate without having to be told.

At least in the refuelling era, team mates could realistically race each other until the final pit stops. Since most races were two stoppers, that meant that the race result was effectively fixed after 2/3 of the race - fairly acceptable given that there were usually other scraps further down the field. Now, race results appear fixed after 1 lap - ~3% of the race!

Just wait until we have a few dry qualifying and races on tracks like Barcelona and Hungary: most of the race will be won in qualifying, and 30% at the first corner. Cue 70 laps of procession tedium. In fact, we probably already had one typical race at Bahrain. Yet everyone seems to have forgotten about it because of two great races due to the weather, which would have been equally as good, if not better, with refuelling.

I strongly believe that in F1 the fastest guy on race Sunday should have a chance of winning the race. That chance is significantly reduced with the refuelling ban.

What's more, because of the need to preserve tyres, most of the drivers aren't even going flat out for the whole race either! With refuelling, drivers would back off towards the end of the race. But as James said, all the drivers have been backing off at the beginning of the race because they are all unsure of how the tyres will degrade. Going slowly isn't racing. Even Jenson said after Bahrain that without refuelling is easier because you don't drive flat out...


so you prefered watching races decided be engineer's with computers in the pits?

thats all refueling was,the strategies were decided by engineers with race simulations in the pit lane who decided when a driver would pit,how much fuel was added and when he would pit again.

without refueling its more about actual racing on the track,drivers have more control over when they stop and races will be better that what we had for 16 years where strategy became the most important thing and the racing suffered.


And that's what distinguishes F1 from other racing series. The variable of 'strategy' involved. As Alonso said, F1 is not for overtaking on track alone, it means many other things. Refueling ban has taken a huge factor of interesting tactics out and made drivers even more conservative when we already are heading towards 'freeze' of everything.

Though it has been done for 'cost-cutting' but with double diffusers,F-ducts,ride height systems allowed and everyone copying them doesn't help cut costs either. IMO the governing body of this sport is taking one step forward and two steps backward.


But there are still elements of strategy in F1, We still have tyre strategy for instance & if they dumped the mandatory tyre stop to run both compounds the we would have more intresting tyre strategies like we did Pre-94.

Like Pete said above & as I've said here before the problem with refueling was that it became the single most important element, The racing almost took a back seat.

One such example was the 2004 French Gp. The 4-stop strategy Ferrari/Schumi used was brilliant strategy but took away from the racing. Rather than fight Alonso & try to pass him on the track they switched Schumi to the 4-stop strategy which meant the 2 drivers fighting for the win were never right together on the track.
Had we not had refueling Schumi would have been right with Alonso & we'd have had a much better on-track fight, Maybe he'd have found a way past, maybe Alonso would have held him off, Whichever the outcome it would have been better.

Another instance is Suzuka 2000. A great fight between Schumi & Hakkinen for the championship that was ultimately decided via a pit stop. Ferrari played that whole race betting on the final stop, They fueled Schumi longer at the 1st stop to jump Mika at the 2nd. Again good strategy but did nothing to the on-track product. It would have been so much more exciting watching the 2 fight it out on track all race rather than having to fall back on pit strategy to get the job done.

On the flip-side take a great Pre-refeuling race like Silverstone 1993. Would Prost & Schumacher been in such a rush to pass Senna on-track if they knew they had fuel strategy to help them out? Back then you went for it on track because you didn't have fuel stops to fall back on.

I also think that refueling also masked over many of the problems that are still there & have been for a while.
The difficulties in passing is an issue thats been getting worse for at least the last 10 years, However with refeuling there was little reason to seriously work on fixing it because overtaking was possible in the pits vis refueling.

Now thats banned the problems have become more apparent so fixing them has become the biggest thing the teams & the FIA are looking at, This to me is a good thing.
If we still had refueling would everyone be talking about trying to improve the racing as they are? Doubt it.


Eric, pretty well concluded indeed.


James, I strongly disagree with this:

"because the options for doing something completely different on race strategy are reduced with the refueling ban."

It's reduced by the fact that drivers have to use 2 compounds.

If they didn't have to, you can bet that some would have tried going the full distance, while some others would be encouraged to really push and use faster tire compound only through 2 or 3 stints.


Yes I think you have a point.

Many people are moaning about a decreased tactical element with the ban of refuelling, but I really disagree with this.

To me, the strategic element is definitely present, and best of all the outcome plays out on the circuit with greater input from the driver. I love the idea of a drivers style influencing how well the tyre performs and how long it lasts. Refuelling was really just a strategy for the engineers on the pitwall, and I must say that didn't turn me on at all.

But you're right - the best thing would be to remove the compulsory pitstop and clear the way to even further strategic possibilties.


Spot-on James, once again I've got the graphical supplement to some of the points you made here:

I'm particularly interested in the performance trend differences we've already seen develop since Bahrain, as drivers pushed both sets of Bridgestones much harder in Malaysia.

Another item of note was Sebastien Buemi running a two-stop strategy due to his first lap incident with Kobayashi. Despite running a damaged front wing for his first two stints, Buemi two-stop performance looked quite favorable in comparison to Alguersuari.


That is really interesting. What does your power chart say about the relative performance of Massa and Alonso in the first three races?


I believe you're referring to the BPR table's Power Rating here: ?

If so, with Massa on 89.348 and Alonso on 88.720, it's pretty much a statistical toss-up between the two. However, we have to account for Alonso's result in Malaysia (qualifying and race included) having a significant impact on his Power Rating this early in the season; as he posted higher BPR scores in Bahrain and Australia than Massa.


I thought Button stopped early for hard tyres because his soft rear tyres were sliding so much that he absolutely had to? In which case it wasn't really anyone's "call".


Apparently it depends on who you talk to. Button stated it was due to degradation, but others stated it was a strategy call to try and jump the Ferraris...


If he was such a great driver the Ferrari's wouldn't have been in front of him as he started higher up the grid ❗


I don't think anyone said here that he's a great driver. Or not. It's a matter of individual opinion isn't it.


Alonso 2nd fastest lap with broken clutch and Hamilton 3rd fastest lap.

Clearly the two best drivers out there


Fastest lap means nothing and it never will unless the FIA award points for it.

If they did this then there would be added excitement right to the end of the race as we'd see drivers really going for it.


I cant believe that redbull didnt allow vettel and webber to race. Even after vettel had slipped up the inside into turn one, i still thought they would allow them to compete on strategy and that webbers crew would try and pit him first. But no, as webber confirmed after the race, the lead car has priority. This is poor considering the respect ferrari have gained by allowing there drivers to race. the picture is becoming clearer that vettel is the number 1 in that team.


There could be times this year that Webbull is the faster driver,let's say one or two races.If Mark can keep his pace,he may even win.But I believe we are all aware that Vebbull will be the one on point for the team most of the time.Not by choice-Seb is quicker and a touch more reliable.

That is exactly the pattern we saw last year.This year they are running even better,and have the chance of finishing at the very top.None of these teams should short change one of thier drivers this early in a season.


This is a valid point, however you have to take into consideration Marks accident before the beginning of the 2009 championship. I think that could have slowed him a bit in the beginning. Also when he was on it (Germany, Brazil) he was quite unbeatable.

In Australia I simply think he was trying too hard, too close to the limit and that's why the mistakes.

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