Monaco Grand Prix – The key decisions
Monaco Grand Prix – The key decisions
Strategy Briefing
Posted By: James Allen  |  19 May 2010   |  6:41 pm GMT  |  24 comments

Welcome to our look-back at the key decisions which made the Monaco Grand Prix.

Monaco is normally a frustrating race for team strategists.

Qualifying is so important, it sets the tone for the race and only the start and the sole pit stop give any real opportunity to gain track positions. That said, a safety car at the right moment can make a big difference and this is what happened for Fernando Alonso.

For the rest, the start was decisive in the battle between Robert Kubica and Sebastian Vettel, while the timing of the pit stop led to some changes among the big names too. So let’s look into some of the key decisions.

Alonso: Safety car helped a lot (Darren Heath)

Starting from the pit lane, after missing qualifying due to a practice accident Alonso’s chances of making it through the field were not looking encouraging. He had the example of Michael Schumacher from 2006, who finished fifth having been sent to the back of the grid. But Schumacher was able to use refuelling strategy to help him. That is not an option in 2010.

Also Alonso was obliged to stop at least once due to the rule requiring every driver to use both types of Bridgestone tyre.

Alonso’s plan was to start the race on the supersoft tyre, then switch to hard tyres on the first lap and run the rest of the race on one set of tyres.

The reason the team chose not to try the opposite strategy and run long on the hard tyre from the start was in case a safety car should come out at the wrong moment and compromise them.

Ironically it was a safety car that made it for him. The accident at the start really played into Ferrari’s hands. It allowed Alonso to make his tyre stop and not lose any time doing so. He was able to join the tail of the pack behind the safety car before the restart and then it was a question of passing the slow cars as quickly as possible and keeping the gap to the cars he was hoping to race to less than 25 seconds, the time it would take them to pit and rejoin the race.

By lap 18 he was up to 16th place and only 17 seconds behind the fifth place car. Hamilton, who was fifth in the opening stint, had just pitted and emerged in front of him, so Alonso knew that he had a chance to be sixth when all the cars had pitted. And so it proved.

Many of the cars ahead of him played into his hands, stopping in the next few laps.

But there were places to be won and lost to other drivers by mistiming the stop, so how did the teams decide?

The teams have a more sophisticated timing system than the one available to the public and media. It divides the lap into ten sectors, rather than the basic three and this gives them a much faster evaluation of the way the tyres are behaving. Rather than wait 20 odd seconds to find out whether they are going off, they can tell every 8 seconds how the performance is going.

Engineers and computers study the trends and make the strategy calls based on what they see.

This works in two ways; it tells them the precise moment when their soft tyres are dropping off and by reading the sectors of cars already on the hards, they can see what performance gain rivals are experiencing.

Hamilton was the first to pit and his lap times went from 1m 19.7s to 1m 17.6s. Rival engineers could see immediately the speed advantage he was getting from his new tyres.

Massa was the driver most at risk from Hamilton’s early switch to hard tyres, having been only 3 seconds ahead in the opening stint. He duly pitted at the end of lap 19, as soon as the Ferrari team saw the pace Hamilton had in the early stages of lap 19. Five others followed suit.

Massa held onto his fourth position thanks to the quick thinking and analysis of the Ferrari engineers.

For others it was too late. Barrichello and Schumacher were in Alonso’s sights and he jumped both of them when they pitted on lap 19. However Schumacher also jumped Barrichello with another lightening-fast Mercedes pit stop.

Liuzzi lost out to Sutil (Darren Heath)

The other significant change in order came within the Force India team, where Tonio Liuzzi lost 8th place to team mate Adrian Sutil.

Liuzzi had outqualified Sutil for the first time this season and ran ahead of him for the first 19 laps of the race. Like many others he saw the pace of Hamilton on the new hard tyre and stopped on lap 19. At the time Sutil was one lap behind.

Sutil had nothing to lose by trying something different. He decided that his soft tyres still had life in them and opted to come in three laps later. With Liuzzi out of the way, he started going one second per lap faster, setting the fastest lap either of them had done to that point.

Even though his stop was a second slower than Liuzzi’s he had still done enough to jump him at the stop.

Sutil’s instinct was proved right, the old soft tyres did have something left to give, it was a brave decision and it paid off.

Conversely the tactic did not work for Nico Rosberg. He was trying to get ahead of his team mate Michael Schumacher, who stopped on lap 19 and Rubens Barrichello. Rosberg stayed out until lap 28, the last of the major runners to pit. He had 22 seconds over Schumacher at one point, but a couple of slow laps prevented him from getting to the magic 25 second margin he needed. Unlike Sutil, the gamble did not pay off.

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Why is it that us mere mortals are not allowed access to this “more sophisticated timing system” via the live timing?


This was the first time I was looking at the live timing and Mclaren was precise: the moment Alonso passed the last remaining new team car Hamilton pitted.


James – would love to see something on Tony Fernandes suggestion of abolishing blue flags. I suspect Martin Brundle is in favour of it too.

I LOVE this idea, and it would make the Monaco GP for one something to savour. Traffic is a sure way to create more passing opportunities!


Given the success of Alonso’s strategy, what are the chance that if a similar thing happens next year we’ll see the farcical spectacle of half the field pitting at the end of lap 1? For certain, if Mercedes had pitted one of their cars that driver would have ended up ahead of Alonso (maybe both cars given the extra time lost by Alonso) and Barichello would also have been ahead if he didn’t crash. Even the likes of Sauber would likely have kept ahead of Alonso for the whole race.

Personally, I think it’s a big mistake for Goodyear to supply a tyre capable of doing the virtually whole race distance when there are forced pit stops (entirely different issue if tyre changes are optional). The race would have been much better if the two compounds were soft & super-dooper-soft. This year’s tyres were simply too durable.


That’s a good point, but it’s much easier for Alonso to overtake the guys at the back (FerrariXCosworth) than Barrichello (CosworthXCosworth). The latter would have to rely only on the superior handling and Ferrari had also superior power.


Goodyear supplies NASCAR. Bridgestone is F1’s tire supplier.


oops, yes Bridgestone of course.


Hi James

Why dont any drivers qualify on the harder tyres? I understand that its slower in qualifying and might wont get them off the line so well. However if you’re in a Force India/Renault/Williams and make it into Q3, you’re not going to qualify higher than 9th. Passing is difficult so running slower at the start not so much of a problem. Being out of sync on strategy could play into your hands with a safety car. And the option tyre will perform much better at the end of the race when the track is rubbered in, especially if others are nursing their tyres.


Good analysis, James. Congratulations… from Spain 😉


Except Vettel jump on Kubica, the most decisive moment was first SC and Alonso’s excellent decision to change tyres for prime ones. He managed to run on single tyre set the whole race which awarded him 6th place. It seems in Monaco Alonso’s strategy is the best as let me recall season 2008 where Hamilton luckily after his mistake on 6 lap (demaged tyre) was forced to pit and then run long stint whilst the rest of front-runners had to pit (and because of SC they didn’t make gap).


Kudos to Sutil, he’s doing great this year, finally maturing.

What are the odds he’ll get a pole/win at some point this year?


Fairly long I imagine – But I certainly don’t think a podium finish is beyond him this season – especially at somewhere like Spa or Monza.

I think Sutil’s name will come up quite a lot when the Silly Season starts up…


Is there *any GP where there’s *not a crash on lap 1??


I think there was some pace left for many drivers in the soft tyre, but nobody at the front but Rosberg take the risk of staying out with all the others pitting.

Nico´s pace was very good at the end of the stint on the soft tyre. The problem for him was that Webber came out of his first pit-stop in front of him and for a couple of laps he disturbed Nico´s pace.


I’m an Alonso fan but when the car broke (paddock rumor) during the tests I thought that I was going to suffer too much watching alonso starting from boxes, but I think It’s been one of the most interesting races this year.


I wouldn’t go as far as saying it was one of the most interesting but it was an interesting race. As an Alonso fan as well, I was devastated when he wasn’t able to do qualifying, I didn’t feel like watching the race. But as an F1 fan I couldn’t do that I was ecstatic I saw that he would finish just behind Hamilton. He did great and he’s in a good position for the championship.

David Hamilton

Very surprised that you didn’t mention Rosberg, given that he should also have benefitted from taking a different strategy:

When he stayed out after all the cars in from of him pitted, Rosberg was turning in times that easily matched Hamilton’s (on the new tyres), and should have left him comfortably in front of Schumacher.

However Red Bull pitted Webber to ensure that he stayed ahead of Rosberg. Had Rosberg pitted immediately, he would have leapfrogged Schumacher. However, he hesitated – assuming that Webber on fresh rubber would not hold him up at all, and that if he could continue with the quick time he could also get Hamilton.

As it turned out, Webber was about 2 seconds off the pace after his stop, and the couple of extra laps that Rosberg took to find that out cost him the positions of Schumacher and (maybe) Alonso.

I guess Mark didn’t feel the need to attack on the new rubber, but Nico must have felt robbed!


I was amazed to see Webber’s pace when everyone else was pitting was faster or just as fast still on soft tyres.


What Sutil did was also tried by Mercedes for Nico Rosberg’s car. But he got stuck behind Webber, who clearly (and rightly so) wasn’t pushing very hard with his new hard tyres. Rosberg had gained two seconds per lap when he was driving alone on his soft tyres when everyone else around him (Massa, Hamilton, Schumacher) had stopped but he didn’t make any more progress once he had the Red Bull in front of him. As a result he came out in the same place after his pit stop he had been in. If Mercedes had called him into the pits two laps earlier he could have moved up 4th. Strange that this would happen with strategy supremo Ross Brawn at the ehlm but perhaps his eyes were too focussed on the other car.


Kobayashi was slowing down couple of cars, schumi included. rosberg used that to build a gap. unfortunately not big enough… if kobayashi stayed few laps more on the track, or webber came behind nico his tactic would give him much better result IMO


Excellent point Mirko. Sure, the speed on the new tyre was faster. However it also relied on all the midfielders to stop as well, otherwise the front runners who stopped would get held up.

David Hamilton

I just think that Brawn expected Webber to be much quicker on the new tyres than he turned out to be. Webber instead chose to look after his tyres and sought to avoid taking too much life out of them too early.


Are you trying to say that schu is back to his old tricks again?


How about the decision not to bring Rosberg in earlier, when I believe he had a bigger gap to Schu than he had when he finally did come in. His exit behind Schu was a close thing – a second or so might have swung it? Do you have access to the numbers to see if that’s right?

Good stuff!

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