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.
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 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.