Spanish Grand Prix – The decisive moments
Spanish Grand Prix – The decisive moments
Strategy Briefing
Posted By: James Allen  |  12 May 2010   |  7:08 am GMT  |  57 comments

The Spanish Grand Prix at the weekend was a relatively straight forward affair in strategy terms with the main decisions on tyres pretty clear with little room for variation. But there were some key decisions to be made on the timing of the pit stop, with positions to be won and lost and the second set of tyres to be maintained over a long period.

Bridgestone brought with them the soft and hard tyres from their range and it was clear that the soft was the better qualifying tyre. This meant that all the top ten started the race on the soft tyre on which they qualified, while all but one of the others also chose to start on the soft.

Only Lucas di Grassi took a chance on the hard tyre, with the intention of running a much longer first stint than his rivals, but he found the car unbalanced on them and pitted on lap 19, which meant he had to do the remaining 47 laps on a set of soft tyres.

The key decision was when to make the first stop. With no refuelling this year making the strategy more one dimensional, the timing of tyre stops is one of the few opportunities for overtaking, especially on a track like Barcelona. Also the earlier you stop the more work you are asking the hard tyres to do. Many drivers ended up doing fifty laps on the hard tyre.

Generally in a tight battle the driver who pits first is the one who gains the advantage, as he has a new set of tyres for a lap or two before his rival pits. But as we saw in one case, when the switch is from soft to hard tyres, that is only the case if the driver can get his hard tyres up to temperature straight away.

Michael Schumacher pitted early, on lap 14 at which point he was four seconds behind 5th place Jenson Button. Button stayed out a further two laps, but when he rejoined Schumacher was right there and took the position. Schumacher had problems getting the hard tyre to switch on and the Mercedes didn’t work well on it for the rest of the race, but it turned out to be academic because fate had handed him an opportunity.

Button had lost six seconds in the pits, “There was a problem with the clutch dragging, so the guys couldn’t get the wheel on, and then I had wheelspin,” he said.

Afterwards Schumacher said that he could have gone longer on the soft tyre and many of the front runners did; Lewis Hamilton, Adrian Sutil and Mark Webber went to lap 17 with the tyres still giving good lap times. Bridgestone’s Hirohide Hamashima said that in his opinion the soft tyre was capable of much longer stints than we saw. Trulli went 22 laps and was setting very consistent lap times in the run up to his stop, while Chandhok went to lap 27.

But it was noticeable that not everyone had as good a balance on the hard tyre as on the soft. Webber’s Red Bull certainly did and Alonso’s Ferrari was actually better on the hard tyre. But it seemed that other teams had prioritised qualifying and getting the best from the soft tyre, knowing how hard it was to overtake once the pit stop was done – a fact proved by Schumacher holding Button back despite Button’s car being two seconds a lap faster on the hard tyre.

Sebastian Vettel lost a place to Lewis Hamilton in the pit stops and afterwards admitted that this was a decision they had got wrong, coming in earlier than was necessary. He stopped on lap 16, when he was 2.6 seconds ahead of Hamilton, who pitted a lap later.

Like Button, Vettel lost time in the pits, being held back by the chief mechanic so as not to collide with Alonso as he entered his pit box. This was just bad luck, but once he went out Vettel also found it hard to warm up the hard tyre. His out lap was 2.4 seconds slower than Hamilton’s, which was enough to put him in Hamilton’s range as he exited the pits and after a side by side battle in Turn 1, Hamilton took the place.

Interestingly, Vettel’s out lap on the hard tyre was four seconds slower than Mark Webber’s in the same Red Bull car.

So in retrospect Vettel would have been better off staying out longer and either pitting at the same time as Hamilton or even a lap later.

In Monaco this weekend there will be a lot of important decisions to be made, not least in the timing of qualifying runs and pit stops. With overtaking virtually impossible at Monaco qualifying, the start and the pit stops will determine everything.

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Thanks for that info James, it sheds extra light into what was going on in the race.


“With overtaking virtually impossible at Monaco qualifying, the start and the pit stops will determine everything”

This sums up why something needs to be changed in ‘f1 rules’. Otherwise we may as well just watch the first 2 laps, middle couple of laps and end 2 laps?!

James, After Bahrain Bernie talked about waiting till the Europe stages to re-assess what can be done about these ‘processional races’. Do you know if Bernie is still thinking of looking at this problem now we are back to Europe?


It’s being monitored and talked about but there is no pressing urgency to address it for the short term. The season is going pretty well and with four different winners from five races and an open championship I don’t think we can complain.


thanx James, well certainly no complaining if it rains!


AFAIK, Schumacher joined the track just behind Barichello and Hülkenberg who at that time didn’t pit causing him not to get the best out of new tyres.


You don’t mention the key moment before the race. RB qualifying 0.8s faster than the next fastest challenger.

In the race however, Lewis was to be able to match the Red Bulls, Alonso not far behind, and everyone else stuck behind Shuey.

I know that the stewards have ruled out ride height adjustment, but SOMETHING is going on with RB qualifying pace which they then ‘lose’ during the race. I would like to know what it is.


I believe that it is getting the best out of the tyres over a single lap and over race distance, Mclaren seems to be good on race days as compared to qualifying laps. During the race webber was 14 secs ahead of hamilton over 64 out of 66laps which is almsot 0.2 secs per lap as compared to 0.8secs during qualifying.


Hard to know as Webber was managing his gap, not racing flat out, but I still suspect *cough – ride height*, as it explains so well the change between quali and race. One BBC bod said during the race “when full of fuel, the McLaren rides much better and is on the pace” – paraphrasing, but that’s a ride height issue, on the McLaren, so why isn’t the RB affected?


Decisive moment took 10minutes in Q3, hawk.


What this post from James demonstrates so clearly, is that this so called sport is not actually about motor racing anymore! Thank god for Moto GP.


Is it that bad?

Your comment is interesting, because despite an abundance of overtaking I don’t find MotoGP that exciting. It’s TOO easy to overtake. There seems to be no real chance to defend.

I’ve watched F1 since ’86 and there’s always dull races. I remember ‘crisis’ headlines after the ’99 Spanish Grand Prix, because it was a procession. On balance I’d like to see more overtaking, definitely, but really the last race wasn’t so bad.



Thanks for offering some rationality on the issue!

I remember the headline that you mention. The ‘engineering genii’ at the magazine in question came up with some twaddle which was labelled as their “solution” to the problem. And what event followed? Canada, where there was non-stop action!

On the issue of Moto GP I think that you are spot on. It is a bit like 20/20 cricket, where a 6 is just another shot and scoring 20-odd runs in an over is commonplace. The final lap of the race is the only time that attention is warrantd in such events.

The first 20 or so laps at Barcelona were reasonably eventful, but I did find the race a bit flat after that. Hamilton’s late mechanical failure brought back a bit of excitement.

In the late 90s, F1 Racing magazine ran an article on the ‘overtaking crisis’ in F1. In the final paragraph the author pointed out that the reason why we all wax lyrical about some of the great overtaking manouevres from yesteryear is because overtaking wasn’t as widespread as some remember.


Each to his own, but I’ve now been following F1 for nearly fifty years, and sure there have been less than enthralling periods in the past, but I honestly think the sport is now in risk of serious decline. You only have to look at some of the bizzare ideas discussed as to how to improve things to see how desperate it is becoming. If we have to somehow artificially reintroduce overtaking opportunity then something is seriously awry.

Watching Button trail Schumacher for the greater part of the race sums it up I think.



Back in your early days (early 90’s) I’m sure you’ll remember that the pitstop ‘window’ seemed to be much wider. Drivers would stay out on the tyres until the grip started to go, and there seemed to be more unpredictability in when this would occur. Drivers wouldn’t stop on a pre-calculated lap.

Do you think some of the teams are over-strategising with computer modelling now, and not allowing themselves to be more reactive to how the drivers are finding the grip levels deteriorating (or not)?


I think that the issue with a tyre manufacturer gives F1 a way to solve their issues here without having to move back to having a refueling situation. Not having refueling is a good thing as it encourages engine manufacturers to deliver the best amount of power for the least amount of fuel. Having a lower fuel consumption reduces the amount of fuel that one has to carry and thus a reduction in lap times. It also helps to bring us to a more “green” F1. I think that the refueling ban should stand, especially when a new engine formula is introduced. This will provide a very large incentive to engine manufacturers to get the efficiency right while still developing good power.

With the current problem with the 1-dimensional strategy decisions and problems with passing, I think that the current tyre situation will provide a way to fix this. As has been mentioned/discussed on this blog before, despite the calls that “aero is ruining passing opportunities” I think that a reduction in mechanical grip of the tires and an increase in the degradation of the tires will provide a better solution.

A reduction in the mechanical grip would put a premium on drivers being able to get the maximum out of the tire and to get them up to working order. An increase in the degradation of the tires will provide a premium on the driver choosing when to use his “bank” of grip in the tire. Expend the bank account too quickly and the driver will find himself having to pit for tires, or struggle to maintain lap times while other drivers take advantage of the vulnerability presented by a too aggressive driver.

This would also have a knock-on affect on the aero performance of the cars. Just going for the maximum downforce will not be the ultimate goal. An excessive amount of downforce could result in excessive amounts of degradation in the tyres. So there will be a balancing act here as well. With adjustable flaps, this will provide another way for the driver to manage their tires. I should note, I would like to see drivers having more control over “trimming” the aero of their car.

Eventually, the goal of these changes is to provide the driver/team with choices of when to be aggressive and when to hold something in reserve. Drivers would not be in all out “attack mode” every lap(as they were in the refueling+tyre change era) but they also would not only worry about managing the car and the gap knowing that if they have a good pit stop, there really isn’t a way for a car to pass in dry conditions. The reduction in mechanical grip would also provide more opportunities for drivers to make a mistake and thus present more opportunities for overtaking if a pursuing driver is able to apply pressure effectively.


I agree that increased fuel efficiency is a good thing. However, the refuelling ban is clearly the wrong way to do this. If the excitement of F1 is reduced as a result of a rule, then it cannot be in the best interests of the sport. If noone watches, noone will care that fuel efficiency is improved.

A better way to support fuel efficiency is simply to give each team a fixed amount of fuel to finish the race with. Start it at the current maximum, or a bit below, currently required, and steadily reduce the volume and/or octane rating each year in a year on year basis. This way refuelling is allowed and still adds a multi-dimensional strategy optimisation problem which will keep races interesting longer than 15 laps.

Reduction in mechanical grip and reduced aero wake is a good idea. Increasing tyre degradation, while a valid idea, is incredibly naive. Think of it from the tyre manufacturers’ point of view: why enter F1 to manufacture marginal tyres FOR FREE in order for them to fall apart in 10 laps live on TV while the commentators say “and his Michelin/Bridgestone tyres are falling apart”. Is that going to make people buy your tyres? No.

In my opinion, RACING is not about going slowly. One of the definitions of the word race is “to engage in a contest of speed; run a race”. If drivers are not going as fast as they can unless a win is secured then they’re not doing their job right. However, the current rules put a premium on going ‘slowly’ and preserving tyres for strategy reasons. Strategy should be about the team and driver combination, highlighted perfectly by refuelling strategies. I want to see the fastest and best driver and team win a race. The current rules hamper this.

What people forget is that F1 and technology has changed a lot since there was no refuelling. The drivers are fitter and so make less mistakes under pressure. The cars are more reliable (this is a big reason) which means that processional races are more normal as technical faults happen less often. Barcelona was a bit abnormal in that regard. Can you imagine how boring the race would have been towards the end without Vettel’s problem or Hamilton crashing off? Both rare mechanical problems. Without this we’d have only had the Button vs Schumacher fight. Only with refuelling we would have actually seen WHO WAS FASTER over a race distance. I think this would have been more exciting.

Another large reason is the change from manual gearboxes to seamless shifts. A lot of overtaking in the past resulted from drivers missing gears and getting a poor exit from a corner under pressure. This is impossible with seamless shifts. The obvious solution is to go back to manual…but that would be against F1’s technological fundamental so cannot be done.

James’s (very good) article put a brave face on what was a boring race. Bluntly put, the decisive moment of this race was Q3 (not in the actual race I might add) and the first corner.

With refuelling on the other hand, we would have seen a Vettel/Webber fight like Button/Barichello last year; Hamilton’s McLaren team trying to do something interesting with refuelling strategy to hold onto 2nd or attack for the lead; Massa and Alonso trying something similar; a Button/Schumacher fight that would result in the faster guy getting past either on the track (because of no need to save tyres) or eventually in the pits. Which ‘race’ would you rather have watched?

Bring back refuelling.


I understand that one of the key issues in deciding to discontinue refuelling was the logistics and cost of shipping the refuelling rigs around the world. Perhaps we will see a return of the old style dump tanks?


That’s a valid reason. However, I don’t think the FIA/FOTA considered that one very closely. F1 stands to lose a lot more money from losing viewers and hence advertising revenue than it would ever gain from not shipping refuelling rigs around.


In the face of such a convincing argument. I can’t help but agree. But I do believe that they should be “fuel limited” in some way. My question then becomes, policing this in the best possible manner, and don’t different constructors use different fuel? (Like Ferrari with Shell?)

The only other point of contention I have is regarding the increasing degradation. I think that the commentators do a good job of keeping the audience about the technology involved and if they are talking about how its the DRIVERs fault for the tyres degrading while other drivers are doing just fine, I don’t think that puts a negative light on the tyres themselves.


Unfortunately the drivers/teams will always use the tyre as an excuse!


If it rains (which looks like it may be on the cards), so the tire rules go out the window, is it possible for them to run the race without having to change tires? would the tires last?

Obviously, they would have to be lucky on the way the circuit might dry out vs the wear of the tire e.g the circuit drys out as full wets reduce down to slicks in effect.


even if it rains they still have to make the one mandatory pitstop.


they have to use both dry weather tyres, but under wet weather there is no such ruling and there is no rule to enforce a mandatory pit stop, just the need to change tyres.


Mika Salo achieved the no-stop feat in the wet, reduced-length, 1997 version of the race so it can be done if conditions are right.


I think that was how Barrichello ended up in second place as well, can’t be sure though.


Interesting additional analysis from TK on the BBC website explaing where RB get a lot of their speed from:


Also an interesting insight on Button vs Schumacher…

…how many of us had twigged that Schumi’s race engineer was Button’s last year and would know his strengths and weaknesses better than most.


I’ve found also very interesting the mention of “Schumacher’s trick of braking in the middle of a corner, which caused Button to brake, before accelerating away. This is a fairly common move, but didn’t go down too well with those on the receiving end.” Apparently Schumi was doing that to get out of the corners with enough advantage as to compensate the superior straight speed of JB’s car.

Martin Collyer


I doubt there are any dirty tricks that Schumacher can learn from Alonso or any other driver.


I think Schumacher learned that trick from Alonso back in 2005 at Imola…


Agree that was interesting.

I was especially interested to see it was a common practice. I would have thought that, from a safety perspective, that this would be akin to weaving in the braking zone. If one is frowned on, surely the other should be!


Clever driving 😉


Thanks for that link. Good stuff analyzing the cars.

And that’s the first I’ve heard about the Mercedes flaring nostrils:

“But particularly interesting was that the small ‘nostril’ air intakes either side of the fin will change size depending on the circuit to ensure sufficient air is taken into the engine. They will grow for Monaco this weekend and contract for the high speeds of Monza.”


Seems to me that a good way to bring back a bit more strategy without resorting to refuelling is to just make the tyres wear out faster so they need to make at least 2 if not 3 stops to get through the race. Then the compound differences may come into play a bit more too.


Good for us fans, but detrimental to Bridgestone’s publicity.

Jake Pattison

If Vettel had done his usual trick of out-driving Webber and won this race from pole (as I was expecting) then we would now all be lamenting the fate of Webber. But with one strong drive he has turned the wheels around and now his name is being whispered in regard to a drive at Ferrari.

So, I am wondering what has happened? Is Webber finally finding his stride and learning to love the car he’s in, or did Vettel have a bad day? All talk of the two drivers before this race revolved around how Vettel is the next Schumacher, and how Webber seemed destined to forever play bridesmaid to the young German.


People simply underestimate Webber. The reality is that Vettel and Webber are a pretty good match.

Webber is suffering from the team’s focus on Vettel though. In Australia Webber was in P2 behing held up by Vettel. If they had had called in Webber fist he would have jumped Vettel, so they waited and waited till Vettel came in. By then it was far too late and Webber dropped from P2 to P6.

So his race turned from an easy drive at the front into a nightmare race trying to make up lost ground. At which he failed to be honest, but still.


I think you are underestimating Vettel. Remember, Webber is in his ninth season, whereas Vettel has barely completed three seasons.

Over the course of the season last year, Vettel came out on top and will probably do so this year again. He is the one with the greater long-term prospects (he could still be racing in 15 years time), so if the team did put the focus on him then that would make sense. But I’m not sure that RB does do that – remember Turkey last year?


Vettel is slightly better than Webber yes, but people often see Webber as a complete failure.

Turkey 2009 was Vettel’s own fault. He should have won that race, but didn’t.

I’m not saying the team is purposefully holding Webebr back, but sometimes he does lose out because of their focus always on Vettel first.

As in Australia where he could very well have won the race hadn’t they waited for Vettel to come in so long.

Not saying that’s bad either. Why must everything be a debate?


it’s a shame that every time the FIA change things to get more overtaking and ‘spice up the action’ the opposite occurs. :*(

The best they can wish for is that by changing the regulations so fundamentally, they’ll upset the big-team/small-team balance…temporarily.


FIA should aim to make F1 more boring.. I’m sure if they do that, it could be most exciting season ever.


I think you just hit the nail on its head … lol

narada Kudinar

Don’t you think the races might be a little more interesting if they provided tyres too soft for the race? i.e. force a second pitstop for those who can’t look after their tyres?

For example, if there was only the soft tyre at Barcelona, someone like Button could risk one stopping if he did both stints on the soft tyre, but the flip side would be slower laptimes at the end of the stint compared to those who two stop.

Make it so marginal to mix things up a little. If Chandok lasted 27 laps on the soft, you would think most would have done a two stop strategy if there were only a soft tyre.


Tyre manufacturers are in F1 to advertise their quality product. They will not manufacture tyres which fall apart after 10 laps for all the comentators to say ‘and Hamilton’s Bridgestones are falling apart…”


And those who get it wrong will never accept blame – it will be the fault of the tyres!


We’re all noticing now that the talk of changing the rules went away. I suppose it’s back. What are the options now that a new tire supplier is about to be confirmed? Surely there’s an opportunity.


I reckon that for the remainder of this season they should introduce a mandatory second tyre stop.

..Hell, maybe even three for places like Barcelona, Valencia and Hungary.


I think the opposite. A mandatory second stop is just the equivalent of bringing back refuelling – not interested in that at all.

I prefer the comment in #1 – remove the mandatory stop to open up the strategy options.



Where does all of this common sense come from? Why do so many people find it so hard?

Many touring car series have mandatory stops, and it rarely enhances the spectacle. I was at the Brands Hatch round of the DTM series last year, and noticed that the only effect of the compulsory stops was to shuffle the order for a few laps.


Thanks so much for this analysis, James. Understanding the shoe timing is important this season, insn’t it?


Its a shame seems like we are going to have a few processions in F1 coming up. James what is FOTA position in trying to bring back the refueling, no one is mentioning is this anymore, but without rain the races are kind of predicatable?


I fully agree with the forecast about a few more processions. There may be technical solutions to come but they won’t be any time soon.

A simple short term solution would be to put a short length of dual carriage way on the track. Pick a section through a couple of corners so that the sections are identical for race purposes: and NO changing lanes in the section.

At the very least the quicker cars could get past and then try to keep the cars in front honest.

A bit of side by side instead of follow my leader should be much more interesting. I admit that I write as one one who watched the first few laps of Bahrain and of Barcelona then switched off. I have a life to lead. So thank you very much for your web site James.

I get my F1 fix from reading your excellent technical explanations. If it rains I shall be watching Monaco with you. If not then I shall be switching off yet again and read James on Monday or Tuesday.


I think it’s a little naive to assume the races are predictable simply because of no refuelling.

If you are talking about teams using identical pit stop strategies (as mentioned in the article), then surely the mandatory pit stop rule in conjunction with the qualifying tyre rule are more to blame. They force the teams into exactly the same strategy.


100% agreed. Get rid of the mandatory stop, and allow both tires as free options.


Bridgstone is in F1 to be known, as they are the only supplier the mandatory pit stop is just for commercial reasons. Am I right?


Yes I suppose you are. It’s an arbitrary rule that you have to use both types of tyre in the race.


Seriously? At a race like Monaco or the Hungaroring, NOONE would pit if one of the tyres could last the whole race. Do you really want that?

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