German Grand Prix – The key decisions
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German Grand Prix – The key decisions
Strategy Briefing
Posted By: James Allen  |  29 Jul 2010   |  10:55 am GMT  |  275 comments

The German Grand Prix at Hockenheim didn’t turn out the way many people expected for many reasons and there were some big decisions taken, which we will be talking about for some time.

The two widely different tyres behaved far better than expected, leaving few tactical options to the teams, while Ferrari were more competitive than many had expected and were the centre of attention. They took a one-two finish, but not in the same order in which they ran for most of the race.

Ferrari: Mechanism to prove who's faster (Darren Heath)

But what was the mechanism by which this crucial decision was taken?

If it had been agreed before the race that Alonso was the driver Ferrari wished to take maximum points from the race, then there would have been an arrangement in place to switch the cars around if Massa found himself ahead. It doesn’t appear to be the case here and anyway I doubt whether Massa would have agreed to that.

However he would have agreed to a system for establishing who is the faster driver. It seems that there was an agreement in place about the size of lead and a mechanism for showing who is faster, as a basis for Ferrari to make a decision. This may be a legacy of incidents earlier in the season, such as Australia, where Alonso was held up by Massa and the team took no action.

Judging from the messages to Massa from his engineer Rob Smedley, it seems that the notion of a three second lead was important, Smedley pointed out to Massa that he had three seconds in hand over his team mate at one point and described that as important.

But Alonso soon ate into that lead, getting it down to below a second, which was his way of proving that he was faster. Faced with Massa’s inability to match the pace and having lost the three second lead, the team had the evidence it needed to tell Massa that Alonso was faster than him, which was clearly the agreed etiquette.

I’ve been researching this a bit over the last few days and this kind of arrangement is quite common within teams. There has to be some way for teams to assess which driver is faster on the day and if the driver who is following can prove that he can close up a gap then it shows that he is faster.

This tipped the balance in Alonso’s favour in Germany.

We saw it last year in Germany when Jenson Button was behind Rubens Barrichello and Ross Brawn radioed the Brazilian to say that they were losing time to Rosberg and that if Barrichello couldn’t keep the pace up then he “should let Jenson have a go”.

So it was last weekend; with a threat from Vettel in third place and mindful of the championship situation, Ferrari formed its decision.

On a wider theme, the much discussed three step gap between the super soft and hard tyres didn’t create the tactical variations many had hoped for. Both tyres were just too good and a repeat of the chaos of the Montreal race was never on the cards from the early practice sessions onwards.

Hockenheim is a track which improves quickly once some rubber goes down and despite the rain over the weekend, it rubbered in and this meant that the supersoft lasted well in the opening stages of the race.

This caught out Mark Webber, who pitted on lap 15 and lost a place to Jenson Button, who pitted on lap 24. Webber had done a run on Friday on supersoft, where he had quite a lot of graining and this might have spooked him a bit into deciding not to run too long on that tyre in the race, even though he knew he was racing Button, who was likely to run longer.

Conversely it was another example of Button’s smooth driving style giving him the ability to make a set of option tyres last longer than his opposition. He did the same in Silverstone where he gained two places by staying out longer. Here he jumped Webber and picked up a vital position.

Button was helped in this by the new tyre pace on the hard, which wasn’t great. Although the track temperature of 25 degrees meant that the hard tyre didn’t struggle to warm up, neither did the new tyres give an injection of pace, so a well managed set of used supersofts was still faster than a new set of hards. The situation was tailor made for Button.

The experiment of the three step gap revealed that the four tyres in the Bridgestone range are too close together to make much of a difference. What made Montreal so enthralling was that both tyres were suffering from high degradation.

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1

There’s only on solution to the team orders issue, allow teams to ask drivers to “hold station” and disallow any driver who can still mathmatically win the championship from relinquishing his position at the bequest of the team.

Therefore the team can avoid team mates running into each other and have 2 car support when one driver is eventually going for the championship.

This would avoid scenes of drivers lifting to let team mates past until it makes total logical sense

2
Thomas in Australia

Can’t help but think that the fans are being forgotten about here.

I don’t mean the hardcore fans who read blogs, autosport etc, i mean the casual fans who make up the majority of the F1 audience.

This incident, justified or not, would have turned off a lot of casual F1 fans, i’m sure of it.

Removing all of the political and financial garbage, at the end of the day the race result was fixed.

3

James

I see German magazine Auto Motor und Sport is reporting that Massa received the “Fernando is faster than you. Do you understand? Can you confirm?” message three times before he moved over. They also seem to suggest that Alonso allowed the 3.4s gap to Massa in front to happen as when warned about it by his engineer, he allegedly replied that this was no problem as he could quickly close the gap…

4

James,

When the council meets, I understand that the team can be punished and that the punishments can be wide ranging. However, I don’t see how Alonso can be punished. He neither gave the orders or carried them out and although I realise that he was the one that benefited, you cannot punish him for the actions of others. Or can you?

5

At least we got to see a pass. Besides the brilliant start by Massa, and the stupid move by Seb, the race was a snoooooze. Thank you Ferrari for giving us something to talk about!

6

Maybe you were asleep, but I was closely following the laptime battle between Massa and Alonso, and found that very exciting, as well as the question marks on wether Massa would do well with the hard tyre, and also the move Alonso tried just after the pitstop.

7

Nice banner for this GP James. Thank you, aye!

8

Is it true Massa was given the order THREE times? No wonder Rob was so SLOW AND CLEAR with him asking him to confirm that he understood:

http://formula-one.speedtv.com/article/f1-ferrari-issued-felipe-massa-team-order-three-times-in-german-grand-prix/

9

On this teammate pre-race session (with both cars running) battle, some interesting summaries from the above:

Alonso has finished 52-7 (/69) ahead of Massa

Kubica has finised 52-6 (/68) ahead of Petrov

This gives some indication of the measure of relative performance between the Ferrari drivers. Nobody would suggest Petrov is equal number one to Kubica on pace alone. Yet, at Ferrari…

10

That’s because Petrov is a rookie and has never won a GP and did not come 2nd in the 2008 WDC.

11

That’s exactly the point. Massa’s performance relative to Alonso is not what you would expect from a GP winner and a Championship runner up.

12

In my opinion, the only way to stop racing orders in F1 is to allow only 1 car for each team. All other measures (like the one being used right now) are just for show.

my 2c,

13

Or to completely remove the driver championship and leave the constructor one only…

14

Whats in it for the driver other than the fat pay check! wouldn’t happen….

15

We would not be discussing this so much if both drivers had answered the press conference questions with ‘we had a gentlemans agreement’, which is obviously the case.

There are two reasons thatd didn’t happen:

1. massa clearly didn’t believe fernando was quicker at 1st pass attempt

2. Being s gentleman isn’t what it used to be

having said that, if you view rob smedleys dialogue in that light, as an intimate, apoplogetic reality check. I had assumed it was poorly coded so everyone would know, but maybe it was that felipe wasn’t budging……

16

Thanks rmf

the thing with the the fuel is the rate of use.

Both cars have to adopt” fuel saving” speeds sometime in the race as neither have enough fuel to race at top speed the whole race.

Comparing 2 drivers relative speeds at one point in the race means you have to know also whether they are currently slow because they are conserving fuel – or are just slow, have already done their conserving fuel or will have to in the future slow down to conserve fuel. We dont know where either Massa or Alonso was at the time of the ” incident”. Massa could have been slower because he is slower or because Alonso was choosing to run top speed for a short time to demonstrate an apparent nut misleading advantage.

My argument is that it doesn’t matter if the 2 drivers are allowed to race. It matters greatly howver if one driver is preferred because at one point in the race he is considered “faster”.

Personally I think Massa should have taken the consequences of not allowing Alonso to pass. Alonso should learn to overtake and Ferrari need to remember this is motor racing not team racing.

17

Totally agree with your comments James and this could help clarify FA’s comments of ‘this is ridiculous’ over the radio. He was already on FM’s tail and proving he was quickest, but struggling to overtake. If team strategy on deciding who was quickest was already made, then FA may have been asking why he wasn’t allowed to get past. This would mean he is legitimately asking why orders were not being followed rather than TV making him look petulant, which they seem to delight in.

18

Winning an F1 race is just not about having the faster or fastest car. It’s also about having the talent to do successfully overtake the car in front of you. It certainly isn’t about whinging to the pits and getting someone else to order your teamate who is in front to move aside.

If Ferrari or any other team thinks that getting their “no. 1” driver to win a race with the help of team orders in the middle of a race is fair, then they should be quitting F1 and just make roadcars. That way they can’t take the fans and supporters and especially the spectators for a ride (excuse the pun 🙂

19

“It certainly isn’t about whinging to the pits and getting someone else to order your teamate who is in front to move aside.”

No, this is not nor wasn’t. The point was Ferrari Team Racing remembering Massa what the pre-race agreement was and asking him to fullfill it.

20

Well let’s hope that this agreement is fully disclosed to the WMSC. They then will have no choice but to disqualify Ferrari for breaching the rules.

21

As McLaren and others should be. Fair enough then.

22

Allowing team orders is allowing contrived racing. It lowers F1 down towards the NASCAR level. What’s next, the Lucky Dog, or Green, White, Checker? How about resetting the points at an arbitrary point in the season. Imagine! The Chase for the WDC!

23

James,

I have just read Massa’s Hungarian GP press conference answer to whether he was now Ferrari’s #2 – he is not a number two driver and would quit racing before he would accept that position.

Is it so hard to believe that it really was his decision to cede the German race to his team mate for the good of the team?

I have always admired Felipe for his honesty and humility, if not necessarily his all around driving talent. And it struck a chord when he replied directly after the race that it was his decision. I admit that it’s near impossible to get the full measure of a situation while watching a broadcast from thousands of miles away. You were there in person and I would be interested in your personal take on this aspect.

Although I was just a lad when they took place, I am still deeply moved when I read the accounts of drivers going out of their way to help their team mates or other drivers – even when they still had a chance to win the Title! Men like Collins, Moss, & Villeneuve, to name but a few, were true gentlemen who considered their word above all. They knew that becoming World Champion by sacrificing their honesty would be a hollow victory at best – a virtue many of today’s drivers will never have.

I suspect that the various scenarios were discussed before the German race and while I’m sure that Massa wanted to win, he chose to be true to his word no matter the personal sacrifice – or whatever names the self-righteous press would attach to him.

I am convinced that the ultimate call was his. Massa did, in fact, make the decision to let Alonso through – just as he said he would if the situation arose.

24

James,

Thank you for the clarification. I was wondering why Alonso gave up trying to pass so easily when he clearly had the pace and your “3 second gap” explanation makes perfect sense.

Unfortunately, the FIA under Mosley created short sighted rules without any substantive way for teams to make way for the faster driver, hence, they had to develop their own guidelines. Time for a rethink Mr.Todt!

25

“The agreement itself was not kept secret apparently, as Marc Gene told a few minutes before the start of the race that Ferrari’s plans were that the driver who emerged first from turn 1 would have the protection of the team unless he was clearly slower.”

I also heard Gené saying that. Massa’s engineer words should be then put in this context. Even if reluctanctly said. And yes, as Massa has said after, it was Massa’s decission in the end.

26

This wont do at all

Alonso may well have been quicker in ceding and then making up a 3 sec gap to Massa- but we dont know what fuel use strategies both Massa and Alonso were on at the time. Alsonso might have been quicker for a shortwhile then would have to slow down to conserve fuel. Massa seemed to have no trouble keeping up with Alonso to the end

It may well be that Alonso was quicker and there is one surefire way to tell i.e. pass Massa legitimately and win the race.

Besides which being the “best of the best” is not just about speed is it – is it?

27

Arcturis,

the fuel strategy was actually the same for both drivers: tank filled till the end of the race. The point under discussion has nothing to do with Alonso being lighter, as both him and Massa needed and could finish the race.

For me, the full verdict is completely different depending on whether the agreement was in place. As different as using fair play or not. The agreement may be smart, silly, not proper of real men, whatever. The real question for me is whether the conditions for Massa and Alonso were the same or not. As simple as that.

28

Anyone who believes in this 3 second rule also believes in Santa Claus.

29

On Tyres.

Im actually glad the tyres held up at Hockenheim, I hate the idea of trying to intentionally make tyres that wear, grain & fall apart.

What we saw at Montreal was down to the track surface (Due to the harsh winters they have there) & its been a problem with a varierty of tyre compounds & manufacturer’s at that track for years.

I stick by something I’ve said in the past that there should be 3 compounds avaliable (Soft/Medium/Hard) with teams able to run whichever compound they want with no mandatory pit stops.

The softest compound should have great speed but wear faster, the medium should have medium speed & medium wear & the hardest slower speed but be capable of lasting a full race.

This is what Pirelli/FIA/FOTA need to be looking at, Sometimes the best way forward is to take a step backwards & in my opinion they should do this with tyres.

The suggestion above was what we had Pre-94 & then we often saw better racing & intresting tyre strategies where some would pit to change tyres & others would go the full distance.

A lot of people here seem to think mandatory stops will create better racing & varied strategies. Many series have tried this & i’ve yet to see mandatory stops improve the racing & 90% of the time everyone picks similar strategies anyway.

30

I just feel this whole thing has been exaggerated way too much. Ferrari did what they had to do on a championship point of view and although I am not a huge Alonso fan, anyone would agree that only Alonso has the realistic chance of winning this year championship. Yes, it is cruel to not have let Massa win on his 1 year anniversary from the accident last year but we all know what Ferrari as a team have been going through over the past 2 or 3 grand prix’s. They saw an opportunity that would put one of their drivers back in contention and they did. And I am utmost sure that all of this media bashing that is going on is all from Britain. Where were they back in 2008 when Kovalinen was asked to let Hamilton let by. When it favours a British driver they would talk nothing and now when it is Ferrari they are all over them. Its a known fact that Ferarri are prone to criticism and media bashing over the years. Anyway, I happened to look at couple of experts comments Eddie Jordan, Martin Brundle, Mark Webber, Robert Kubica, Ross Brawn and Bernie Ecclestone. They all seem to agree that a team has absolute right to decide on which of their drivers should win which would put them in a better place. For god’s sake, it is a team sport. If there is an individual who is self obsessed, he should not be in Formula 1 at the first place. Be a Roger Federer or Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps. Its an individuals sport not so with Formula 1.

31

As an aside, if true that such an agreement is in place, in the next GP the faster Ferrari driver could be either Alonso or Massa. Is that the reason why, although Massa did let Fernando through, he does not see himself as the second driver for the next races?

32

“It seems that there was an agreement in place about the size of lead and a mechanism for showing who is faster, as a basis for Ferrari to make a decision.”

The agreement itself was not kept secret apparently, as Marc Gene told a few minutes before the start of the race that Ferrari’s plans were that the driver who emerged first from turn 1 would have the protection of the team unless he was clearly slower.

My understanding is that, later in the race, Fernando could have asked for the ‘time-trial’ three times until the previous agreement was conceded by Massa’s team. My guess is that it would be only logical for the race engineer of the leading driver to choose at which time in the race the agreement is put in place, without compromising its own race. If later he has to communicate that the output was contrary to his driver, we could somehow understand the ‘sorry’ part of the message.

Terribly worded if that was the case, as everybody understood otherwise.

33

James,

It is interesting to hear some of the other drivers come out in favour of team orders and stating that Alonso deserved to win the German GP but none of them seem prepared to state if they would have done the same thing as Massa and let their team-mate past for a victory…

We now have Massa insisting he isn’t a no.2 driver and will have the chance to win this weekend – what if Alonso is behind him in second place with one lap to go? Why would this be any different to last weekend?

Teams are trying to have it both ways – if there are team orders then there must be a clear driver hierarchy, to pretend anything else is just more deception…

34

Let’s make it a rally then. What does it matter if Alonso was faster or not. Is not like they had another ten cars to past and Alonso had to go threw because he could overtake them and Massa couldn’t.

They where alone. Massa only had a GP win in-frond him.

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