Did McLaren get it wrong? Analysis of a game changing decision
Did McLaren get it wrong? Analysis of a game changing decision
Strategy Briefing
Posted By: James Allen  |  13 Sep 2010   |  1:05 pm GMT  |  196 comments

Jenson Button maintained a narrow lead over Fernando Alonso for the first 36 laps of the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, but lost the race when he pitted first. It was a game changing decision by McLaren.

After the race Button said it was the wrong decision, while McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh said it was the right one. So what is the truth? Did the call to pit Button before Alonso cost him what would have been a historic and memorable victory?

Button wins the start (Darren Heath)

Button got the lead at the start, but it was clear from the performance of the Ferrari that it was a slightly faster car on the day.

While Button had opted to run with a F Duct rear wing giving reasonable downforce, Alonso was running with a compromise aerodynamic set-up, involving less downforce and more straight line speed.

Button’s belief after qualifying was that this would mean that the Ferrari would slide around more on its tyres, leading to them losing performance sooner. In practice the soft Bridgestone tyres were so durable that in Sebastian Vettel’s hands they were able to do 52 laps, still at a competitive pace to the end. Vettel’s fastest lap was on lap 50!

As the race went on Button’s pit crew, like Ferrari’s were monitoring the performance of the cars which had switched to hard tyres. Early examples were the Virgin and Lotus cars, but it was Robert Kubica’s stop on lap 33 which caught their attention.

Prior to his stop Kubica was lapping in the 1m 26.4 range, very consistently. On lap 35 he did 1m 25.7 and it was this improved performance which made McLaren make the decision to bring Button in on lap 36. That and the fact that Rosberg had just pitted from fourth place on lap 35 and there was now a gap that the team could bring Button out into, ahead of Hulkenberg.

McLaren were convinced that the tyres had reached a crossover point, where the new hards were faster than the used softs. If they delayed bringing Button and Ferrari pitted first, then they believed he would be at risk not only from Alonso but also Massa on new tyres.

Martin Whitmarsh basically admitted after the race that they had convinced themselves that whatever they decided to do, they were going to lose the lead to Alonso anyway. I asked Stefano Domenicali if he agreed with that and he said yes, the Ferrari was faster on the day. But it was only by a tenth or two. So it really was down to the timing and execution of the stop.

Ferrari were also monitoring Kubica and also considered bringing in Alonso on lap 36, the lap Button came in on. They didn’t know when Button would pit but their concern was about backmarkers; they have painful memories of Montreal this year where Alonso could have won the race, but for losing time in traffic on his in lap to the pits. They were only three seconds on the road behind Adrian Sutil, who was lapping two seconds a lap slower. Luckily for Alonso, he pitted on lap 36, thus allowing the Spaniard enough space to do a fast lap and then and in-lap before catching Pedro de la Rosa.

So Kubica was 0.7s faster on the hard tyre on his first flying lap but what about the out lap?

Button believes that the reason he lost the race was the immediate performance of the hard tyre on the first lap out of the pits. Here the advantage would be with the car that pitted second as his task would simply be to emerge from the pit lane ahead. The performance of his new tyre over the out lap would be academic because he would already have track position.

So it’s clearly all about the fine detail here – should Kubica’s performance in those first sectors out of the pits on new tyres have given McLaren pause for thought? For this we need sector timing data, which is only available to the teams. Luckily we have been able to get hold of it.

Breaking down Button’s out-lap, it’s clear that the new tyre took time to getup to speed. It was not faster than the old one until the third sector. The first sector time involves the pit stop and the drive out of the pits, where Button lost 2/10ths to Alonso.

The middle sector was 29.1s, which was 2/10ths slower than on his previous lap. It’s only when Button got to sector 3 that he did a 28.3, which was half a second faster than before.

So this bears out Button’s theory that the hard tyres took most of a lap to get up to speed. Was this obvious from Kubica’s first lap on them? It was.

Kubica’s experience exactly foreshadowed Button’s – he was 2/10ths slower on the middle sector and then half a second faster in the third.

When he saw Button peel off into the pits Alonso knew what he had to do. He had been 9/10ths behind Button on that lap before the McLaren stop. He did a personal best for the race in Sector 1, which gave him two tenths, then in Sectors 2 and 3 he matched his recent times. The following lap, his in lap, he repeated that.

So the real difference between the two cars was in the final sector of their in lap, the pit stop itself and the first sector of the outlap. Alonso gained 7/10ths of a second here, which when combined with the two tenths he gained when Button was in the pits, was enough to give him the lead, by the slenderest of margins.

Another factor is that the Ferrari mechanics were faster than the McLaren ones in the actual stop, but it’s not as simple as many pundits are saying that the mechanics were 8/10ths faster on Ferrari’s stop.

The calculation the timing computer does is based on a formula which deducts a standard amount of in and out time from the total time the car is in the pits to give the stationary time. But that is not an actual measure of how long the car is stationary for. Button was in the pits for 8/10ths longer than Alonso, but some of that lost time was on the way in and, more importantly, on the way out.

“When I exited the pits I had very little grip on the prime tyre,” said Button. “Lots of shuddering which means the tyre isn’t working, so little bit disappointing to find myself in that position and Fernando coming out of the pits in front.”

The pit stop, combined with the initial sluggish performance of the hard tyres in the first two sectors of the lap, is what lost Button the lead.

Ferrari have posted their own anaylsis of how they did such a fast pit stop at FERRARI CLICK HERE

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James, it would be great if you could shed some light on this please…

Following the revelation that the McLaren pit stop was 0.8 seconds slower than Ferrari at Monza it got me thinking about how one team can have such an advantage.

Red Bull angle the wheel (the ‘swing-in’ approach) so it’s a 90 degree rotation to put it on rather than waiting for the guy taking it off to move his hands and putting it on, straight on. This apparently saves them a few tenths.


Notice how in the Red Bull clip they hold the wheel at a right angle to the direction they end up yet in the clip below, the McLaren mechanics hold the wheel forward facing (the ‘slide-in’ approach).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dHZ8... (cheers autounion).

I will add that the Ferrari pit stop is more similar to that of McLaren (however they claim to have a 3 tenth saving traffic light system).

McLaren have lost out on pit stops now in Turkey, Canada and Italy.

Why is it that the teams have different approaches? Is this a big problem for McLaren and if so why do you think they haven’t changed their system?

It would be great if you could do a feature on this as it’s proving to be critical to race position.


Thanks for that. I had been thinking about it. Worth a closer look


Thanks James and cosicave.

This is also quite interesting from Ferrari:

“a front one [jack] was introduced that could be released at the side of the car, so the jack man can move out of the way before dropping the car to the ground for a faster release. Also important are the wheel nuts and their design and thread is optimised for speed.”

Look at it in practice 25m05 in http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00tqqwd/Formula_1_2010_The_Italian_Grand_Prix_Highlights/

It doesn’t look like McLaren use this type of jack.

So whilst the Ferrari stop averages 3.7 seconds and the McLaren at Monza was 4.2(?) the traffic light system and this jack could certainly help explain the difference in stationary stop time.


It is well worth investigation James. McLaren’s ‘new’ wheel men need to take an extra step when compared to Red Bull’s swing approach.

The vital thing is that ‘off’ wheel never touches the ‘on’ wheel.

The swing approach requires very accurate positioning in the box, whereas McLaren’s slide-in approach is inherently more able to deal with some inaccuracy, since any ‘in-line’ shuffle required of a corner-man keeps the wheel aligned with the direction of motion throughout.

Like all things which involve both speed and accuracy, a compromise is virtually inevitable. But McLaren’s ‘safer’ approach could be costing them a little time.

But given that Hamilton and Button are two of the best ‘boxers’ on the grid, McLaren could probably afford to hone their particular compromise by leaning ever closer to the speed element of it; as in the Red Bull approach.


Hi James

A wonderfully insightful article. You are always a pleasure to read.

As you have pointed out, it was frightfully close and could have gone either way. McLaren blinked first and handed the win to Alonso. As someone else mentioned here, i doubt alonso would have been able to out brake jenso in their respective car setups.

Bridgestone has indeed ruined the races with their super safe approach. Hopefully Pirelli will spice things up. Having said that, my next set of tyres will be Bridgestones. 😉


I enjoyed the race. Although I was expecting a Ferrari win, it was very tight. A dropped wheel nut in the Ferrari pit stop and Jenson would maintain the lead and possibly go on to win the race. And what with a DNF for Lewis, the WDC is in a thrilling position.


Hi James

Great analysis. I’ve been following F1 since 2001 and missed just one race in all that time. But there is something that i have never heard or seen explained and I wondered if you might be able to.

How do the teams know how much time they are going to lose – to the nearest few tenths of a second, say – when a driver pits? It’s all very well knowing how long a car is in the pits (i.e. the time between crossing the white line at start of 100kph line and crossing the white line where they can release the speed limiter) but, clearly, that does not tell you, to the nearest half a second, how much time a driver will lose at a given circuit by coming through the pits and making a stop instead of carrying on over the start/finish line!

Surely, to get an accurate idea of how much time making a stop loses a driver you would need to some how start a stop watch (so to speak) before the driver starts decelerating for pit entry and deviating from the racing line…and then stop the stop watch at turn 2 or 3, say, by which time the driver will be back on the racing line and will have recovered from any difference in speed and racing line going through turns 1 or 2 ???!!

…and then to compare that time with the time it takes a driver – without making mistakes – to drive between those 2 points and over the start line as normal?

I hope you get the point I’m making! lol.

if you could shed some light on this (which is obviously pretty important for strategy) that would be great.

You often used to say – as Jonathan would do now – that it takes, say, 25 seconds to make a pit stop, and so i was just wondering how the teams work this thing out! eg. how would they do it in Korea, where they’ve never been before!



They measure it during practice. The data stays the same from year to year unless the pit lane length changes or the speed limit. It’s quite simple to calculate. It is called the “Loss Time”


The weak link in the chain was Button. He’s as slow as a snail, and ususally loses about 0.5 to 0.7 seconds of the available car performance.

Hamilton would have hammered home a win with a good margin.

Button is just a fake.


I think it’s a bit harsh but it’s true.

Because he just exposed the biggest flaw in the highest level of motorsport.

World champion means he is the best in the business.

Arguably he should win more than anyone when all the cars are equal.

How can you consider someone a champion when he cannot beat ONE guy in the same car?


Surely McLaren can / could of use(d) a little bit more “nouse” and not telgeraph there intentions of their intended pit stop the way they did on Sunday. Something as straight forward as a pre-arranged code word in a radio transmission would suffice. Had they of done that and the McLaren mechanics not emerged from their garage until Jenson was actually in the Parabolica – Alonso would have had no pre-warning of their impending pit stop and would not have benefited from turning his engine up to full power (which he no doubt did during Jenson’s in-lap) out of the Parabolica & along the whole of the main straight. That alone would probably kept Jenson the lead.


Off topic again, but I would also like to see your views on Kimi/Renault and also the news that Heidfeld has gone back to Sauber for the remainder of 2010. Is it a clever ploy by Mercedes to get Nick some race experience (coupled to his recent work with Pirelli) so they can slot him in for Schumi and steal a march on 2011?


This is probably the first race this season Alonso had outright speed advantage over others. It’s almost impossible to beat FA in a fastest car. Button was a little lucky to get ahead of Alonso at the start. I believe Alonso’s move to the right off the line was not entirely aimed at Button. The last thing he wanted was another Ferrari ahead of him again.


Just reading heidfeld is replacing pedro at sauber.

Do you think this is pirelli backed to get some info on bridgestone?


Not really. It’s probably a bit early in the testing cycle for that. As far as I know they’ve only done 2 tests so far. Now they can use De la Rosa..


The conclusion that this piece seems to come to is that if Button had done the same as Vettel and pitted on lap 51 (and had managed to keep Alonso behind him) he would have won.



Kimi Raikkonen to Renault in 2011?

Any thoughts?


i no this is off topic,but chrlie sale in the mail today is saying that martin brundle wants the moto gp commentator, sorry cant remember his name(the aussie one) to replace j leggard, but others in the bbc f1 team,want to keep leggard in place,any truth in th story?


got a link to the story?


When it comes to Jenson, why does it always have to be car or tire or team strategy or other drivers’ fault?
I don’t dislike the guy but I have noticed that for sometime. From what I have seen in the past, he never seem to think or admit that he just didn’t drive fast enough. He is absolutely sure that there is nothing wrong with his driving so it must be something else.
James, do you think there is a chance that he didn’t get the best out of his car?


That is why the only former McLaren driver that he reminds me of is David Coulthard.


Two comments: all the drivers are to a greater or lesser extent passengers in their cars – drivers cannot make a car go quicker than its design and set up allow.

Secondly, Jenson is usually pretty candid about his performances – especially on qualifying where he has explicitly accepted responsibility for failing to get the best out of the car.


First of all I am not arguing whether drivers can go faster than their cars allowed them to be. The question is why Jenson always come to conclusion too early without even analyze his own performance for a few hours after the race.

And I have never seen him blame himself but I have seen him pointing fingers as you can see below:

“British GP: Jenson Button bemoans ‘undriveable’ car as Vettel takes pole.”


“It seems there is something wrong with the car, so we must look back”


Frustrated Button critical of Schumacher (After beaten by a 41 years old in an inferior car)


And thats not all.


What ever way you look at this, Mclaren and ferrari have under performed at Monza and Spa. If you said to Red Bull that they would be ahead of both Championships leading into Singapore they would have laughed at you. These two circuit should have given Mcclaren the lead in both championships and ferrari should be a lot close than they are.


It’s a bit disappointing to realise that a billion dollar organisation like McLaren, with all the technology they have at their disposal can made such a rudimentary error!

They should listen more to Jenson in future. I also wonder what RonDen would have done in the same situation!


History suggests that Ron would have got it wrong. Interestingly, when Max Mosley said at Monza in 2004 that there was a certain team principal who wasn’t the sharpest tool in the box, it was widely assumed that he was talking about Ron Dennis.


Those who follow the sport with an open mind would not seek criticize McLaren at every opportunity!



Thank you for pointing out the anti McLaren bias that many F1 journalists feel Max Mosley had for the team. It was widely believed that McLaren was treated appallingly by FIA under Max Mosley given the relationship he had with Ron Dennis so your alleged comment is hardly surprising.

Given Ron Dennis’s incredible achievements, namely, building McLaren into an incredibly successful business, Max would have every reason to be jealous of Ron given that McLaren has well surpassed the achievements of March Engineering.


It was widely believed in segments of the English media that McLaren was treated badly by the FIA, but those who follow the sport with an open mind know otherwise.


Talking of Ron Dennis I would really like to get a take on his opinion of Jenson Button this season – has he made any comments anywhere ? Has Jenson met or surpassed Dennis’ expectations or underachieved in his mind this season i don’t recall reading or hearing anything from him on the subject.


Was the situation exacerbated by the lack of data running long stints on the soft tyres?

Do Bridgestone suggest optimum pit-stop time based on estimated performance drop off?


This Analysis chose to ignor the fact that Alonso was the best among the top three in managing the hard tyres in the first few laps:

what Alonso did:

37 P 1:28.594

38 1:44.227

39 1:24.942

40 1:24.680

What Button did:

36 P 1:29.169

37 1:43.835

38 1:26.736

39 1:25.244

What Massa did:

38 P 1:28.810

39 1:45.774

40 1:25.001

41 1:25.145

42 1:25.007

43 1:24.897

So, if Button was arranged to pit after Alonso did, he might loose more.


All that demonstrates to me is (as quali also showed) the fact that the Ferrari was the quickest car – Alonso knew before hand, as did the rest of the Planet, that Button was going to make a pit stop (McLaren foolishly made sure of that :)) so he turned his engine up got as close to Button as he could on Button’s in-lap and when Button pitted that released Alonso to lap at the true pace of the Ferrari that weekend something he couldn’t do while tucked up behind the McLaren.


Off topic, but F1 needs a design like this:


If you miss the chicane, you have to go through the second, tighter chicane. It’s better than hitting a wall, but you don’t get the free pass that Hulkenburg got THREE times.

Mr. Tilke should incorporate that into his next chicane design… (and give me 5% of the profits!) 😉


Note: merging with the track is similar to pit-out, and if you go straight on at similar chicanes, you either need to go through a second chicane or come to a full stop before merging.

This is different because it forces drivers that cut the chicane to do something similar.


Mclaren should have kept Button out til Alonso pitted. Massa was 3 secs behind them at that stage. Not an immediate threat. Rest of field 10 sec behind.

Pitting 2nd would also give Button inside line for turn one.

Mclaren need to pull their head out of the computer strategy screen and just look at what is really happening.


Good analysis James, thank you.

Traditional McLaren over-analysis while missing an essential point in racecraft, the on-track up-to-speed time of the hard tyre.

Surely they should have worked that out?

It was absolutely critical to the tactic of bringing in Button early.

Their approach is simply baffling if Button’s strategy was to drive his car with sufficient care to preserve his tyres longer than Ferrari. His strategy always required Button to stop AFTER Alonso whenever that was!

And that could have made for a VERY interesting race given the longevity of Vettel’s tyres.

Ferrari had the (slightly) faster car on the day but we all know that doesn’t mean they should win.

If in doubt see Red Bull’s results this year (and last)!


Jenson Coulthard and Lewis de Cesaris were no match for Alain Alonso at Monza.


Best article I have read on here. Outstanding analysis.


Excellent analysis, James, many thanks indeed.

I had thought that with the no-refuelling regulations (which have truly reinvigorated the racing, in my opinion) the advantage would generally be with whoever pitted first, because they would have an extra lap on fresh rubber. However, given what you say about the outlaps in this case, the reality is clearly different provided the second driver to pit does so only one lap after the first.

I suppose at circuits where overtaking is possible, it could be that the driver who pits first may still have an advantage, because even if the other driver emerges in front of him and has track position, if he’s struggling to get the tyres working on the outlap it will be easier to pass him?

Also, I agree with the comment above that the radio transmissions selected for broadcast can lead to unfair advantages. I think I heard Martin Brundle in the race commentary say that the teams have access to all radio conversations, not just the ones selected for broadcast. James, is that correct? do they have access to them in real time – surely it would need somebody doing that and nothing else if they’re to listen to all of it.


I think Button should have waited for Alonso to pit first, if nothing else it would have given him the inside line into turn 1 if Alonso was close. If they waited until the end then both of them could have had a race in the pit lane.

I wonder if the reason for not pitting Massa first was the problem of wanting Alonso to finish ahead of him as they could not risk changing places again on track. This could have been a 1-2 for Ferrari with the wrong person first.

On another point, I did not see all of the BBC coverage, does anyone know which game/player they were using?


Good read! It’s a bit difficult to compare like for like on outlaps as obviously Alonso’s was perhaps a bit less clear cut coming out right with Button (in reality Alonso’s 1st sectors were generally always better than Jenson’s). Also, Monza does perhaps offer a bit an advantage coming out of the bit lane, as it does somewhat seem to give a good track position for the first corner, so maybe an advantage as the person on racing line usually going have to yield?

Being glued to the live timing probably more than the tv, it was obvious throughout the first part of the race that Alonso was a lot stronger through sector 1 (3-4 tenths) than Button, and Button through Sectors 2 & 3 than Alonso, generally pulling the loss of sector 1 back. Obviously at this point its a bit difficult tell what the clear air for Alonso would produce. So given Alonso was probably 4 tenths faster in sector 1, Jenson say 2 tenths in sector 2 is it not possible entry to the pits might destroy any sector 3 advantage Jenson might have had with the acceleration out of the last corner onto the early part of the straight and, coupled with Sector 1 being Jenson worse sector?

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