How did Ferrari make that strategy mistake with Alonso?
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How did Ferrari make that strategy mistake with Alonso?
Strategy Briefing
Posted By: James Allen  |  14 Nov 2010   |  9:06 pm GMT  |  272 comments

The championship is over, the title is decided in Sebastian Vettel’s favour but the nagging question everyone is wrestling with tonight is, how did Ferrari get its tactics so wrong?

We have seen often this season how strategy can win races, but today we saw it lose a championship. Of course no championship is won or lost on one race, but when a driver has an eight point lead and needs only a top four finish, it can cost a championship if you get it wrong.

Fernando Alonso started the race in third position, needed only to finish fourth and yet the team contrived to lose him positions so he ended up seventh. It meant that Vettel beat him to the championship by four points.

Alonso: Strategy cost him the title today (Darren Heath)


Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali tonight declined to go into details of how the decision to pit Alonso on lap 15 was arrived at. He did however give us an inkling of the considerations.

“We made a wrong decision in terms of strategy for three reasons: we marked a rival with two cars (Alonso and Massa), we were unduly concerned about the wear rate of the soft tyres and we did not take into consideration the difficulty of getting past other cars on the track.”

The reason they made the mistake was because they were too concerned with what Mark Webber was doing and failed to see the bigger picture.

Webber radioed in to say that his tyres were losing performance and on lap 12 he pitted for new hard tyres. He rejoined behind the Toro Rosso of Jaime Alguersuari, who held him up for two laps losing him almost two seconds.

Before the race, there was concern about how long the soft tyres would last before they started to degrade. Based in data from Friday and Saturday practice, there were concerns that they might start to go off quite quickly.

Seeing Webber in difficulty as early as lap 11/12 clearly made Ferrari worry about how long Alonso’s tyres would go. But it was the same for everyone and Alonso was arguably in the best shape at this point, lapping in the high 1m 45s range, which was the fastest of the leading cars.

At this stage he had a lead of just 10 seconds over Robert Kubica in the Renault, who had started the race on hard tyres and would therefore clearly be running long. Right behind him was Adrian Sutil, likewise on a hard tyre strategy. But more significantly Alonso had a lead of just 16 seconds over Nico Rosberg, who had pitted under the Lap 1 safety car and 19 seconds lead over Renault’s Vitaly Petrov, who had done the same.

A pit stop at Yas Marina Circuit takes around 22 seconds, so by coming in on lap 15 as Alonso did, he was inevitably going to drop behind these cars. And in the case of Rosberg and Petrov, they were not going to stop again.

Now to the point about underestimating how hard it would be to overtake the Renault in particular. In qualifying, Petrov was the third fastest car through the speed trap at 316km/h. Alonso was able to do just 312km/h on the straight. So it was always going to be difficult, The Renault F Duct is among the most efficient in the field. In addition, last season proved how hard it is to overtake on this circuit.

To be fair to Ferrari, Red Bull has put Webber on strategies which require him to pass cars, such as Singapore, which is hardly the easiest place to overtake, but they really underestimated Petrov and his Renault’s speed.

Much has been made of the fact that Renault supplies engines to Red Bull so he would be particularly obstructive, but I think Petrov was driving for himself and for his own career tonight. He will have done his prospects no harm at all with this drive.

Alonso could afford to have only three cars finish in front of him, which is what he had on lap 14 and with this move he invited another four to move ahead, two of whom would not be stopping.

It’s surely not possible that Ferrari could simply have failed to realise Rosberg and Petrov’s positions. Like all teams they have a highly paid strategy person, who has a sophisticated computer to give advice. He would then propose a strategy to Andrea Stell, Alonso’s engineer and to Chris Dyer, who is in charge of operations.

The tyres were going through a graining phase at this time; Vettel’s pace had dropped off into the 1m 46s. But then the tyres came back in and the pace picked up again.

Perhaps as they thought about whether to stop Alonso they were concerned that if the tyres should start to go off they would be vulnerable to Webber and the cars that had stopped and therefore must have reasoned that Vettel, Hamilton and Button would face the same threat, so they too would be behind the cars who had stopped.

But they pulled the trigger too soon. Massa pitted on lap 13 and failed to contain Webber, he rejoined two seconds behind. So they called in Alonso to cover Webber and his world championship went up in smoke. It didn’t help that his in lap and out lap were 1.5 seconds slower than his rivals.

Had they left him out, he would have stayed behind Button, who went on to do 39 laps on his soft tyres. Alonso would probably not have been able to do that many laps, but he would have been able to pit around the time Hamilton stopped on lap 22/23 and rejoin ahead of Rosberg (just), in a net fourth place once the hard tyre runners stopped. Instead, stuck behind Petrov for 39 laps he lost time and track positions.

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1

I see that their strategy planning has had it’s fair share of moments since that calamity still.

2

James,

Mubadala Development Company, an Abu Dhabi company, has an investment stake in Ferrari and Ferrari World is also based at this location near the Yas Marina circuit. But hell will freeze over before we hear Luca Di Montezemolo as the voice of Ferrari criticize the Abu Dhabi circuit for ending Alonso’s WDC’s bid in 2010 because of the apparent lack of overtaking at the circuit.

3

I believe that stake has been sold back to Fiat.

4

I haven’t read all these comments, so I don’t know whether others have come to the same conclusion, but my analysis of the lap times suggests that Ferrari took the correct decision.

Alonso would probably not have stayed ahead of Rosberg, even if he had pitted later. Had Webber overtaken Petrov, which Ferrari must have expected him to, Alonso might well have come out behind Webber as well as Rosberg. That would have been worse than what did happen, so it appears that Ferrari took the less disadvantageous option of the two available to them.

If this appears to be a pro-Ferrari view, I am not a Ferrari fan, just an analyst.

The real failing was the stupid circuit. If Alonso in a faster car can’t get anywhere near overtaking Petrov, then the so-called racing becomes pointless.

5

It surprised me that RB didn’t pit Webber at the first SC, simply because that would immediately split their cars for either outcome. That probably would’ve given Alonso the championship as he wouldn’t have been able to cover off Webber. Watching it live, it could have gone the other way, but it seemed like if you had to guess, it would be 80/20 – Vettel/Webber as to who you should cover. I think Ferrari thought they got it wrong about 5 laps after the call… Anyway, as much as I’d have liked MW to win the WC, SV totally deserved it!

6

Surely people are forgetting that Ferrari had to cover Webber at some point? With him having passed Alguersuari he would have had more pace than Alonso on fresh rubber so the Ferrari could not have built up a suitable gap to stay out. I think people are being too harsh on ferrari’s strategy – they were caught between a rock and a hard place. Remember that Button had passed Alonso, and if Webber had done the same during the pitstops, Fernando wouldn’t have won the title anyway..

7

Strikes me that Alonso and Ferrari said to themselves, “play it safe; we need to make sure we finish and we only need a fourth place”. So they did play it safe and they did finish — four places behind where they started.

8

Very late for a comment, but I’ve had one overwhelming thought since the race ended.

Ferrari’s decision shows they thought more of Webber’s chances of comming 2nd than they did of Vettel’s chances of comming home 1st.

Respect of your peers…..

9

Has Vettel thanked Webber yet? If Webber DNF’d on lap 1, Alonso most likely wins the title.

10

Phew I feel gutted about Alonso. Man thoroughly deserves third world title after a scintillating late season faultless charge. But, Ferrari seems to getting things wrong on strategy front on a number of occasions since John Todt and Ross Brawn left and Stephano took over. The are under utilizing their resources as far as race execution is concerned. The have really developed the car beyond anyone’s expectation this year, but have been constantly coming short on the strategy front which is an integral part of winning a championship. They lack nothing.. They possess superior ability to deliver and develop race winning machinery and also possess the most complete driver in Alonso. But the strategics have been their Achilles Heal. I hope they get it together next year. However, I feel the Mercedes will be the dominating force with Michael leading the charge. So its a Golden Opportunity Lost for Ferrari. For if Schuey gets what he wants from Pirelli then he’ll wrap up the next year Championship by Spa or Monza.

Yet, I’d like to congratulate Vettel for winning the championship this year. Its good for F1 was getting to Hamilton-ish and on a few occasions and fronts undeservedly so. So, its good to see a rivalry between Vettel and Hamilton. For, Alonso has shown the chink in Hamilton’s Armour.. All Alonso needs is to come up behind Hamilton and he’ll conveniently hand over the position to Alonso… Seems like he is intimidated by Alonso, for he knows he can’t copy his set-ups no more.

Yet, Hang Tough Alonso.. Its Ferrari that was the cause and not you 🙂

11

I am from Hessen/germany. I have to admit that even i was pro Vettel in formula 1 i am pro Alonso at a local italian restaurant( not at Heppenheim, where the Vettel Teller started). The cook is a big Ferrai fan and we often do some talks.

In Heppenheim (birthtown of Vettel) they did a Vettel-Teller (Vettel plate) with a Schnitzel formed like a car chassis, slices of Bratwurst as wheels, french fries as street and added Redbull as drink.

Picture here:

http://www.abendblatt.de/multimedia/archive/00605/heppenheim6_HA_Wirt_605971c.jpg

And they had a paella called “Alonso Panne”. Panne is hessian slang for a frying pan and has the second meaning of mishap, malfunction.

I like Bratwurst as Currywurst. I like Schnitzel if it is covered with cooked Handkäse (local sour cream cheese) covering it, but the mixed Vettel Teller is not real my taste. If i would have to choose between Vettel Teller and Alonso Panne- paella wins.

12

Sounds brilliant! The Chef has a fertile mind &

is a true enthusiast. I would find it close

between the curry & the paella. Almost a dead

heat!

13

Let us be fair to Ferrari. Once Massa emerged behind Webber who at that point was now lapping faster than Alonso, Ferrari had to make a choice and they had two options, namely;

1) Do not cover off Webber and take the chance of loosing 4th place to him knowing fully well that it’s unlikely that they will be able to overtake Webber on track and that in taking this option they just might hand over the title to Vettel (or Webber if those Mclarens do not finish and Vettel has to let Webber through), or

2) Cover off Webber and take your chances with Petrov and Rosberg (who on paper would be considered easier to pass than Webber or the two Mclarens).

We know now, as it turned out, that Alonso was not going to be able to overtake Webber just as he failed to overtake Petrov and would also have a similar result against Rosberg.

As such, from the moment Webber went in for fresh tires, with Rosberg and Petrov as close as they were, with the expectations for tire degradation as they were based on their own data and feedback from Bridgestone, and overtaking being next to impossible on track, Ferrari were screwed regardless of which option they took.

Webber’s small talk with the wall which I believe led to him loosing the rear tires and needing that early pit stop is what actually won the championship for Red Bull and cost Alonso. If this was not Red Bull strategy, then one has to just accept that it was not meant to be for Ferrari.

14

Yes they did a bad mistake.

The pit stop seemed very wrong, after Massa pitted, it was unnecessary pitting Alonso.

I cannot believe that Ferrari did not think of covering Vettel who was on the right spot for winning the title, especially with Alonso being on the edgy 4th position.

Ferrari should have cheered that Webber pitted and dropped to 12th position instead of worrying too much about him.

With Vettel on the lead, Webber 12 position down from where he should be to win the title, ferrari should have waited to see what Vettel was going to do.

On a track like Abu Dabi, where was Webber going to go from 12th position…? No matter how fast his car was, he still needed to climb 11 or 12 spots, nearly mission impossible.

Vettel instead was right were he needed to be to become WC, and Alonso 4th, not quite were he should have been with vettel leading the race. One little mistake or one more position lost and he was out of the title.

Ferrari dropped Alonso 6 spots down, to make it even more difficult…..

After the rant…. As a Ferrari supporter, I can always be happy that this team for the past 14 years has been able to fight for victory most of the times.

The good thing is that from next week the new quest will start all over again.

15

Great to see you on oneHD James, hope it continues next season.

16

Thanks. Yes I’ll be there next year.

17

Hi James,

As an Aussie I’m gutted for Mark Webber, talent wise within the drivers as they currently stand I think you can group him alongside Button & Schumi behind the big five of Vettel, Alonso, Hamilton, Kubica & Rosberg. Therefore I doubt he will get another chance like this again.

I’m curious about one thing strategy-wise: in Webber’s comments after the race he said that they had to take a big gamble on strategy – why then didn’t they bring him in with Rosberg etc at the first safety car? Seemed to me that Webber/Red Bull’s tactics were more a reaction to the tyre situation rather than a big gamble. Hindsight is a wonderful thing I guess…

18

What’s good for the sport… A battle between the driver who could have won the championship would have been ‘better’ for the sport!!!

Who, on Sunday, wanted to watch webber held up behind a junior Redbull? Or alonso and webber stuck behind Redbulls engine supplier.

I hate conspiracies, but I think Redbulls decision was decided after webber qualified 5th. Alonso coming in after webber was just icing on the cake.

Torro Rosso blocking, Renault blocking, it’s all just a different take on ‘Team Orders’

19

A tale of over concentration and playing too safe cost Alonso the WDC.

Take it as a blessing for not being crowned because the Germany win will creep in continuously and haunt Alonso.

Petrov:

“But maybe I should have asked on my team radio, please ask Vettel how much he wants to pay me to help, and then we go to Ferrari and ask them the same too. Then whoever gives the most, we see!”

Hilarious comment but Petrov did nothing wrong except race for his position. The Russian might not be in F1 next year but he drove a faultless race in Abu Dhabi.

I have to admit watching Alonso and Webber getting stucked behind Petrov was painful though.

A note of appreciation to Mr.James Allen for all the news and for allowing us to post how we felt sincerely.

20

A fine season finale for F1 even if the circuit was a tad underinspiring. I’m going to step away from all the Alonso post mortems and say that in my view, the fastest car and driver won this year. You just cant argue with 10 pole positions.

Thank you James Allen for some excellent coverage and insight this year and I look forward to following this blog again next season.

21
Andrewshould be working

Like many previous posts, I’d like to add my congraulations and thanks for your superb insights an observations throughout the season. May I ask an off topic question that has been bugging me since I read DC’s article in last week’s Telegraph. He refers to the incident where Alonso blocked Hamilton in the pit lane back when they were team mates. He went on to say thatit was bad but understandable as Hamilton had broken an agreement with him. My quesion is, do you or any of your readers know what this was?

Thanks again for your hard work

Andrew

22

The agreement was that Alonso would have an extra lap on Q3 that weekend. Hamilton prevented this but not letting Alonso pass him durig the warming up lap. Check how many times Hamilton had that extra lap on Q3 during that season compared to Alonso and you will understand much better what happened in McLaren in 2007.

23

But ironic that Alonso is happy to champion team orders at Ferrari because it favours him BUT would he ever accept a Ferrari team order that he receives fewer Q3 laps than his team mate?

24

Well I would say that Massa is no Hamilton and has held Alonso back many times this season. Did anyone ever think that Ferrari did what they did in Germany cause they knew that Alonso would eventually try overtake Massa (as he did at the start) and that Massa’s aggressive defending (as he showed at the start) would cause a collision and that it had nothing to do with Alonso “ordering” the team to order Massa to move over? Just maybe Ferrari took the decision to protect their own interests?

25

Well, he did in McLaren in 2007 and still managed to tie Hamilton, so why not? The difference is that Ferrari, according to a certain situation of its two drivers on the Championship, openly applies a team strategy to maximize their options to the title, while at McLaren in 2007 all we heard along the year was that the two drivers were treated equally. That is what I call hypocrisy.

26

I meant “by not letting Alonso pass”

27

When Webber stopped and changed tyres he imediately made a lap record that was almost .5 seconds faster than Alonso, So that might have scared Ferrari that gaining that diference in 8 more laps would have prevented Alonso for exiting infront of Webber.

They just didn´t see Petrov or Rosberg and underestimated Vettel and focused on Webber

28

I have to admit it was very frustrating to see Alonso,s possible 3rd WDC go down the pan,and all to do with a SC period along with a dire pit stop strategy.

Jorge mentioned earlier did anyone ask Alonso how his tyres were? His lap times were good.

To a point i can see the logic in covering Webber,but the question should have been asked,do we have to at this stage.

Getting back to the safety car,i think no team should be allowed to pit during the time its out,unless the car,or tyres are damaged,by that i mean ripped or flat,how often do we see and it seems more this year,teams pitting to change tyres under the SC,Kubica a prime example,missed Q3 and yet was able to finish in front of 2 title contenders,you might as well start 10th gamble on a SC and finish 5th.

I used to be in favour of no fuel stops,but frankly you may as well bring it back,because virtually every race we have the SC come out and it gives teams who fail to qualify well,unfair advantages.

I hope next year Alonso does claim his 3rd title,without team orders,because he has driven faultlessly in the past few races,and in qualifying,and on a final note Petrov drove wonderfully and Alonso acknowledged it after the race,a feather in the cap for Petrov i think!

29

I think “wonderfully” is an understatement. If you think back a few races you will remember that Fernando managed to push Hamilton into a mistake twice allowing him to pass yet Petrov held his nerve for 40 laps knowing full well that Fernando was racing for the WDC…I would say Brilliant!! However I fear it will not be enough to secure a seat for next year considering all his blunders throughout the season.

30

I wouldn’t want to see the old regime back at Ferrari. Remember all the old arguments, conflicts and difficulties ?

I could never see Ferrari joining with the other FOTA members to sort out the way forward for the sport under Jean Todt.

All we would see would be a regular display of naked self interest which does nothing to resolve the current problems.

31

The worst strategy error I have ever seen because of its implications. I was screaming at the TV when I saw the Ferrari mechanics in the pitlane, it was total madness. The needed a fourth place, once Webber pitted he was no longer the person they needed to cover, Rosberg became the threat to their fourth place since he was the first car to have pitted, but for some reason they didn’t see that Rosberg and Petrov where the threat and not Webber. Total total madness, I can’t believe I am so angry at the team I support!

32

If Ross Brawn (and Jean Todt) was still calling the shots at Ferrari Alonso would have never pitted on lap 11. Never.

In fact, I can see Ross calling Massa (and possibly Alonso) on lap 1 behind the safety car just to give the others something to think about.

I think Ferrari needs a mgmt shakedown- forget the “we’re family” line- they need someone clever with total authority to make wise, check-mate race-winning decisions- like Brawn did in his days at Ferrari.

Ferrair cannot even explain why they took a decision. Ross always had a proper explanation on hand, with the bottom line always being his driver winning the race. “We pitted x times so that he could win the race- my call.” Simple. Now they’re too “Italian”/bureaucratic in their decision process.

33

At the end Alonso lost it due to Ferrari (he was still the champion before the wrong pit stop call) and Vettel won it thanks to RBR which they came with an exactly dominant car.

Congratulations to Vettel he is the wdc of 2010 season and of course he deserved it.

Also congratulations to Alonso he showed why he is the best package nowadays.

34

In my previous post, I meant NOT being street-smart.

35

James,

Excellent analysis, as usual.

You always try to go behind the scenes of usually the biggest question mark coming out of any race weekend (or going into one a lot of times too).

However, despite reading through muultiple times, I simply cannot believe a team that knows how to win championships can get such a simple calculation wrong.

It almost looks to me that through your column you are in the exact same position of trying to find some answer that that makes sense behind this bizarre decision.

When making a pitstop, Ferrari engineers surely would have known the exact gap on track where Alonso would re-join. So to put your driver on a strategy that requires him to overtake two fast cars, inorder to make it work, when all you need is to not finish in the position that you are already running in, I think that’s suicidal and un-excusable.

I mean, even if they say they did this to cover for Webber, they should have known that they can still afford to finish behind Webber, and yet win the championship. Why give up position to do that..

I am just at loss to explain this bizarre decisoin.

We saw at the end of the race, they showed a shot of FA being consoled by a couple of mechanics back stage. I thought at that very instant that the only thing going on in FA’s mind is why didn’t he put in a simple question as ‘Are you sure you want to give up position on track?’ I mean, for sure that would have caused some re-think.

Can you imagine Micahel and Ross doing that when in the last race?

Everybody criticises them for pushing the boundaries on track and behind the scenes. But then the only reason for that is they leave nothing to chance.

I believe, this was one of those moments, yet again as in the past couple of years, when Ferrari showed they are still a little soft, strategically, and simply being a little street-smart.

36

As I said in the post Red Bull have done it with Webber this year and he has pulled it off. But that Renault was so fast on the straights and Petrov drove brilliantly

37

Exactly – and it required him to pass cars, which he was able to do quite a few times.

So i can actually understand why Red Bull did this on Webber, because he has nothing to lose.

But to do this to Alonso, who has to play a percentage game to win the title, I still don’t see the odds favoring this decision….

Albeit, I am as happy for Vettel, as I think he has taken all the bad luck, (and some pretty tough talk from Webber, cue Brazil) in his stride, and simply ‘done a Kimi’.

He let his driving do the talking for him all year, and I think that should be celebrated.

Either ways James, now I wait for your book on 2010. So long.

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