A deep dive into the race strategies from Monaco: how the race was won
A deep dive into the race strategies from Monaco: how the race was won
Strategy Report
Posted By: James Allen  |  31 May 2011   |  7:36 am GMT  |  130 comments

Each race we look in depth at the strategies and analyse the decisions taken in the heat of battle and sometimes we see teams and drivers taking big risks. We also see the part that luck can play in the outcome.

Both are particularly true when you are trying to get a good result in Monaco. All the strategists know that there is a 71% chance of a safety car here and if it falls at the right time it can make your race – as it did this year for Sutil and Kobayashi. But if it falls at the wrong time, your victory plans fall apart -as they did for Jenson Button.

The 2011 Monaco Grand Prix was shaping up to be a classic until the race was suspended by a red flag for an accident six laps from the end.

The three leading drivers were converging. They had all started the race on the same tyre (Pirelli supersoft) and were all ending on the same tyre (Pirelli soft) but in between had done three completely different strategies.

Once again we saw a race in which pre-race expectations on strategy were proved wide of the mark as the tyres performed far better than expected. So once again the strategists and drivers had to really think on their feet.

Vettel: One stop and a little luck (Photo: Red Bull)

Vettel – forced into a one stop
Vettel is on top of the world at the moment and sometimes when things are going for you, you get a bit of luck. Vettel was forced into gambling on a one-stop strategy on Sunday. If the race had not been red flagged it’s likely that Alonso would have launched an attack at the end, as Vettel’s tyres were 60 laps old, 20 laps more than Alonso’s. But the red flag gave Vettel breathing space and he was able to change tyres before the race restarted and take the victory.

Red Bull were caught out by Jenson Button making an early pit stop on lap 15 and taking the lead when Vettel stopped a lap later and lost three seconds with a slow tyre change.

Christian Horner has suggested that they put on the soft tyre by mistake, but whether by luck or judgement they did the right thing in taking the soft tyre at this point. This gave them flexibility to go either way – take the tyres to the finish in a one stop, or come in again later. From lap 16 onwards they were playing it by ear.

On lap 34 when the safety car came out, they saw Ferrari pit Alonso and knew that he would go to the finish on those tyres. From that point on Vettel was committed to staying out.

It seems that the Pirellis fall apart quickly on tracks with medium to high speed corners, like Istanbul and Barcelona. But on low speed tracks like Monaco they are better than Bridgestones because the surface of the tyre does not grain.

By race day many strategists felt that it was possible to do 40-45 laps on a set of soft tyres, but to do 53, as Vettel did and still maintain competitive lap times, was universally regarded as being very impressive.

Alonso: Best result of the season so far (Photo:Ferrari)

McLaren gamble with Button, Ferrari play it safe with Alonso

From second on the grid, Jenson Button and McLaren took a big gamble in making a three stop strategy as it relies on being able to exploit new tyres on a clear track and any safety car will ruin it.

They were aggressively going for the win by doing something different from Vettel, believing it was the only way to beat him.

But McLaren also made a tactical mistake when Button made his second stop on lap 33, just before the safety car. He pitted just as a Virgin car was stopped on the track. Perhaps McLaren anticipated a safety car, perhaps not, but the mistake was to put on a set of supersoft tyres at that point. This forced them into having to stop again as Button hadn’t used the soft yet.

They had taken all the flexibility out of their strategy, something they didn’t need to do and which cost Button second place and maybe the win.

A few laps later the safety car did come out (for the Massa crash) and Alonso pitted immediately, switching to soft tyres. He took these through to the finish. Stopping during a safety car meant it was almost a free pit stop for Alonso. He was three seconds behind Vettel before he stopped and at the restart after the safety car, was only seven seconds behind on new rubber.

Ferrari had plenty of confidence going into the race that the tyres were capable of long stints. Their Friday practice long runs had shown that. They even managed to get 26 laps out of a set of super softs on Friday, showing that their tyre wear was very light.

So tactically they gave themselves plenty of options and unlike Red Bull and McLaren they didn’t take any risks with Alonso. Pitting under the safety car was the smart thing to do and when Button had to stop a third time, Alonso passed him and went up into second place.

On tyres that were 20 laps younger than Vettel’s, Alonso was waiting for the moment when Vettel’s tyre performance started to “fall of the cliff”, which may or may not have come in the last six laps. But the red flag prevented him – and us – from finding out whether he would have won.

For the record, Ferrari had split the strategies with Massa planning to do only one stop. He was in the category of cars which were not quick enough to pull away from the midfield cars and create a gap you can come back out into at your pit stop. So you have to wait longer for your stop and that pushes you towards stopping just the once.

Safety car is the game changer
After the controversy at Valencia last year the safety car rules were changed and this had a big effect on Sunday’s race.

The rules are complicated, but in a nutshell, now the safety car has to pick up the leader and anyone ahead of him is able to go around faster than the safety car, make a stop and carry on to the tail of the queue, thus gaining hugely. This happened to Kobayashi and Sutil who climbed to fourth and fifth places and were able to do their only stop of the race under the safety car. With a big window to the next car, they both got out of the pits still in that position, having started 13th and 15th.

Sutil got ahead of Kobayashi in the pits, but the Japanese forced his way back through on lap 65.

The UBS Strategy Report is prepared with input and data from strategists from the F1 teams

Graph of Monaco Race History

The zero line is the winners’ average lap speed, taking his entire race time and dividing it by the number of laps. Because of the safety car period many drivers set laps faster than the winners’ average, but this shows how the gaps grew to the other drivers and the crossover points as one passed the other, on the track or in the pits. The red flag period has been reduced to fit the data better.

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Dear James or anyone for that matter,

Can you explain how Webber lost position to both Sutil and Kamui during the safety car? He was right behind them both and they both pitted, Webber stayed out, yet Webber ended up behind them both. I thought maybe the safety car picked up Webber, but as you’ve explained he would be allowed to overtake the safety car. I am still a bit baffled by this.


When the Red Flag came out they may as well have all started packing, the race was done. With everyone on fresh tires nobody was going to pass anyone, Weber excepted.

This is the only form of motor racing I am aware of that allows repairs, tire changes, and potty breaks during a red flag.

Even NASCAR does not! They stop all cars on track at the S/F line and they may not be touched.


Did anyone hear the radio conversation between Vettel & his engineer when Button closing up on Alonso? It goes like “very good, we have Button close the gap”. Couldn’t recollect the remaining words. Is it a planned move to slow down Alonso so that he might get busy defending Button?


james do u think lewis would of been on pole if not for the red flag. personally i dont think he would have because vettel in q3 found 7 tenths as they regulary do with whatever it is they do in q3.


Hi James,

I am just thinking out loud here and hope you can shed some more light on this.. How come one can trust this sort of lame comment coming from a team principal who has always been disguising/hiding things from the world (Fake exhaust stickers, 10 bouncers standing behind the car to cover its rear end)? Can any modern F1 team do such a basic/silly error of fitting wrong tires on its lead driver?? Is it possible James?


It is possible, but very strange. More likely a change of heart


That’s what I’d say, a last second change that caught the pit crew out is more likely than mistakenly putting on the wrong tyres. Though strange things do happen, that’s why we keep coming back for more.


It was a great Monaco GP, spoiled by the red flag and restart. I think we may have been deprived of the greatest Monaco race in modern times, sadly.

Had the race continued, my gut feeling is that Alonso would’ve taken Vettel and then Button would’ve got past him too, but with Alonso able to hold him off until the finish.

Once again it was interesting to see the intra-team battles through the field. Button was on top form and although it’s hard to say for sure because of strategy and traffic, I think this was the first time he’s genuinely been ahead of Lewis on pace. Kobayashi’s pace was impressive throughout as was Sutil’s, who produced the performance he needed to after being shaded by his young teammate prior to Monaco. Petrov had another good race and was unlucky to go out the way he did. He’s always had good speed but he’s learning from his mistakes and shows signs of maturing into a very handy driver.


james i was very confused by the restart, has the proceedure changed cars used line up on the re start grid in race position order and time differences were adjusted at the end of the race. on sunday they restarted in safety car position.Also do all restarts now happen under a safety car and is there no cut off as to how late in the race we can have a re start. no one seems to have covered this aspect of the race cheers


Looking at the lap speed chart for more than 10 seconds, notice how wobbly the lines are for the lesser drivers compared to the top drivers. The top drivers’ lines are quite linear after each tyre change as the fuel load drops, where-as the for the lesser drivers, fast laps are followed by slow. I guess it’s something we all know, but to see it graphically, wow. Karthikeyan has some work to do! Or is it just the result of being lapped and getting out of the way?


I’m sure being lapped is a big part of it. If you look at the Hispanias’ lines, they are quite smooth up to about lap 12, when the leaders were around 80 seconds ahead of them so they will have started to be lapped.


Good observation – nice one.


James, I don’t recall if you’ve commented, but I wondered what your opinion was on tires being changed after a red flag? I think the commentary was that drivers were allowed to change tires for safety reasons. I think that rule sucks. Teams can put tire warmers on so the tires should be back up to temperature by the restart, and on top of that the safety car takes them a lap around…the only safety issue i can think of is if a tire picks up a puncture of some sort from debris, but that can happen anytime. Hope it gets changed. Thoughts?


It was a great shame. Caught many experienced F1 people out. Fans are up on arms about it and I’m sure it will be looked at for the future.



Off topic.

James, Just like to say thank you for reccomending the Monaco GP as one to go and watch live. I had seats in the swimming pool section and I took my Dad and brother.

We all had an amazing time. The speed they carry through that section is quite simply unbelievable!

Highly reccomend anyone whos thinking of going to go. You will not be dissapointed. After the race we walked the track (again) and Eddie Jordan was playing the drums (well a wooden box and spoons) with a young singer. Fantastic!

The weekend was an unforgettable experience and will be going again next year!

Thanks again,




“By race day many strategists felt that it was possible to do 40-45 laps on a set of soft tyres, but to do 53, as Vettel did and still maintain competitive lap times, was universally regarded as being very impressive.”

No. This is EASY to do if you have EBD’s that provide 100% ideal grip levels in the rear. Vettel drove with “Air-Fed Traction Control” of course his tyres lasted 53 laps on this unabrasive surface.

It’s not like Red Bull hadn’t already established a trend of trying to use their ideal rear traction to stretch tyre life. They tried the same stunt in China. Hamilton passed him in the end, but the rear of the RB7 hardly fell out of step. It stuck on the track like glue.


I see many complaints about tyre change under red flag, does anybody know if Alonso or Jensen voiced the the same since they were the biggest losers due to this?


No point in complaining as the rules actually explicitly allow this.


Thanks again for the race history graph, they’re excellent. I can see by this one why Red Bull were wondering if the Scuderia were eavesdropping on their r/t. Alonso’s race is virtually identical to Vettel’s, and Button isn’t too far off of those two. It is especially a good graph to compare to a high-speed circuit, in that most of the team’s races chart similarily though they have differing race pace reflecting a relatively slower and higher downforce circuit. Also, judging by this Kobayashi ran a very good race indeed.


Vettel’s luck was off the charts in Monaco, throughout the weekend. It was not only the SC that ruined Button’s chances for victory. It was not only the red flag that ruined Alonso’s chances for victory (because Vettel was allowed to use fresh tires for the last 5 laps). It was not only McLaren’s “screw-up” in Q that ruined Lewis’s chances for pole and most probably race win. It was also the fact that tires that were supposed to last 35 laps at most, actually lasted 56 (!), clearly venturing into untested territoty. The series of events that played into Vettel’s favor in Monaco is simply unbelievable.

The RBR is no longer the fastest car in race trim, and perhaps not even in Q, on certain types of tracks. I will be floored if Vettel wins in Montreal or Valencia. The jury is still out on him, on whether he can win if he doesn’t start from pole. I am sensing an Alonso victory in either Montreal or Valencia, and two podiums for Lewis. Vettel’s luck has to change at some point.


Vettel’s tyres lasting that long is not luck. It is his driving talent.

He has a history of taking good care of tyres. See Australia 2011, Monza 2010 and even Turkey 2011 where he only made a precautionary stop.


“The jury is still out on him, on whether he can win if he doesn’t start from pole”. Please see Spanish Grand Prix 2011.


I think what D. was meant to say is whether he can win when not starting on the front row of the grid. Jury is still out on that.


Spot on!! Nice!


the tyres lasting 56 laps was not luck, it was his ability to preserve them.


Tyre strategy should have been implemented on Thursday when Vettel did 20 odd laps on the super soft tyre. Mclaren/Ferrari are giving away free points to the opposition. Obvioulsy the tyres where going to last longer. No need to panic, but Macca cannot afford to make these mistakes again. The entire weekend was a waste.


Any information on how close Vettel’s tyres were to ‘the cliff’?


Only running on them would tell that


I’ve just been looking at the graph, and some interesting things stand out.

In particular, the way that after both safety cars, the battle has broken into a number of discrete groups. And those groups distinctly separated by a lap’s time.

I think this shows the impact of a slower, lower-order car keeping tyres for a long time, and holding up faster cars who had pitted. The safety car rules then amplified the groups into distinct battles a lap apart.

The incident on lap 68 happened when the 1st group arrived to lap the 2nd group. I’m wondering if the accident was going to happen at that time anyway, even without being lapped, or if some of that 2nd group were using the occasion (of being lapped) to take advantage, and force their own overtakes too.

In particular, I can’t help but wonder if Hamilton’s overtake on Petrov, and the almost-overtake on Sutil, just before being lapped, helped force the accident as a whole. If so, then he had a double-dip at ruining Jenson’s chances!


yep throw in the ash cloud from iceland, in fact throw last year’s ash cloud which caused more problems. i think i can also link him to the current FiFA crises, the former IMF chief pending case. oh i know for a fact that current drought and expectant food price rise is all down to him too. so also the price of fuel…. jeez lueez.

i’m a Mclaren fan therefore support both drivers but in this case-as i mentioned above- Jensen did everything perfectly up until his last pit. He should then have driven a more aggressive race and gone after Alonso for 2nd allowing him to fight Vettel for the win even after the redflag but why don’t we blame someone else for this failure?

he was actually caught napping immediately after the redflag start that was definately Hamilton’s fault.


I am thrilled that Vettel won this race. I have been a fan of his for two seasons now and it has been wonderful watching him mature, learn, and adapt so quickly. Watching him handle pressure from Alonso and the MacLarens is really cool and, of course, he has an amazing crew.

I was sad to see the two mid-pack guys I like – Perez and Petrov – crash out, but, hey, that’s Monaco. I happened to be in Monaco on race day in 2005 and I became instantly hooked; a die-hard fan ever since.


When talking about the passing opportunities at the end – after the red flag – everyone mentions the 6 laps.

However, Vettel really had to expect to make his tyres last *9* laps – as his reprieve really started when the safety car came out, and reduced the loads on the tyres.

I also suspect that one of the reasons his tyres lasted as long in the first place was because of the 4-lap safety car stint in the middle of the race too. How much would that have extended their life?


why were McLaren’s engineers able to confidently predict, with such certainty and accuracy, that Vettel’s tyres would have gone off the cliff in the last 5 laps, when they never expected that the tyres could have lasted as long as Vettel made them last in the first place? Sounds like wishful thinking on their part. Yes, Vettel would have had a huge task on his hands to hang on over the last few laps but he had been hanging on very well indeed for the last 20 laps or so already. And Alonso’s tyres werent getting any fresher either, as his increasingly poor traction out of Rascasse demonstrated.

F12010 to kill time until March

I hope they change the rules, as beeing able to change tyres(and rear wings) is neither fare from a competing point of wiew or in regards to the entertainment side of it.

As far as strategy goes, I dont understand why there was not more atempts at going supersoft-soft(one stop) with an extra stop for supersoft if the softs didnt last or during a likely safety car deployment.

Other things that is getting quite clear after 6 races is that the level between the top drivers has increased massivly. It is making Massa look bad, and I cant see him driving for Ferrari next year. As for Webber, he seems more and more distent from the RBR team-cant see him in that car next year either.

As for the championship Vettels run will not last forever, and I can see both the Mclarens and even Alonso closing that gap during the next races. Way to early to call of the fight.


I reckon Webber burned his bridges with the team last year,and kind of going through the motions this year.

Wouldn’t be surprised if he calls it a day at the end of the year.

Funny enough I think Massa is likely to see out his contract at Ferrari.The team will probably look for someone for 2013.


Really wanted to see what the cliff is really like that everybody has been talking about since pre season testing. the drivers know it the engineers know it BUT US AUDIENCE DONT, we were only told. seriously, it cudve been one of the best final phases of a race in recent years, AND IN MONACO, regardless of the positions being changed or not at the end. i personally think the number or the type of touchups on the car during a red flag should be flexibly down to stewards discretions (as if we havent seen much of stewards discretion before with regards to driver punishments) as opposed to a rigid and over-generalised one that is meant to apply mostly for a heavy rain wet flag.


Hi James,

I think the only and best way for Button to have won would have been for McLaren to keep Button out on his second stint when he was on super-softs and Vettel on softs. If they could have built a 20second gap (I think it was 15 seconds before he pitted), then they’d have been able to pit, put on the prime and stay infront.


I think they’d got as much lead as they were ever going to get on those tyres – the gap had peaked and plateaued for a few laps before they did pit.

If the safety car hadn’t happened, Button would have been back up to Alonso & Vettel within 2-3 laps, and then had to pass them.

If he’d managed that quickly, he could have probably built a gap big enough for the last pit stop. If he didn’t manage it quickly, he’d have ended up in the same position at lap 68 anyway.

I think his chance of winning easily was really blown when he couldn’t get the 20+ second gap on the 2nd tyres.




i think that people are missing the point that vettel had a crap pitstop and thats the only reason that jenson jumped him. so that was bad luck. how much different would the race have been then. of course he had luck at the end of the race tho. race is so different when you watch it back on the iplayer the next day. have different opinions on things but still think lewis was in the wrong both times.


And it was also the reason they put the wrong tyres on.


The way this race developed was like a very intriguing dream that was intervened with a wake-up call at the most interesting moment. It is so annoying not to know how it would have ended! So I just hope that the dream will repeat itself after the rules are changed but the hope is rather faint.

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