How Button won despite five stops: A deep dive into strategy from Canada
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Posted By: James Allen  |  14 Jun 2011   |  7:49 am GMT  |  282 comments

By common consent, the Canadian Grand Prix this year was an absolute classic. It had everything; great racing, safety cars, rain, collisions and some very tight strategy calls, often with little data with which to work.

Button: A brilliant victory (Darren Heath/McLaren)


The strategists were really tested on Sunday and it made for a fascinating race. Jenson Button won despite a drive through penalty, five pits stops, two collisions and a whole lap with a puncture.

Even more incredible is to look at it like this; in the 70 lap race there were only 38 racing laps in total. The other 32 were safety car laps. On lap 40 Button was in last place. So how did he do it?

The answer is by a mixture of strategy, great lap times and overtakes. He and his strategists basically made it happen for themselves.

Button’s race under the microscope

To understand Jenson Button’s race we need to go back to McLaren’s decision to run his car with a lot of downforce, particularly the big rear wing. Although he wasn’t demonstrably faster than the others in really wet conditions, the downforce and balance of the car came into its own in the period of the race when he was on intermediate tyres. He made most of his progress in that condition. So, for example, having been last on lap 40 he was 9th on lap 51. An early switch to the dry tyre also paid dividends.

We could examine the pre-red flag period, but it would be academic to the outcome, as the race was neutralised. All of Button’s problems, like his collisions with Hamilton and Alonso, his multiple stops, puncture and drive through penalty were all in the past by the time the lap 40 safety car came out.

This was the reset moment of his race. From here, with a well balanced car on intermediates, one more stop to make onto slicks, DRS enabled for overtakes, he made the race his, passing car after car.

He was one of the earliest to switch onto slick tyres, on lap 51 and gained the benefit of that. Webber had gone for them a lap earlier and his sector times on lap 50 showed it was the tyre to be on, so from 10th place McLaren pitted Button for slicks and he found tremendous pace on them straight away. At that point he was 27 seconds behind Vettel.

Red Bull had been playing it cautious at every step with Vettel, waiting a few extra laps in each case to be sure they were making the right call. Webber gambled on slicks first, partly to give himself a chance and partly so Red Bull could look at the data and pick the right moment to pit Vettel. They were again cautious, leaving it two laps longer than Button. By the time Vettel emerged from his final stop on slick tyres Button was just 15 seconds behind and lapping two seconds faster than the champion.

Many fans have asked whether Button could have won without the final safety car on laps 59/60. Vettel was unlucky with the various safety cars to lose a total of 20 seconds. But with regard to the last one in particular, it would have been close; he was in fourth place and closing fast on Vettel anyway. With 12 laps to go he might well have caught him without the safety car. And bear in mind that he caught and passed Vettel using tyres which were two laps older than the German’s.

Some teams gambled on red flag (Darren Heath/McLaren)


Second guessing the conservatism of the FIA Race Director

One interesting trend we are seeing is the FIA Race Director, Charlie Whiting, being quite conservative in terms of the deployment of the safety car and the length of time it stays out, as well as the instructions to competitors, such as that they must be on wet tyres for the restart after the red flag. He seems more risk averse than in years gone by and this is now a crucial factor that fundamentally affects race strategy.

What we saw yesterday was some teams second-guessing that conservatism, such as Renault and Sauber, who gambled when the lap 20 safety car came out for heavy rain, that Whiting would stop the race.

Most teams took the opportunity of the safety car to make a stop for new wet tyres, however Renault left Heidfeld and Petrov out, Sauber did the same with Kobayashi and De La Rosa, Force India did it with di Resta while Sutil even stayed out on intermediate tyres! All were gambling on a red flag and they got one.

Although a pit stop under safety car had only taken 14 seconds for their rivals, this promoted all the gamblers up the order and when the red flag came they got the double win because Whiting said that all cars must have wet tyres fitted for the restart, so they got a free tyre change.

Heidfeld went from 6th to 4th, Di Resta went from 9th to 6th, Sutil from 17th to 13th. Kobayashi could only laugh as the likes of Alonso, Rosberg and Schumacher all pitted in front of him for intermediates and then realised their mistake as more rain fell, promoting the Japanese driver up to second place. And then he got a free tyre change under the red flag.

One has to observe that the combination of Kobayashi and the Sauber strategy team have made some bold calls in the last couple of years and made them work.

He’s not just an exciting overtaker, he makes some winning bets on strategy too.

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

Race History Graph
The interesting aspects are the number of safety car periods and laps, and how disjointed the first half of the race is.

The last half of the race history is most interesting but needs to be viewed along with a race positions plot to understand the progress Button made. He made good progress during intermediate tyre phase and when everyone switched from Intermediate to Dry

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1
Kiril Varbanov

Apart from Button’s crashes, it’s visible that Ferrari have the worst management ever. Timing system collapse … I can’t believe that, sorry.

2

James

Is it possible to put a like/dislike vote on comments?

I’d love to know how others read comments,but may not necessarily agree/comment back.

Thanks

Andy

3

It’s not a feature I particularly like, but I wouldn’t rule it out in future

4

Sorry not reading all that. I just wished to say, well done button. A job well done, i just loved the fact vettel didnt win. 🙂

5

Absolutely epic win from Jenson in montreal.

Unfortunately I ran out of patience reading down some of the Jenson-hater comments and came straight down to the Leave a reply.

Unfortunately the facts around Jenson appear to be that he remains a much better racing driver than most people give him credit for.

Good on you JB, along with the Monaco GP before it, its staying as a “Keep” on my sky plus box.

I (and possibly only Kenny C) was convinced that JB would do well at McLaren. I don’t for one moment think he has embarrased himself against lewis.

What a feeling driving past MTC on Monday and seeing the Rocket Red (#winning) Mclaren signage.

I was also glad (shockingly) to see the two Red machines looking on better pace, and I really hoped for Schu on the podium. Excellent race for him also. Much more like the performances I’d expect.

6

Please remove

7

I was interested to here Ted K on the BBC say that Red Bull reconed that the speed was due to Button having older thus warmer tyres. They seem to forget that Webber had new tyres 2 laps before JB and if it takes RB 18 laps to warm their tyres they must be in some trouble!

8

Very good, a contrived excuse! A bit like the KERS working ‘on & off’ so much since the beginning of the season.

9

Flash of the (maybe) obvious occurs to me looking at the chart above: there is a feedback loop which occurs in difficult conditions, viz. Using the safety car bunches the pack up which makes collisions more likely once released. This is a point worth considering if the policy is to try and avoid future accidents by bringing the safety car out when conditions deteriorate. It may be better to leave the race running and rely on the natural deterrent of penalties for drivers causing accidents.

10

They already have the technology to restrict speeds if needed – using the “lap delta” systems that show on their steering wheels.

However, one of the points of the safety car is to deliberately bunch the cars up – so it gives the marshalls more opportunity, with no cars near, to clear debris off the track. This should allow the safety car to get back in faster.

However, the safety car has a more prolonged effect on the race, even once it has come back in – as DRS stays disabled for the next two laps, to counter the bunching effect.

I guess if every car ran to slow “delta times”, there would be no need to keep DRS disabled for longer.

11

Personally, I’m expecting that SV and RBR will SMASH the opposition at next race. Primary reason for SV losing at Canada was that they let Button get too close due to the usual conservatist approach that he/they follow when they think that the race is under control. Then they realised too late and SV cracked.
SV owns not one fastest lap so far this year even though he’s a ..[mod] quick driver in a ..[mod] quick car : a bit odd doncha think ?
Time for SV to be let off the leash so we can all see the truth of his race-speed once and for all !

12

@ CGM

Lack of ‘B’ word = PC state of play.

13

But can the fragile car survive SV taking it to the limit?

I guess we’ll find out if the pressure from Canada manages to carry over into Valencia, and RB push a bit too hard for too long…

14

It’s too odd that Seb doesn’t have any fastest laps due to the strategy and tyres this year. Invariably, you will get a driver further do the field finding themselves (due to unconventional strategy or whatever), on much fresher tyres at the end of the race and flying compared to the leader. For example, Webber in China. This year I never predict a likely leader like Vettel will be setting the fastest lap.

15

*Sorry – It’s *not* too odd, I meant to say!

16

Yep. I sorta figured that something was missing in those first few words !

Agree with your comments re reduced chance of any leader being in a position to own the fastest lap.

I still feel however that we are “missing out” on something as (I suspect) SV can go significantly faster during the race than he (generally) has been. Would love to see a race where he had a bad quali or first corner spin and then had to attempt a charge back thru the pack. Would certainly silence a few people if he was able to do it !

To Mod : My apologies. Was not aware that “the B word” was unacceptable.

17

Here is an interesting statistic for the moderator.

After seven races in 2011, Mark Webber is on 94 points and is a very distant third to Vettel.

Last year after seven races, Webber had 93 points and was leading the championship.

18

Nearly half the GP behind the safety car was a joke. 38 laps may have formed the best GP for a while, but the other half made Valencia 2009 look exciting.

19
David Hamilton

James,

The cameras picked up at least two marshals who slipped and fell while walking on the track.

Was the surface really that slippery, or had there been special training courses run by the Buster Keaton School of Marshalling?

20

I think if you were to ask any driver they would admit that they left the circuit or made mistakes at some point in the Canadian GP due to the slippery and changing conditions.

We just happened to see Vettel make a mistake on the final lap which cost him the race victory. However his more crucial mistake, I feel, was a small lock-up into the hair-pin on the penultimate lap, this allowed Button (only as he went over the DRS detection line) to be within 1 sec; the gap prior to this was hovering between 1.1 and 1.3 as they moved thru the early part of that penultimate lap. Being able to use DRS then, crucially pulled Button into contention for a potential final lap DRS move; I feel Seb knew this and was pushing hard to extend the gap in the twisty section (at the “back” of the circuit).

Fantastic entertainment! And the number of non-F1 people (non-fans etc) that have spoken to me \ talking about that race, is amazing.

21

Jenson Button is like vintage wine. He just gets better as he gets older. Never have I seen Jenson running at the speed he did in Canada.

Button earned his high respect from McLaren through his patience and intelligence not by demanding.

Lewis must learn from Button without a doubt. And who’s rattling the cage now.

22

As entertaining as Montreal was, it was the perfect storm. I don’t think you can read all that much into a race as chaotic as this: a Canadian monsoon, a red flag period that was as long as the race itself, I forget how many safety cars and finally a drying track. Vettel played his cards a little too close to the vest and ended up coming in second. He also made a mistake on strategy in China and came in second. He’d better be careful. If keeps making mistakes, he might not take the title until October.

23

You can add to the question about whether Button would have won without the last Safety Car, the question “Would Button have won without all the Safety Cars plus the red flag?”.

Not saying it wasn’t a good drive, but I think people are clouded about what happened because it looked great, like they think that Jenson overtaking Schumacher down the back straight was pure racing.

In the end it comes down to wanting to believe it’s all real and staving off cognitive dissonance to help make it stay real.

24

Quite. The fastest car (in the conditions at the time) did win, so I can’t see it as being unjust, if that is what you are implying?

Yes it’s true the safety cars helped Button, but in nearly every race you can talk about how circumstances benefit or hinder a driver; it’s all part of the unpredictability.

Remember too that Vettel did benefit in being able to get two free pit stops under the safety cars. He could have quite easily come a cropper with it all, like Button, Alonso and Schumacher did early on when they changed back to wets rather than staying out.

I understand your point that DRS was too easy, but it is all relative. Even when DRS was enabled we saw situations between other cars – where the car behind was quicker but not massively so – that the overtakes were quite hard fought. It took Webber quite a few tries to get past Schumacher for instance. So DRS there was quite suitable in generating passing opportunities but not making them too easy.

But when you get a car like Button’s which was way, way quicker than Schumacher’s (2s/lap), then of course DRS is going to make it look easy. Button would have got Schumacher even without DRS I am sure, though he may not have had the laps left to still win without it.

So DRS is relative. It will allow cars that are quicker than the car ahead but not massively so (say < 1s/lap), the opportunity to overtake, whereas in the past they may have had no chance and we would be frustrated. But then for the cars that are greatly faster than the car ahead, DRS will make it look very easy indeed.

25

The fastest car won. What’s more real than that ?

26

That’s 2 races in a row were the stewards dictated the race outcome. It’s also twice that Vetel has been put under presure in the closing laps and lost the lead.

Looking forward to the blowen defuser ban,we might see closer racing and different outcomes in qualifing.

27

i do not get this graph at all!!!

can someone pls explain?????

28

Starting the race behind the safety-car i can understand, for me the more conservative measure was at the safety-car after the red flag, to many laps behind the safety car at that moment, when the safety-car came in it was already time for inters.

As for the race, in my opinion it wasn´t the strategy that won the race for Button but is speed and specially the conservative aproach from Sebastien on the slicks, Seb tryed to control the gaps by not taking unacessary risks and he payed the price.The strategy and the safety-cars played their parts but for me what made the difference was Jenson ” attacking mode” vs Sebastien ” conservative mode”, seb only picked up the pace when Jenson was 1.5 sec behind.

29

I attended Montreal and have several meaningless observations and apparently too much time on my hands. First, in a cold, rainy race the organizers need to serve more than Bud Light and jug Australian! wine. How about some Cognac or Port dammit. Every opening on my old carcass was drenched and miserable. Second, despite Vettel’s last lap mistake, he was untouchable in the wet. Third, how in the world did Ferrari allow Alonso to change to inters the first time? The heavier rain had started about five minutes earlier. Finally, porto-potties are nasty enough in the dry, but in a monsoon, forget it.

30

Nice comments! I still would like to go to Montreal though! 🙂

31

Yes, Montreal is a special city and the track is unique, if a bit dangerous.

32

I’m not sure what everyone else thinks, but to me it seems that the stewards are being unnecessarily harsh with some of their decisions this year.

The more I think about Paul di Resta’s drive-through penalty for brushing his front wing against Nick Heidfeld on Sunday, the more it makes my blood boil.

Paul made an unsuccessful move, and lost out by losing his front wing, forcing him to drive a whole lap slowly to replace the wing. Meanwhile the contact was so light that Heidfeld probably didn’t even notice it. An di Resta gets a drive through!

It reminds me of Alonso in Malaysia when he lost his front wing trying to pass Hamilton and still got penalised.

Surely we should only be penalising drivers who gain and/or the person they make contact with loses out – in both of these cases the only people that lost out were di Resta and Alonso.

Think it is time to have the same stewards at every race, surely F1 could afford it?!

33

Going back to the doom and gloom maths earlier in the thread (Rodger comment 12) I think you may have over complicated it, in fact if Button were to win the next 4 with Vettel 6th in each race, Button would be championship leader. If Button wins the next 2 with 2 dnf’s for Vettel he’s only 10 points behind.

So it’s not all over yet, remember how far back Alonso was last year?

34

Yeah, while Vettel really is a shoe-in, we can’t rule out the others just yet. It’s unlikely Vettel’s results can continue like this till the end of the season (even if his personal form does). Every driver tends to have at least 2 non scores in a season.

Also, Vettel hasn’t breezed to every victory, it has been close at times. It’s just that Vettel’s challenges keep changing, which is helping his points lead.

Vettel has made his challenge through his and the car’s qualifying pace. McLaren (and Ferrari at times) is a decent race package. Unfortunately they often have too much to do in the race. You’ve also got Lewis trying too hard, possibly knowing his car is a match to Red Bull in the race and is perhaps being too eager to try and get up to Vettel on the track too soon, leading to these errors and benefiting Vettel even more in the championship.

If Vettel’s qualifying can be reined in and he has a couple of DNFs, which chance dictates is likely at some point – even if they not Vettel’s fault – then we may see the championship come alive.

It is funny though that we’re having a very exicting championship even though we have a 2002/04-esque dominance, points-wise for the leader!

35

Perhaps Rodger should wait until he has had his coffee next time.

36

“Watching Michael Schumacher simply drive clean past his competitors in the pits because of Fuel Stops with his competitors able to do nothing to stop him to me wasnt racing, it was ridiculous & frankly an Embarrassment.”

I also didn’t always like seeing that, However Pit stops & race strategy are a part of racing. When Schumacher (& Others) did that, there compatitors had the option of fighting back using a different strategy.

We no longer have refueling so that sort of thing doesn’t happen that often anymore, However as long as you allow pit-stops & strategy there will always be the potential for that to happen.

Comparing Pit Stops/Strategy is DRS is silly as one is a natural part of racing (And has been for decades) while the other is an artificial gimmick which has no place in racing & has nothing to do with racing.

37

im on my cellphone, so can’t reply to a comment.

but to say MSC couldn’t keep up with button wasn’t an option, he had to be defensive to webber. he wouldn’t of kept up anyway, but maybe without DRS, button wouldn’t of got past and for sure webber wouldn’t of & thats easy to see because he was just 4/10ths off him over the line.

DRS FAKED THE RESULT FOR ME!

38

Don’t blame the DRS, the merc was very slow, blame Mercedes!

39

SUre, the DRS helped JB get past MSC, but it was clear how much faster the McLaren was than the Merc, if the 2 cars had been equally matched, MSC would have been able to keep with JB after the DRS zone.

P.S. Its not “would of” its “would have” sorry, pet peeve.

40

Off topic but: Hehe, I get peeved by “would of” instead of “would have” too. Not to be stereotypical, but I sometimes think it’s a partial indication as to whether the writer has a northern accent or not! I’m originally from northern England and at school I used to write “would of” until my English teacher beat it out of me!!!!

Of course anybody can fluff up grammar wherever they live, before I get attacked! And it’s not as if people need to be perfect on a message board – I make mistakes all the time! I was just posing my little theory that’s all.

41

Don’t know if anyone has brought this up : when the safety car came in for the final time, De Ambrosio immediately pitted for inters. Then apparently he got a penalty for coming into the pits under the safety car. But he followed it in, with its lights out and, as I understood it, the SC line was just before the final chicane, where the pit entrance was. Anyone know how this works ?

42

he came in 4 inters the lap b4 the safety car came in

http://www.fia.com/en-GB/mediacentre/f1_media/Documents/can-race-summary.pdf

lap 33 compared to every1 who did follow sc in on lap 34 x

43

James, you mentioned the instruction to restart on wet-weather tyres as evidence of Charlie Whiting’s conservatism. I’d say it’s more of a regulation….sporting reg 25.4(f) to be precise:

“If the race is started behind the safety car because of heavy rain (see Article 40.14), or resumed in accordance with Article 42.5(a), the use of wet-weather tyres until the safety car returns to the pits is compulsory.”

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