Dealing with a threat: A deep dive into race strategies from the Belgian Grand Prix
Strategy Report
Posted By: James Allen  |  30 Aug 2011   |  10:18 am GMT  |  114 comments

The Belgian Grand Prix was one of the most interesting races of the season from a strategy point of view, with the top four finishers using four different strategies. Most of the practice was run in wet conditions, so no-one had any tyre data and therefore raceday was a voyage into the unknown.

How long would the soft tyre last? How much slower would the medium tyre be than the soft per lap?

What was known after qualifying, as a result of most drivers doing up to six laps in Q3, was that the soft front tyres were blistering, even on low fuel. This meant that several drivers, including both Red Bull drivers, were faced with having to make a pit stop very soon after the start of the race to get rid of their damaged qualifying tyres. How they managed that and the decisions they made about how to run the race from there dictated the outcome and it’s fascinating to look in depth at what happened.

Vettel: Risk, opportunity and reward
Sebastian Vettel started from pole, briefly lost the lead to Rosberg then regained it. It was a good decision to stop early on lap 5. It’s never easy to make such an early stop when you are pulling away, but the tyres didn’t have much more in them (having already done 6 laps in qualifying and now 5 in the race). By coming in on lap 5 and rejoining in seventh place, just 10 seconds behind the leader, Vettel was now on fresh tyres while all his rivals were still on their old qualifying rubber. His pace during this seven lap stint is what set up the victory for him.

It effectively gave him a free pit stop when the safety car came out on lap 13, because he had built a sufficient margin that he could pit and lose track position only to Alonso. From there he could manage the race, dividing the remaining 20 laps into roughly equal stints on the softs and then finally on the mediums. By the time he took the medium tyre on lap 30, the team already had a lot of data about it from Mark Webber’s car, the Australian having done most of the race on it.

So Vettel’s strategy was all about coping with risk initially, then being bold and stopping early, then taking the opportunity of the safety car and from there on he had track position and it was just about managing the tyres.

Did Ferrari make a mistake not pitting Alonso under the safety car?

No. Many fans have suggested that Ferrari’s strategy was flawed, but it wasn’t. They made the right decision to leave him out as it maintained track position ahead of Red Bull and this gave Ferrari and Alonso a shot at the win. Even though Alonso had tyres that were 5 laps older than Vettel he was better off staying out because a) Ferrari’s tyre wear was good and b) a stop under the Safety Car would have dropped him behind Webber.

With Webber, on medium tyres, slower than Alonso after the restart, this would have resulted in Alonso being even further behind Vettel prior to making his last pitstop.

The only thing that Ferrari might have done differently is to spend less laps on the medium tyre which may have given Button less of an opportunity to close the gap, but they were trying to do one less stop than Vettel and Alonso probably needed fresh rubber when he pitted for mediums after 21 laps on his soft tyres. This season with the Pirellis you are constrained into windows in which you have to change tyres simply because of the tyres going off.

Alonso’s laptimes on the medium tyres remained consistent so it is debatable whether the extra laps on the medium cost him the position to Button, but most likely he would have lost it either way.

Whatever decision Ferrari made at the Safety Car moment, Alonso would ultimately have lost out to Webber, either by failing behind under the Safety Car and then not having the pace advantage to repass, or by staying out as they did.

Making the most of the slower medium tyre

Going into the race the talking point was the blistering on the soft tyres, which risked a failure if the tyres were pushed for too long on a car heavy with fuel. Mark Webber clearly felt that he couldn’t be competitive using the soft tyre and opted to run mainly on the medium tyre, which hurt his ultimate pace, but it got him a second place.

Many teams seem to have had the confidence that once they had got rid of the first set of soft tyres, they would be able to manage the blistering issue on the second set. They didn’t have much information about how the tyres would behave at Spa, although they do generally have a very good knowledge of the tyre, having raced it at every event this year. There was also a reluctance on most people’s account to use the medium tyre because they believed it to be 1.5 secs or more slower than the soft.

The teams who didn’t didn’t qualify in the top ten didn’t get to run slick tyres in qualifying and so had no idea what would happen with blistering on their car. It’s important to recognise that blistering doesn’t harm lap time particularly, it is not the same as degradation. The problem is vibration and ultimately if pushed too hard, there is the risk of a failure.

Michael Schumacher and Jenson Button did the same three stop strategy; a short early stint to get the slower medium tyre out of the way, pit early and then divide the rest of the race into three flat out stints on soft tyres. Both drivers were starting out of position; Schumacher 24th after a crash in qualifying and Button 13th after a bad strategy call saw him sitting in the pits when the track was at its fastest in Qualifying 2.

They came through the field brilliantly using strategy as well as car and driver pace. Button finished third and Schumacher fifth, ahead of his team mate Rosberg, who qualified fifth. When both made their final stops around lap 30/31 Schumacher was just five seconds behind Rosberg. But crucially he was now on new soft tyres and Rosberg on the slower medium tyre.

It would not have been possible without the safety car on lap 13, as Schumacher was 20 seconds off the lead at that stage and Button 21 behind. The safety car took away that time gap and made a comeback possible. Also the track allows it; not only is Spa a good track for overtaking, but with the adjustable DRS rear wing, a fast car and new soft tyres, passing was very easy on the Kemmel Straight. This was all factored into Button’s and Schumacher’s strategy.

The way Button in particular came through the field from 13th place after the Safety Car restart was very impressive. He went through Perez, Petrov, Sutil, Massa and Rosberg and then bridged the gap to the leading trio. But it was a consolation prize; he believed that he had the car to challenge for pole position and the race win in Spa, but that strategy mistake in qualifying cost him that chance and gave Vettel one less rival to deal with.

And this race was an opportunity for Button to beat Vettel because there was so much variation on strategy, if he had started alongside him on the front row.


Note the safety car period, Button’s progress after it and the fact that everyone stops for the final time within a lap or two of each other.

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Don't mean to burst your bubble James, but Vettel came out of the pits in 3rd during the SC. However he passed Webber swiftly on the restart lap, somewhere between La Source and Eau Rouge


Yes, and he moved over to let Vettel pass as they were on differant stratagies.


What I meant was that no cameras showed the way Vettel went by Webber; whether it was a legitimate overtake or Webber moved over


I don't think that's 100% accurate mate. I've rewatched the safety car restart 5 or 6 times and there's no such replay. Webber looked like he was letting Vettel through entering Turn 1, but Vettel didn't overtake there. However when they moved to the next camera angle as they went up Eau Rouge, Vettel was already in front of Webber


In Australia,we came back from a break and it was replayed before going back to the live courverage on BBC. Vettel moved around Webber and Webber did not try and defend, you could say it was just like someone being laped. I am a big Webber fan and did not have problem with it as they had different stratagies.


I'm not sure about moving over; none of the cameras saw it and it wasn't shown; as a replay or otherwise.


I guess we'll never really know but I can't help wondering if webber was really given full shot at the victory.

If it was vettel who crashed and it was Hamilton in the lead with 11 laps to go, I think they would have given him the soft tyres and let him go for it.


I do not understand this brouhaha about Webber.

Webber's once-in-a-lifetime chance to win the championship was last year, and he chose to ride his bike and fracture his shoulder over becoming a World Champion. He messed up in Korea after the fracture and that eventually led to him losing out on the Drivers' Championship.

A very dumb move, the championship went to a guy that takes his racing (and the money Red Bull spends on it) more seriously.

I suspect that is how Mateschitz & Co. look at things. He had his chance, he blew it. Now move over and let the guy that really wants it do his job.


so according to you, Petrov is a better driver or at least, more serious and interested when it comes to F1 than Kubica?

you're talking as if Webber broke his own shoulder with an iron rod or something. besides, he himself said it did not affect his championship in anyway, so what's your point?

and isnt what RBR does obvious? they took away an upgrade from webber's car to give to vettel last season. when vettel crashed into webber in turkey, they were more inclined towards vettel. this season, they asked webber to back off. so obviously that's impartial treatment, isnt it?


To all the gents above:

I like Webber, I am a huge fan of Kubica and the two are my favourite drivers, along with Button. However, I believe in accepting personal responsibility and I really believe that if you want to win the Championship, you will make sure you show up on each race weekend in top form. You won't be injured, you won't have a cold, you won't sleep in, you won't be hung over. Look at Schumacher. Twenty years and the guy keeps going like a Swiss clockwork. It certainly does not come easily to him, it requires daily decisions and sacrifices, but that's what makes him a champion.

I was SOOOO livid when Kubica injured himself. This could have been his season, the car looked good in preseason, he could have been a contender. But no, sir, he chooses to go to an inconsequential rally and throw it all away. Webber, well, he injured himself on the bike prior to the (if I recall correctly) 2009 season, and last year again. Well, this is a harsh world, I guess he likes his bike rides more than the title. That is fine, of course, but don't expect the team to back you as much as the obviously more committed Vettel.


How can you say Webber doesn't take his driving seriously???

Most of the drivers use bikes to maintain their fitness, it was unfortunate he injured himself doing so.

But i do agree with you in that last year was his once in a lifetime chance but to question his professionalism because he was trying to maintain his race fitness?


I don't believe you third paragraph really holds any substance....and if Mateschitz & Co think the way you outline, Webber wouldn't be there with a new contract. Webber is respected more in RBR than people think.


Are you kidding me?! Did you not see Webber's move on Alonso to pass on the outside through Eau Rouge?? That wasn't the move of a guy who doesn't take his racing seriously - that was absolute commitment and confidence.


Webber said he wanted those tyres himself.

Seriously, the conspiracy theories against Vettel/Webber are now Twilight Zone episodes.


Yes yes, all twilight zone conspiracy theories, I mean it is not like the team has a history of pefering to have the gap maintained and the points banked...

Anyhow, my initial point was that I just would have liked to see him give it a go and that if it was a driver from another team out in front, I think they would have rolled the dice with the soft tyre.

I know people will say that it was the safe choice and that the soft tyre wore significantly in qualifying and that Webber is harder on tyres but it doesn't make sense against what we know.

The soft tyre is normally 2-3s per lap quicker at low fuel and Vettle did a 17 lap stint on a set of softs

I think Webber was about 12.5s behind the lead after his last pitstop, if we go conservatively and say 1.5s a lap, then Webber is on the gearbox of the leader with about 3.5 laps to go. That would have been interesting.

As for who chose the tyres: "I let the team decide what tyres to put on my car in the final stint and they elected to go with the medium compound again. On paper the soft rubber was faster, but we played it safe because there were still 12 laps to go and we didn’t know how the soft tyre would hold up after our experiences in qualifying."


Ok. My mistake then.

You are much more of an expert on f1 than i James.

If you think that he probably couldn't have caught him then I'll believe you.


Soft was more like 1.5s faster than medium


Yeah cos Webber wasn't told to stand off at Silverstone...


It's a true team sport...then why is there an individual drivers championship?

If you are that naive to believe there IS NOT some favoritism for SV in the RBR garages..then you can't be watching the same guys I am


I guess RedBull and Vettel are responsible for Webbers inability to start a race like everyone else?? With Exception of Vettel of the next 4 drivers 3 of them all came from further back and made the most of switching to the mediums early on. Had Webber had a good start he could have ended up 5th behind Alonso.


'at the end' is a pointless remark. The RBR are so fast you know they are going to end up well in most races. So allowing them to race at the start or end is risking the same


I know there is a lot of effort from the teams, but the drivers championship is still the main prize therefore an individual sport more than it is a team sport.

If you like team sports so much q, watch football.


Because he should have. Endangering so many points at the end of a race is silly. It is a teamsport, if you don't like teamsports, watch Tennis.


There has been a lot of debate about Ferrari's strategy & sometimes I think they play safe first & dont try change too much on the pit wall from the agreed strategy. Could it be as a result of bad calls in the past?

As the Ferrari struggles to get heat into the tyres, would it not be better to run the harder tyres with more fuel (i.e. earlier in the race) and then run the soft tyres with low fuel on a more "rubbered-in" track? I appreciate they run many simulations to predict the fastest possible race outcome & this will obviously be accounted for but perhaps the drivers feel of the car during the race should also come into it & in the case of Massa could he have pitted before Rosberg to try leapfrog him? See gap between Alonso & Massa increase after SC period. Not doing these things time and again proves the thinking skills of SV, MW, JB & FA who always appear one step ahead of the opposition. Perhaps his time at Ferrari is coming to an end (2012) & Kamui will be there.

The DRS zone selection had a major impact for JB & MS strategy selection & on reflection I was wondering if the section from Blanchimont to the final chicane would have been a better option therefore providing 2 possible overtake areas?

Very interesting graphic & text again - thanks James


I have to disagree with this post its actually frustrating to read. I have read it 3 times to try and understand what your saying and it still makes no sense to me. I broke my TV yesterday by throwing my remote at the screen when I saw Vettal pit and Alonso not pit. Ferrari messed up as they did in Abu dhabi. Alonso would have the win in the bag if he pitted whilst the safety car was out, Alonso may have come out behind Webber but with new soft rubber he would have easily passed him, caught Vettal and could have waited for Vettal to pit for medium then stayed out alot longer on the softs as the track would have been well rubbered in and Alonso was kinder to his tyres built up a gap and then put the Medium tyre on closer to the end. This for me is a no brainer


Love to have a responce James


I agree in part, But Alonso had not gone onto the medium tyres at this point and from what I can see The Ferrari does not do well on them.

What is interesting, is Button could not catch Webber in the last stint.Button was on soft tyres and Webber stayed on the medium, infact Webber increased his lead over Button and was catching Vettel.


I do agree with GY...I think that FA should have changed tyres with Vettel under the SC. If he could not fight for the victory for sure he would made the podium at least. On the same matter I think the SC handed the victory to Vettel...FA was starting to catch Vettel and for sure Ferrari was planning for 1 stop less than RBR.


One could argue that perhaps ferrari were unwilling to risk that Alonso might not get around Webber in the period after the SC when DRS is deactivated for a couple laps and in which time Vettel could have pulled significantly ahead to where it didn't matter. Not saying he couldn't get around without DRS just noticed Ferrari being a bit risk averse on strategies recently.


There was plenty of overtakes not within the DRS zone. When Vettal came out of the pits he was behind Webber he took him straight away because he was on the softer tyre, it would have worked out the same for Alonso. James Allan said Ferrari was after track position. Track position is not key anymore it is being on the right tyre at the right time.


So true. Track position only matters at Monaco, and perhaps Barcelona, Valencia, Hungary, and Singapore.


I thought Brundle said that with the track being so long it didnt really rubber in to any appreciable extent.


There is surley some rubber laid down.


Interesting point and I taught the same thing initially.

Though the suggested strategy for Alonso is based on the assumption that used softs would still be quicker than brand new hard tyres. I suspect that is not the case as when Alonso put the brand new hard tyres on, he did a new fastest lap.

We had the same phenomenon in German grand prix earlier this year, if I remember correctly. Hard tyres were comparable to used softs (or quicker), particularly after the track rubbered in.

I am interested to read what others think on this?



Thanks for yout reply GY.

Why would they have been used softs Alonso had brand new one's in hand did he not??


DRS seems to make lesser tracks more entertaining, but at a non-Mickey Mouse track like Spa, it is unnecessary manipulation. Passing on the Kemmel Straight was too easy and, in my view, detracted from a race that had some great moments and one breathtaking pass courtesy of Webber. Apart from that, it seems to me that Vettel made a step forward passing with great aplomb on a driver's track. I think you have to win Spa to be considered one of the greats.


Not to mention many great passes by JB at different points at the track. His two passes at Bus Stop come to mind.

A.B.N I really like your comment about Vettel making a step forward in his passing. He did show on Sunday that he can pass. He is starting to become a very well rounded driver now in my opinion. If he can learn to overtake like Hamilton, but not be so reckless or lose his head so quickly, he’ll be the new Prost.


I agree Phil. Button is not just a smooth driver, but a voracious passer when necessary. I was in Montreal, and Button passed the entire field twice. Hamilton and Button are polar opposites as drivers, both outstanding, but not interchangeable in terms of race strategy. If science could somehow hybrid the two...


"If science could somehow hybrid the two…"

Science I don't know but nature has done it : Michael Schumacher!


DSR is a hadcapping advantage given to whoever is behind. Why, in the name of justice, who is behind deserves any kind of special treatment? There were quite a fell passes whitout using the DRS; however, there where also many made with the "special help" of DRS. In my opinion, DRS should be used anywhere, but only when someone is about to be lapped.


It's not quite as simple as that. It's still hard to pass unless you have a pace advantage. Look at how long it took Schumacher to pass Rosberg and there were other examples. It's a device to enable racing and prevent what happened to Alonso behind Petrov in Abu Dhabi last year. The idea is that it gives you the chance to get alongside and have a go - it's still up to you to make it stick. What complicates the picture is the state of the tyres ie you can pass a faster car if his tyres are older at that stage


I think I'm not alone at pointin out that you are ignoring several "breathtaking" non DRS passes, Vettel around the outside of Rosberg in blanchimont (I think) was one of the best examples in mind, there were many others, did you even watch the race? I've noticed a general despise for the DRS whenever a particular favorite doesn't win despite James and many other journalists proving that as numbers go DRS hasnt accounted for a a whole lot of the extra overtaking.


Devilsadvocate -- Did you read my post? Webber's pass on Alonso was before the DRS zone. I am not in favor of DRS on a great track like Spa. Other tracks might need that kind of artificial enhancement. Not Spa. I have no favorite driver, I just admire great racing.


Yeah I did, you implied Webber on Alonso was the only great pass of the race, I was merely pointing out that you ignored some of the other great ones, including Lewis nabbing both the ferrari's, again not in the DRS zone every pass I mentioned above was OUTSIDE of the DRS zone, but thanks for going off half cocked in responding to me and proving my point about you not watching the entire race.... Peace


It's because it changes the ebb and flow of a battle. The passing is fantastic this year, thanks to Pirelli. However, while DRS works well on circuits that need it (Catalunya), it can be way too overpowered for circuits that don't (Spa, Montreal, Istanbul Park). It eliminates the possibility of a defensive drive that might otherwise be possible without DRS. The tires make for enough performance variation.


Engineers use the word "authority" for the DRS and I think it had too much in Spa!


There were some amazing overtakes (Webber on Alonso was great) but Vettel's on Rosberg wasn't that great; he was on new tyres and Nico was on very old ones.


Fantastic race and facinating to see how the different strategies came together for people.

I particularly enjoyed watching Button and Schumacher slice through the field...if only more tracks were as magic as spa!

Webber's overtake on Alonso was out of this world, wow.


Can't agrée more, i hope we can have more of the same in the Next few races.


Well James, it is an interesting point about the SC and Ferrari not pitting.

Of course I do not have the data about tyre degradation, drop off of the lap times etc but I can image that there are some issues against running on old tyres.

1) New Pirelli soft tyres have much more grip then used ones, especially here at Spa the drop off in lap times due to blistering was enormous.

2) Alonso had done 5 laps in full attack mode setting fastest times before the SC came in, I guess the tyres were not bad at that point but certainly would have had already more blisters than the first set at the start (which were used in Q3 on an empty tank)

3) As the Pirelli's slowly drop off towards the cliff, the advantage of using new rubber stays through the stint (a set of rubber that is used 10 laps is capable of faster laptimes than the same set of rubber used for 15 laps).

4) When running new rubber, the point when to switch to the harder compound is 5 laps later... or even more because that set has been used on lower fuel levels. So in the end maybe 6 or 7 extra laps were possible on soft.

5) The counter argument is that he would have been 3rd behind the SC instead of 1st.

As it turned out, Vettel on his new set of softs was unstoppable with used softs on the Ferrari, Webber was close but not close enough to overtake Alonso.

On the other hand, starting from 3rd behind the SC on new softs, Webber on the harder compound would have had absolutely no chance against Alonso on new softs.

So, to me, in both scenarios Alonso would have ended up second after a while when the SC was brought in. With a fresh set he would have had a much better chance against Webber and for sure Button in the end, and putting pressure on Vettel from the moment the SC came in would have been thrilling for sure.

I'm very much interested in your reflexion on this view.


To be frank, I was agry when unbelievably Ferrari put aside one set of soft tyres on Alonso side,without using them in the race.


Very interesting, as always.

As an Alonso fan I am again concerned about Ferrari being so vulnerable on strategy. With Massa ALWAYS lost in nowhere, RBR is in the position to beat Alonso/Ferrari simply by splitting strategies (though sometimes forced by circumstances), from last year Abu Dhabi to now in Spa. Add a dominant car and make it a 1-2 anyway.

Why not let Massa run on crazy strategies, like the Saubers?! In a Ferrari he could possibly finish further up and/or maybe bother a little more!

But Ferrari needs to work on poor management (not just the bad race and drivers management!)as much as on its weak car... Like in last season, they have started again to say that next season they need to be strong from early on.... Blablabla.


I totally agree, Massa was uninspiring again on Sunday., visibly slower through last chicane, asleep on restart with vettel, could have made it much more interesting by putting on a bonsai move ( it's not as if he has anything to lose) into la source instead letting vettel get the jump on a dormant webber. Lovely guy, but now proving to be out of his depth, Ferrari need him to spoil the races for red bull or even slow them down a touch by being ahead for a while before his pitstop. It's easier said than done but seems the only way to go, makes me wonder how good the 2008 Ferrari was.


Ferrari Strategy


Actually, I disagree with you for once James about Alonso strategy. A pit stop with Vettel would've allowed him to have a shorter stint on the slow medium tyres.

As Spa showed year in year out, overtaking is easy around Spa so Alonso would've overtaken Webber easily even before the DRS would've been allowed (given RBR lack of straight speed) and from there Alonso had great speed on the softs to close the gap on Vettel.

He wouldn't have won of course but that would've secured a podium. A big mistake by Ferrari but their main issue is the lack of speed on the harder compounds. They need to solve that for next year.

P.S : I want to congratulate you for the great comments during the race on twitter @jamesallenonf1. All of them spot on and very helping to follow the race. Amazing job James.


Red Bull lack of straight line speed? Webber had the fastest speed trap of anyone by 2km/h, and a 4km/h advantage over Alonso, so to claim Alonso would have easily passed is a bit disingenuous.


Thkx for that info. It seems the new rear wing is working its magic for RBR, but still with new tyres, Alonso would've overtaken him


I agree. A stop during the s/c for new softs he would have had the pace to clear Webber and then go further before taking the hard tyres. Ferrari definitely lost Alonso a podium and is very odd considering all they have been saying lately is that they can afford to take risks due to the points situation. Seems to me like they took the easiest/safest option this time.


James, in his column for australia's telegraph, webber said it was his teams decision not to run the soft. Do you think he would have won the race on the soft and the team simply wanted a safe red bull one two? i mean he only finished three seconds off having run the slower tyre almost the whole race. Vettel proved the tyre could last 11 laps, and the track was at its most rubbered in at that point.


Given the state they were in, a split strategy gave both options. Also Webber is harder on the tyres than Vettel. He said afterwards that coming to the arrangement they came to was one of their best moments all together as a team. He didn't feel the team compromised him


The real performer : Vettel


As James pointed out, Schumi & Button races have been massively helped by the safety car (Hamilton is always eager to help his team-mate. Once he said : I'm a team player).

They get rid of the slow tyre penalty behind the safety car & from there onwards they were only going to win places particularly JB whose car was the fastest of the field in race trim.

The result is that fans are impressed with their performances (particularly P24 to P5) but more worrying many journos are impressed too & you can't help but wonder how are they allowed to cover F1.

Vettel on the other hand didn't have the quicker car, had blistering issues & yet managed that composed & controlled performance. Hamilton was his biggest threat, sadly he took himself out.


I think Button only gained 1 place because of the safety car. He finished nearly 40 seconds ahead of Schumacher, so still could have been 4th even without the gift of 10-15 seconds from the safety car.


Its not the position he gained so much as the time he gained on the front runners approx 20 secs on Alonso and 15 secs on Webber - Not easy to see from graph but rough estimates from before the yellow flag


Points are awarded for places, not times! Whether the safety car benefitted Button by 5, 10, 20, or 30s was irrelevant as things turned out, he would still most likely have finished 4th without it.

In fact Button's gain relative to Alonso was about 12s and to Webber about 7s. Relative to the lead of the race (Vettel before and Alonso after) the gain was 18s.


He gained the penalty of the medium tyres as well. All the time lost with those tyres was erased with the safety car as was the case for Schumacher.



A quick comment on the banner on the website. Spa, the drivers' favorite circuit. From most of the team principals comments over the weekend, they like it too. But now Bernie steps in and wants to alternate a French GP with Spa. I'm all for bringing back the French GP (why not bring back the Dutch, Austrian, and Swedish too?) but not at the expense of the last remaining, sort of, old track. Too many cookie-cutter Herman Tilke tracks in too many out of the way places. If the claims of trying to save money are true, why not alternate Korea with Japan or China, Malaysia with Singapore, Bahrain with Abu Dhabi? It's a heck of a lot cheaper to send the cars to Belgium than it is to ship them to Shanghai. James, maybe you can get some fan feedback on this at the Italian GP Fan Forum.


Couldn't agree more with this comment. There are few circuits close to Spa (for an armchair spectator, at least) in terms of scenery, racing, and driver challenge. It would be an immense shame to see the Belgian GP relegated to having to alternate races with another organisation simply in the name of cold hard cash.

Hang on a minute... a grand old F1 institution having to alternate with a richer rival because it can't afford to do something the fans love any more as it's too expensive? Now why does that sound so familiar???


I don't think Spa has problems with paying Bernie. I can't see the fee being too high for a grandee track like Spa. It's the amount of people through the gates that are the problem there. Plus the lack of Government support. 50-60,000 on race day isn't enough to keep a GP going without Government aid.


the teams get paid to race - it doesn't really matter where, they can afford it.

however, the circuits can't afford to pay bernie, and most make quite a big loss - so sadly their only option if they want to keep F1 is to suffer this loss once every two years rather than every year. and as long as bernie can keep coining it in from places like india, russia, and korea, he's completely willing to see historical tracks drop off the calendar (despite the fact that most if not all these new tracks will go exactly the same as turkey - he was quoted as actually being surprised that the Istanbul race didn't take off. I'd have thought it was fairly [i.e. blindingly] obvious).


I believe the most crucial part of the race's strategy was not to pit Webber under the safety car. He was supposed to come in but a miscommunication caused him to continue:

Andrew Benson's post race column - "then by a radio miscommunication that meant he did not follow his team-mate into the pits under the safety car period"

You can see the Red Bull mechanics waiting for him after Vettel's stop then kindve shrugging and going back into the garage.

Had Webber pitted his position on the track would have been interesting. He would have then been able to do a longer stint than Vettel while on new hard tyres (while Vetel was on soft) and then possibly have an aggressive final short stint on the soft tyre without worrying about it blistering. How much traffic he found himself in after the under safety car pitting may have slowed him though.

I also slightly disagree about Alonso's strategy - his car is weak on the hard tyre so surely his strategy should have revolved around spending as little time as possible on it. As it was his last stint was longer than anyone else in the top 8. He was always going to go backwards from there. An extra stop wouldnt have lost him anything but could have put him in a position to challenge Button and Webber.

I suppose the ultimate challenge to Vettel would have been if both Alonso and Webber had followed him into the pits after Lewis's crash, but didn't happen 🙁

Thoughts, James?


I don't think he had the pace to challenge Seb given how much of the race he was on medium tyre


Actually the primes and his setup suited Webber so well, the advantage he gained on them in the end would have made up for the lost time he incurred when Vettel, Alonso and others were on options. If RBR pitted him earlier in the second stint the end story may have been a lot different since his second set of primes worked very well compared to others. I tried to explain this in my post below.


Does anyone have access to speed trap data? Looked to be a big difference between the teams on Sunday.

Doesn't have such a significant impact on lap time as sector 2 requires higher downforce but certainly hindered some of the cars ability to overtake along Kemmel.

Did I understand correctly that DRS has limited effect at higher speeds, eg the run up to Les Combes?


M. WEBBER -308.3
J BUTTON - 306.0
K. KOBAYASHI - 305.7
S. VETTEL - 304.5
F. ALONSO - 304.3
L. HAMILTON - 288.8


Where was the speed trap James? Looking at the maximum race speeds, especially at Intermediate 1 (end of Kemmel), it's a lot different:


Has any reason been given for Hamilton's slow top speed, 17 km/h is quite a bit down his team mates and I cant have been the only one surprised to see Kobayashi pull alongside him whilst the McLaren had the DRS open?


Too much downforce. They had the option to go the way Red Bull went and Martin Whitmarsh said on Radio 5 that he would prefer that, but in the end they went a different way


The speed trap time for Button was 1hr and 12 minutes later in the race. On low fuel and i suspect towards Lap 39 when Button did his fastest lap time. Hence the big difference


Wow, Hamilton nearly 20kph slower than Vettel. Does that reflect a problem with Hamilton's car, or just the fact that he never got to run with low fuel? I don't think there was such a large difference in qualifying.


What I've noticed is Mclaren were massively slow on kemmel. JB needed to finish all his KERS after turn one all the way to Eau Rouge and Kemmel even with the DRS wing activated. I think it's why Lewis was struggling to hold back Alonso at the start and thought he was pass Kobayashi.


Your right Stevie P, more downforce to assist in sector 2. JB was incredibly fast through Blanchimont and up to the bus-stop chicane. I'm just wondering, against the Red Bulls, he would have had a hard time trying to pass them at Kemmel and even through Blanchimont up to the bus-stop chicane with hi set-up? Both RBs were fast at these parts of the track...


I noticed this too Mark; more wing (downforce) to assist through sector 2 perhaps? But having said that, JB seemed incredibly fast through Blanchimont and up to the bus-stop chicane.


I find it really confusing to decode a race these days, what with the tyres and DRS. So I can't say this with any conviction, but it felt to me that it was the Hamilton crash plus Safety Car that gave Vettel the win.

Whatever, the Red Bull/Vettel pairing is utterly dominant in qualifying and this is what sets them up for a podium at every race.

Many observers seem to say that quali isn't that important this season, but I think that only applies to those who want to get points from outside the top 10.

If you want to win, you need to qualify well (and then not crash).


James I believe that at most tracks Ferarri would be correct to leave Alonso out rather than lose track position to Webber but do you not think that at Spa with the DRS that Alonso would have cleared Webber after safety car re-start?

If they had brought him in he would have opted for soft tyres and would have had DRS available. This would have then enabled a longer stint on newer soft tyres leaving a shorter window on the hard tyres at the end?

You claim that Ferarri were correct and that Alonso could not have challenged either way but surely a more agressive approach would have been better. Either way he would not have finsihed lower than 4th which is where he ended up, I believe he could have passed Webber and put more pressure on Seb and also built a bigger gap to JB.



Great analysis as always, can you shed any light on the threat the Grand Prix at Spa? I hear a deal may be done with Paul Ricard to alternate races...surely those who decide in F1 wouldnt let this classic venue slip off the calender.

In the Fota fan survey it was voted people's favourite race, they must realise its a prized asset


I disagree with your apreciation about Ferrari strategy:

1) The "Achilles keel of Ferrari was the medium compound. This issue it wasn't a secret for the guys of Maranello.

2) The temperature did not help too.

3) Alonso was 5 secs behind Vettel when Hamilton crashed. Following the German to pits, he would lost 1 position to Webber at 0 secs.

4) Webber Kers was a joke, (if he had it), I dont think that would be a problem to Alonso overtook him easily with full Kers and DRS.

5) 5 laps at Spa are more than 35 Km. We know, and more important: they knew RB had problems with blistering. Being at the same track with same tyres separated by few seconds knowing Ferrari's car advantage with soft compound would be a gift for the Spaniard and a big worry for Vettel.

6) +5 is -5. This means: if you have 5 more laps with softs, means minus 5 with medium. More than a second per lap.

7) All that info it was not a secret or enigma.

8) Soft compound it was the only weapon for Ferrari taking in consideration RB blistering problem. Ferrari dismissed their only force, chance, opportunity avoiding pits and they were forced to follow the worst possible strategy knowing their "Achilles keel".


Hi James, Do you think if Button did not have to specifically pit for a new nose ( I know he also changes his tyres, do you think that the improved track position he would have had after the saftey car would have given him a chance to catch the Red Bulls?


I wish more had been said about Massa as clearly the Ferrari is quicker than the Mercedes yet he ended up behind both of them!


Not much to say there.

He picked up a puncture and had to make an extra pit stop. Since that happened after the safety car period, the field was till somewhat bunched up and he lost a lot of places.

Very unlucky, I must say because I was looking forward to him (perhaps) beating Alonso for once.



can you see webber winning any races this year

he had four wins at this stage last year ,

will he be gifted a couple by red bull once vettel is crown champion for a second time

what do you think ?


Yes I can. He had a slowish start on the Pirellis but seems to be much stronger now. I can see him winning one, especially as the Red Bull seems to have taken a step


Yes, I believe Mark can legitimately win a race this season but No, I dont believe anyone (at RBR) will 'gift' him a win.

Firstly, Seb can probably break some sort of record by continuing to win races and;

Secondly, Mark wouldn't want no steeeenkin' gift win. I reckon he would prefer to push Seb's car over the line with his own car, rather than be waved through for a win. It's far more harmonious that way 😉


Hi James,

Although we have seen a lot of fun and exciting races this year i didn´t found Spa as much as i wished, tires were obviously the main factor, but the DRS use made look the race too artificial, i think the FIA and the TWG have to review it, it is too easy to pass other people, same happened in Canada, they have to find a mechanism of defense which will make it even more entertaining for viewers because you´ll see more fighting better than an easy pass. Passing has improved a lot, but as always some modifications are needed to make it better. I will appreciatte your opinion.

Best Regards,



I agree that some of the DRS passes were too easy. But that shouldn't take away from some of the other passes which were sublime



But the point is, DRS is well suitable for some tracks where overtaking has always been much too difficult. It makes overtaking possible there, and that's OK.

However, on tracks like Spa (Interlagos, some others) where overtaking in inherently possible, DRS makes it way too predictable - so it's not really necessary there.

Perhaps it could be argued there should be some DRS trachs and some DRS-less tracks?


Hi James,

Do you think teams are not factoring safety cars much in their strategy compared to previous years? Along with Monaco, Spa with it's layout + weather almost always has a safety car. It seems this year drivers know there are overtaking opportunities so they don't take many risks, less first corner incidences and hence fewer safety cars. With no rain predicted, do you think teams didn't factor a safety car period? (Or did Rosberg factor in one and had to save fuel towards the end?)

I has asked this question in another thread, did you find out how they weigh a car with missing parts?

Did the stewards give Button some leeway with a missing mirror? He also had a rear wing damage, wasn't there a safety concern? I'm sure there was a small performance benefit! The aerodynamics engineers don't like the mirrors anyway 🙂


You have to factor in Safety Car, especially at places like Spa with an 80% probability!!



I certainly think that Webber could have challenged Vettel for the win and put him more under pressure. Reasons?. The split strategy that RBR had them on. What hurt Webber was staying out so long in his second stint.

Some interesting points to note on Webber and his perceived lack of speed to others.

Whilst he had a poor start, this was negated somewhat by his early pit stop on Lap 3 and the SC on Lap13. The missed opportunity to pit on lap 13 may have actually worked in his favour. Webber made the primes work better than most others on options or primes in the conditions. His car was set up with a lower down force (and the new rear wing maybe??) than Vettels. The RBR was actually quicker in a straight line here than in the past when compared to other teams.

He set the fastest lap of the race on Lap 33, similar to the period when others set their fastest laps. He set higher maximum speeds than Vettel in all 3 intermediate sectors and set the highest maximum speed at the speed trap of all the cars. Now this can be argued as maybe ‘one-off stats’. Sure, he couldn’t match Vettel or Alonso when they were on/went onto options. That’s a taken. But these two would have to get on primes as well at some stage and that’s the interesting point.

Reviewing the FIA Timing info comparing Webber to Vettel over the course of the race and discounting SC laps, ‘out’ laps and the first lap, Vettel was quicker on 18 laps whilst Webber was quicker on 15 laps ‘head to head’. Vettels main advantage in his 18 laps was in the period from lap 17 to his stop on lap 30. He increased his gap on Webber by just over 10 secs in this period. Webber pitted on Lap 31 however he suffered in the last 4 laps before his stop losing on average 0.6 sec/ lap on his previous times. Did he pit late maybe due to looking for a gap in traffic on his out lap? During these 4 laps Button gained almost 4 secs on Webber and Webber lost another 2 secs to Vettel. He did 28 laps on primes after the first stop. Did he run too long on his second stint?

Then an interesting period from Lap 29 onwards. Alonso stopped on Lap 29, Vettel on 30, Webber on 31 and Button on 32.

In the last 15 laps and discounting ‘out laps, Webber was the fastest car on track. He was faster than Vettel on all but 1 lap, faster than Button on all but 6 laps and faster than Alonso on every lap. Alonso lost close to 20 secs to Webber on primes in the last 12 laps. In those 12 laps Webber gained 8.5 secs on Vettel, 6 of those in the first 8 laps after both their last stops. Webber was 3 secs (av) quicker on his second set of primes when comparing his laps before and after his second stop. When Vettel went onto primes he was only 1.7sec (av) quicker than his options.

If he stopped 4 (or more) laps earlier he most likely would have been on Vettels ‘tail’ with 5-7 laps to go. Webber had the car, he made the primes work better than anyone but more importantly those 4 laps before his second stop killed any chance he had. Why did RBR keep him out so long? Maybe we could have ended up with another Silverstone call of …’maintain the gap’.

I think he could have done it, others may not however it is interesting figures.

PS. As a side note if Webber had a good start, he most likely would have been where Jamie was and got taken out by Senna!. Maybe his poor start was a bonus in this instance. Would have been close!)


Thanks for the analysis. Webber did a great job on the slower tyre, for sure. I think you have to factor in that once Vettel went to mediums and having track position, he was not at 10/10ths in the final stint.


Agreed. How hard Vettel went in the last stint is the big question mark?. I just thought that Vettel would 'bang in' a few quick laps after going to primes to assert his position (and go for the fastest lap as he did in the past).

Maybe this is Vettel 'maturing' since his last 10-12 laps were pretty consistent times.


I was impressed with MW's pace on the prime tyre in this race. He ran it for 38 of the 42 laps and was never more than a tenth or two down on the field.

Considering MW's apparent tyre troubles this season, do you think that this race might give RedBull the option of running MW on the harder compounds with a more aggressive set-up to combat his issues on options?


No, because it's always going to be slower.


Hi James, I was gutted when Ricciardo retired as he was running a strong 16th place when his car failed, I would have loved to have seen how he finished up at by the end of the race.

I would be very interested to read your analysis of how he is going thus far...


Will do that shortly, Thanks


In a way, MW's issues with the Pirelli tyres has really helped out SV this season:-

1, It's taken MW out of contention to win a lot of the races (well, that and his appalling starts compromising his race strategy) as he'll have been on the slower tyre for longer durations.

And 2, as MW is harder on the tyres, it's meant that usually he has switched to the harder compound earlier and thus become something of a "test rat" for tyre data on that compound, which has then been used to work on SV's strategy.

I'm not saying that this has been a deliberate ploy by RBR; just that circumstances have given Vettel extra benefits on top of his amazing qualifying pace and driving talent. I still don't believe he's the fastest or most complete driver on the grid, but I do feel that the confidence he's gained from becoming WDC has seen him move up a level (as Button did after '09).


Outside of Vettel's own performance the only factor that could have made for a decisive difference in championship terms is Webber's bad starts. Managing him coming from the back works for RBR although all his fastest race laps starts getting a bit embarrassing. Vettel needs to test himself or it will do his head in.

Stephen Pattenden

Great analysis as ever James.

Just wondering; Ferrari said they had a little surprise lined up for Michael Schumacher at Spa - as a small celebration of his "20th" anniversary.

I didn't see any coverage of this over the weekend - do you know what it was?



James, in your opinion, which driver can make the big step from GP2 into formula one. Grosjean, will surely be, and and was wondering why Bianchi couldn't, there is rumours about him going to Williams to replace Barrichello, because the Grove team needs money. A brazilian journalist Livio Oricchio has write an article on that, and he is a fully respected journalist in Brazil, so it could be true. What do you think ?


Yes, Bianchi's management need to move him into F1 now. He was unlucky last year with an injury, but he's not pushed on in the last 12 months. He could be good in F1 but I'm not sure his attitude is 100% perfect from what I've heard. Time will tell. He was exceptional in karts, but plenty of brilliant karters haven't made the grade in F1. Grosjean is the standout from GP2 this season.


Maybe I am wrong, but i remember that the gap between button and vettel before their last pitstops was smaller and after the pitstops it was much bigger. I wonder If button had pitted a lap earlier than vettel and 3 laps earlier than he actually did, would have given him a chance for second or first place. How sure can we be that these 3 extra laps would be too much for the soft tyre? People used them for 17 laps at least, so it might have worked.

Am I clearly mistaken, or do i have a point?


Hi James,

Great to read as always, but for once I have to say, I disagree with your opinion on Ferrari strategy. Your reasoning given is sound, but surely given that all the leaders pitted for softs, at least one Ferrari car should have gone in. Secondly, we were all aware that the Ferrari would be slower on mediums, so Alonso may not have ever had a chance to really win, but by opting for the strategy they chose they basically left him out there a sitting duck.

They repeatedly mention that they will be going all out in attack, yet this was a defensive strategy surely. Why not put him on softs or even mediums at the safety car? We've seen multiple times this year that cars on softs at the end tend to pull in those ahead of them rapidly, the Ferrari was clearly able to stay on softs for a longer stretch, and to be honest I think Alonso might have been the fastest car on softs. I'd personally like to see them going aggressive, the textbook play has not worked at all for them this year, and rather than go out with a whimper why not risk a little more. I don't think this current Ferrari team deserve an Alonso...


"I don’t think this current Ferrari team deserve an Alonso…"

Neither Kimi, at least they fired some personnel with Alonso around. At least they can't blame him anymore for all the failures they incure.


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