How the race was won: A deep dive into race strategies from Japanese Grand Prix
Strategy Report
Posted By: James Allen  |  11 Oct 2011   |  11:17 am GMT  |  169 comments

The Japanese Grand Prix was all about race strategy. With tyre wear much more tricky to manage than expected, throughout the field the drivers who succeeded were the ones whose teams got the strategy right, not just on race day but on qualifying day too.

There were some pretty contrasting races at the front. Of the top three, Sebastian Vettel’s Red Bull had the worst tyre performance and Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari had the best. Alonso was nowhere near as quick as Vettel at the start of each of the stints, but he was always the quickest of the three cars at the end of the stints, with much less tyre drop off. This gave him the opportunity to take second place, despite only having the car pace to qualify 5th.

Meanwhile the race winner Jenson Button had the pace to stay with Vettel early on and was able to manage his tyres better in the opening stint so that he could pit a lap later than the world champion and emerge in front of him. But it wasn’t easy for him; as the McLaren has got quicker this year, its tyre performance has edged closer to that of Red Bull, as you would expect given that it’s putting more load through the tyres.

Getting that little bit extra: Vettel vs Button and Alonso

The top three finishers all did exactly the same strategy with three stints on used soft tyres and a final stint on new mediums. The difference was in the tyre degradation each of them suffered and the laps on which they chose to pit.

I thought as the race unfolded that Red Bull were being conservative with Vettel – knowing he only needed a point to clinch the title – and that offered a chance to Button and Alonso, which both of them took. But closer analysis shows that this wasn’t necessarily the case, given that in each stint he only pitted when the tyres started to drop off in performance. Often this season we have seen Red Bull be the first to pit when arguably there has been some life left in the tyres, but they always had enough pace in hand to make early stops and retain track position. In Japan Vettel couldn’t get away with that.

There are two ways of looking at Vettel’s strategy on Sunday; on the one hand he stopped early to try and maintain position, which could be considered conservative, but on the other hand being the first to stop was also quite aggressive because he risked running out of tyres late in the race. He went onto the mediums with 20 laps to go, while Button went three laps later and Alonso four laps later, thanks to superior tyre wear at the end of the stints on the softs. This is where he took second place from Vettel.

Vettel had a big gap at the end of his first stint (5.2s) and he only pitted because his tyres were finished (lap 5: 1:39.7s, lap 6: 1:40.0s, lap 7: 1:41.2s, lap 8: 1:41.7s). At the end of the second stint, you can see that his tyres were finished again and he was actually very aggressive at the final pitstop because he stops and comes out in traffic on the prime tyre. The newer tyre helped him, but Button had him covered all day.

How the Safety Car changed the midfield battle for points

As we have seen many times this season there was a tremendous scrap among the midfield runners for points positions behind the top three teams. It was always going to be this way at Suzuka with the high tyre wear and the strategists started planning their race on Saturday before qualifying.

We saw Kobayashi, Schumacher, Senna and Petrov all make it into the top ten in qualifying, but they did not set a flying lap time in Q3. So they had, in the Renaults’ case two sets of new medium tyres and one set of new softs for the race and, in Schumacher and Kobayashi’s case, one new set of each compound.

The key calculation here was the crossover point in lap time between the two tyres and on the day the difference between the medium and the soft was about 1.2s per lap. Schumacher and Kobayashi started on used soft tyres, while the Renaults went with new mediums. The two Force India cars meanwhile qualified outside the top ten and both started on used softs, while Sergio Perez was down in 17th on the grid and started on new mediums.

The safety car likelihood for this race was 60% and we duly got one on lap 24. The drivers who benefited were Petrov and Perez because they’d started on the medium tyre and the Safety Car won them back the time they’d lost. They were 43 seconds off the lead and over 20 seconds behind the Sutil when the Force India driver pitted, just two laps before the safety car was deployed.

The Force India drivers were on classic three-stop strategies and by lap 20 it was going well; they had three-quarters of a pitstop advantage over their rivals. But the gap went down to zero under the Safety Car and Perez and Petrov had gained track position with the Force India stops. Even with DRS and it’s difficult to overtake at Suzuka. Petrov and Perez were on new sets of options at the end of the race too, while Sutil was on the prime tyre so there was no chance to recover.

As for the two Mercedes cars, Rosberg started 23rd after a hydraulic problem in qualifying. He started on new medium tyres and ended up right behind the Force India of Sutil after the Safety Car, in 12th place. He was essentially on the same pitstop sequence as Force India, but the Safety Car closed the gap up and he had the advantage of using the option tyre at the end of the race, so was able to get ahead and claim a point in 10th place.

Schumacher, meanwhile, ran a pretty standard three-stop race with stops on laps 9, 24 and 41. Interestingly he did a 15-lap second stint on used soft tyres, which revealed that he had better tyre life than Red Bull and Hamilton, which hasn’t always been the case with Mercedes this year. He was 25s behind the leaders when the Safety Car came out, so that handed him the chance to close up. A nice long, consistent 17 lap stint on new soft tyres after the Safety Car brought him out ahead of Massa and underlined once again that the veteran is back on top form in terms of race pace, as we get towards the end of his second comeback season. His races have also noticeably improved since Jock Clear, his old rivals from Villeneuve/Williams days, became his race engineer..

What happened to Lewis Hamilton?
This was an odd race for Hamilton as he squandered a chance to start on pole by a collective team and driver timing mistake in qualifying. Then in the race his pace was well off his team mate Button’s.

A slow puncture at the end of the first stint undoubtedly lost him time (lap 5: 1:40.1s, lap 6: 1:40.8s, lap 7: 1:41.9s) and positions to Alonso and Button. And McLaren have said that it also affected the rest of his race because they made a set up change to the car before realising that it had been handling strangely due to a puncture. They say the changes gave him an imbalance.

Hamilton’s second stint was the really poor one – much worse than the others. He was right with Alonso and Button on lap 12, but by the time he made his stop on lap 20 he had dropped a load of time eight second, a second a lap in other words.

Hamilton got back a place from Massa by making an earlier pitstop and then exploiting the Ferrari’s problems with initial warm up on the mediums to pass Massa on his out lap. His pace was better on the medium tyre, but he lost too much time in the opening two stints to get a decent result.

Wear rates were pretty marginal on the soft tyres, but as always, it was the same for everyone. The puncture didn’t help, but it seems that Hamilton also suffered a bit more than the other front-runners. When the tyres are going away it’s frustrating for a driver. It’s a vicious circle: he’s trying to push, but he ends up going slower.

The Strategy Briefing and Report is written by James Allen with input and data from strategy engineers from several F1 teams and support from F1 Global Partner UBS.


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It's good to see Schumacher back on form. With quick Mercedes, maybe he'll be in a position to push for Podiums next season, and maybe even a win?

On a seperate note, I still can't get used to seeing "Senna & Schumacher" in the same sentence again. It must feel a little strange for Schumi & Rubens (the only drivers on the grid to have raced against Ayrton) to see the yellow helmet out on track again.......



do you think lewis has lost his motivation ?


Lewis is certainly frustrated more than anything. That's what's affecting his performance more than anything. It is possible that having his father as a manager for such a long time wasn't a good thing from the beginning of Lewis's career. I say it with no disrespect to Anthony Hamilton. Maybe Lewis is not used to with managing himself without his father yet? However, he shows extreme arrogance in his attitude, driving style & approach to other drivers. If he doesn't change that soon, no matter how good the car is he will still have to settle for less than what at least the car is capable of. Everyone believes that Lewis will beat Jenson over the course of the season, but I think Jenson might prove everyone wrong because of the way he thinks. Lewis is probably the luckiest young driver out of all the current wdcs on the grid because he had a great team with great car from the beginning of his career. But he still hasn't been able to give his car the best result possible apart from the 2008 wdc (mainly because of Ferrai's pit shambles). Next year will tell if he has grown up or not. Most people think that it is hard for Lewis to multiple championships because of the quality of the grid now. The way I see it is that he is fortunate to have such high quality competition. Winning great races & championships will make the difference between a good & a great driver.


There is a small comment here that i find particularly annoying that people, Massa included, keep saying. Ferrari lost in 2008 due to singapores pit fiasco. Do you not think the 5 spins at silverstone, being out driven at nurbergring or, more to the point, a win at spa- a race Massa never led a lap of- had anything to do with it ???


Ok if you want to say it like that about 2008, let's look at some facts: yes silverstone that year for Massa was a pathetic drive, but what about engine failure whilst leading at Hungary? What about Hamilton's weak drive at Brazil after being overtaken by a slower Torro Rosso?! When it came down to it, it was Glock that handed him the title and even you James know it.


Sure but not deliberately. There is no way Glock did that on purpose. I was there, I was monitoring the lap times as the rain came down Glock vs Trulli in same car both trying to stay out on slicks.


Yes! Well said. Massa lost 2008 due to a number of events. I wonder if that is only because Hamilton won the WDC in that year and some cannot come to terms with that fact.


Yes you are right, no race is won or lost at a single grand prix. However the difference in Singapore is the "crashgate" scandle, Massa would never have been in the pits at that time if Piquet didnt crash so the pit stop screwup might not have happened


I am not denying that Lewis was the worthy champion in 2008. But the point is that Ferrari deserves just as much criticism for their pit stuff ups regardless of how annoying you think it is. If you look at mclaren's pit performance against ferrari's, will tell you the story which ultimately cost Felipe the championship.


Well said sir.


It's worth noting that if McLaren had the same philosophy as both Ferrari and Red Bull seem to have -- with a definite lead driver -- Lewis Hamilton would probably have already been a two-times world champion by now; and probably a three-times WDC. No criticism -- just an interesting thought.


And based on that philosophy Button could easily be WDC judging by the way he's driving.


Not necessarily, William, this would depend on Hamilton's willingness to capitulate as pathetically as Massa has.


when would he of won the other 2?


If McLaren had the same philosophy as Ferrari. Alonso would have been made first driver and Hamilton might not have a single WDC.


Hamilton is just frustrated that his car doesn't perform like the RB.

It's not helping that the changes this year -- particularly tyres -- have played into the hands of the more cerebral drivers (like Button and Vettel) who put themselves in a position to win races through strategy.

Hamilton and Alonso are just 'balls-out' racing drivers who just instinctively go for it. That's why they clashed badly when they were were both driving McLarens.


"Hamilton is just frustrated that his car doesn’t perform like the RB."

Button drives the same car; Alonso's car is no better and in fact much worse. They aren't complaining or frustrated about it.

Not exactly an excuse to be what he is now. Though for his sake I do hope he pick up himself again and drive to the best of his ability.


No. He's just having a bad time. Some call it "character building" but I agree with Simon Barnes when he wrote that problems in sport do not build characters, they reveal them. I think that is spot on and we will see see Hamilton's character revealed now. I expect to see a more determined and maybe more humble Hamilton next season and will be disappointed if that isn't the case, after everything he showed in his first years in F1.


James, I'm not sure why we need to see a more humble Hamilton? Arrognace never hurt Schumacher or Senna's careers. More determined? Maybe, but I just wnat to see a more FOCUSED Hamilton.


Matt, 'poison' to Hamilton specifically, his specific circumstances and personality. I did not mean to suggest that this organisation is generally 'poison'.


I don't know if Hamilton's management are "poison" as an earlier post suggested. They are world class at what they do. The problem is it's not what Hamilton needs to be the best F1 driver, its what he thinks he wants. I'm not saying his friends and relationships are bad as such, but people do tend to want to fit in with people they like - and Hamilton is a young and impressionable man.

It's instructive to review Button's fairly tumultuous past - accusations of being affected by his "playboy" lifestyle and poor contract management, and to look at how serene and well respected he is now. Button was quoted earlier this season talking about the importance of his manager Richard Goddard, as well as others around him (including his old man) in getting him to where he is. I doubt SImon Fuller's mob are doing a bad job with Hamilton at what they've been hired to do, and I don't know who he hangs out with, but it appears that his management and friendships together may not giving him the right blend of outside interests and ruthless focus on the job at hand. Fixing this certainly doesn't require a driving coach, but an understanding of how to get that balance. It might be quite a subtle shift in emphasis rather than root and branch overhaul.

Hamilton seems a strange mix at the moment - supremely confident world champion racer and little boy lost and feeling left out. The contrast with Vettel (who is a bit younger) in terms of maturity in the past 3 years - especially with respect to the media - is quite marked. I've dealt with some very talented people at work who are not dissimilar, and I do begin to wonder if Hamilton has it in him to become the great multiple champion he says he wants to be - that is about so much more than just driving fast in circles. I don't think he quite gets that yet.


Give him 50% chance of full on life/career melt down.

Beaten by Button, threats to leave McLaren, Hollywood lifestyle, Relationship with Dad, crappy "entertainment industry" management, Everything handed to him on plate (in terms of career, too much too soon.

I really don't think he's got the strength of character to deal with it all.


Whatever was handed to him, he still had to go out and win didn't he? And he did in every class and formula.


Well JA, don't you think Lewis has been around long enough to give him benefit of doubt like a rookie? Particularly also for starting his career in a team that took a driver like Alonso many years to get a seat! Referring to your comment "after everything he showed in his first years in F1". I'm not a Hamilton fan, but I want him to do well mainly because of I know that he is a good driver & an entertainer. I don't deny his skills one bit. But do you disagree that he is a bit arrogant & immature?


Hamilton's post-race interview with Natalie Pinkham was a real eye-opener. I can't recall a time when I've heard an F1 driver sound so openly miserable and negative, not what I'd expect from Lewis at all.

He's clearly at a low ebb right now and what I think he really needs is another performance like Singapore 2009, where he got into a difficult, fighty car and drove the wheels off it to record a brilliant victory. He needs to forget about the championship, forget about his management, forget about Massa and the stewards and just drive.

At the moment, it'll be hard for him to outdrive Button on current form but I think Korea might just suit him. It's a tricky, streetfighter's circuit and Jenson had a nightmare there last year. I think either Lewis turns it around here or, like Dom suggests, spend the off-season (such as it is) getting away from it all.


Was it the winter of 91/92 that Mansell took himself off to Florida to get himself sorted out? I think I remember him getting himself set up over there for the winter, losing some weight and coming back refreshed and it seemed to do him the world of good. (Mind you, the 1992 Williams wasn't too bad a car :-))

Maybe Lewis should disappear at the end of this season and get his head straight ready to take on Vettel, Alonso and Button next year. I imagine Jenson's form of late is probably causing him more concern than he'd like to admit.


I agree, being beaten by Button when he has the skills and tallent to prevent it will be boiling his guts regardless of whether he admits it or not. He is about to loose his 100% record against his team mates when he had the car, tallent and skill to prevent it.


Damon did the same before australia 1995.

i suspect fernando probably had similar moment some stage in 08. he changed from being frustrated to being mature and patient.

was watching some races from 07 and its amazing to see the difference in lewis driving. he seems so much more stiff than he did back then. he used to make the car dance.


Loving the last sentence of your comment!


What is the situation with Hamilton's personal trainer? Vettel, Button and Webber seem to be quite involved with keeping them grounded, I don't think I've ever heard about Hamilton's.


I have to wonder if Scherzinger is pestering Lewis to swap to NASCAR or IRL so they can take up permanent residence in LA. He clearly likes his celeb lifestyle hanging out with 50 pence and the like, perhaps his head has been turned and his heart isn't in it. He's certainly taken to the yanky accent very naturally and it's becoming more of an effort to surpress it all the time in interviews. I think he needs a little less hip hop and bit more pit stop on the brain!!


Yes, that's right. Mansell was a different bloke in 1992


I think Hamilton's problem is that he is just really unsure of himself right now. He has also been subject to lot of criticism, part just, part unjust and his reaction to that is very revealing. He starts off really defiant, then suddenly becomes overly apologetic. He is going through an extended testing phase probably for the first time in his racing career. Hope this will all be a learning phase for him and he will emerge stronger and better for it and it will really help him find himself. So not so much "charater building" but self discovery and character revealing even to himself.

His constant self comparisons to Senna also are interesting. People at the top of their profession like to be their own men and not be compared to someone else. Even Vettel has said that he never liked comparisons to Schumi growing up though he understood them. Hamilton should realize that he is a great racing driver in his own right and doesnt need to be like anybody else.

Even Jenson made some questionable decisions at the beginning of his career and went through a couple of very rough years with Honda. But from this has emerged one of the most self assured characters in racing.


Hasn't he just said time and again how he respects Senna, Senna is my hero etc? Does he actually compare himself to Senna?


Lewis's ambition is part of his problem. He proclaims to be like Senna (Nando his Prost). But when you do that, you expect it. When it doesn't come your way (that's life), you get desperate. We are seeing the actions of a desperate man right now. In front of the media, he suppresses it. But on the track, you can see him trying too hard - driving the life out of his tyres too early, making silly manoeuvres.

He should relax (like Button) and let the "force" flow through him.

Take a leaf from Vettel - humble as pie.


I think you're on to something. Hamilton hasn't spent time in the 'wilderness' like Button has. Is an experience like that an advantage in the long run? I can't say but it would at least make a driver appreciate what he has.

This has been a year of firsts for Hamilton. He stepped into a world class car as a rookie and bested Alonso. The next year, he became champion. But now for the first time in his career, for whatever reason, his team mate has an edge on him.

Next year might be a make or break year for him. I hope he does make it.


Do you think his new management team are responsible in any way as suggested by Anthony Hamilton?


Wow, Flavios has said something that I actually agree with:

"Vettel is definitely good but he won because he better managed a phenomenal machine," he told Corriere dello Sport.

"He is not the best.

"Suppose there was a race where they all run the same car: Well Vettel would be behind Fernando Alonso, who would won, and also behind Lewis Hamilton."

However, the Italian does concede that when it comes to qualifying, Vettel is the best.

"On one lap I see him in pole position, always assuming a comparison with the same car. Second Hamilton, Alonso third."


Another key difference between Seb and Lewis. Lewis followed his WDC year with a dog of a car whereas Seb followed his with the class of the field by a good margin. Consider the phychological effects this would have had on them both.

Massive high to horrid low.

Massive high to even greater heights.


James, nice article and nice piece on Hamilton. I think Hamilton needs a Ferrari type environment, where they dedicate everything to their lead driver emotionally and technically. Criticise Ferrari all we want but they defend their lead drivers to the ‘death’ and form a very emotional bond with them (this is why Kimi was never going to work out). Hamilton seems to be a very ‘needy’ character, he needs to be constantly reassured of his ‘greatness’ or he spirals into a funk of self pity that becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. It feels very much as though Button is Whitmarsh’s favourite son. I do not mean this in the sense of any unfair play of which there is none, I just mean emotionally. Surely Hamilton can sense this.

As a ten year Hamilton fan, Japan was a real worry for me, perhaps the first real worry I have ever had about Lewis. Regardless of transgressions he has committed in the past I could always sit back in my chair and think, ‘but he faster than them all and will prove it at the next corner’. In Suzuka he was slow and fairly solid – no disrespect to Button but they swapped roles for that race. Lewis performed how I would have expected Button to perform last year (this year he has been superb).

The management team, in my uneducated opinion, are poison. Lewis earns enough money form racing and sponsorship he does not need that organisation trying to turn him into a global superstar. Does Lewis live for racing in the way that Vettel does? I would say not. Lewis Hamilton 2008 Independent: “The main thing is that I have a fantastic family behind me’, why change the set-up that worked for you almost your whole life?

Right now I am angry. I am angry because in Hamilton more so than any other British driver ever (big statement I know) we have a chance to have an international world beater, a sportsman to reign supreme. I am fine with his arrogance, it’s a character trait of the vast majority of the ‘best’ – I will not fall into that ridiculous British mindset of preferring a ‘gallant, humble and honourable nearly man’.

Lewis, stop feeling sorry for yourself! You are out and out the fastest driver in the world and incredibly privileged to boot. Now get on with it and bring it home for, yourself, your family, Britain and Grenada!


Probably not helping matters


nice analysis on lewis james. would there be any benefit for him to hire a "driving coach". for example someone like Damon Hill who was a very talented driver, and seems to be a genuinly world class nice chap, who can not only go through the mistakes he makes and help analyse them from a racer's perspective but also to help work out how to balance his aggressive style with car preservation.

maybe he needs someone like mansel who seems to have a bit of a problem with Hamilton and he can say "come on then, what i am doing wrong and show me how to fix it." i definitely think he needs someone he respects, especially an ex F1 champion who can mentor and support him.


Hamilton probably doesn't respect anyone except Senna who hardly can give any advice now.


I totally agree with you, someone who has driven during the Senna times like Damon Hill, Nigel Mansell (both who have experiences from the non refuelling times). We all know that Lewis is really talented and has the driving ability, but does need someone to unlock his mind to perform better as its his mind thats off at the moment (frustration). As we all know that once Lewis has that maturity back he will perform to achieve as many WDC's.

Look at former Crash kid: Seb, during 2010 seb was involved in few crashes and misfortune's but grabbed the title on a last string. Now in 2011, Seb has become more composed, confident and consistent (oh by the way 2 time WDC). He must be coached within the Redbull management to perform well. The results do speak.

Mclaren should be pushing Hamilton on or his new management should hire a former Champion to help Lewis.



Thank you for the incredible analysis. How you take so much disparate information and synthesize it into an interesting story is truly masterful writing.

Thanks and looking forward to the next post.



That's exactly what I was going to ask.

Thanks lots James. Having the pre-race analysis and post race report is fantastic.

I am a F1 fan for about 6-7 years and try not to miss any race. I consider I know quite a bit of F1 world and how things work, but these reports contain so much info and they are spot on.

Glad to see Schumi doing well and starting to match and even do better then Rosberg (not that I have something against Nico).

Looking forward to follow the battle for second place in the championship.


Thanks for that. I work closely with a number of strategy engineers from several teams who generously share the information because they want as many fans as possible to get a better understanding of this fascinating side of the sport.


And remember to thank those engineers from us fans. It is a treat to be able to be taken a little bit "behind" the scenes.


Thanks so much for these write-ups.

And well wishes returning to TV, if in fact that'd be your desire. Regardless, you certainly bring some unique perspectives to us fans.


Mr. Allen,

Thank you for your analysis. This young people who start to follow F1 last 5 - 10 years, can learn lot in short period. In my time it was much more difficult, ( I start 1970) to learn about F1. This was particularly for us who were living in country like former Yugoslavia.

So now I really enjoy following your site.

Sorry for language.

All best



I live in Zagreb, Croatia.


Cool - Thanks for your comment


Thanks. I love getting comments like this. Where are you based now?


Keep it up James! This is one of the many reasons I frequent your site. Great job as usual!



a nice point about the increased McLaren tyre wear. The beauty of the F-duct last year was that it gave a performance advantage, without a tyre wear penalty, just as a better engine does. Hopefully there will be fewer downforce reduces sliding comments on the site over time.

The race was a classic case of greater downforce causing increased tyre wear, which probably why the Mercedes had such a good race given that they were a long way off the pace in qualifying. Any deficiency in engine power or KERS that Red Bull is thought to have over McLaren-Mercedes is made up with more downforce and so if they are even in qualifying, on most tracks the McLaren will be quicker in the race. DRS benefits in qualifying is another factor as well (I'll grant it would be worth more than 0.009 of a second per lap).

Singapore is an exception though. As the corners are all low speed, downforce is needed for traction, otherwise you get wheelspin and fall away in the stints as the Ferraris did this year and McLaren last year.




To clarify, downforce *does* reduce sliding.

For want of a better explanation, the effect of downforce (inverse lift) provides vertical thrust downwards on the tyres and thus forces the rubber into the surface and grooves of the tarmac. This means the tyres 'grip' the track more efficiently than without downforce and (the aim is they) do not 'slide'.

However, as a greater force is now pushing those tryes into the track, the rubber compound is getting hotter (and can blister) and pieces of rubber are ground off the tyre surface in the same way as rubber on the end of a pencil is worn off when a force is applied downwards, and the greater the force, the greater the wear.

To be even more difficult, this effect can mean the tyres have less 'grip' and ultimately we're back to sliding again!


Hi Ritchie,

I think this is round 5 of our hopefully friendly discussion 🙂

>>“Increasing downforce does not lead to reduced sliding. It causes drivers to go around corners faster.”

>>Yes it does – at the same speeds, dependent on geometry of course.

I feel you missed my point about systems engineering - there is a driver involved. If you give a car more downforce the driver will go faster around corners everything else being equal - that is their nature. If a driver is not trying to conserve tyres, then generally at least one end of the car will be sliding. F1 cars naturally tend to understeer on turn in as the cars are also braking. All I am saying is that increasing downforce to stop sliding is not a real world situation. If they went around the corner at the same speeds the lap time would increase as the straighline speed is less.

>> I would strongly expect the car with increased downforce to have no more or less tyre wear if both cars are under ‘the limit’

I have to disagree with your expectation here. If you think of a tyre contact patch, its area is determined by the load on the suspension and the tyre pressure. The contact patch has real length (as opposed to a perfectly rigid wheel and surface where there is a point contact). As a tyre rolls the contact patch is stationary if the car is travelling in a straighline and there is zero toe-in. In a corner the contact is being twisted as the car turns. The centre point will normally be somewhere within the contact area, but every other point of the contact surface except the trailing edge is being dragged across the road. With more downforce you have more load on the tyre and from that more wear.

Now the wear rate will not necessarily be directly proportional to the load, but if you could make the tyre wear independent of temperature, have constant Young's modulus and all other factors being equall, it would be. You are just running the tyre surface over a grater. The harder you push, the more rubber compresses into the crevices in track and then the action of turning drags the tyre surface.

>> tyre wear will happen at ‘the limit’ no matter what speed this is, as the tyres scrub away rubber when not travelling forward during any kind of slide

Just to reiterate, tyre wear will occur in any turn. Just consider the achetypal slow driver who never comes close to engaging ABS or generates more than 0.3 g in a corner. They still wear out their tyres.

Toe-in can also cause wear as a tyre rolls in a straightline as it is moving the contact point to the outside as the tyre rolls. It also, along with camber increases heat in the tyre.

Higher downforce is clearly an advantage for performance in qualifying in a series where engine variations are largely legislated out of existence. What few readers on this site seem to appreciate is that the performance edge from downforce in qualifying does not directly translate into an advantage in the race. 2010 is a better example as the constrast is starker. The Red Bull was usually the fastest car in qualifying and it used downforce to achieve this speed. The McLaren had the F-Duct and engine that is regarded as more powerful than the Renault (worth 0.5 of second, probably on race modes, according to one Newey quote). The McLaren lost none of its engine and F-duct advantage in the race. The Red Bull drivers lost some of their downforce advantage as they had to manage the tyres. Hence the McLaren was able to hassle the Red Bull in the race when well off in qualifying pace. This year DRS confuses things a bit. Overall, what I read in effect is that the Red Bull is far and away the best car in racing conditions and implicitly Button and Hamilton are much better than Vettel. They can believe what they like as this is meant to be entertainment.

As I mentioned in the original comment, downforce is always good for helping traction. Frank Dernie mentioned in an article that more downforce is best cure for low speed traction issues rather than any mechanical setting.

As an aside, a common misunderstanding is why wider tyres provide more grip. The contact area is the same for a given pressure, but the shorter and wider area means that the sidewalls distort less as the tyre rolls. Less distortion means less heat build up and that means that the wider tyre can run a softer compound.

BTW, in your last sentence, I belive you mean laterally, rather than yaw or horizontally. Yaw goes with roll and pitch (the three different axes), so it only occurs when one end slides more than the other, not when a car is just turning. Horizontally can also include braking and acceleration forces.

Hopefully that all makes sense. Out of interest what is your background? I've been following F1 since 1985 when I was eight and added some engineering degrees in non-automotive areas. There's some interesting expertise on this site in various areas including Arab politics.




Awesome post! Thank you.


Hi Ritchie,

The physics of what you wrote is fine. Put another way if two cars with different downforce levels go around the same corner at the same speed, with both cars being under the limit, so both not sliding, the car with more downforce will wear its tyres more.

The point is that this isn't a physics problem, but a systems engineering one. If you take my example above, why would a driver go around a corner well under the limit? Drivers don't do that - they will use the performance available most of the time. Also it is pretty rare that cars will be perfectly balanced so one end will be sliding.

The only time that a team would consider increasing downforce to reduce wear is if the car is consistently imbalanced, and even then it would be a performance assessment. Increasing downforce does not lead to reduced sliding. It causes drivers to go around corners faster.

There are factors with suspension geometry that mean that some cars get more heat into their tyres than others. McLaren and Ferrari have different philosophies here. But generally speaking the new/slower teams stop less often in the race for tyres than the top three as they have less downforce.

My point is that I've seen many comments on this site where the author has thought as far as the car is wearing its tyres because it is sliding, it is sliding because it doesn't have enough grip, therefore more downforce will help, without then thinking of any of the possible consequences of that downforce. Such as increased fuel consumption as the driver spends a greater percentage of the lap at full throttle. For a racing car it is not from increased drag.

I'm happy to discuss things like this further, particularly as it is closer to my engineering studies than my current job. By no means do I know everything, but I've followed f1 technology since the mid 80s and I like the details. I guess downforce and tyre wear is at the fundamental level and I'd prefer more discussion of the details.




"The physics of what you wrote is fine. Put another way if two cars with different downforce levels go around the same corner at the same speed, with both cars being under the limit, so both not sliding, the car with more downforce will wear its tyres more."

Not necessarily - I take your point but just to highlight how difficult this is for racecar engineers I'll dive in with you a bit further!

Just because the 'higher downforce' car's tyres are under increased downwards thrust, they will not necessarily wear more, and definitely not at any proportional rate compared with the 'lower downforce' car. It will entirely depend on the suspension geometry as you mention (alignment such as toe-in, camber and caster; anti-roll bars; springs; dampers; and (severely in Red Bull's case!) ride height / rake angle).

If all these things are the same, and we're talking about the same car with the same geometry settings and components, at the same speed I would strongly expect the car with increased downforce to have no more or less tyre wear if both cars are under 'the limit' as you say, as the front tyres will not be sliding in understeer and the rears are not sliding in oversteer.

If we approach the limit however, the issues change for both cars, as the higher downforce will allow a higher limit. There will be knock on effects such as increased full consumption but tyre wear will happen at 'the limit' no matter what speed this is, as the tyres scrub away rubber when not travelling forward during any kind of slide. The higher limit of the higher downforce car, however, can provide a significant trade off in terms of performance.

"Increasing downforce does not lead to reduced sliding. It causes drivers to go around corners faster."

Yes it does - at the same speeds, dependent on geometry of course.

You mean to say that because the limit is higher, and speeds have increased, the tyres will still be wearing - possibly even higher than before increasing the downforce level - as now there is even more force going through the tyre - vertically from increased downwards thrust AND in yaw (horizontally) from increased speed of any subsequent slide.


Really poor race from Nico. Stuck behind a lotus for several laps early on. How is that even possible? Probably cost him the two places from "par" result of 8th.


it has been obvious for a while that ferrari have been much easier on their tyres than the other top teams , red bull probably second , McL third

twinkletoes is clearly the easiest on his tyres which enabled his win this time , but although this meant he got longer life than vettel , he couldn't equal the ferrari

why is this ? normally higher down force gives better tyre life , so you would expect red bull to be best ? so what have ferrari found ?

the other factor is that button looks to be starting with a lower fuel load than the others , which would explain how hamilton is usually quicker than him in qualifying , but not in the race


Hi audifan,

I don't want to sound blunt about it, but please look a comment 4 on this post - you are 6. There Ritchie and I cover off why your second paragraph on downforce is wrong.




Well, there is a cut off point with the high downforce = kind to tyres theory. As with all aspects of the car there is a sweet spot and it is possible to generate so much downforce that allows you to carry higher speeds in the corners which actually generates higher wear. It's a trade off between compound durability and downforce and clearly the extra downforce is worth having over more tyre longevity in the top teams' opinion. This characteristic is exaggerated in the long duration, Mid to High Speed corners which are numerous at Suzuka because you are maintaining the tyre at a higher work rate for more sustained periods of time. Also, as spoon is negatively cambered the slip angle of the tyre is higher as the car effectively wants to slide laterally away from the apex which is a not good for tyres either. Hence hi wear rates.


They all qualify on low fuel these days and then brim for the race.


not so , they put in the minimum amount they think they can get away with


Also Hamilton was slower than Jenson through the length of the race so he would have used less fuel...


Sorry - I miss-read your first comment.

My point was that they don't start on the same fuel they qualify on but that's irrelevant after re-reading your post.

However, I would say that Jenson running out of fuel in one race doesn't necessarily mean there's a trend of him starting with less fuel on board than Hamilton - that's a pretty whopping assumption.

I think it's far more likely that Jenson manages his tyres better and that's why he's able to be faster in the race than he is in qualifying (compared to Lewis). Also, Lewis clearly wrings the neck of the car in quali and you just can't drive like that for a whole GP any more - you'd destroy the tyres.

The faster you run a race, the more fuel you'll use, so it makes sense that Jenson would've used more fuel than Lewis in Suzuka, as he was 20-odd seconds up the road.

The pace must have caught McLaren out because they clearly would've been up the creek without the safety car.


Hello James, I was wonering if Jenson would have won the race had there had not been a safety car? It seemed to me that it must have given him just enough fuel for that final push as Alonso was chasing him down.


It's quite simple. The teams put enough fuel in the car to get to the end of the race but it does tend to be quite marginal. All the cars were behind the safety car, not just Jenson and as such during the SC phase all drivers would have selected a leaner fuel mixture to save some for some harder driving at the restart and possibly some defending at the end. Apparently JB had 2KG on board when he switched the engine off so on that basis it looks like Mclaren optimised the fuel strategy very well. You don't want to carry any more fuel than is absolutely necessary because of the time penalty over a race distance. In a normal race i.e. uninterrupted by a safety car you would see the lead car use full power early on and then once the win was looking likely the driver would be asked to start leaning out the fuel mixture because none of the cars carry enough fuel to run at full power for the entire race. As the safety car came out at Suzuka some of the leaning out could be done in the middle of the race allowing a modicum of fuel saving for position defence should it be required. Jenson managed this brilliantly as he waited until Alonso was just getting towards the DRS window before he turned the wick back up and gave it the beans in order to keep Alonso at bay. Any earlier and he may have run out of tyre performance before the end of the race but rest assured the team would not have let him turn the car up to full power if they thought he couldn't make the chequered flag. See Hamilton at Silvestone.


You are wrong on most of your comment.

They don't start with enough fuel to complete the race. They under-fuel the cars. This was said couple of times by the BBC team. Then in the race they have to find ways of saving the fuel.

That's why there were cases when drivers were asked to save fuel. I think was Rosberg at some point when he was in 3rd or 4rd and had to slow down and lost 1 or 2 places.

Also Button was in the same scenario when he was chasing Lewis down. The message was something like "the fuel level is critical".

So if in Japann there was no SC, then towards the end of the race we might've seen JB having to back off from much earlier. And if we just suppose that Alonso had 10kg of fuel left at the end of the race (compared to JB's 2kg) then it means Alonso could've kept the same aggresive level that we saw in the last laps.

My point is that JB saved fuel with that SC. If there was no SC and Alonso and Vettel were pushing hard, JB at some would've had to slow down and save fuel in order to finish the race.


Remember, the SC nullified the gap between the front runners. Before the SC, Alonso was something like 5 seconds off Button/Vettel (something like that). So without the SC, Alonso would have had to push harder to close that gap. This "might" have put him in the same position as Button.

Also, fuel loads are probably calculated by the teams using computers to find the most optimal level for their car. Everyone is probably in similar boats.


why would we suppose that alonso carried more fuel than button..if ferrari had done their job correctly he would be in the same position


Jenson is one of the most composed drivers on the grid mainly because he makes most of his strategy calls himself rather than relying on the team 100%. he uses the radio information quite brilliantly in the race. So, I'd say Jenson had Fernando measured pretty well. Alonso as usual outperformed the car with the help of great pit calls.


On the Beeb, JB said he missed his pit board on one of the closing laps, so actually saw the gap (to Alonso) drop from 5s to 2.5s... and presumably he saw *that* a lap later when the gap was actually closer to 1.5s. He also said that he wished the team had come on the radio a bit earlier to warn him that he'd eased too much.

That shock obviously lead to the fast laps he then put in.

So... he obviously did have the measure of Alonso, but not quite in the normal cool, calm, measured way!



do you have any info about the fuel issues that JB had? I wonder how with a safety car in the race he was still so marginal.


Ross Brawn said a while back that in the post-refuelling era, the cars actually don't save as much fuel behind the safety car as they used to. They want to make the car as light as they can, as soon as possible, so engine maps and the EBDs are used to burn some off.

I expect they still will have saved a bit of fuel though, so I would guess McLaren saw Alonso's pace at the end of his stints and decided they would have to go marginal on fuel to hold him off. Without the SC, I think we would've had a real scrap for the lead in the closing laps. Like James says though, it's still hard to pass at Suzuka so I'm not sure if it would've changed the result.


it's no secret that no car goes out with enough fuel to drive flat out throughout the race ...if there is no safety car then the drivers have to do some fuel saving mode to get home ; so obviously alonso benefited the same amount as button , enabling him to go for it

with regard to the safety car , alonso was 7.65 seconds behind jenson when it came out , after the restart he was 2.46 seconds behind , so clearly alonso was helped by the safety car , not jenson

after the SC the gaps were , 2.46 ,3.1,3.6,4,8,4.6,5.4,4.9,4.4,4.8 ,3.8,2.9,2.1,1.6,,

so the reputed lower wear on the ferrari looks to be true , but jenson had enough in hand to pull away at the end when the gap got too small [ except the last lap where he slowed down ]


That's agood point about getting rid of fuel during the safety car period. I guess there is no reason carrying to the end of the race if you are not going to use it.



When looking back, I've been impressed by Alonso's race (as a Button fan, I was a little more "concerned" *during* the race). That's quite a surprise after Singapore, where the Ferrari suffered badly wiyh the life of the tyres at the end of the race.

But looking at the graph above, it seems striking how Webber stayed in the game after the safety car. Has he too finally started to get to grips with these tyres?

As for Hamilton - I'm not convinced that the time lost in the first 2 stints were such a key cause - the safety car negated a lot of that. Again, the graph above shows he could have been competitive with Webber in the final stint. Either he truly couldn't do much with the medium tyre (in trying to pass Rosberg, or keep up with Webber), or the wind had gone out of his sails by that point.


Shame you didn't include Senna in the detailed breakdown, I lost track of him in the race and would have liked to have heard what happened in detail.


Was the safety car really necessary ? Just to pick up 2 bits of debris ? and to last as long as it did to do that ?

One really gets the feeling that any excuse is a good one, just to shake things up a bit? But this year, no shaking is necessary.


I would argue the SC was necessary because of the location of the debris sites. T7, where WEB drove into MSC, is a quick uphill left-hander with zero visibility for both drivers and marshals. HAM hit MAS going into the chicane, where you may have 2 seconds from the time the car appears out of 130R - again, way short and not a place to send a marshal out under green-flag conditions.

As for the length of the SC phase, you have to remember that the speed of the cars is limited under full course yellow, and you have to wait for all of them to line up behind the SC.

Basically, once you made the decision to deploy the SC, you're stuck with a minimum of a couple of laps to sort it all out on the race track, even if the debris can be picked up in the matter of 15 seconds.


I take all the points made here, but I'd like to make a few others.

- The drivers will be surprised by the debris only the first time they come past, and perhaps not even then, because their pits can tell them.

- If the safety car was bad for the spectacle (and it is, of course, while it's out), a new method would quickly be found. It's not difficult to imagine what it might be : double yellows with an extra symbol to mean marshal on track, and to funnel into one lane, with speed limits in a certain sector - easily enforceable.

- I don't even see why they all have to line up behind it. They are where they are, and it just means that the race goes dead for longer.

My point is that there is no will to find another way, because everyone seems to like the safety car. Sorry. I don't.


One of the biggest problems for marshals going out onto a live track is whether they can trust drivers to obey flag signals. With the speeds cars do in F1 what appears to be a clear track can quickly change into one with cars racing each other bearing down on you. That said, I don't like safety cars being deployed unnecessarily, especially in F1 where the speed rules and half the field diving into the pits it takes an innordinate length of time to get them lined up. Another problem with F1 debris is that it is most likely carbon fibre which will shatter into thousands of sharp pieces if hit with the incumbant risk of punctures. So on balance the SC call was probably correct.


I'd say yes it was watching the cars coming around the corner & getting surprised by the debris on track. Hamilton deserved a drive through as well. Vettel's 1st corner move is also arguable (mainly because it was the 1st corner). The safety car really didn't have affect on top 3 runners. But with the new rules in place safety car makes some races worth staying up for.


I think generally (other than when it rains) the safety car is deployed at the right times nowadays. The main debris that they were worried about was on the approach to the chicane, a key overtaking spot. Waving yellow flags there the entire race wouldn't have been fair to the field, and the cars were strung out enough that they didn't have enough time to scramble a marshall to pick it up normally.

The longer length of safety cars periods is simply down to the fact that the cars have set speeds they must maintain that are well under their regular racing speeds as they attempt to catch up to the pack.

I absolutely agree that this year, Safety cars have been completely unnecessary to have some amazing races!


"The longer length of safety cars periods is simply down to the fact that the cars have set speeds they must maintain that are well under their regular racing speeds as they attempt to catch up to the pack."

Here's an idea: no packing! Perhaps not even a real SC. Just have everyone turn on the speed limiter (or do it automatically) while the is a "caution period". Standard, pit-lane-safe speed and the changes in gaps are minimal.

Perhaps there would be engineering problems (overheating?) but then the periods might also be shorter.

Is there a way to pitch the idea to those responsible?


good job JAMES ....keep it up!!


Hang on, one minute you say a driver gained on the undercut, now you're telling me Jenson gained by staying out a lap? You can't have it both ways!


That depends on how well the life of the tyres has held up by each driver. If a driver's tyres are going off while you dive in the pits for a funky new set of options, and you deliver a quicker out-lap than his in-lap next time around, you might (if you're close enough) pass him 'in the pits' on the 'undercut'.

Button's tyres were holding on well, possibly due to his well-known smooth driving style, and so the undercut wouldn't work as his pace remained high enough to maintain the gap to those behind.


I think you've made a misinterpretation Sigmund. If you re-read that sentence you'll see that James is saying that "pitting later" and "coming out ahead" were both caused by Button managing his tyres well. Not that "coming out ahead" was caused by "pitting later".


I think JB ended up on top because SV had traffic once he got out of the pits.

You cannot always gain on the undercut. Depends on the traffic, the outlap you put in and the inlap your competitor manages to do on the old tyres.


Everybody keeps saying that Schumacher gets better and better with each race.

Although I hated him in his prime carreer, now I would love to hear that he continues to race for Mercedes beyond 2012, as the team and the car would only get stronger.

Am I the only one having this train of thoughts?


Couldn't have said it better myself, +1!


I think he's a workaholic and will keep racing as long as they'll have him.

Non-racing role in the team is unlikely, as that didn't work out with Ferrari.


You're not alone mate.

I am convinced Mercedes will keep Michael because he is very good at developing a car. If they keep Rosberg and get Di Resta..who's gonna provide the feedback?

For sure a veteran with experience and especially Michael is the best at doing so. I might be wrong, but to me it looks pretty easy decission.

I wish we could see Michael on podium this year. Would be the highlight of the season for me.


It would be really cool to see something like Barcelona 1996 again.

We saw a bit of that in Canada.


Merc is already gathering the people they need to build a race winning team. Having Costa is just one of those examples. Drivers like MS combined with Brawn build great teams. Merc will only get better with Michael on board & without Michael that might not happen so quickly. F1 is lucky to have Schumacher. Him winning a race or getting on the podium will definitely be the best part of the season.


Firstly James, great website. Thoroughly fascinating every time I visit.

Secondly, I had the fortune to be at Suzuka this weekend and the atmosphere was amazing. So many passionate and knowledgeable fans, and it seemed to be extra special this year with what has happened this year in Japan. Full credit must go to the teams and drivers who made an extra effort to connect with the fans here.

I really like Kamui Kobayashi. The way he went to salute the huge section of fans dedicated to him during the drivers parade was brilliant to see. Even though he had a slightly disappointing race, I thought he handled the expectations of the Japanese public commendably, and always does things with a smile on his face.

Do you think he will move to "bigger" team? I'm thinking that he and Ferrari would be a match made in heaven. From how it looked to me in the stands, Ferrari is already the most popular team here, but with Kamui it would be taken to the next level. Also, it might be just me, but Massa looks a bit off colour these days in the Ferrari. I wonder if his spat with Lewis has really got to him and has taken his eye off the ball? I like Massa, but would love to see Kamui in the Ferrari.


Unfortunately I don't see Kamui being chosen by Ferrari at all. Mainly because Ferrari prefers different kind of character than a Japanese driver. Kimi is a good example. Now Ferrari has going to build everything around Alonso. So even the driver next to him will be somebody who can help him win more championships. Occasionally we might see Alonso's team mate finish ahead of him but mainly will be competitive enough to be finishing just behind him in most races. Love Kamui, but he is not strong enough to be in Ferrari, McLaren or Red Bull. Maybe Renault is good one for him though


I'd argue that Kamui isn't doing himself any favours by being outshone by his rookie team mate. Ferrari has also taken note of this, and seems to take a keen interest in said rookie, making it far more likely that we'll see Sergio donning the red suit somewhere down the line.


Have you even followed the season? Kobayashi beat Perez in more races and he has more points.


You're right about the points, though including Melbourne, Sergio Perez actually finished ahead of Kamui Kobayashi in more races they both finished. Perez is also ahead in qualifying.

Doing all that as a rookie is quite impressive to me.


I'd also thought Kamui would be brilliant at Ferrari. A sort of Japanese Jean Alesi character.

Time will tell.


He needs to qualify every time as well as he did in Japan. But his character is second to none, as he showed with his compassionate efforts last weekend


Great article james. Glad to see you noticed Schumacher's improved pace too, he's driven fantastically well for a while now but rarely get's a mention in the commentary. Interestingly, he is only a few points behind rosberg despite having a couple of mechanical failures and a couple of incidents which have ruined his races. I've got a feeling if he was in that RB he'd be doing a much better job than Mark.


MSC specifically mentioned "changes the team had made, resulting in an upward trend for the past 3 races", in the post-qualifying press round. He said that he is now able to better use the car to fullest.

Which makes me wonder if Jock Clear, in his new position, is responsible for the up-tick in performance or merely one visible part of a greater reshuffle inside the team.

Do you have any insights into that, James?


James, if Jock Clear is engineering MS now, surely that deserves a post of its onw!


I think thats pretty much untrue. Ive seen a lot of positive press from Journos in UK and commentators about Michaels return to fighing form.

I think he's really doing a good job again now. Rust shaken off, ready for a fight again.

Great to see another person throwing his hat into the ring. I'd love to see Michael win another GP at least. Would be a great story.


I agree, I don't think there’s any doubt that MS could still win provided he had proper machinery.

I also remember reading that Jock is only acting as a stand in? Is this accurate? I for one hope it becomes permanent.

Schumacher must win before retiring a final time. Along with Senna he's a true king of F1 and it would seem unjust to not get a few more wins.

The Schumacher jump is well overdue.


I disagree. He is too old now.


Too Old??? Yet he is almost even in WDC Points with his much yonunger teammate, despite having more car failures & race 'incidents'? Also his speed in last few races has unquestionably been faster than his (20 years younger) teammate?

I don't understand your logic there, sorry...

Hope to see Merc give him & Ros a car with which they can fight for at least the poduim if not victories next year...


I think Vettels strategy at the start of the race was to go for the win, look at the chop on Button at the start.

Being conservative in F1 generally rebounds on a driver, it is obviously better to lead from the front and keep going, let everyone behind you squabble for places.

As the race unfolded and especially in the final stages, Red Bull knew he would not beat Button and Alonso so settled for third to the finish. I heard Christian Horner told him to hold third and not attack Alonso and wrap up the Championship, I wonder if that was a bit of a bluff from Red Bull, could he actually have caught and passed Alonso, I doubt it.

Therefore Red Bull were fairly beaten in to third by Maclaren and Ferrari which makes the rest of season potentially very interesting indeed.

As always great report James, thanks.


James -

Thanks for another great strategy analysis - fascinating reading.

I agree with you on Vettel; I don't think the team were leaving much on the table.

I thought Suzuka was probably the most exciting dry race of the season; one of those great occasions when the top 5-6 drivers all run a frenetic pace, stay close together and the race really is a series of hell-for-leather sprints... exactly how it should be! Some great overtaking moves into 130R further down the pack too.

I like the thinking behind the tyre strategy but it loses it's charm for me when drivers have the luxury of slowing down to preserve them, which is why I think Sunday was so good.

I thought Alonso drove a fantastic race. Jenson was a deserving winner but I think Fandango definitely out-drove his machinery... Another reason why I agree with the unscientific straw-poll you mentioned in a previous post. He did a super-human job to keep Seb behind him whilst getting his mediums up to temperature.

What a joy to see Schumi continuing his resurgence as well. I really hope that Ross can put together a decent offering for next season - imagine how fantastic it would be to watch Schumi, Alonso, Button, Hamilton and Vettel swashbuckling at the front.

Would there ever have been a better era in F1?

I really don't think so.


I think there's a couple key points that haven't really been mentioned that hurt Vettel as he attempted to stay ahead of the charging Button and Alonso...

Vettel's pitstops were consistently slower than Button's (1st stop 1.3 seconds slower, 2nd stop .8 seconds slower). In fact I believe that's one of the main reasons that Vettel came out behind him after the 2nd round of pitstops. If the stops were even, I believe Vettel would have emerged just ahead of Button, on warmer tires. Would he have stayed ahead? It would have been difficult, but not impossible I think. The DRS zone was not the best this weekend, as we saw several cars who were quicker than the ones they were following find it difficult to pass on the main straight. I think we would have seen one hell of a battle between the two after that 2nd pitstop, but alas, it was not meant to be.

The other thing that really hurt Vettel was the safety car. Without it, Vettel would have been able to find a better gap with free air after his 3rd stop. Instead the field was bunched, and when he pit he came out behind the midfield battle, which balked him just enough to let Alonso past after his stop.

Of course, having to pit first due to his higher tire wear was the main issue. Just wanted to talk about the other factors that weren't mentioned.



This is the first time i've seen both the lotus cars' lines in with the group at the end of the graph instead of off the page like virgin and HRT. Do you think this is a major step forward or more to due with the increased tire degradation, so slightly less downforce was actually a bit of an advantage at Suzuka?

thanks for the excellent columns!


I noticed the same thing. Both Lotus cars also finished on the lead lap. I believe it was mentioned during the Speed broadcast that this is the first time they've done that.

It's good to see Lotus making progress.


safety car


Yeah the safety car helped but it didn't make that much of a difference. look at the slope of the lines, they are steeper than in past races. with previous pace they would've fallen away again like they usually do, ala singapore or spa.


- SC not only affect midfield battle, It was a big gift for Jenson buton for two reasons: 1) Tyre degradation and stints

2) Fuel consumption (You can imagine two last laps in a very different way). Call it "luck".

- No words about fuel management in Jenson's car by Macca strategists.


alonso only got close due to the safety car


Before SC ALO was 6,1 behind BUT and 7,5 in front of WEB. I continue saying BUT received a gift with 3 laps of fuel saving, moreover, ALO had to defend from WEB and he lost valuable time doing that. Those 3 laps was GOLD for BUT considering FUEL and TYRE degradation. One more time SC deciding races.


I wonder if Lewis was so much slower in the second stint just because he'd given up - as apparently he's wanted to do in recent races before they've managed to convince him that he might still get something out of it if he pushed. Not very convincing from any point of view.

At least now we know why he keeps running into people - he can't see anything out of his mirrors.

Good-oh. Now we only need to know why

1 - others can, and

2 - why he runs into people in front of him.


For that Jean Eric Vergne, the next Prost, is in F1 in 2012.


wonderful analysis. thank u james.


Excellent analysis as usual James.

Although this may sound a facile, if a Ford Focus can have a blind spot warning system, why can't an F1 car? Apart from the obvious weight and space issues but I'm sure the boffins could rapidly overcome these...?

Maybe even a head-up display with built-in rear view camera? It sounds like the mirrors are virtually useless and must add drag.


The mirrors are useless for LH, but not for the rest of the drivers. JB said he had no issues with the mirrors.

Stop looking for excuses for LH.


James; a mate of mine has developed a full-scale model to predict race pace vs tyre deg; based on long run FP data; as well as the time delta between the compounds.

After playing around with a lot of the variables we reckon that if Vettel had gone for a 4-stopper he would've won. Vettel on a 4-stopper would have been able to unleash more of his car's core pace rather than having to back off to conserve tyres. Had Jenson stayed on a 3-stopper; he would have not been able to hold off Vettel in the dying stages. Even if Jenson had gone on and covered Vettel's 4-stopper with one of his own (in case a safety car wiped out the pitstop gap after Vettel's 4th stop) then Jenson wouldn't have had the pace to win in the first place.

After inputting data from the race; it seems that the Red Bull was about 0.1 quicker on the options; and 0.3 quicker on the primes in terms of out and out pace. It was that the McLaren had the legs on it in terms of managing the rear degradation.



James , do we feel that Lewis was unlucky not to close the gap to Vettel during the start of the race due to the fact that Lewis had a slow puncture. As his pace during and pre qualifying looked good shape for a Mclaren 1st n 2nd. Also with the affect of changing Hamilton's set up to compensate the lost balance probably killed his chance of racing through like in Singapore GP apart from the penalties. Because of this we could not see the true Lewis.


Or do we feel that Lewis Hamilton is having a phase of bad luck just like Jenson had last year in the MP4 26?. As it would be nice to see Lewis and Jenson fighting for positions instead of having one driver doing all the glory work. I do personally feel that if Lewis gets a Pole position in the coming races, will lift him up from all of this bad luck.


I feel Lewis needs to adapt to different driving styles and this year's tyre compounds brought out his weakness. Let's put luck aside for the moment. And he seems disturbed hence his concentration is not at the level we know. I hope he'll do much better next year. He's a great driver for sure.


I don't think we've seen Lewis' Nadir just yet. I think that will come when the Mclarens are next to each other on the grid and he takes Jenson out by misjudging a move.


As I understand it teams under fuel for the race taking into account the additional laps before and after the race. This then explains why they go into fuel saving mode during the race. It's not guess work, but quite precisely calculated, but of course incidents occur in the most carefully laid plans such as when Button came under threat from Alonso in the final stages of the race.


Regarding Hamilton's woes currently, I believe there's 2 important people missing from his professional life. One is obviously his father, but the other is Ron Dennis, after all it was under his guidance that Lewis got to F1.

James, a point you made about Jock Clear and Schumacher. I understand they are both professional people, but was there any animosity at the beginning of their relationship? From what the media said, Jock and Jacques were close friends.


Lewis has had a bad year due mainly to the McLaren team messing it up for him.

The post below summarises Lewis's 2011 races.


So when he spins or crashes into other people, it was his team's fault?

This is getting funnier with every excuse.


ohh my! The excuses! Bring them on!


James, Thanks again for the excellent post. It's nice to see Schumi getting better as the season progresses.

Out of Topic: I was wondering if you are coming up with an Iphone app or an android app for your website. I most of the times check your website using my phone, but sometimes feel if You had an application which would allow iphone users it would be much more convenient.

Your thoughts please...


Hi James,

Any chance of you doing a feature on the new teams at any stage. I know everyone loves all the top teams and its more interesting to fans to hear about the teams fighting for the constructors etc but we never really here anything about the new teams and the teammate battles etc in those teams.

Don't really ever hear any info about how the new teams think their drivers are performing etc either.

Also next time your in the paddock can you get the goss on if Helmut thinks Daniel is doing a good job at HRT at the moment ?

Keep up the great work, this is without a doubt the best Motorsport related site around. I wish motoGP also had a commentary site of this calibre.




Would like to hear about the smaller teams also. In particular about HRT and Virgin. What are their plans for the future? Are they going to be allowed to stay in F1 just to fill the grid?

Lotus seem to be the only new team doing some catching up.

In regards to Ricciardo, what would you expect Helmut to say? That he is not performing as well as they were expecting? Ofc his comments will be good even if they aren't.

I would like to hear from a facts point of view. I don't know if anyone has the time to actually analyse his races and draw some sort of realistic conclusion.



This is the first time Lewis's tyre was punctured due to his driving style or did he hit small debris not noticeable. The softs were blistering alot so I'm guessing he chewed them up that's why the puncture.

Button was helped by the safety car or else he might have not completed the race from fuel guzzling. But maybe not from his smooth driving style. Just thinking.

Surprisingly Alonso's pace was very good from the prime or Ferrari has improved so much, but then Suzuka is a fast and harsh track on rubber. Korea should reveal if it's true they got around the problem bugging them.

Vettel RB7 seems to be eating tryes too, interesting.

I'm impressed with Pirelli as the variations this year has been hard to predict from track to track. I do understand they have tweaked them too.

James, do you have details of the period when they tweaked the compounds?

This year's rubber has been intriguing or rather mysterious.


Why dont the teams use new soft tyres on lighter fuel loads so they can go faster instead of slower tyres at the end?


They used the harder compound at the end because they have to. They cannot use only one compound for the whole race. And the top teams don't use the harder at the start because the car is too heavy and the harder tyre doesn't offer as much grip as the softer.

They would lose alot of time in the first stint and at the start.


The car is much slower and less nimble with heavy fuel so better to offer it more grip to allow the driver to make better use of it in the early stages. Then as the track rubbers in during the race and the fuel load burns off the performance of the 2 compounds converges. This gives a better performance when averaged over the race distance. With your idea you'd have a prolonged period on the primes with heavy fuel going really slow followed by a short dash to the flag on the options. This would tend to mean that you spend more time on the inferior compound. Think of it this way:

If you start on heavy fuel on the primes you are automatically going to find it harder to make pit stop size gap to the car behind you because your car is slower. This means you are obligated to use the prime for a full life cycle in order to pit at the same time as the car behind and hopefully maintain position. This means you are spending a large amount of time on the sub optimum compound whilst the car is at its slowest. If you save the prime for the final stint, due to the rules you can run for as little time as possible as the race could feasibly end before the tyres die a death therefore offering the opportunity to remain on the optimum compound for the majority of the race and then just tolerating a short stint on the tyres you don't really want to use. This is why we have seen drivers trying to save sets of new options for the race and in Germany I believe Vettel only used the prime for the final lap. It's about minimising the time spent on the sub optimum compound.


Minor point. Race history graph is interesting, but would be easier for my old eyes to follow if McLaren and HRT switched colours. The bold black is wasted on HRT.

Change of subject. It is good to see that the Button/Hamilton pairing seems to gell. Reminds me of the great British pairings of the past; Hawthorn/Collins, Moss/Brooks, Clark/Hill.It would be nice to see Hamilton regain his form, and the Union flag dominating the podium. If DiResta gets a drive with MB, a Brit 1-2-3 could be on. Has there been one since 1958?


hello james any news on Kubica?


Hi James,

Why do you think Schumacher has improved a lot? Is it as simple as the more mileage he puts in, the better he drives?

If not, I would appreciate if you could write an article about why he improved.

I think many people would want to read it.


Confidence is back certainly


Firstly Big Well done to Seb for claiming his Second World Championship.

On Lewis my question is has he been found out and is one dimensional? Whilst there is no doubt that he has speed does he have adaptability?

Reasons behind this -

- Hasn't adapted driving style to the new tyres, I recall a piece by MB where the gist was that you had a certain amount of 'tyre' and you had to decide/manage when you used that over the stint. Lewis seems to overuse the tyre at the start of the stint and has nothing left at the end

- Misses testing or more to the point the impact of De La Rosa to develop the car. Is there any coincidence with the downturn in his performance with the testing ban coming into force? Lewis can drive the wheels off a car but can he develop one to move it forward. Intersting comment when Button re-signed from Paddy Lowe ' We've got a driver who can provide constructive feedback to develop the car'

Attitude - 'Monkeys at the back' and other comments haven't endeared him to the other drivers who now make it overly difficult for him to get past

Heart on his sleeve - Blatantly obvious to everyone he's not happy and he's showing it so the mind games from others just compound the problem. Currently looks like he'd rather be anywhere else - his side of the garage doesn't look a fun place to be. Jenson has looks to have come in and 'stolen' the team that was built up around him

When he is on it would say he is more Mansellesque than Senna - that's why we love an 'on it Lewis, he will rag every last tenth out of the car. When Mansell was driving, on a bad day, the car would at least do you the favour of blowing up so you looked to have gallantly tried, now the cars are so reliable they won't do that for you and you roll in 5th, 6th or worse.

James, you know him better than us what are your views to the slump


If McLaren make a decent car next year, and the Pirellis still require sensitive handling, my money's on JB to be champion.


Nice to see Team Lotus not falling off the graph like HRT and Virgin... based on this graph they actually look like they belong in F1.


Lewis is his own worst enemy. He can keep blaming his car for not winning races, but I don't think many people are criticizing him for not winning races. They are criticizing him for race-craft that seems to find him involved in a disproportionate number of incidents.

Excuses such as 'he's just always pushing the limits' or 'he doesn't know any other way to drive than 110%' really have no merit. A champion needs keep a cool head, knowing where the car's limits are keeping it on that line. These are the same 'rookie' mistakes he was making in 2007 and 2008. As a fan, I had hoped winning his first championship was a turning point for him. Maybe it wasn't.

He is without a doubt one of the most talented drivers on the grid, which is why people expect much more than he is showing lately.


Let them all qualify on the softs. Then at start of the race they all use the hard compound and then change over to the tyres they qualified on as part of the rule during the pits. The only problem I see with this is, the Hard tyre with heavy fuel load will give the teams the chance to build gaps not like we are seeing at the moment. But it will make the start of the race durable but the end more of looking after your tyres whilst the fuel tank is low.


Basically give the teams an option to start with qualifying tyres or start with hard's and then go to the soft qualifying tyre during a pit stop.


Villeneuve was one of the most talented drivers on the grid in the late 70's, early 80's, his talent deserved a WDC, but it didn't happen


Button only won because Vettel had a really slow pitstop


Jensen Button is giving Hamilton a lesson in maturity. Jensen had to drive the Honda when it was a terrible car and never gave less than 100%. When he finally got a decent car, the Brawn, he said that it went faster in reverse than his last car went forwards.

Lewis current car can still win races. Jensen attitude is to make the best of what he has, as he as had to drive cars that had no chance of winning in the past. Lewis is sulking that he hasn't got a Red Bull forgetting that he has always had a race winning car.

Lewis needs a decent manager who will get his focus back on racing. He seems a decent young man but I suspect he is falling into bad company


Unsurprisingly a large proportion of the posts are about Lewis Hamilton and everyone has a view, but I think perhaps there is more going on inside Mclaren than we are aware of. According to Lewis's comment in Korea he did not have a puncture at Suzuka after all, but the car was rapidly degrading tyres because of the very stiff set up McLaren had given him for the race after preliminaries on the simulator. If you ask me a fair proportion of Lewis's ills are down to McLaren foul ups as indeed the late release for his second run in Q3 clearly was.

I'm not convinced that Lewis's management are ideal choice for a racing driver. It is known that Lewis wanted to expand his brand and perhaps they were the perfect choice for that, but not for his core activity - racing. I suspect Anthony Hamilton was quite right when he said he was not getting the right kind of support.

And finally James your last paragraph sums up all that is bad about these high degradation tyres and it is completely unfair. There simply is not enough latitude to allow lower performing cars whether that be intrinsic or due to set up, to push hard to catch up which sort of defeats the whole object of racing. It's a shambles!


the real reason that hamilton wrecked his tyres in the first stint is because he had to start on a set that had already been used in Q2 and also in Q3 they were already half gone before the race


That's very true.- Well thought out! So the failure to do his second run had far reaching consequences. It does serve to highlight just how precariously balanced the whole operation is for drivers on these tyres.


I agree with you, Richard.

This whole tire thing is bad for the sport. And while its good to have some strategy, F1 is not chess. I miss the time when the drivers could push really hard in qualifying and in the race. To have one flying lap in the last seconds of the Q3 its ridiculous.


Someone mentioned earlier about the prospects for Vettel on a 4-stopper, and I remember thinking the same about Hamilton.

Considering he must have had an extra set of prime tyres after the foul up in quali, and that his outright pace on the tyre was good, wouldn't it have made more sense to use his natural aggression to really go at maximum speed, especially after he jumped Button at the start? It would have negated his problems with tyre wear vis-a-vis Button and Alonso...


Korean Practise Question

Has Lewis' Race Engineer



please say yes!!!

- ok bear with me. i did see Latham in the Pit but what i also saw was the other guy whose name i don't know releasing Lewis' during P1.

P2 radio-comm also sounded different (either not Latham or he is improving his message delivery - the engineer pointed out where time was being lost but also explained the run relative to tyres and fuel with encouraging words - this is not typical Latham. the voice did sound different to me but that might be my wishful thinking)

what do y'all think?.



what do you think is happening with Massa?

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