How Perez could have beaten Alonso at Sepang – despite his mistake
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Posted By: James Allen  |  27 Mar 2012   |  10:23 am GMT  |  201 comments

The Malaysian Grand Prix provided us with an exciting glimpse of what we can expect in 2012, from a racing and strategy point of view.

We saw also a phenomenon which could provide the key to the season for whoever wins the title; the ability to be fast on all types of tyre in all conditions. Because judging from the Sepang race, even more so than Melbourne, all the teams are finding it hard to manage that. Hamilton, the pole sitter, for example, wasn’t particularly fast in any condition, while the Sauber was very quick on used intermediates and hard slicks. Williams’ Pastor Maldonado was not particularly quick on intermediate tyres, but once he went onto slicks he was extremely fast.

It was a fantastic race and one that Sergio Perez could and should have won, even without the driving error he made six laps from the end, as we will see.

Race morning strategy predictions for a dry race had been that the hard tyre would actually prove faster in the race, with estimates of up to 0.2s advantage. In the event this proved true and what was critical was taking a new set of hard tyres versus a used set of mediums. This was to be proven by the duel in the closing stages for the lead.

Perez and Sauber – the one that got away

Sergio Perez and Sauber were the fastest car/driver/tyre combination in two vital phases of this curious afternoon; in the long second stint on used intermediates and particularly in the final stint on slick tyres. But a historic victory wasn’t lost solely on his driving mistake. The strategy, while bold early on, became very cautious as the race progressed and this also cost him the chance to win.

As the rain fell heavily in the opening laps, Sauber pitted Perez on lap 3 for wet tyres. He was the first serious runner to make the move and everyone followed suit, but not for another two laps. On extreme wets Perez was three or more seconds faster than the leading cars and when everyone pitted on lap 5 he moved up to third place.

This bold move by Sauber had set up the platform for a great result. But then they started playing it cautious.

Going into the second stops, Perez was ahead of Alonso. At the second stops, the move from full wets to intermediates, Perez stopped two laps later than Button and a lap later than Alonso. The track was drying out and by the end of lap 13, when the safety car was withdrawn and it was obvious that intermediates were the faster tyre to be on. But Sauber played it safe, leaving Perez out for another lap, in which he took the lead.


But critically, this mistake led him to lose track position to Alonso. When Perez came out of the pits on lap 15 he was still just in front of Alonso, but was now feeling his way on new intermediates, whereas Alonso had a lap’s worth of experience on them and was able to pass Perez early in the lap.

However Perez did gain a position over Hamilton who was held in his pit box by McLaren so as not to collide with the incoming Massa.

The Ferrari opened up a six second lead over the Sauber, but as the intermediates wore down and the tyre pressures came up, Perez came flying back at Alonso, closing the gap to 1.3 seconds on lap 39. By now Ricciardo, the pioneer on slick tyres, was lighting up the time sheets and it was clearly the moment to follow.

The Sauber strategists delayed again; they were cautious about putting their inexperienced driver on slicks too soon, they also had one eye on the weather, with the threat of more showers in the air. They lost the initiative; Ferrari went for it, bringing Alonso in. As the leader, Alonso needed to cover off the threat from clearly the faster car, which he did.

This second mistake dropped Perez back seven seconds behind Alonso. Sauber had chosen a new set of hard tyres, Alonso a used set of mediums. The Ferrari decision was an interesting one as many strategists weren’t sure whether the medium would last 16 laps, the distance to the flag from this point. But on paper the medium offered faster warm-up. In fact the hard tyre proved faster to warm up on the Sauber and was instantly quicker. Perez again caught Alonso easily and with the DRS wing activated and a tyre advantage was sure to pass him at some point in the final six laps.

However he lost focus when the team told him to protect his position and he made a mistake, losing four seconds. There were suggestions that with Sauber so politically aligned to Ferrari and a long-standing customer of its engines, had made some kind of “arrangement” with the Scuderia, but Sauber and Ferrari denied this on Sunday night. And it does look more like a case of Sauber not wanting to throw away the chance of its best result in five years.

Nevertheless in that final stint we saw something that gives great encouragement for the season ahead. After six laps we had reached a crossover point where the hard tyre was the faster tyre than the medium. This is something Pirelli had been hoping to achieve this year and it will make the strategies extremely interesting. With lots of cars close on performance and many strategic options, it’s going to be a great year of racing.

Toro Rosso – tactically astute

Toro Rosso’s technical director Giorgio Ascanelli used to be race engineer to Ayrton Senna at McLaren and is one of the wiliest old foxes in the pit lane. On Sunday we saw a couple of classic Ascanelli moves: first he left Jean Eric Vergne out on intermediate tyres as the torrential downpour hit. He had only to stay on the track as everyone pitted for full wets and he managed it. When the race director stopped the race, as Ascanelli knew he would, Vergne was in seventh place. And with the restart behind the safety car, this meant full wet tyres must be fitted so Vergne got a set of full wets without having to make a pit stop! It set him up for his eventual 8th place finish.

Meanwhile Ascanelli was at it with his other driver too; as the track dried out he decided Ricciardo should be the first to go onto the slicks. This made sense as he was 17th at the time and needed to get into the game. There was no need to risk Vergne’s position. So Ricciardo rolled the dice and gained three places; not enough to get him into the points, but well worth a try.

Risk and reward; it’s what F1 race strategy is all about.

The UBS Race Strategy Report is written by James Allen with input from strategists from several F1 teams

(Race history graph to follow)

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1

The message was ‘be careful’, and if you saw the race, Perez tried very hard to pass Alonso, and went off the track at a 150mph corner. This was after the be careful message. Catching a car is one thing, but when your close and lose downforce, it’s a different story.

I say again, the truth was there for all to see in the happiness of the Sauber team when the race was over! They tried to win, came second, and they were understandably ecstatic.

Why let a negative conspiracy (media inspired) theory ruin what was a brilliant and clean race?

2

Hello James,

I’m a big fan of your work, particularly the detail you put in your analysis, so i thought i’d get your opinion on something; I’ve noticed that with the first two race weekends gone that Vettel really seems to be fighting with the redbull leading to minor mistakes, but Webber doesn’t seem to struggle with the car AS MUCH and if memory serves he out-quallified Vettel on both weekends, could it be that the ban on the exhaust blown diffusers has resulted in a car or car balance that suits Webber a bit more than Vettel?

And could a similar explaination be used for Schumi getting better times than Rosberg?

Thanks,

Keep up the good work 😀

3

I think that the EBD was something Vettel had a real way of driving without it Webber is closer.

4

Hi James, great article and very good analysis of the strategies. However I have 2 questions about how the teams prepared for this wet race. Considering the last wet conditions were in the first practice in Australia, interestingly it was Sauber/Kamui who completed the most laps (26) and Ferrari/Alonso a close third (23), so how much of this running helped them in the race? The second question is, how much of a factor was track position in the race? Had Hamilton emerged from the pits ahead of Alonso, would it have been possible for Perez to hold onto his lead and win?

5

It was clearly worth something !

6

Perez lost a lot of time leaving the pits, it sounded like he either stalled it or was in the wrong gear.

7

So what if Perez had received a message like: “Push Push Push” and then had his little off track moment??? Everyone would be jumping up and down for a different reason. Can’t blame the pitwall for a mistake on track. People need to remember that we only hear perhaps 10% of all the radio communications sent between the cars and the pits… and then usually they are just the juicy ones. Perez drove fantastically all day, apart from 1 corner!

8

James,

Is it something wrong with the red car, when somebody’s close behind? (I mean wrong for others) like extra turbulence disturbance or something, the point is, PM in Melburn and SP in Sepang lost the car in quite similar way while FA benefited, or just it’s driver’s mistake..

9
Adrian Newey Jnr

James – thanks for the informative break down. This level of detail (due to time most likely) is missed on the live feeds. But great for the post race analysis!

I would also like to say how good I’ve though Jamie’s analysis has been on your podcasts. For someone so young, I have been thoroughly impressed. Far more insightful in my opinion than some of the other ex-drivers in the media.

10

Jaime Alguersuari writes a short column and answers questions too in the Spanish newspaper El Mundo every week, or at least every week after F1 racing. There, he is concise and shows insight from a driver’s perspective. In last column he brought up attention on how intelligent was the driving of Alonso in Malaysia when the track was getting from full wet to half dry. In such a changing condition, most drivers on inters usually go for wet lines on the straights in order to refresh tires. Jaime said that the approach of Alonso was really impressive, because Alonso kept looking for a different best line not only in the straights but also in every curb, and changed them lap after lap in agreement with the track condition.

11

Thanks. Yes Jaime has been very insightful, I agree. He sees things very quickly and is very decisive.

12

James, I am still puzzled about the paddock commentaries, or maybe Toro Rosso Principal commentaries, that you said there were circulating about Alguersuari’s intelligence at the end of last season. This was very rough and potentially dangerous for a young pilot career. Now that you know better of him because of podcasts, could you say if the commentaries did make justice to Jaime’s intelligence? May be what he lacked was ‘political/emotional’ intelligence toward his boss? Sorry to ask you on this delicate matter, As I’ve said above, I’m still puzzled and therefore curious about.

13

I find him very sharp. He’s bright, articulate and very decisive. A couple of sessions with him made me see things I’d never appreciated before about what was going on in practice and with car behaviour.

He definitely deserves a seat in F1 if you look at the quality of the entire field. His performances in the second half of 2012 showed a steep improvement.

14

Good read James as always was wondering how much pressure will Massa be under now?

Alonso winning in what Ferrari admit to a car that isn’t a winner, a young gun like Perez driving a strong race with links to Ferrari, a couple of hurry up’s from the pit wall during the race and now two races where once again Massa has looked second rate. I know it is 18 races to turn it around but if anyone needed a strong start to the year it was Massa!

15

Perez also got great support from the Ferrari mechanics at the park ferme celebration, look when he got out of the car and walked to his team standing next to them, many Ferrari mechanics padded him and they were even holding his arm while he was embracing his team. They really consider him one of their own. Remember that he lead all events in the Ferrari Academy ahead of Bianchi. I am sure these boys have work with him already. I wrote Checo and I repeat, do like Alonzo and learn Italian NOW!!

It will be great for me a lifetime fan of Alonso see my compatriot race next to him. It will be my most proud moment since Rebaque’s years.

16

A lot. He was a bit closer in qualifying, 3 or 4 Tenths, from session to session, but no points after two races when his team mate is leading the championship says a lot. Loyalty must have its limits

17

Agreed. At the half-way season mark, if Massa doesn’t improve, it might be trouble in the making. At year end, if his points deficit to Alonso cost Ferrari a higher standing in constructors’ then it’s as good as sealed.

18

You’re right Johnny about the stats you gave above, but they do look at constructors’ points.

I think Ferrari has had enough of the last two years and have told Massa, personally and publicly, that if he’s not closer to Alonso in points, which in turn translates into a better position in constructors’ points, it’s over.

19

Well, I don’t think they take a look at point’s deficit between Alonso and Massa. If they did, they should have made conclusions after every season from 2010:

2010:

Massa – 144

Alonso – 252

2011:

Massa – 118

Alonso – 257

So I don’t get what makes people to be so surprized this year.

20

Yes, Perez could have beaten Alnso if the Ferrari gangs weren’t desperate to report some success — I think Perez, alongside Massa, was forced to become another Alonso helper.

On another note, in my 20 years F1 following I have never heard a team telling its driver to retire his car without any obvious problem like Red Bull did to Sebastian Vettel. Are we about to witness an icy relationship between Vettel and his Bulls this season? I read that Red Bull will sit down with Sebastian Vettel following reports Vettel deliberately ignored the team’s race instructions in Malaysia.

21

Red Bull claim there was damage to Vettel’s rear left brake from the puncture and were very concerned for his safety. Vettel’s radio was not working so he didn’t receive the message. So unless you think Red Bull are lieing about the brake problem, their order to retire was a normal one.

22

You should watch more races – every season of the last few there has been somebody not finishing just to change his gearbox without penalty.

Regarding Perez – yes – you know better than him and congratulations on that!

23
kennth mulvaney

not a first — honda tried that trick a few years ago…. they actually retired both thier cars from points scoring positions (melbourne i think) – so that they could get a new gearbox to win the next race – overconfidence!!

FIA steeped in and prohibbited it.

I think this is what rb were trying… but they were still reading the rulebook as they were doing it!!

24

James I think your analysis is fantastic and the service you provide is first class.

However it’s essential to be a grown up. Sauber were never going to show up a key supplier. Period. No one in business would do this – unless they specialise in making their life unnecessarily difficult. Perez was told to ‘hold’ or words to that effect. Some might think this isn’t too different a message to Smedley’s famous, “He’s faster than you,” to Massa a few years back. You might want to conclude that everyone has covered their tracks very well given how little comment there has been on this aspect of the race.

25

This is racing, remember.

26

C’mon James you’re smarter than that. This is not only about racing amazing motor cars.

Before one can say “To finish first, first you must finish”, one has to say, “To be a starter, first you must have money.” In Malaysia I think Sauber showed they understand this perfectly. The simple fact is they wouldn’t be on the grid without Ferrari engines and perhaps even for other benefit-in-kind reasons as well.

27

quite probably true i see Sauber currently as a form of ferrari B Team or a Red Bull (Torro Rosso) or however you want to put it! but all in all its wrong.

Any way if peter does want to break from that current little tie in in which i think it is in some form other than simply engine supply deal so to speak! he has done himself no harm in respect to attracting a potential take over/buy in/major sponsor.

I feel other than for Ferrari they ain’t in great shape but certainly hope they survive in there own current name sake 🙂

28

That’s your view

29

I’m sure Mark could have gotten third place at least if RBR had let him come in for slicks before Toro Rosso did with Ricciardo.

I noticed at least twice in the telecast the RBR team telling Mark to stay out on the inters as rain was coming – while we didn’t hear what Mark was saying I’m sure he must have been asking to come in for slicks from about 4or5 laps before Ricciardo got them.

30

The radios on both RB was not working. He couldn’t hear them, they couldn’t hear him

31

I don’t think Sauber and Perez ‘arranged’ to stay behind Ferrari because those 18points are worth so much to them that it wasn’t worth the risk to dive down the inside and throw it all away, and then Perez just lost some concentration once he was told to maintain position.

However, I think Perez definitely showed Ferrari that he’d be quite happy to be No. 2 at Ferrari, behind Alonso, as soon as they get rid of Massa. Great timing Perez! =]

32

Hi James,

Great analysis as usual, thank you!

There are some discussions in twitter about the engine maps used by Alonso and Perez in the last stint of the race. In the TV images you can see that, in this last stint, the rear rain light is on in Alonso’s car and off in Perez’s one. A possible explanation is that Alonso was using a wet engine map and Perez a dry engine map. A wet engine map I suppose means safer driving in the treacherous conditions of the track, gently use of tyres, and that Alonso still had something in reserve to defend from Perez. Do you have any information about this?.

33

yep, noticed it too and wondered what it meant, good question. (and indeed thanks for this wonderful blog.)

34

Great analysis as always James.

Just goes to show that it is easy to make the bold calls when you have nothing to loose, like Perez’s initial call to go on to full wets, or Vergne staying on inters, or HRT starting on full wets.

But Sauber showed that when you get into a good position and have everything to loose, the decisions become much harder!

The midfield teams have the liberty to roll the dice and look like heroes when they get it right, because they have little to loose. Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari don’t have that luxury.

Every one of their decisions can cost them dearly.

35

James,

Just watched the race again a saw when Hamilton pitted for the slick the team removed some cover from the front brake ducts.

Is that legal to make such a change on the car? Probably wanted they wanted more air in to cool the brakes.

It was definitely not a debris. Same thing can be seen at the beginning of the race and also on Button’s car.

36

Not only one error by Perez, but two. First in lap six:

http://img839.imageshack.us/img839/4920/lap6perezout.gif

So… Sauber call made ​​more sense than many think. Moreover, according to Alonso, had a single dry lane overtaking, despite the DRS would not be easy.

Why driver who made two error is driver of the day in this blog, and a perfect race by Alonso not? Good question…

37

Great inside info about the Toro Rosso’s, James. Thanks-I will be watching for this aspect in future wet races.

You have to be happy for the Sauber team. Wasn’t it early last season they had a similar great result nullified by a wing penalty?

38

James,

Do you think some cars might have removed fuel from the car during the safety car stoppage? It would be the obvious thing to do as it was clear that most of the remainder of the race was going to be wet and cars will have saved more than enough fuel in the first 13 laps in the wet?

Is it allowed by the rules?

39

An interesting question that hopefully James can answer! I can’t see anything in the Regulations that would prevent fuel being taken out. Purely for interest, Article 41.4 states that a car can be worked on but not refueled.

40

Sergio’s stops were ‘safe’ tire calls all day. Early on full wets… and then late on a drying track for intermediates and then slicks. I almost get the feeling that the calls are a slight reflection on Sauber’s opinion of their driver’s ability. There were a few interviews after the race with Sauber’s CEO, Monisha Kaltenborn, that also give me the impression that they’re still nurturing and being very wary of his driving talent and mental state of mind. But to fully confirm my feeling, I’d need to know whose call it was to go onto the different tires throughout the day. In all the interviews I’ve read, I haven’t quite figured out who it was that decided the timing of the stops. Any ideas James?

41
Tornillo Amarillo

1. I would love to have statistics about pit-stops and type of tyres for each stint per driver after each race, it would be very useful…

2. With Alonso, Perez and Maldonado shining it would be also worthy to have in this blog some articles in Spanish 🙂

42

Mr Perez is top drawer talent. With a bit of luck a future WDC. Bugger!!!!! he’s a Ferrari driver.

43

In answer to the headline……………..

Not whilst Alonso was driving a Ferrari.

If there was nothing to deny, why deny it?? The whole episode stinks and its Ferrari again. They are what is right with the sport and also everything that is wrong, how Mr M can moan about other teams polemics is just beyond me. Ferrari have no interest in the sport beyond themselves and allow themselves to be used by Mr E for a pot of gold. Then having the pot of gold manage to turn out midfield car, what a class act.

44

Thanks for your insight, James.

Can you tell us, when the race is stopped and teams allowed to work on the cars, are they able to dramatically alter settings?

If a driver had gambled on a wet set up, would that advantage be lost or is there a limit to what changes are permitted?

45

James,

I am a big fan of your website and posts. They are amazing, and look each day forward to more news and inside information. Thank you for the great work!

During the race which I always follow with the F1 live timing next to the TV, I noticed some things which where not mentioned in your article:

1) The pace of both McLaren was more then 1 sec a lap faster then the rest of the field on inters in the stint before the safety car.

2) After the safety car, you could clearly see both McLaren being on the edge of grip (understeer as well oversteer), and therefore loose their pace.

3) Button had a new set of inters, and was sliding around even more, he laptimes went actually up; he went after 10 laps back to the pits, changed for new ones and immediately set the fastest lap times of the race by 2 secs a lap for a few laps.

Could it be that McLaren went for the wrong tire pressure after the safety car? The cars also looked very heavy, did they take more fuel then the others? With other words, did Ferrari and Sauber gamble with fuel strategy and had to save fuel (= lower pace) in the first stint?

What is your view on this?

46

Tyre pressures were certainly a factor on Sunday on some cars. But Hamilton wasn’t particularly fast at any stage of the intermediate phase

47

I think the tyre pressure is the key factor. Button’s huge struggles which lessened slightly after a pit stop showed that McLaren didn’t get their research and/or predictions correct regarding their car the tyres in wet weather. I don’t think this will be a problem because most races aren’t wet AND they will have learnt a huge amount from this race in data etc.

Vettel showed what I predicted – if he is not at the top he is going to find it difficult to accept the change – and act crassly / rudely. I also believe that Webber has had the pace on him twice now. That might be the most interesting thing in this entire season – Webber finishing ahead of the RB golden boy. If that happens just 2 or 3 times we are going to see fireworks and very strange RB strategies.

The title is still in the hands of McLaren, it is going to depend a lot on luck and who gets a good run with no mechanical errors or racing freak issues.

48

Hi James

It is great to hear you live again and thanks for the insight into Sundays happenings.

How much did the track temperature drop from the red flag to the re-start? Is this the reason for the Mclaren drop in performance?

Thanks

49

at the start of the race he was almost 2 seconds faster than anyone bar Perez (who was on full wets)

50

Hi James

Thanks for the analysis but I really would like to understand more of why you think Hamilton was so off the pace?

Is it simply the set-up, the tyre pressures, the Mcclaren having fundamental race pace problems or strategy?

I thought it amazing that jaime a was saying on the commentary that the smart move would to be to come in straight after the safety car and change tyres but my friends and I were staggered when he did not.

If he had he might have been able to gain advantage – considering he didn’t on the chosen strategy then he might as well have risked it.

Is there a fundamental difference where Hamilton waits to be told to come in where button chooses for himself.

It does seem strange that the two sides of the garage appear to have very different approaches to strategic changes.

Thanks in advance.

51

Hello James,

Do you think McLaren lost the race for Lewis by not pitting him a lap earlier on both stops? (Wet-Inters and then Interns-Dry) Or was it lost for Hamilton and Button and the Red Bulls because they didn’t gamble for a wet weather set-up?

Why did they pit Jenson before Hamilton when this race Hamilton had track position?

Also, any news on Hamilton’s future at McLaren?

Thanks,

Anand

52

over here on the speed channel I recall there being radio transmission broadcast where Hamilton opted to stay out, at least on the first stop, at which point Jenson opted to pit… not sure about the other one. I remember the announcers making a pretty big deal about it.

53

Yeah, there is a difference in a driver opting to stay out/pit and a team standard scheduled pit stop…

Anyways the race is over, over and out to China!

54

I don’t think they had the pace to win the race on the day in the conditions.

He lost track position when he was boxed in at the second stop (for inters)

55

Correct, but before the second stop (for inters) also Button was pitted before Hamilton. Why?

I.e. Button almost leapfrogged into the lead if he not been blocked by Rosberg and would have secured 3rd if he had not hit NK.

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