Where Mercedes found the race pace and why Shanghai race turned out as it did
Strategy Report
Posted By: James Allen  |  17 Apr 2012   |  8:39 am GMT  |  148 comments

The UBS Chinese Grand Prix was a thrilling race, despite the comfortable winning margin for Nico Rosberg in the Mercedes.

Race strategy was crucial to the outcome and we also learned a lot about how F1 has changed in 2012, with the field closing up on performance, so the top teams can no longer rely on building gaps over the midfield to drop nicely into after pit stops. The leading teams will have to work much harder than last year on creative race strategy and the drivers will have to do a lot more overtaking.

During Friday’s Free Practice 2 it was clear that many teams have yet to master the best set up on their cars for both qualifying and the race, going from high fuel to low fuel.

How Mercedes surprised with its race pace
McLaren appeared to have race pace that was 0.5s a lap faster than Mercedes, but overnight on Friday Ross Brawn’s team made some changes to the set up to improve the tyre life and at the end of the Saturday morning session Schumacher ran a handful of laps on high fuel to confirm the changes. This was not noticed by many in the paddock, but proved crucial to Mercedes’ victory.

The track temperature was foremost in the minds of the team strategists as they prepared for the race; these 2012 Pirelli tyres are very sensitive to temperature changes and in qualifying it was clear that a drop of a few degrees created a disparity between different cars.

The rough rule of thumb is; Mercedes likes the colder temperature, as does the Sauber, while the Red Bulls, Lotus and McLarens operate better in higher temperatures. This is a trend that is likely to continue all season, so in Bahrain the picture may look different from China.

As with last year’s Shanghai race, the key strategy decision was between two pit stops and three and the timing of them. Pre race predictions showed that two stops was faster than three by up to 7 seconds, but the danger was that the two stopping driver would be vulnerable in the last five laps on worn tyres.

Crucially, the decision on which strategy was faster varied from team to team, depending on how fast they could run on the medium tyre. McLaren, for example, found it slower than the soft, while other teams including Mercedes, Lotus and Williams thought differently.

Rosberg vs Button vs Hamilton
McLaren went for three stops, Mercedes for two; the pattern was set. One of the reasons why Hamilton in particular was obliged to do three stops was because in qualifying he set his fastest time on a set of tyres that had done six laps by the time he started the race. This meant he would struggle to make it to lap 13, which was the window for two stops.

Mercedes knew this and planned to exploit it. Rosberg and Schumacher were instructed to get to at least lap 13, at which point they would switch to a medium tyre and do a middle stint of 21 laps, then a final stint on mediums again. Button was the greater threat to them on his three stop strategy, based on two stints on the soft tyre, but his challenge faded with a botched final pit stop, where the left rear wheel change was delayed by six seconds.

So when he rejoined, instead of being 14 seconds behind Rosberg with 17 laps to go and tyres that were 5 laps newer, he was 20 seconds behind.

The pit stop problem – not the first McLaren have suffered at critical moments this season – had a further knock-on effect in that it brought Button back out into the train of cars led by Massa and Raikkonen, who were two-stopping. Instead of gaining on Rosberg, Button could not take advantage of his new tyres, lost a second per lap to him and the race was over.

Most of Hamilton’s race was spent in traffic as well, due to starting down in seventh place after his gearbox change penalty. He could never get clear of the competitive midfield cars and run in clear air, so progress through the field was difficult on the three stop strategy he was obliged to do. A strategy like that requires plenty of opportunity to drive flat out on a clear track.

Another factor that worked against McLaren was that they had to cover Mark Webber, who made extremely early stops. So this caused them to pit earlier than intended and meant that they didn’t have the fresh tyre advantage over Rosberg and the two stoppers they wanted and needed to cut through the field.

Intense competition in midfield
Quite a few cars in the midfield tried the two stop approach, based on two stints on the medium tyre, with mixed results; the key here was being able to extend the middle stint so as not to leave yourself too many laps at the end on the final set of tyres.

Vettel went for it, to try to get himself up from his lowly 11th grid slot, as did Massa from 12th, Senna from 14th and the two Lotus drivers. Raikkonen started 4th and Grosjean 10th.

It is interesting to compare the results these drivers achieved, all trying to do the same thing. The most stark example of it going wrong is Raikkonen – he fell from 2nd place, with just nine laps to go, to 14th at the finish! Partly this was due to worn tyres after a 28 lap final stint, but he also got off line trying too hard to defend his position from Vettel. His tyres got dirty and this allowed other cars to pass him. He got in a vicious circle; as he defended against them the tyres got dirtier still and all hope was lost.

The reason he found himself in this position was because he pitted too early for his second stop on lap 26. His middle stint was only 16 laps long on the medium tyre so he blinked too early on coming in for the second stop.

Conversely, Senna started on the medium tyre, did a middle stint on his new set of soft tyres, pitted for the second time on lap 29 back to the medium and managed to gain places when the three stoppers made their final stop. Senna’s drive showed how well balanced and competitive the Williams car is this year. He managed to get an 7th place finish. Vettel went from 11th to 5th at the finish, making the most of the strategy by pulling off a long middle stint on medium tyres.

Grosjean drove well, to collect his first points of the season, but it could have been better. He managed to go four laps longer than team mate Raikkonen in the middle stint and this set him up for a great result in 5th place. He was sitting there with 12 laps to go, but made a mistake when fighting Webber and lost three places. He managed to get two of them back, which shows that he still had life left in his tyres, despite them being only three laps fresher than Raikkonen’s.

The UBS Race Strategy Report is written by James Allen with input and data from several F1 team strategists.


The Y axis is the time behind the average laptime line. So, for example, when Rosberg’s curve is going down and away from the zero line it means that he’s doing laptimes slower than the average, and when his curve is going up and towards the zero line it means he’s doing laptimes faster than the average. The coloured lines show the pace of other cars relative to the leader.

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James, No mention of the other Merc of MSC. Was he too fast or was it that only Nico was quick and got a good setup.

Do you think Mercedes will have an advantage when f1 moves to Europe ? Or was this more like a one off positive race from your perspective.


Also no mention of the fact that the Merc of NR had at least one different feature to that of MS - look at the nose, in front of the driver. There is an "old school" f-duct style inlet there on Nico's car, which isn't there on Michael's. Did Nico have the "a" spec vehicle?


I'm looking at three pictures from different angles of Nico's car and can't see this. Do you have a link showing it? The car would not have passed scrutineering with an old school f-duct on. Are you referring to the FIA camera locations at all?


Thanks for the reply and link. Yes it does look rather like the mclaren f-duct blister. I can only assume Nico had a preference for more cooling than Michael. It does look a lot more obvious in this picture than the other shots I can see.


http://images.gizmag.com/inline/mercedes-benz-wins-f1-chinese-gp-113.jpg shows it best I think. On Nico's car, just before the "step" down (where most of the antennas are), and it's clearly absent from Michael's car in the same image.



Great pickup Matt, I noticed too, maybe its blowing a little air under that wing too, but only works at high speed?


Wasn't Button actually winning from bad pit stops? I wonder if ALL pitstops would have worked as planed if he would be third behind Schumacher. If he would have overtaken Schumacher, wouldn't have he lost as much time as in the failed pitstop.

So my guess Button was winning from failed pitstops even it sounds strange.


Looking at Michael's pace I suspect that he would have been a constraint on Button's performance, keeping Nico further out reach. Even with a good third stop Button would have had to pass him - Michael may have even been sacraficed by a few laps to ensure track position at some point.


Great analysis as always, so much to see in the chart, amazin how similar the pace is with all the teams.

Just a minor note, I cant see Pic's trace (pink dotted line)


You can't see Pic because he never got within 250 seconds of the leader. 😛


Agreed, brilliant article James, with a few insights that other sites just do not recognise. A perfect example of this is the idea that KR got into a cycle of defending that ensured his tyres were continually dirty as well as being worn. No one else has picked this up, opting instead just to report on the 'worn tyres' aspect.


It's not rocket science. If you defend in one corner, it puts you at risk for losing your place into the next corner - partially due to dirty tires, partially due to a tight entry into the corner thus hurting your exit, both of which are exacerbated by having worn tires.

It is indeed a great article, but it just goes into a little more detail than the others. The "worn tires" aspect covers it completely, whereas the dirty tires and the vicious cycle of losing place after place (because being passed kills your run out of that corner) just add more detail to the explanation.


[mod] I understand the principle, I was just making the point that JA covers all the bases and pitches his articles to all audiences.

There was no need to explian the principle further in your first paragraph (the article covered it sufficiently) or to explain my own point back to me in your second.



What happened to Kovalainen on lap 28/29?


That's MSC surely?


he had some problems , fell down a few laps as he had to stop in pits. ( problem with rear tire )



Something broke at "the right rear" (by his words) and he had to slowly drive back to the pits (and retire).


He didn't retire.


No explanation of Sauber's lack of race pace, James?

I found it really weird that it "excelled" in the cold conditions on Saturday yet when it was still cool on Sunday, their pace was poor compared to the frontrunners. Obviously Kobayashi didn't have a good start but still you'd expect more from the Saubers in race trim. Did they sacrifice something to help with qualifying?


Good point. Can't figure out how a car that is easy on its tyres can actually excel in cooler conditions. I am not sure even the teams really know how the tyres are going to work from session to session. Starting to make things a little bit'artificial' in my opinion.


This seems to be the operating temp window of the tyres which involves driver input, cornering style, fuel load, air flow, traffic encountered etc as well as the track temp. Ad Ross brawn suggested its not 'cold track versus hot track' it's set up for a narrow window and changes in temp and conditions having a bigger effect than last year.


+1 I am not a fan of these current tyres, far to fickle.


This is one of the most interesting and unpredictable starts to a season that I can remember. Not ony is it difficult to predict the qualifying results, but drivers Q3 positions don't always translate into race pace. It can be difficult to keep up with all the action going on, even with the live timing feed on my laptop, but I would much rather this than some of the bland races we have had in previous years where it was almost impossible to overtake.

In the past we've had forced tyre compound changes, refuelling etc. all designed to aid overtaking and improve the show, but all the teams pretty much did the same strategy so it had little effect.

Pirelli are doing a fantastic job and probably don't get the recognition they deserve.

It was a well earned win for Rosberg and Mercedes, something which I think they desperately needed to satisfy the board.


Oh I see...

So the reason Hammy was able to pit first was simply because his tyres were six laps older and here I was thinking Mclaren had finally changed their way of doing business i.e. Not allowing to pit the second driver on track first even though their tyres are completely worn.

Also interesting that the likes of Ferrari, Mercedes and Sauber work better in the cooler conditions, I guess the weather is going to play it's hand in the proceedings more this year

As for the good form Williams' showing, it just makes Sutil's missed chance at Williams all that much sadder for he would have the perfect revenge after getting the sack at Force India.

Regards the comeback kids (Schuey & Kimi) it appears good fortune has deserted them and the moral of the story here is ---> Do not retire too early

Say, after the Chinese melee in the midfield, I think lots of the midfield runners are going to start gambling on make one less stop with the aim of scoring as many points as possible.

No question about it, China was a near miss but in the future, there are going to be lots of front running pilots finding themselves in a spot of bother as they race that pack = No more blueflags = More shunts with cucumbers.


I think you're misunderstanding McLaren's team rules. If both drivers want to pit on the same lap, then the highest placed driver on the track gets the priority. Driver 2 either has to stack up (which has already happened once this season), or wait until the next lap.

If only one driver needs to pit on a given lap, then there is no conflict.



There's something about Hamilton that just brings out the conspiracy theorists.

Just about every team probably follows this pattern of "leading driver gets priority choice, following driver has to fit in around that", unless it's late in the season with championship positions on the line, or the leading driver is at least a full pitstop ahead of everyone else.

But oh no, if Hamilton is the following driver, sheesh it's some big conspiracy to destroy his race!


Kimi didn't retire, and what has that got to do with their luck in the races anyway?

If you look at the results, you'll see that plenty of people didnt make the two stop strategy work out as Massa, Raikkonen, both Force India's and both Saubers all suffered badly from it. I do think we'll find people trying more creative strategies though.


I think he means retire from F1, as in career. Gross jeans is another comeback kid, and Webber is looking much stronger this year, to lend credence to the theory.


I know what he meant and he still didn't retire, race or career, he was sidelined. I just found it strange that goferet was equating not being in F1 for a couple of years to being unlucky on his return, the two are unrelated.


Maybe he was watching another race!!!!


James, I noticed in CHina GP Merc AMG had a snorkel opening thing on top of their body work at the front, similar to McLaren's f-duct 2 years ago. I tried looking up Formula1.com and found nothing there about the opening thing. Do you know anything about it or where I can find sources?

Thanks James!


Rosberg had the inlet, schumi didnt.

Driver cooling hallegedly


Drivers can have varying cooling ducts - I suspect this was how mclaren came up with the f-duct stalling device originally anyway. Nico's car wouldn't have passed FIA inspection with a 2010 f-duct on it.

As teammates can have different camera positionings, seats, etc I suspect they all prefer different cooling options.


I've spotted this too, but it was only on Nico's car. I've found nothing on t'interweb about this.


One correction James, Senna finished 7th, not 8th. His drive was also brilliant for spending the whole race with a damaged front wing and beating his team mate.


Agreed. It's been great so far seeing what he can do with a more reliable car, and I'm looking forward to seeing how Williams develops it over this season.


Curious as to why the wing wasn't changed? Did Williams have a spare? Surely it takes less than 4 seconds to change it.


I remember a radio message from Williams saying the wing looked fine, but since it was the end plate that was damaged, I bet it was rear downforce that would have been missing.

Front wing changes normally take about 12 seconds, since two guys have to manually lift the front of the car and some one else has to unscrew the nose, put a new one on and then screw it on.


Did you see how close the midfield was this race? 4 seconds was the difference between a decent points finish and being way out of the points.

Even if theoretically changing would have been faster overall, if 4 or 5 cars get past you in that time, you've lost out. Conversely, if the broken wing puts you say 0.2 seconds a lap down, that's probably not enough for the guys behind to pass you, and all you end up doing is ruining someone else's race, which is fine for you.


Thanks, yes spotted and changed that already


"Regards the comeback kids (Schuey & Kimi) it appears good fortune has deserted them and the moral of the story here is —> Do not retire too early" Kimi never really had good fortune...


Except that time he won his WDC...

Matt (the vote counter)

James -

No mention of Alonso's race. What are your thoughts?

At mid-point I thought Alonso had pulled of a conjuring act and managed to get himself a shot at 4th place behind Hamilton.

I was impressed with how he had kept himself in contention.

I think Ferrari made a mistake putting him on the options for the final stint (if I'm right, I think that's what happened), as he found it tough to keep pace with Lewis after the intial out lap and had to risk hanging it out around the outside of Maldonado to get passed, which scuppered his race.

My feeling is that if Ferrari had put Fernando on primes and/or he had been more patient with Maldonado, he could have clung on to Lewis's coat tails and waltzed up to 4th / 5th place, as there was plenty of life in those boots.

The field was so close at the weekend - I don't think Ferrari were very far off having a package capable of beating the Red Bulls in Fernando's hands.

Anyone else have an opinion on this?

By the way, I thought Massa drive a top race too - did much to keep Alonso in it actually!


I have a feeling that Massa holding up all others had actually put Alonso with a chance at 4-6th places. If Lewis and others had been in clear air, they would have been much faster.

I am a Ferrari fan, but don't want to get my expectations up for Bahrain. If they have genuinely made progress, then good for us:)

I felt there was some progress after Q2 but changing conditions in Q3 meant that we couldn't gauge where the car is now in terms of performance relative to the front runners.


Agreed. Massa is getting too much bad press at the moment.


I think Alonso's statement that they could be up to 6th if not for the traffic is realistic.

Although he was top 4 in the first part of the race you would expect the car's performance to fade in the late part as it has done in the previous races. The traffic was a tall order for the car at the end of the race as it did not have the pace to overtake, especially the fast Wiliams cars in front. Alonso's mistake did not help either.

"No comment" for Massa. Just look at the driver standings....


It's woeful - isn't Massa actually the only driver outside of the 'new' teams yet to score a point? How long can Ferrari stand for this?


Unfortunately for Massa, Ferrari have continued with their poor 2nd driver race strategies from 2011... To their credit, it's not about Massa, it's about the order of the cars -- we saw Alonso get awful calls last year early in the season.

What's your take on it James? Massa put a reasonable Q2 lap in and drove a steady race but Ferrari just seem to forget about him -- yes running in 2nd looked good but finishing where he did did? Hmmm. Silverstone last year was another very obvious example of this and it's frustrating to watch!

You can't walk away from Ferrari but I'd love to see him in another car now, possibly at a team that may devote some development work to his driving style?


I agree, they absolutely shaft the 2nd driver in any pitstop strategy, time and time again.

How they think this will ever "inspire" a driver to perform is beyond me. Not to mention any behind the scenes supply of "a" parts and so on.

People say Webber, Vettel, Hamilton etc should go there. I think ANY driver (unless on the final career decline) would be making career suicide by moving to Ferarri.

How can the team not see this?

Hopefully this is another aspect Mr Fry will be resolving.


ferrari capable of beating red bull??

-- but RB are looking like the 5th best team at the mo!!


James was Alonso's race compromised with having to follow a 3 stop strategy due to using all softs in qualifying?

Because I think they should have gone for a two stopper, or three with O/P/P/P as Matt said.


The strategy from Mercedes seems even more brave and 'Brawn-like' after reading this analysis!

2012 is shaping up just nicely if you ask me ...


I still struggle to understand this graph...if the zero line is the average lap time of the winner (Rosberg), then why are almost all of his laptimes lower on the graph than his average speed? At some point, he must have had some laps that were above the zero line, otherwise its not his average?


His curve is his cumulative race time (relative to the zero line) not actual lap time data points. The curve is summing his lap times as the race progresses. When the curve is climbing, he's setting lap times faster than the zero (mean) line.


I struggle with this myself! Another way to think about it - consider what a graph of the race winner's actual lap times would be - a steady downward slope. As the eventual winner's lap times get quicker and quicker, this continually improves the eventual race average time. Therefore, the winner cannot 'achieve' the average until he crosses the finish line for the last time.


Nope...you've still lost me! If the laptimes are varying throughout the race, the average would be somewhere in between the fastest and the slowest. But every single laptime Rosberg did, according to the graph, is slower (or faster, depending on what a negative time difference is) than his average. The average by definition is somewhere in the middle...


You're right, the average lap time is between the slowest and the fastest (which will sit well with your degree!). But the graph shows a CUMULATIVE lap time difference to the winners average. If the graph showed INSTANTANEOUS lap time differences to the winner's average then you'd see the traces above and below the zero-line. By the time Rosberg starts lapping faster than average (generally in the last stint when he's lighter), he's ACCUMULATED a large deficit of slower lap times (especially the pit-stop laps).


To be fair though, there's been more than enough well written explanation from people that you should be able to understand it by now, especially with a maths degree! I think many didn't quite get it at first glance, but it isn't that hard once realise it's not showing lap times.


Er, I'm not sure this is about education! I have a maths A level, a further maths A level, and a maths degree, but that education doesn't imply that I automatically understand every graph I ever look at!


And this is why the world needs better math education.


The key word here is "cumulative"


The graph doesn't show lap times! If you pick any lap (except the first) a data point for that lap is not saying they were x seconds slower than the winner's average on that lap! It's effectively showing a drivers current race time but it's shown relative to a datum.


Pete, it's not showing average times. It's NOT showing average times.

You know how in the race, FOM shows the gap between drivers in seconds? If someone is catching the driver in front, that gap gets smaller. THAT'S what the graph is showing.

Imagine watching a race between, say, "Actual Rosberg" and his ghost car which drives at the same pace every lap. At the beginning, Actual Rosberg goes more slowly, so he falls BEHIND the ghost car, and the gap steadily increases. The Ghost car is leading the race.

Later on in the race, Actual Rosberg's car is now lighter, and so he is lapping more quickly, faster than the average lap time. He is still BEHIND the ghost car, but is catching up, so the gap is now getting smaller.

They must finish exactly together, as they have the same overall race time. So when does Actual Rosberg catch the ghost car? On the very last corner of the last lap. (In theory, he could overtake the ghost car earlier, and then do a very slow last lap, in which case, the graph would rise above zero, but they must finish together.) Hope this helps!


the graph plots the accumulated lap time up to every lap, not just every lap.

Take Rosberg's line for example, when it goes down, it means for that lap, he was slower than his average, when it goes up, it means the opposite.


I agree, I also can't understand exactly what is being shown. The vertical axis is labelled "time difference", so James' statement that "the Zero line shows the winner’s average lap speed" is clearly not correct. This line must be showing a zero time difference (unless the vertical axis is incorrectly labelled).

James, could you please help us out here by explaining how the time differences are calculated for each car, including the winner?



I've changed the explanatory note


thank heavens. I hope you keep the explanation for future races because this always causes confusion - and confused me at first tbh. It is a really helpful graph when you understand it though. Thanks for the sterling work James.


I struggled witht this too for awhile. Think of it as the cumulative delta time to Rosberg's average time. Consider just Rosberg's trace: at the start of the race, he is fat with fuel and his laps are slower than his average. His trace drifts down from the 0-line (which represents his average). The pit stop laps are dramatically slower, and add a lot to the delta. At the end of the race, he's light on fuel and his lap times are faster than average, so his trace starts to drift up towards the 0-line. By definition, his trace has to land back on the 0-line at the end of the graph. Other drivers will simply show their own delta relative to this.

Hope that helps.


The lines themselves are the accumulative time.

Let's say for example, that lap 1 was 25 seconds slower than the average, and the lap 2 was 21 seconds slower than the average. The graph would slow -25 after lap 1, and -46 after lap 2.

When the line is going down, then the lap time is more than average (i.e. slower), and when it is going up it is less than the average time (i.e. faster).

Hope that makes sense.


Think of it as the position of an imaginary car that is turning lap times that are exactly equal to the winner's average lap time. Each driver initially loses ground (hence the downward slope) to the imaginary driver, but as the fuel load drops, they start to gain ground (upward slope).

So if the average lap time was 1m30, then at the start of the race on full fuel, the leader would only be turning 1m34's or so, and would fall back. By the end, he would be turning 1m26's, and would be catching up. Each after he starts turning laps faster than average, his line on the graph would stop falling down and would start to rise up.

A race with rain starting mid-race would provide a significantly different result. It could actually look like the opposite of the above graph, as the lead driver would be racing away from the imaginary average-lap driver since he's in the dry, but the imaginary driver would catch up when the rain starts to fall.

Does that help?


Presumably because his average race speed must include the time spent stationary during pitstops ?


Yes and the early laps when he's got a heavy car that is 6 seconds slower than when it's light


The zero line is isn't the average lap *time* of the winner, it represents the *position* of an imaginary car that does the average lap time of the winner for every lap of the race. That's why Rosberg (the winner) starts and ends on that line. All the driver's lines then represent how far behind this imaginary car they are, in seconds. To just use Rosberg as an example, he starts to fall behind the imaginary car until about 2/3 of the way through the race as he's doing lap times slower than his average, and then catches it up again towards the end when he is doing lap times faster than his average.

Hope that helps 🙂



The 0 line represents the relation to the winner's time. So let's say that a race took 10 minutes and there were 5 laps, so each lap for the winner averaged 2 minutes. The downward slope of a driver's line indicates that he is lapping slower than 2 minutes per lap. A level line indicates running at 2 minutes per lap. An upward slope indicates running faster than 2 minutes per lap. The line for the winner will then come back to the 0 point at the end of the race because he finishes at a given time, in this example 10 minutes and everyone else is behind that by a certain time.

Hope that helps.


I concer.


was in the middle of a long explanation before it all disappeared. so I hope this will make do: the graph shows how far each driver is behind a theoretical car doing the average lap time for the whole race. Lines diverge when the divers are slower than average and converge when they are faster than average.


The 0 line is the total time taken/the number of laps for the leader

The leaders driver line is how much longer/shorter his race has been relatve to where he should be given the total time taken.

EG - say it takes 2 hours to complete 60 laps, that's an average lap time of 2 minutes

It's all on the angle of the line - first stint, it's tilted downwards, so he's taking longer to complete each lap than the average lap time (eg, if it's taking 2 mins 1 secs to complete each lap. then after 10 laps, he's 10 seconds behind where he should be).

He then pits, and that puts him a further 20 seconds behind.

Rosbergs 2nd stint has a fairly flat line - i.e. he's lapping at around the average lap time (i.e.2 mins) - he doesn't lose more time, but doesn't gain much either. He then pits again putting him a further 20 seconds back.

The final stint has a line angled upwards - i.e he's going much faster than the average lap time (say a 1 min 55). He's still below the 0 line though because he's 50 seconds behind after this pit stop than where he would be if he'd constantly lapped at 2mins per lap and never pitted. By the end of the race, his quicker laps therefore 'catch him up' to the 0 line.

In conclusion:

- negative gradient line = slower than average lap speed

- neutral gradient (flat) = at average lap speed

- positive gradient = faster than average lap speed.

- big drops = pit stops/problems/safety cars.


When the drivers line moves down away from the zero line this means the lap was above average time.

When the drivers line moves up towards the zero line this lap was below the average time.

Hope this helps.


The graph is not showing speed. It is showing the difference in seconds from datum zero, the zero line is the position in time (seconds) of an imaginary "datum car" running the race at constant speed equal to the average speed of the winner, and the other lines show the delta between a real race car and the datum car.


Erm, given that the zero lap time coincides, with a 0 time difference, with Rosberg's average lap time at the end of the race, the graph is right, and your logic is wrong. The simple explanation is that his lap times started off slower and became (generally) quicker as the race progressed, presumably as a result of burning fuel.


It is the difference to where he would have been had he driven the whole race at average lap time speed.

For example: average lap time is 1:40 then after 5 laps the time elapsed would be 8 minutes. But as with high fuel load at the beginning he is driving slower than average so falls behind where he would have been had he driven the whole race at average lap time speed and catches up starting around the middle of the race when he is starting to lap faster than the average lap time.


I had trouble with the graph after the last race.

The racers curves aren't actually their lap times but how far behind a car moving at the winners average speed they would be at that lap.

So if the lines gradient is pointing down they are going slower and if it is upward they are going faster.

The average car doesn't need to pit so the real cars are left behind while they change tyres.

If you look at Rosberg's line he is slightly slower in the first stint, slightly faster in the second and much faster in the final.

Button's curve is similar but lost more time in the pits than he gained from driving with fresher tyres.


"if the zero line is the average lap time of the winner"

It's not. It's the difference from the winner's average lap time.

When the line is sloping downward, the driver is slower than the winner's average lap time.

When the graph is sloping upward they are faster than the winners average lap time.

Thus the winners line goes down the same amount as it goes up. (Starting and ending at zero.) And everyone else's goes down a little bit more than it goes up.


Well spotted.


The way I visualise it is imagine the black line is "ghost" car running at the winners average laptime. It sets off faster to start with as the real cars are full of fuel and then the winner gradually reels it in through the race to cross the line at the same point.

double eyepatch

That's a wrong interpretation. When he laps faster than the winners average pace he catches up to the zero line, not go above it.

Imagine that the zero line is an actual car that finished in the same race time as the winner Rosberg. His race strategy was to never take a pit stop and keeps lapping the exact lap time for 57 laps (1:43.388). He doesn't get bogged down by a heavy fuel load so he gets away from the Rosberg at the beginning and doesn't lose time from pitting. Later thoigh Rosberg eventually gets a faster pace than that 1:43.388 the 'leader' does, but its a matter of catching up to him, not getting ahead of him.


My thought as well.


Where a drivers plot line moves away from the race average (in a negative direction) he is doing laps that are shown by the end of the race to be slower than his average lap time. When the drivers plot line moves towards the race average then he is doing a time faster than the race avaerage.

The plot line generally stays below the race avaerage given the fact that cars are slower at the start, have slow laps due to pit stops etc.

A late safety car may show some of the leaders going above the line for a period just before its deployment.

The more I write the less I feel I'm helping.


It's disappointing that Button did not fully capitalise on Hamilton's 5 place penalty and take the win.

It's times like these Button will need to take advantage vs Hamilton. Hamilton is too quick on a Saturday, will be difficult to overtake on track on Sunday, and will therefore get the 2nd best strategy, i.e. no undercut.

It wasn't the pitstop that hurt button, but being too slow in qualifying at P5 on Saturday. Had he qualified say P3 then he would have benefit from Hamilton's poor luck and start in P2 and therefore out of traffic. The timing in Q3 was not ideal, but again, thats because he only had a single soft tyre set left so was forced into it because he needed 2 goes in Q2, against because he wasn't quick enough and uncomfortable with the initial time.


Great Race, bad luck for Michael. I have followed Schumacher since his Benaton days. I hope to see him on the podium this year. What is happening to Vettal? Congratulations to Nico he deserved the win.


James, if we are going to keep such a competitive field this season that graph is going to have to be broken out into seperate graphs for the top of the field or come up with a way you can select which lines to display so that you can see the details. Too many laid right on top of one another. You should be happy to make this change as it means F1 is enjoying an outstanding season!


It would be good to be able to select individual drivers to compare them with a couple of others without the tangled mess of every car being represented at once.


A really interesting season in prospect. These tyres have neutred the aero advantage of big teams and compressed the pack. I read a Christian Horner quote somewhere saying laptimes are within in 3% and there's no way the different teams are within 3% in terms of downforce levels. This is GOOD!! If we can keep the swing toward mechanical grip over aero derived grip F1 will be a better spectacle.


Also, would it be possible to make the race history graph interactive? By which I mean could the trace for each driver be switched on and off so you can view a selection of cars at a time? The detail particuarly around the early part of the race is very difficult to make out.


I'm sure it would. I don't know how to do it for a website but I have a version of this in Excel and am adding a driver on/off trace feature so you can just look at what interests you. (All with macros and the like.)


It is worrying that the mclarens couldn't get the time out the of medium tyre as this seemed to be a durable tyre. James, do you think this is track specific or a real concern for other races?


Imagine a dog race with a target rabbit at constant average speed. With cars getting lighter with race time and pit stops throwing the car dogs back every time, the rabbit is normally always in lead.

But imagine a sunny race start for 10 rounds, and then heavy rain for the rest. The first 10 rounds will be faster than average speed and the line is above the average line for the first 10+x rounds,

Savety can bring the line above average too. So only constant weather and no savety car can have significant knowledge from the graph i think


there's lots of articles attributing Rosberg's victory to the "double DRS" effect on the Mercedes - but that's a help for qualifying - in the race when leading from the front most of that advantage is gone apart from when lapping the odd car.


Not quite true. It may give them a setup advantage for the race, because they won't need to compromise the setup toward quali performance as much as others do.


Yes the double DRS was not an advantage in the race but his pole position allowed him

Clean air which prevented his tyres degrading so I suppose in a roundabout way it did benefit. I suppose this was a very vettelesque victory - massive pole lead, build a lead early in the race, avoid overtakes, cruise home once the chaos dies down. I mean that in the most complimentary way. I expected to see a young German driver doing that a lot this year just thought his initials would be SV not NR!


yes, but it seems to be crucial to be running in clear air to preserve tyres. Rosberg was the only driver able to do this because he could maximise the DDRS in qualifying. All credit mind, he put in a stunning lap and earned that clear air.


Couldn't agreed more- this seems to have been overlooked by almost everyone! Myself included. Roll on Sunday!


One of the best races I've ever seen, seeing 12 or more cars fighting it out so close together just laps from the end was brilliant as some strategies unravelled and others succeeded. Mclaren and Williams seemed to gain the most from their strategies in my eyes. Williams possibly the big surprise of the season so far, the car seems very consistent over a stint on any tyre.


Hi James,

I have a long term question for you to look into with any engineering contacts that you have.

In the Bridgestone and Michelin days total downforce levels dominated as the tyres seemed able to cope with the additional load without degrading. Now maximum downforce is important for qualifying, but the extra load on the tyres compromises the race through increased wear. We saw this a lot last year with Red Bull in qualifying having a large edge, but not in the races and similarly with McLaren this year - Melbourne being the clearest example.

So, to my question, are the aerodynamicists now favouring efficiency in terms of maximising the lift to drag ratio, as opposed to total downforce (more "points")? It strikes me that the Williams is probably quite efficient, but it probably lacks total downforce compared to the top teams.

A secondary question on gearing - at least in China, and possibly Malaysia, it seems that the teams are gearing the cars on performance such that the top speed using KERS only is similar to the top speed with DRS. Now slipstreaming plays a part, so using KERS at the start of the straight also helps break the tow, and the 6.7s boost only covers about half the length of the straight at Shanghai, but the teams seem to have reached a stalemate.

It was interesting to note that the Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari all noted they were too slow on the straights. They were just about the same in the speed traps in qualifying, so are at a similar performance level.

Finally, given your Defence against bias on this site, did you, or would you accept an ice cream from Kimi? I heard he was giving them out to journalists in Malaysia. I'm sure all those journalists are now corrupted 🙂




Here is the answer you were looking for, from one of the top engineers in F1:

Downforce levels
Unless you reach the point where you start to physically damage the tyre with vertical load (F1 is not at that point), more downforce is always better. However, increasing downforce does increase the ability to brake, corner and accelerate harder, so all of the longitudinal and lateral forces on the tyre increase. The car then produces faster laptimes and more energy must have been put into the tyre. Yes, this can increase wear rates too. There is also a tyre thermal effect that is a more complex discussion, but again, more downforce is still better!

To answer the specific question, aerodynamicists have always prioritised total downforce AND efficiency to maximise the lift to drag ratio. It is not in a different proportion now compared to the tyre wars.

DRS is about 18kph and KERS is about 8kph. Most teams will gear for about 85% of their DRS effect, so about 15kph. It’s always a compromise between qualifying and race performance and DRS authority and how flat the engine power curve is between 15,000rpm and 18,000rpm (flatter the curve, the more you can gear towards using all of DRS). Last year and for the first two races of 2012 Red Bull really undergeared for DRS because they strategised on not having to overtake other cars – so they sat on the limiter in qualifying but then had optimum revs for the race on full tanks and older tyres. They changed their approach in Shanghai this year and geared more typically. So it will be interesting to see what they do in Bahrain....


Good points!


I'll put that to a couple of engineers and see what they come back with.

I wasn't in the media centre when the ice creams came around. I'm fond of Magnums so would certainly have accepted one, and enjoyed it!!


Another great report James, it really does tell the complete story!

I was curious what your thoughts are on Schumacher's pace on Sunday in contrast to Rosberg prior to his demise.

Was the sizeable gap by the time Schumacher pitted purely to do with conditions being more to Nico's liking, was he having to work harder to conserve his tyres, or was Michael simply holding station?

And where do you think Michael would have finished if not for his retirement?

I have a feeling that Mercedes will be up there next weekend, certainly still the team taking it to McLaren, but come Sunday, third place, perhaps second at best will be where they're at, purely due to humidity.

It would be easy to get carried away after China, but we still haven't seen conclusive evidence that they can handle warmer conditions.



Sorry I'm not James but I do recall Ross Brawn suggesting Nico being in clear air protected his tyres and Schumacher in his wake was forced to accept greater tyre wear immediately.

Having clear air to run seems even more important to the '12 pirellis so far.


THat is very true. Also another reason why Kimi hit problems


I think McLaren got their strategy wrong with Lewis, knowing that his tyres were already 6 laps old at the start.

They should have done what Red Bull did with Webber, and brought him in on lap 5 or 6 and changed him to the medium compound tyres for a longer stint.

That would have put Lewis in mostly clear air, and with just a few slower back markers to get past. it worked for Webber as by lap 17 he was well up with the leaders.


What's interesting and funny is watching the bits of the race weekend back, pre-race show, practice sessions etc, and listening to everyone and I mean everyone saying the Mercedes would be (relatively) no where in the race.

I recall a tweet read out in the practice sessions asking how, with the colder temperatures do the guys think if the Mercedes would actually be ok and be competitive? And the answer was no, it's all about McLaren!

Then at the end of P3 there was the evidence when Schumacher went out on heavy fuel did a quali lap then his engineer was told him on the radio to carry on and keep pushing and not let up the pace. That was the clue but as James said above, it seems no one paid much attention into that, instead getting excited by Hamilton's flying laps. All hindsight of course, but it seems there the evidence was there, like some Poirot tale... or something!

Surely it'll be McLaren this weekend though...


The zero line is the average laptime. Rosbergs line is his culminative time in comparison to the average. Obviously they are going slower than the average time at the start of the race when they have more fuel but, as that burns off, their get faster than the average time bringing their culminative time closer to zero until on the final lap, the leader hits zero. It also explains when the time can be above the zero line and then a safety car comes out, slows the field and their culminative times goes back down towards and even below the zero


James, you say that Grosjean only did 3 more laps than Kimi in the last stint. However, what everyone universally has seemed to ignore is that Lotus put Kimi on a set of USED medium tyres for that final stint. People like Bruno was coming home on a set of FRESH medium tyres. That was the key mistake that Lotus Renault made. It would be good if during the race we could be told what set of tyres (whether fresh or used) a driver is in.

Also, when watching a race without live timing it was very difficult to follow what was going on because the onscreen graphics does not show how far away each driver is from the leader. Why does Formula One Management use STUPID INTERVAL GAPS. If they used ABSOLUTE GAPS from the leader (which they always used to do before a couple of seasons ago) then it is easy to follow. [mod]. Thanks.

With stupid interval gaps one cannot work out for instance how far Lewis or Jenson was from Rosberg, and whether they were closing in. [mod]


I have to agree with the comment about interval times. Much as I hate to admit it Fox Nascar coverage is light years ahead of F1 for race information


Kimi had no new tyres left. His mistake was coming in too soon for 2nd stop on the only new set he had, which could have been expected to last longer.


Hi James, so it was Kimi's call to pit too early for third stint?


Cheers for the reply James. Sorry my comment had to be modded. Perhaps if I can please elaborate. Firstly on the Kimi point. Of course Kimi had no new tyres remaining. But that is a key point, many people have said Kimi used his tyres too roughly and that other people like Romain were better at managing their tyres. That's a lot easier to do with a fresh set than a used set. And yes, you're absolutely right, Kimi came in too soon for his final stint OR alternatively he could have came in for a final stint on softs.

Now with the interval display on the television coverage. One critical thing throughout the race was to monitor whether Lewis, Jenson or Mark could challenge Nico for the victory. When drivers like Lewis are back in like position 5 or 7 or 10 or whatever it is important to know their relative interval to the leader (Nico) or other drivers like say Jenson. Now, if we have absolute margins we could get say:

P1 Nico

P2 Kimi +14.2

P3 Seb +18.5

P4 Jenson +19.9

Here this tells us a lot of information. We can easily see that Jenson is about 20 seconds off the lead, and that Jenson is right behind Seb, we can also see that Jenson is 5.7 seconds behind Kimi further up the road.

Unfortunately some "bright spark" at Formula One Management has decided to do intervals for each driver so it becomes:


Kimi +14.2

Seb +4.3

Jenson +1.4

Now, it is a lot harder to work out whether Jenson is gaining time on Nico or Kimi, etc. Now think if Lewis has just about to have a pitstop and we need to workout if there is a gap for him to drop into. With absolutes we can clearly see what is going on in with everyone in the entire race.

With the stupid interval system which FOM does most of the time, it is very difficult to follow the race.

Therefore James, please pass on the message to stop using interval gaps and change it to show the absolute gap to the leader.



NASCAR does absolute gaps.


I'll discuss it with the TV director

Adrian Newey Jnr

James - I think perhaps his engineer was gambling on the tyres lasting as that seems to have been a trend this season, especially given the cooler conditions. If Kimi had not been under pressure he may have been able to work on make his tyres last rather than having to defend his position.


thats a dull comment from Adrian newey~~ No driver can manage used medium tyres for 28 laps..as easy as that`!! THumbs up for him holding that train of cars for so long


I think Ferrari and Red Bull come-back strongly after final Mugello testing.

2012 F1 testing calendar - http://www.formula1onlive.com/2011/12/f1-2012-pre-season-testing-calendar.html


Isnt everyone going to this test or am I missing something?


It's great to see more teams in the mix at the top. This looks to be a very unpredictable year.

To me, the biggest disappointment is the Caterham team. I was really hoping they would take the next step and fight with the midfield teams...at the very least, challenge the lower end of the midfield. Instead, they seem mired where they have been...the best of the new teams.


I was sad to see this too but it's probably exaggerated by the fact that Williams, toro Rosso, sauber etc all improved a lot this year. Caterham might have been fighting a Williams like the '11 version, but it seems the '12 cars midfield all stepped up faster than caterham could.


Very good summary James and thank you for that.

Well, I would not mind if we see more of the same over the next races. Have not just a fourth different driver but a fourth team win the next race, would start to feel like we may have an exceptional season in the making.

I hope to see more of the race leaders having to work through the field to earn their points after each pitstop. Best if it includes first place still, unlike China.

I feel right now Mc.Laren is above the rest but were unlucky or else so far safe for Melbourne. Not that their results are anything bad it has to be said, but I sense that it could as easily be three races, three wins. Don't want to get the Mc.Laren fans on my back (Surely many of you here.) but I am glad that it is so. Over the years & maybe be more so over the last 30 years, we have had many season dominate by one team. Too many I would say. I understand that a particular team fan would enjoy seeing his pick blow everyone else away on the track. Just a downer for the other fans. A season for all seasons is what we want. If Mc.Laren happens to win such a season on the last corner of the last race sort of finish, it would be that much more rewarding to you their fan anyways.

We can always dream no?



As a massive McLaren fan I'm personally happy they are strong enough to compete for a championship this year and it won't be a red bull runaway but I'm so glad it's going to be close. I'd still support mclaren whether they were destroying everyone or even losing badly but I'd always prefer a close, unpredictable season.

I doubt I was the only mclaren fan cheering nico on to his maiden victory.

Tornillo Amarillo

Great analysis anc graphic!

Maybe Brawn has also something to show in the next warmer race, maybe he is on top of tyre management now.


/me waits for the usual crowd of "this aint car racing it's tire racing" ppl to chime in.


Pete I struggled too.

The line for each car shows where the car would be relative to a car lapping at rosbergs average lap time measured over whole race.

So at the start rosberg is lapping slower than his average and falls behind. At the end his pace is above his average And he catches up at the line!


I've written an easier to understand explanation of the graph and the zero line


Steve's explanation - and James your updated explanation - now make it make sense to me! Its blindingly obvious to me now! Thank you 🙂


Great analysis James. I love seeing Michael and Kimi be competitive. Kimi really is wringing everything out of the Lotus and, considering he has been away for a few years, is right up to speed. Given time, he and the team will start scoring points as the Lotus seems to have real pace.

Thanks for the insights James. I really enjoy your site.


Thanks again for such brilliant post race analysis. Without wanting to sound like the proverbial spoilt child, do you think in the future it would be possible to produce these graphs so users could select individual drivers to compare or allow zooming on sections that have a lot of clutter?

Also, I think Charles Pic is missing?!

Cheers James!!


I'm looking into that. These graphs are kindly provided to me by one of the teams.


I hope it's not Marussia!


Yes, as I posted earlier, that would be good. I made my own version of this in Excel (yes I do have a life as well!) and nearly finished adding a select drivers' trace feature. It's nice! Just don't know how to link that to an interactive web app! 🙁


Which ever team is doing that, thank you! It is really appreciated!


I had wondered about the tyres Hamilton qualified on - DC mentioned that they were 'scrubbed' in the BC TV commentary.

Thanks for making it clear in an excellent article.

Do you think more drivers are going to try a single Q3 run in Bahrain, James ?

The race pace benefits of a new set of options are very clear from your strategy calculator. New options are faster than new primes (& last just as long), and new primes are faster than used options.


James, I also think that Mercedes saved its tyres during the qualifyings, whereas, the McLarens, Hamilton in particular was out there making unnecessary/unwise challenge in Q2 and Q3. Rosberg's drive was not flawless, as he went outside the track at some point, he deserved the win, though. Why is Hamilton's start lately not as good as Button's?


Im looking forward to Bahrain after this race. While I dont think Mercedes will be on the pace. We should see another mixed up muddled up order which is sure to keep the Championship exciting!

Hopefully Webber has a screamer and beats Vettel again.


Hopefully a couple of more wins for Rosberg.

But for Bahrain would like to see another winner. Will be great to have 4 different winners for the first four races before we return to Europe.

Are you already in Bahrain James?

Adrian Newey Jnr

James - have you got any thoughts on where Williams would be if they had more experienced drivers?


I almost throw my pint glass to the TV in the bar, I was sooo upset and still upset about this race.


Schumacher seems to have such rotten luck at the moment, that I can't help thinking it might be something to do with this:


I'm a schumacher fan, by the way. Can't wait for the old giant to finally be up on that podium.


"...sins of my youth.."

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