How Maldonado won while Lotus and McLaren lost the Spanish Grand Prix
Strategy Report
Posted By: James Allen  |  15 May 2012   |  2:40 pm GMT  |  179 comments

The Spanish Grand Prix was a perfect example of how a race can be won or lost on the finest of margins and on a good or bad strategy decision. Pastor Maldonado beat Fernando Alonso and won the race for Williams due to planning and to a good strategy call half the way through the race, while Lotus’ Kimi Raikkonen again had the car to win, but was a fraction off due to race strategy and conditions and he ended up third.

There were several key moments and decisions which decided the outcome of this race. The main one was the early second stop of Maldonado. But there was another before the race had even begun and it eliminated the favourite for the race win.

Hamilton’s race to lose
Lewis Hamilton should have won this race comfortably for McLaren, with a 0.6second per lap car advantage. But a mistake by the McLaren team when he did his final run in qualifying ruined his chances.

Due to a refuelling error, Hamilton’s car did not have enough fuel in it to complete the lap and be legal at the end. Team boss Martin Whitmarsh has since admitted that he should have told Lewis Hamilton to abandon his hot lap, as the team had realised by then that it had not put enough fuel in his car. Had he done this Hamilton would have started the race from 6th place, with a time set earlier in Q3. Instead McLaren did not act, Hamilton completed the lap, switched the engine off and then the team tried to argue force majeur for the error. The FIA Stewards sent him to the back of the grid from where 8th was the best result achievable.

Hamilton made up four places at the start from 24th on the grid and managed to get his tyres to last 14 laps in the first stint, the longest of any front-runner. He had climbed to fourth place when he stopped and rejoined in 14th place. He made his way through the field with a combination of overtakes and a two stop strategy which meant he did 21 laps on his second set of tyres and 31 on the final set, both of which were the hard compound. He lost time in the second stint behind Massa, otherwise a better result might have been possible. He got ahead of Massa when the Brazilian served a drive-through penalty on lap 29 for using DRS in a yellow flag zone.

By extending the stints, Hamilton was able to make up places when the three stoppers made their final stop and he kept the tyres alive for 31 laps, losing only one place at the end to Vettel and almost getting one back from Rosberg. It was a fine drive, but he and McLaren know that his first win of the season was there for the taking this weekend, had they made a different decision in the heat of the moment in qualifying.

Getting the planning right
On Friday practice, with track temperatures above 40 degrees, the soft tyre was working well as a race tyre. However expectation before the weekend was that the temperatures would be lower on race day than the rest of the weekend.

This led some teams to plan to save three new sets of hard tyres for the race, as these have a lower working temperature range than the softs and would therefore come into their own in those conditions. This turned out to be the correct thing to do; the track was at 44 degrees on Saturday and this dropped to 32 degrees on Sunday and the hard was the faster tyre. Williams and Maldonado did this, Ferrari had only two new sets for Alonso. Red Bull were also one of the teams to save three sets.

However the plan didn’t quite work out for them as they didn’t have the pace in qualifying or the race. Sebastian Vettel was forced to use up all his soft tyres just to get through into the final part of qualifying. This meant that he had no new sets of softs for a run in Q3 and was only 8th on the grid. Both cars required a front wing change during the race, the team combined it with a tyre stop but it wasn’t ideal timing tactically. Vettel also had a drive through penalty so he did well to finish ahead of the McLarens in 6th place.

Maldonado beats Alonso through strategy

The cars are so close together this year, winning is all about getting out the front of the pack early on, as Vettel did in Bahrain and Rosberg did in China.

The race was again fought out between the two cars on the front row of the grid. However Spain was only the second time in five races (the other was Malaysia) where the car leading the first lap did not go on to win the race. This was all down to strategy. Williams believed that they had a pace advantage over Ferrari and expected the challenge for the win to come from Lotus. However they knew they were vulnerable to Alonso’s excellent starts. Maldonado duly lost the start to the Ferrari driver and then Alonso had enough pace in the opening two stints of the race that Maldonado wasn’t able to get close enough to attack.

Importantly, however, the Williams had better tyre life at the end of the stints and at the end of the second stint, Maldonado closed up on Alonso, from over three seconds to half of that. Williams pitted him two laps before Alonso for the second stop and Ferrari allowed their driver to stay out and run into slower traffic. This is something they have allowed to happen before.

The call to try the undercut (pitting earlier than opponent and using pace of new tyres to get ahead when he stops) was made by Williams’ head of strategy Mark Barnett. He brought Maldonado in on lap 24 when he was 1.5 seconds behind Alonso. Having saved the sets of new hard tyres, Barnett calculated that he would then have the tyre life to do 42 laps with one more stop to make without losing pace at the end.

It was brilliantly executed; his in-lap was 0.4s faster than Alonso’s, the stop was only 0.2secs slower than Ferrari’s, but crucially on new hard tyres his out-lap was 2.6 seconds faster and the first flying lap was also a second faster. With Alonso losing time behind Pic, Maldonado had done enough to take the lead from the Ferrari when it stopped to laps later than the Williams

However as Alonso pushed hard in his wake to stay with him in the final stint, we got a graphic example of how following another car speeds up the degradation of the tyres, Alonso wasn’t able to stay with Maldonado until the end, as the degradation caused by running in traffic was more severe than running in clear air. Alonso’s tyres had done three laps in qualifying, so were the same age more or less as Maldonado’s.

Lotus and McLaren – what might have been

Although they had the fastest car in race practice simulations on Friday afternoon, were third and fourth on the grid and set the fastest lap of the race on Sunday by over a second, Lotus didn’t win. Why not?

Temperature has something to do with it; the drop to 32 degrees on race day took the edge off their speed (so fine are the margins now!). They also made a strategy mistake at the first stop, putting the cars onto a set of used soft tyres, rather than the hards. They pushed the stints out to make sure they’d have a chance at the end. As the temperatures rose towards the end of the race we got to see what the Lotus could do. The Lotus set the fastest lap of the race, over a second faster than the nearest car. Raikkonen’s final stint was 18 laps, Alonso’s 23 laps, Maldonado’s 25 laps. Alonso was vulnerable to attack from Raikkonen in the final laps, but he ran out of laps. Perhaps if he’d stopped one lap earlier he would have passed Alonso for second at the end.

Starts are a vital part of race strategy and we saw the experience of Raikkonen over the nervousness of Grosjean at the start. Although the younger man was ahead on the grid, Raikkonen was ahead in the opening lap and Grosjean fell behind Rosberg, whose pace was much slower and so held him up. The Frenchman lost 8 seconds in the first 9 laps. Worse still, Mercedes pitted Rosberg first as a defensive move and he stayed ahead in the second stint, so Grosjean had to pass him on track.

The first win for Lotus this year is surely not far away.


This is the Race History chart from the Spanish GP, kindly provided by Williams F1 Team. The chart’s main use is to show track position and also gaps between cars. The zero line is best viewed as a “ghost” car which is setting the average lap time of the winner (his race time divided by 66 laps) and you can see how the lap times evolve relative to it. Note Lotus’ pace relative to the leaders in the final stint, for example, when the temperatures went up and they set the fastest lap of the race.

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so you mention temperature in this article having cited it as a key differentiating factor in performance.

Mark Hughes in a column on sky sports also talked about the massive influence temperature is having.

We now have fluctuating track temperature as arguably the single biggest cause for swings in performance between teams.

How can you then support the pirelli tyres, and say that the team who wins are ones that do the best job?

Its arguably more of a lottery because no one can predict what the weather is going to be like on a Sunday at 1pm. Its akin to just randomly applying ballast to a team, picked out a hat.

The only argument you could make is that the teams then have to build a car that works the tyres in a wider operating window.

But then building and designing the car starts way back the previous year, they couldnt possibly have factored the nature of these pirellis in, and now air temperature is defining their performance on the day.

None of this is conducive to a well rounded championship finish. What happens if we go into the last round with 6 drivers all with a chance of winning it, and due to a step up in track temperature, Williams outperforms others and Maldonado wins the championship. Did he win on merit?


Well first of all I’m not supporting Pirelli tyres; I agree that there is too much about tyres at the moment. They dominate the conversations and the commentaries.

However there are a lot of misconceptions out there. In Bridgestone and Michelin days temperature fluctuations had an effect. But these things are a lot more sensitive for sure.

Don’t forget however that you have some teams that aren’t getting the results at the moment, who are blaming the tyres. You can draw your own conclusions.

Let’s not forget that Red Bull won the titles last year on Pirelli tyres, which degraded faster than these ones….


Last year I did not hear this word “thermal degradation” that much (or perhaps never). Did you mean actually the wear of the tires was more last year?

I think the physical wear was more last year than this year, but thermal degradation is entirely new this year and surprisingly not many teams could foresee it in pre-season testing!

I do agree that we have given up all discussion on other components of car and onyl tyres are the focus for all season.

Every year, some technology is the focus – for example double diffusers last 2 years etc. Whichever car has mastered that tech, usually runs away ahead. This year no one has mastered the tyres (or as the original post put it, it was not foreseen during the design). No other tech is in focus. So no one can really run away with the Championship. So what is wrong with this situation? If it was OK with some specific tech to decide a Championship, the same holds true for tires also as it is also a piece of the car after all!



Since the time Lewis was penalised for stopping on track at the end of qualifying and made to start at the back, I’ve been wondering why the same rule doesn’t apply at the end of the race. We’ve seen several drivers pull over at the end of the pitlane (including after winning the race) owing to a lack of fuel as explained by the BBC commentators and the drivers themselves in post race interviews (e.g. “the race pace was higher than we anticipated”, etc.). Why haven’t a single one of them been penalised? Isn’t the FIA interested in getting a fuel sample post-race for the same reasons as post-qualifying, or are there different rules for qualifying and the race?



There were over 500 comments on this issue in earlier article by James. Please go through them, you will find your answer.


Hi James,

Wonderful insight into the race once again and it was great to see Alan giving his thoughts on the race.

Correct me if I am wrong here, after Spanish GP, Vettel is on top of the championship as a result of the count back but I am sure Alonso (5th,1st,9th,7th and 2nd) has finished every race in the points and Vettel(2nd,DNS,5th,1st,6th) missed out on points in Malaysia. Considering they both have had a 1st, 2nd and 5th place finish, it depends on the remaining 2 results, of which Alonso has a 7th and 9th place and Vettel a 6th and 11th place. In that case shouldnt Alonso be leading the WDC?


No because the 6th place is the highest next finish after the podiums


James, why don’t Lewis go for 3 pits, with faster pace.

1 more pit, he lost 20-21 second more

In order to preserve the tyre, he has to run I think at least 0.5 sec slower pace from what he could push more. Run 2 hard set at 21 and 31 laps, this 52 laps he lost at least 25 sec

Why don’t do another pit and lost 20-22 sec at most, he should be gain at least 5 sec and should be more from faster pace. I know that he might have some traffic but I think it possible to have the higher finish. Let see Kimi, he was behind Pastor and Alonso before his last stop, with new tyre he catch them quickly.


I am dejected after watching todays f1. I feel like there was never a driver championship and never will be.

Am I the only one?

It’s almost as if it’s irrevalant to discuss about who is the better driver.

It’s a bit like Ronaldo vs Messi. Just because his team won doesn’t mean he won the footballer championship against Messi.

I guess MMA is slowly winning me. The champion is the best, period.

And the UFC business model is something Bernie might want look into. They create so much content and fights happens every week.

And if I want to watch a fight from the past I can pay 2$ and watch it straight away.

With f1, if I want to watch a race, it just not possible.


Formula 1 is a team effort delivered through the driver. This year it would seem that the driver has a lot more influence on the outcome than in the past.

To see 24 fighters (12 fights) you would pay 24 USD? Sounds expensive for such a simple production.


It may be simple in terms of production but it’s real.

The fighters compete with different skillset and the best man always wins. F1 spends so much money on a lot of things but they ended up creatin artificial racing.



Any idea, why Lotus thought Maldonado and Alonso should pit again? Wasn’t that a huge blunder on part of Lotus?


James, many thanks for an excellent post (others too). From the stats those front 4 teams were very consistent. I’m particularly impressed with Saubers 2nd stint. Thanks to Alan Permaine for feedback I was thinking Lotus wanted a short last stint.

My guess for Monaco will be HamIlton, Raikkonen, Alonso

, Grosjean. Can’t wait for Kimi to win ! I just think mechanical grip on corner exit will suit Mclarens slightly.

Alan or James do you see Sauber a stronger threat now than say Mercedes ?they are consistently quick

Matt Devenish

I feel cheeky to ask, but would it be possible for future analysis to include a graph or list of the tyres used by each driver, in each session and for how many laps? F1Fanatic have a list of race tyres used, but this doesn’t show how many laps old the used tyres were when fitted to the cars in the race.

I didn’t previously consider the tyres Alonso took in the final stint were as old as the used tyres Maldonado took in his. I think it also goes someway to explaining why Ferrari waited the extra 2 laps before pitting Alonso (and after being held up by Pic), instead of reacting immediately to the Williams stop, because otherwise Fernando would have run out of tyres before the end of the race completely.

I’m enjoying the strategy of the 2012 season, but I’m now starting to see the negatives raised by Schumacher more clearly and from a fans point of view I’d argue that allowing teams (or restricting them, which ever way you want to look at this) to use a mixture of new and used tyres during the race is as confusing as the days when fuel levels were kept secret before the start.


This is actually a good point. My negative feelings about Pirelli aside. You have to admit you didn’t need this information back in the Schumacher-Hakkinen era because the only thing the tyres were about back then was that you knew it was just up to the drivers to use them. Soft was quicker than the Hard but the Hards lasted longer.

They were never in question before, and shouldn’t be questioned today, because you had two of the greatest drivers in the world going incredibly stupid fast on them and waging war with each other every two weeks.

It was sensational! It’s true when Hakkinen quit some of that magic went away, but it wasn’t like something was wrong with the tyres.

Today you would need all this detailed tyre information just to understand the performance collapse of some teams and drivers that is perplexing.

I’ll watch Monaco if only to see the reality check Maldonado gets when he tries settings that worked for him in Barca’s tight bends only to see they “betray” him in the Principality.


Mercedes didn’t complain about the tyres when they won in China..

Have you considered that when people have a bad race they blame the tyres? It’s an easy excuse..


TOTALLY AGREE! Now fans are whinging so much its becoming real irritating.

Whatever complains drivers have it will reveal how well they can control the tires now.


James, you think its good PR if Schumacher complained about the tyres while the team were celebrating the victory?

Truth is everyone’s talking about tyres, rather a lot; if that was the aim then it has been achieved. I personaly don’t enjoy all this tyre discussion and the importance of luck and really don’t care that 5 races have been won by 5 people. I don’t understand why this should matter to me.


Tyres have always been fundamental to strategy, even back in Fangio’s day!

In refuelling era it was tyres and fuel loads, then in 2010 when refuelling was banned it was tyres, but they lasted all race, as was saw graphically with Alonso stuck behind Petrov in Abu Dhabi. So no-one overtook (4/5 overtakes every year in Spain)

Now I agree there is too much talk about tyres, the balance is too much that way. But it’s not new that tyre considerations are the basis of strategy


These are the very fine details, like the fact that Alonso’s stint 2 and stint 3 tyres had one lap on them and his final set had done a Q1 run. This info is not available from Pirelli, you have to get it from deeper sources.

Matt Devenish

Is this because the teams or Pirelli want to keep the information private?

Thanks for the excellent analysis


It goes to the level where Pirelli cannot divulge team info. So one needs to have team sources.


Well, let me get something straight. Didn’t Lewis have another fresh set of hard tyres available? I think that if he pitted some…14-15-16 laps before the chequered flag and changed to fresh hards, he would probably have enough laps to challenge even for 5th. Kimi showed at the end that fresh tyres were miles faster at that point.


No, he didn’t. He used one set of Hard tyres in Q1. He started with used options, and then had 2 sets of unused primes, which probably explains why McLaren went with a 2 stop strategy for Lewis.


Still, even a used set of hards would be way faster than what McLaren did! 15 laps before the end, Lewis’ tyres were 15 laps old! If he changed to 3 laps old tyres(the used ones), his pace would be skyrocketed!


That’s true, BUT you have to factor in that a pit stop (assuming McLaren didn’t muck it up) would take around 20 secs. Lewis would have to make up that 20 secs in say the last 15 laps, just to return to where he would of been if he didn’t stop. Anything extra would then be a bonus.

So for Lewis to have benefited from stopping again, I would suggest that he would of had to gain around 30 seconds, which would of been a tall order over 15 odd laps, on used tyres.

Remember Kimi only managed to improve his time by 20 secs after his stop, and he still didn’t make it pass Fernando.

I do think doing a 2 stopper was the right call. It was getting stuck behind Massa that didn’t help, otherwise he may of been in a better position to pass Nico towards the end.


James, did Charles Pic serve his drive-though penalty efore retiring, and if not will it carry on to Monaco?


I believe if he wants to serve the drive through at Monaco he must block someone in free practice or qualifying.


No, he retired so that’s that



Could it now be possible to back a winner entirely on the weather forecast? Looks like if it is hot & dry – red bull, lotus, medium heat & dry – mclaren, williams, sauber, cold & overcast – mercedes, wet – ferrari. It’s such a lottery, I think that’s as good as any!

Pranav Haldea

IMHO…Hamilton lost a possible top 4 or top 5 finish (maybe even a podium) by getting stuck behing Massa for over 10 laps on relatively new tyres(Lap 18-Lap 29). Had he overtaken Massa at the right time, he could have really made the 2 stop work.

The time it takes for penalties to be handed out really does need to be investigated (it took over 6 laps from the time when the penalty was under investigation to the time when the penalty was eventually handed out!). This…when there was not even any subjective element. It was a clear cut case of the driver using DRS under Yellows…Is anyone listening?



Isn’t Pirelli committing a marketing/publicity suicide introducing its least durable tires? Even if they are doing them on purpose, everyone seems to associate Pirelli lately with tires that don’t make it to 3 km.


it’s all publicity!


I don’t agree, they seem to be on top of it. Nothing stopping them from creating a nondegrading tire if they choose.


Hi James,

A long time follower of your website but this is my first post. Before I ask what I would love to know of you, please let me congratulate you on this wonderful site and I look at it few times in a day for any new article.

One article that I have been expecting and you promised, in one of the previous posts was about your assessment of Ferrari’s progress after / up to Spanish Grand Prix. Very keen to know your views on this.



Yes. Will get to that

Peter M of Oz

While many are claiming the tyre unpredicability is wonderful there are many more who believe it is spoiling the possibility of really great racing. With Red Bull not being so dominant this year and a few others improving it would be good if the tyre aspect was not so much of a lottery. What do otehr s think?

Great to see Williams have a win after too long.


James – what’s your take on Ross Brawn’s absence affecting the psychology of the team, MS in particular. I hope he is fit and well again soon, in time to take the new concorde challenge on.

Keep up the good work, I am impressed by the amount of time you put into personally replying to so many comments. Are you a workaholic? 😉



No strategy for Maldonado’s rivals could overcome his Sunday Tyre Advantage.

Lachlan Mackinnon

Great analysis James and also good to see Alan jump on and throw in his two bobs worth. All I can say is lets hope Monaco is as hot as hell and Lotus is able to get a good quali position. C’mon Lotus…..give us a six different team/driver winner for the year!!


Hello moderator! None of my posts are appearing here anymore after I submit. Could you please e-mail me to let me know if the issue is at my end or with the website? I hope I haven’t been blocked! 🙁


This one is here!


A Kimi win next time out will blow the championship open even more.


A HRT / Virgin MotherRussia / Caterham Lotus Renault thing winning would make a real surprise + makes everyone a genuine contender for the WDC 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀


Can anyone shed some light on why button went onto softs for the 3rd stint. did he not have enough decent hard tyres? can’t for the life of me understand why they done this.


You don’t rate Alonso’s chances for Monaco, James?

Also, you mentioned some time ago, reference the Massa situation, that the name you’d heard in the frame wasn’t Sutil’s. Is there any chance that Domenicalli is keeping up to date with Trulli’s fitness levels do you think?


No chance.



No chance for ALO, or no chance of replacing Massa with Trulli?


I believe the chances of them using Trulli are, somehow, actually less than zero.


NO chance for Massa to win and NO chance for Trulli to replace Alonso!


Ahh.. but what if ALO DOES win? 😀


Puzzle is why Senna fared so badly, all weekend, quali and race. while Maldonado did so well?

In anticipation of a good Williams race, I put a wager on Senna! It seemed then, that if Williams were going to achieve anything, Senna was the more likely to do it.

I’m still baffled [and out of pocket]


Baha..! & you will keep loosing on Senna. Pastor knows his Williams better than Bruno!


Hi James,

you suggested Hamilton had the pace to win if he had started from the front. If so, wouldn’t it have been better to do a three-stopper anyway? Although I agree with all the praise he received for making his tyres last longer than anyone else, he did lose a lot of time in his last stint compared to the leaders (around 20-30 seconds), and he even lost out to Rosberg, who was hardly on a roll: Rosberg was behind Hamilton when Lewis made his final stop, but was significantly ahead after he made his own final stop a few laps later.

What I would have suggested, in hindsight obviously, is to do a 17-18 lap stint on the new set of primes and push hard, and then put on whichever set of softs was in best condition for the final stint, to charge like Raikkonen and Grosjean did.

It does depend, of course, on whether the McLaren really had the race pace, of course. Maldonado and Alonso managed to do 1m27s and low 1m28s laps, and the Lotuses even 1m26s and low 1m27s, whereas Lewis in tyre preservation mode barely got below 1m29s, and increasing to 1m30s for the final few laps. Even both Caterhams had faster fastest laps! I also find it a shame because I enjoy it more to see Hamilton on a charge than seeing him preserve tyres.


You cannot overstate the importance of running in clear air at the front. Drivers say it sucks you along at higher speed with less tyre deg


In the 21 dry races that we’ve had with Pirelli rubber since the beginning of 2011 (i.e. discounting Canada and GB last year and Malaysia this year), the winner of the race has been either 1st or 2nd at the first corner in 19 of them. The other 2 times, the winner was 3rd at the first corner (Button on both those occasions).

James – surely this suggests that it is worth doing a lap time and getting towards the top of the grid in Q3 rather than saving tyres and starting lower down, as clear air/lapping at the leader’s pace on tyres that have done a few qualy laps seems to trump fresh tyres but stuck in traffic??


That would depend on whether or not you have a realistic chance of getting pole.


Hi James. It may have been stated already somewhere but I would like to know what kind of time gap would be required for a car to be considered in ‘clean’ air if it is racing behind another car. 1sec, 5sec, 10sec?


3 or more seconds


James, how do Pirelli allocate tyres during a GP weekend? What if the tyres distributed at a GP weekend are not the same for each driver? Someone somewhere creates One Set of tyres, the cast lots behind the scenes for which driver gets them et voila!

HRT, Marussia and Caterham will get luck too to get the magic set but those Cars are so bad, it would not make any difference. Just a thought!!!


I had exact thoughts. How can we be sure if all tyres are same? the way we get switch-on and swithc-off effect on these tyres when changed shows that they could as well be different tyres. How can we be sure that all the tyres have been standardized and tested?

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